by Mike Ratliff
3 Συγκακοπάθησον ὡς καλὸς στρατιώτης Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ. 2 Timothy 2:3 (NA28)
3 Take your part in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 2 Timothy 2:3 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)
Some of you who have followed what I have written over the years know that I have a great affinity for John Bunyan. Why is this so? Our enemy is allowed by God to attack me in such a way that I become been sorely tempted by him into despairing of this ministry. Why? This happens as my focus goes inward and with that always comes a sense of my sinfulness and unworthiness to even be called a Christian. I look at those whom God uses to feed me spiritually and I see how small I am. How can God use one such as I? Two things have helped me through this. I have read Bunyan’s autobiography. As I read of his early Christian walk it soon became apparent that there were some parallels with how God is using not only me, but many others like me in these dark times. The well educated and those with large ministries are more often than not the ones who are on the road to apostasy just as in Bunyan’s day. Bunyan was barely educated and his only education in theology was from the Word of God and sitting at the feet of his pastor. God raised him up to do a mighty work in the Church, but it was one that involved much suffering. The second thing that helps me is a gift from God that always comes unexpectedly like this article, which I read during my morning devotions yesterday morning.
1 Σὺ οὖν, τέκνον μου, ἐνδυναμοῦ ἐν τῇ χάριτι τῇ ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ, 2 καὶ ἃ ἤκουσας παρʼ ἐμοῦ διὰ πολλῶν μαρτύρων, ταῦτα παράθου πιστοῖς ἀνθρώποις, οἵτινες ἱκανοὶ ἔσονται καὶ ἑτέρους διδάξαι. 3 Συγκακοπάθησον ὡς καλὸς στρατιώτης Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ. 4 οὐδεὶς στρατευόμενος ἐμπλέκεται ταῖς τοῦ βίου πραγματείαις, ἵνα τῷ στρατολογήσαντι ἀρέσῃ. 5 ἐὰν δὲ καὶ ἀθλῇ τις, οὐ στεφανοῦται ἐὰν μὴ νομίμως ἀθλήσῃ. 6 τὸν κοπιῶντα γεωργὸν δεῖ πρῶτον τῶν καρπῶν μεταλαμβάνειν. 7 νόει ὃ λέγω· δώσει γάρ σοι ὁ κύριος σύνεσιν ἐν πᾶσιν. 2 Timothy 2:1-7 (NA28)
1 You therefore my child be empowered in the grace in Christ Jesus 2 and what things you heard from me through many witnesses, these things commit to trustworthy men who will also be qualified to teach others. 3 Take your part in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 No one serving as a soldier is entangled with the affairs of civilian life that he may please the one who enlisted him. 5 Also, if anyone competes as an athlete, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. 6 It is necessary for the hard working farmer to be the first to partake of the fruits. 7 Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in all things. 2 Timothy 2:1-7 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)
This is not a call for Christians to withdraw from the secular to pursue the spiritual. Instead, Paul is warning Christians to not allow anything, even good things, to distract them from their ministries. Our flesh loves the things that will distract us from what God has for us to do. The Word is full of warnings that true joy is found in none of them, no matter how much pleasure they may bring to the flesh. This suffering we are called to take our part as good soldiers is a metaphor of the Christian life as warfare against this evil world system, the believer’s own sinful human nature, and Satan himself. This type of commitment will be in direct conflict with the world, will result in its hostility, and can bring about persecution in extreme cases.
I was a long distance runner for many years in my late 20’s into my late 40’s. I was no sprinter, but neither was I a marathoner. No, I ran in those middle distance races like 5ks and 10ks. However, this still required training runs nearly every day as well as eating right and getting the right amount of rest et cetera. When racing, we had to follow the course. There were no short cuts allowed. There was no pushing or shoving in order to pass others. Also, in order for your effort to be counted, you had to enter the race. You had to pay the fee and have your name entered in and have a number pinned to your shirt. The analogy for us as Christians in this walk and in our ministries is that we must obey the Word of God in the pursuit of spiritual victory. The Word of God is the arbiter in all things. It is above all things and that includes all opinions especially human philosophy.
The analogy of the hard working farmer is very clear. Ancient farmers worked long hours of backbreaking labor under all kinds of conditions with the hope of a good harvest. The analogy for us is to work through the temptations, sufferings, and attacks, et cetera laboring intensely with the view to the spiritual harvest.
8 Μνημόνευε Ἰησοῦν Χριστὸν ἐγηγερμένον ἐκ νεκρῶν, ἐκ σπέρματος Δαυίδ, κατὰ τὸ εὐαγγέλιόν μου, 9 ἐν ᾧ κακοπαθῶ μέχρι δεσμῶν ὡς κακοῦργος, ἀλλʼ ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ οὐ δέδεται· 10 διὰ τοῦτο πάντα ὑπομένω διὰ τοὺς ἐκλεκτούς, ἵνα καὶ αὐτοὶ σωτηρίας τύχωσιν τῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ μετὰ δόξης αἰωνίου. 11 πιστὸς ὁ λόγος·
εἰ γὰρ συναπεθάνομεν, καὶ συζήσομεν·
12 εἰ ὑπομένομεν, καὶ συμβασιλεύσομεν·
εἰ ἀρνησόμεθα, κἀκεῖνος ἀρνήσεται ἡμᾶς·
13 εἰ ἀπιστοῦμεν, ἐκεῖνος πιστὸς μένει,
ἀρνήσασθαι γὰρ ἑαυτὸν οὐ δύναται. 2 Timothy 2:8-13 (NA28)
8 Remember Jesus Christ, having been raised from the dead, of the seed of David, according to the Gospel I preach, 9 for which I suffer even to the point of imprisonment as an evildoer, but the Word of God has not been bound. 10 Therefore, all things I endure because of the elect , that they also may obtain salvation in Christ Jesus with Eternal Glory. 11 The saying is trustworthy,
for ‘If we died with Him, we will also live with Him;’
12 ‘If we endure, we will also reign with Him;’
‘If we deny Him, He will also deny us;’
13 ‘If we are unfaithful, He remains faithful’—
for He cannot deny Himself. 2 Timothy 2:8-13 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)
When I began this ministry in 2006, it was amazing how many there were involved on the Internet doing very similar things. Over time, however, God has sifted, purified, and separated putting all of us through refining processes so that there is not that many of us left. Some whom I counted as friends back then have faded away. Others’ true colors were revealed and, sadly, have shown all the signs of apostasy. On the other hand, there is a solid core of brothers and sisters who have come through these refining fires intact and have even grown more in Christ. I am older and feebler than when I started, but my faith is much more free of dross and my focus is only on Christ not this world or what others may think of this ministry or me. As I lamented earlier, I was not discouraged about my place in the world or the visible church. I care little to nothing about either. No, my desire is to remain faithful until my time here is done. If God can use a man like John Bunyan the way he did, he most certainly can use someone like you or me.
Soli Deo Gloria!