Of Soldiers, Athletes, and Farmers! #1

First Presbyterian Church of Elmer

107 Chestnut Street

Elmer, NJ 0831

Sermon Notes (Sunday February 21st, 2016)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

Of Soldiers, Athletes, and Farmers! #1

1 Samuel 30:1-6; 2 Timothy 2:1-7

 

Why would anyone willingly embrace suffering? In our text this morning, the apostle Paul wants Timothy (and us) to join him in suffering hardship for the gospel. I tell you the truth that’s a tough sell in our comfort-oriented culture! How can we encourage each other to embrace suffering hardship for the gospel in such a culture? If you want to see how comfort-oriented our culture has become, examine what you and I do every day. Most of us try to park as close as we can to the store, so we don’t have to walk more than a few yards; drive a block rather than walk; sit in our recliner with the remote in hand, watching all of those crazy guys on TV run all over the field. Sometimes our exercise for the day is to walk to the kitchen for more chips and drinks. And you want me to embrace hardship for the gospel?

 

Although I chose to preach on 2 Timothy 2:1-7 before heading to Egypt, what we’ve seen there reinforced my thought. What I would like to do is to spend today and the next three Sundays working on 2 Timothy 2. I will warn you in advance, this is a very convicting text! How many of us, myself included, willingly embrace hardship for the sake of the gospel? That is to say, how many of us are willing to suffer just because of our Christian principles or way of living?

 

To use the language of the apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 2, how many of us keep ourselves unentangled from the affairs of everyday life so that we may please our Commander-in-Chief? How many of us discipline ourselves as athletes for the kingdom so that we may win the prize? How many of us toil in the unglamorous task of farming God’s fields so that we may enjoy the crops? These are the illustrations that Paul uses to make the point: To be a fruitful Christian, you must willingly suffer hardship for the gospel now in view of future rewards. This text assumes that as a Christian, you desire to be fruitful for Jesus Christ. As we look together to this passage, please allow me to underscore two short yet two important thoughts:

 

First: Seek First His Kingdom and His Righteousness

Underlying Paul’s command to suffer hardship for the sake of following our Christian way of living is Jesus’ command in Matthew 6:33 “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Did you notice that it is a command, not a nice suggestion? “All these things” refers to the things that unbelievers eagerly seek: food, clothing, a nice place to live, and other material possessions. Jesus’ command applies to every believer. Likewise, Paul’s command certainly applies to every soldier in Christ’s army, which is to say, to every believer.

 

The key and convicting word in Jesus’ command is, first. If He had only said, “Seek the kingdom of God,” we could have added that to our list of things to do. That would be somewhat manageable. But to seek it first means that we must bump it up to the top of the list. It has to control everything else! Many Christians view the kingdom of God as a nice slice of life. It makes them feel good to go to church on Sunday and to have a spiritual element in their lives. But God’s kingdom is not at the center. It’s not the driving force of their lives. So they dabble at the kingdom of God, but they don’t seek it first. This is a dangerous trap for many believers.

 

To sell us on this difficult command, Paul uses three illustrations and then he urges us to consider what he says. First, he points us to the soldier, then to the athlete, and finally to the farmer. The three analogies are similar in that each case the job comes first. The soldier must be focused and avoid entanglement to please his commander. The athlete must be disciplined to compete according to the rules to win the prize. The farmer must work hard to enjoy the first fruits of the harvest. Each endures hardship for the sake of future rewards. I will say more about these three illustrations in the next few weeks.

 

Second: The Source of our Strength

I guess the question many in the sanctuary this morning might ask is where can we find the strength we need to stand our ground and willingly embrace suffering for the sake of the gospel? In 2 Timothy 2:1 we read, “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” “Be strong” ~ the Greek verb comes as a present passive imperative and could be translated “keep on or continue being strong and being empowered in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”

 

The connotation here is similar to Ephesians 6:10: “Be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might.” Timothy was not to be strong in his own strength but in God’s. He was to receive God’s power and allow it to flow through him. It is this kind of strength that comes from outside of ourselves. Friends, this is a call to endurance. It is a call for all of us to continue in that which we had already begun. We come to Christ by grace to be saved, trusting in Him and resting upon His merit. But grace doesn’t stop at the cross. It only begins there. In the same way that we came by grace, so also now we are to continue in grace.

 

Friends, are we willing to embrace suffering for the sake of the gospel? Over the last two weeks during our Mission Trip in Egypt, Paul and I saw Christians who embrace suffering for the sake of the gospel. They have the courage to stand their ground and swim against the current. Athanasius of Alexandria (298-373 A.D.) was a great 4th century Egyptian Christian Theologian and the Bishop of Alexandria who defended the Doctrine of the Trinity against Arianism. Because of his position, he faced a lot of opposition. When faced with people saying to him, “The world is against you, Athanasius!” Athanasius replied, “Then I am against the whole world.” Where did Athanasius and so many other faithful Christians through the ages get this courage as they stood for what is right? It is the grace of God. “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” In 1 Samuel 30, King David found himself in a difficult situation. Where did he find the strength to endure opposition? In 1 Samuel 30:6 we read, “David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the Lord his God.” May you and I today find our strength in the Lord our God and His grace so richly given to us in the Person and presence of Jesus! Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Amen!

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