Requirements for Reward
“An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops” (vv. 5–6).- 2 Timothy 2:5–7
Christ and His apostles never commend suffering as something we are to chase after deliberately, as if it is somehow virtuous to give oneself over to pain for its own sake. Instead, the kind of suffering that is commendable is the suffering we endure for doing good (1 Peter 2:20) — for believing the gospel and refusing to compromise when the world mocks and persecutes the way of Jesus. Moreover, in encouraging us to persevere through tribulation for the sake of what God says is good, our Lord also promises us that suffering will not last forever. The enemies of the church will not have the last say and the period of trial will eventually come to an end. And those who stand firm in the midst of trouble will receive a great reward (Matt. 5:11–12; Heb. 11:24–26), which is a strong motivation for us to persevere.
Second Timothy 2:5–7 looks to the reward that will come to the faithful Christian sufferer in order to motivate Timothy and everyone after him to stay the course when all else would try to get us to give up. Only those athletes who compete according to the rules can win the prizes that come with victory (v. 5), an allusion to the garland wreath that was placed on the heads of triumphant athletes in the first century. In the race that is the Christian life, suffering is a rule that must be followed, something that we must endure if we are to cross the finish line (Heb. 12:1–17). Jerome, the important fourth-century biblical scholar, says, “Christ’s athlete is not crowned unless he has competed according to the rules, unless he has accepted and sustained the challenge, unless his face is black and blue from the fray and bathed in blood. It is the discolored bruises that deserve a crown, and suffering and pain that merit joy” (ACCNT 9, p. 243).
Paul’s use of an athletic metaphor is good because athletes suffer pain and sacrifice as they train to win a contest. He uses the imagery of a farmer in 2 Timothy 2:6 because farmers likewise suffer in their efforts to produce a harvest, working long, back-breaking hours to coax bread from the ground. But just as the diligent farmer is the first to enjoy the fruit of his labor, so too will the faithful Christian live in the abundance of God’s eternal kingdom.
Our salvation is entirely by grace, and there is nothing we can do to cause the Lord to love us. But God graciously promises a great reward to those who persevere in faith even though He is the one who ultimately guarantees our perseverance. As we endure in the face of suffering we can be assured that our blessing in the life to come will be that much greater. Let that motivate you to stand for Christ today no matter how difficult it might be.
Passages for Further Study