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No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully. The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits. Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things. (2 Timothy 2:4-7, KJV)

These statements seem disconnected to me. Considering that Paul is asking Timothy to consider these things, I would think there is some connection between these counsels.

  • 2
    Part of your difficulty in making sense of the passage is 1) the wording of the KJV is perhaps making things more difficult for you than they need be; and 2) as @curiousdannii pointed out, below, a passage needs to read in context. Context is likely the most important factor in exegeting a passage; in fact, some scholars recommend we not read the "epistles" in piecemeal fashion, but read them from beginning to end, especially if we should find a given passage perplexing. This approach to interpretation makes very good sense to me. Perhaps you will find the approach helpful, too. – rhetorician Jan 22 '15 at 19:53
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Just like teachers today, Paul is using an illustration. The form his illustration takes is three examples of people who work hard, to show what working for God in Christian ministry is like. There are slight differences in what each example tells us about ministry. To understand it you need to read it in context:

2:1 You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. 2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. 3 Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.

4 No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.
5 Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.
6 The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.
7 Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.

8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. (2 Timothy 2:1-10, NIV)

In verses 1-3 Paul exhorts Timothy to continue in his ministry through the strength of God's grace. That work is primarily about teaching and passing on the message, but as verse 3 says, the work will involve suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.

So he then gives his three examples. Here's what I think they communicate:

  • Christian ministry is like serving as a soldier because it requires a distinct lifestyle. Timothy has to avoid being distracted away from his work by 'civilian affairs', because he isn't working for himself, he's working for God. The Bible talks about this in many other places, such as in Matthew 6:24: you can't serve money and God.

  • Ministry is like athletic competitions, because you can't cheat. You can't take short cuts, you can't abuse your co-athletes. And like a race, ministry has a reward at the end.

  • Ministry is like a farmer. When the work is done we will see the results. But farmers do have to work hard, just like we do.

A common theme through these three examples is delayed reward, which is where Paul goes in verses 8-10. Paul is suffering for his ministry, but he knows it is worth it. He endures it because through it he is helping other people obtain salvation and eternal glory. His reward is to share God's glory with his new Christian brothers and sisters.

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Is there a logical flow in 2 Timothy 2:4-7?

Sometimes Paul can write what sounds like a staccato of bullet points that seem a little disconnected.

In context Paul sounds like he is writing in view of only a little time left to him. In a way that many who face the end of their life do, he tries to summarize things for Timothy. In so doing he hits points that should be obvious.

2 Timothy 2:8 Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel:

In verse three Paul uses the image of a soldier to both capture the difficulties that will lie ahead as well as the image that he will not be alone.

2 Timothy 2:3 Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

Paul carries the soldier image into verse four as a warning against divided loyalties.

2 Timothy 2:4 No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.

In verse five Paul switches metaphor to athletics to warn against the temptation to take short cuts. This may be in view of the difficulties that Paul has mentioned. One might surmise that the temptations to which he is referring would be the temptation to avoid hardships or the temptation to compromise the gospel.

2 Timothy 2:5 And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.

In verse six Paul describes a reward for faithful service using the metaphor of a farmer. Here is an encouragement to persevere in the hardships ahead by being reminded that there is a reward for those who are faithful in their service.

2 Timothy 2:6 The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits.

Paul concludes this section describing future hardships by asking Timothy to refect on what he has said and asking the Lord to provide Timothy with understanding.

2 Timothy 2:7 Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things.

Paul even earlier in the letter wrote Timothy to encourage, exhort, and even chide him in regard to his work for the Lord.

2 Timothy 1:6 Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.

I see in verses 4-7 a theme of instruction for Timothy with a view to coming hardships.

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In 2 Timothy, chapter 2, Paul gives Timothy encouragement and exhorts him to be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, bearing his share of hardship like a good soldier of Christ. In verses 4-6, he tells Timothy that there are some rules for the role he will be taking on:

Verse 4: A soldier does not become involved in business affairs merely to please the one who recruited him as a soldier.

Verse 5: A man (an athlete) is not crowned as the winner unless he competes fairly according to the rules.

Verse 6: The hard-working farmer should have the first share of the crop.

Then he says, in verse 7, if Timothy considers carefully what Paul has said, the Lord will give him understanding in everything.

The clear majority of New Testament scholars believe that the Pastoral Epistles (Titus, 1 and 2 Timothy) were written during the first half of the second century as encyclicals to the Christian community as a whole, rather than to Timothy or even to just one church. By appearing to give advice to Timothy, 'Paul' is actually giving pastoral advice to the churches. These verses should therefore be read in that context. When they are looked on as pastoral advice, rather than as exhortations to Timothy, I think we then see the flow of Paul's logic in these verses and those which follow. They are a new set of commandments for proper conduct by Christians.

  • I am asking is there any connection or flow of logic in these advices? They seem to be 3 completely separate advices to me – One Face Jan 22 '15 at 0:41
  • @CRags I gather from your comment that you wanted a deeper explanation of these verses than in my first version, and I have therefore updated. By comparing them implicitly to the Ten Commandments, I am saying that on the one hand there is no more logical flow from one to the other than from the Sixth Commandment to the Seventh, but on the other hand, they form a unity, just as the Ten Commandments do. Does that make sense? – Dick Harfield Jan 22 '15 at 1:02
  • Yes, I understand what you were telling now – One Face Jan 22 '15 at 2:02
  • I did not give you -1 – One Face Jan 22 '15 at 2:03
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    @curiousdannii the verb in 2:2, translated "you heard", is akousas and is indicative aorist active second person singular. This is notionally addressed to Timothy, and Timothy alone. – Dick Harfield Jan 22 '15 at 3:07

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