And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.
— 2 Timothy 2:5
It is a fact that hardships nearly always reveal the real level of a person’s commitment to Jesus Christ. When everything is going well and there are no challenges, it’s easy to serve God. But when things get tough and people are faced with hard decisions, this is the golden moment when the real level of their commitment is revealed — when they have to decide, Will I remain faithful in the hard times? You can be certain that if a flaw exists in their commitment to Jesus, difficult episodes in life will bring that defect to the surface.
In the former Soviet Union, I know many people who paid a very high price for their faith in Jesus Christ. The rulers of that past time sent many believers to prison; deported others to slave labor camps; and incarcerated still others in psychiatric hospitals, where they were treated as mental patients because they believed in God. The Soviet leadership found all sorts of ways to disdain, humiliate, and mock Christians for being different. It was therefore a very serious matter to believe in Jesus Christ, requiring a life commitment.
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This is really true about all levels of life. For instance, you may say that you are committed to your spouse, a friend, to your employer, or even to your church. But what if problems emerge in those relationships that make you feel uncomfortable? What if being faithful requires you to stick with someone who is suddenly unpopular? Will you remain faithful to that relationship if problems arise in it? Will you stick to your commitment and keep your word — or will you tuck your tail and run from the stress, tossing the relationship to the wind?
You see, hard times really do reveal the truth about who people are! Doesn’t it make you grateful for the people who have stayed with you through the high moments and low moments, through thick and thin, through the good times and the bad times? Friends like these are very rare, so make sure you never take them for granted. They have proven the sincerity of their commitment to you by sticking with you through it all.
In Second Timothy, many people were defecting from the faith because hard times had come. Staying faithful to Jesus meant they might face persecution, beatings, imprisonment, or even death. Before the persecution commenced, the church at Ephesus was growing rapidly. But now it was declining as the newly arrived adversities exposed the genuine level of people’s faith.
In the midst of these trying times, Paul wrote to Timothy about the attitude that is essential to survive difficult times. Although Paul was making a statement, he was also asking a very pointed question. He said, “And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.”
The word “strive” is the Greek word athlesis, which always describes athletic activities or sporting events. It also notably depicted professional athletes. As time passed, it expressed the idea of any event in life that demands one’s labor or sweat and tears. It indicated exertion, effort, and commitment. It could refer to either physical exertion or mental exertion.
Just as in our world today, there were both amateur and professional athletes at the time Paul wrote this letter. If someone was an amateur, he wasn’t a serious contender and would not participate in the harshest competitions. However, if he was a professional athlete, he was so committed that he was ready to compete, no matter how intense the opposition or how difficult the circumstances. This is the idea Paul is conveying when he used the word athlesis in this verse.
Paul was in essence asking:
- Are you an amateur who serves the Lord just for fun?
- Have you committed yourself to go all the way to the end, regardless of the fight that ensues?
- Are you serving the Lord only because it’s popular and enjoyable for the moment?
- Are you a professional that is willing to pay any price, undergo any kind of hardship, bear up under any pressure, and endure it all until you come out the winner?
- Are you really committed?
If you’re not committed, you’ll never make it to the end. But if you do, Paul says there is a “crown” waiting for you. That word “crown” is the word stephanos, and it refers to a victor’s crown. In the ancient games, it was a wreath of leaves placed on the head of the winning athlete. As far as value goes, it wasn’t worth anything — but what it represented was worth the struggle! An athlete who walked away with the victor’s crown was honored for the rest of his life. The memory of his achievement would be etched into society, ensuring that he would never be overlooked or forgotten during the course of his life.
If you are a serious contender for doing the will of God — if you don’t allow anything to stop you, no matter what challenges the devil and life may try to throw at you — you will walk away with the respect and honor of others at the end of the battle. They will see that the sincerity of your faith was genuine and proven, surviving the hard times. Yours wasn’t a flawed faith that tucked its tail and ran in tough times. No, you stuck it out and showed who you really are! As a result, people will never forget that you stood true to your commitment!
Isn’t it true that you remember and almost stand in awe of people:
- Who stayed faithful to their friends, even through hard times?
- Who kept their commitment to their spouse, even though their marriage was hurting?
- Who remained faithful to their pastor in spite of the hard times in the church?
- Who stuck by their principles and refused to bend to the pressures that came to break them?
Let’s face it — people who fit into these categories are pretty rare in today’s world. But they are champions to the rest of us! They are examples of what we should try to become. Although they endured a lot to keep their commitments, as a result they stand as heroes to those who have observed their spiritual race. Their crown in this life is the special place of honor that has been etched in other people’s minds because of their accomplishments. They proved to be professional believers — not just amateurs who were along for the ride until it cost them something!
What kind of believer are you today, friend? Are you a professional, or are you an amateur?
You must come to a place of honesty in your spiritual walk where you are willing to ask yourself these questions. You see, it’s fun to serve the Lord when it’s easy and convenient. But what if God asks you to step out of your life of ease to accept a bigger challenge? That’s the moment of discovery when you find out what kind of spiritual athlete you really are!
My Prayer for Today
Lord, I want You to see me as a professional! Therefore, I choose to put away amateurish Christian attitudes and behaviors! For me to be all You want me to be, I understand that it’s going to require more of me. Right now I am making up my mind to move to a higher level of commitment with God, to give Him all that I have, and to never stop until the job is done and the assignment is complete! Help me move into the “professional league” as a believer and to leave the life of the amateur behind forever!
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
My Confession for Today
I confess that I am a serious contender for doing the will of God! In spite of what the devil and life may try to throw at me, I will walk away as the winner. I will survive hard times and thus prove the sincerity of my faith. Mine isn’t a flawed faith that tucks its tail and runs. I am the kind of Christian who sticks it out to the end!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
Questions to Answer
1. Does your level of commitment reveal that you are an amateur or a professional Christian?
2. Do you face hardships bravely, or do you tuck your tail and run when things get tough?
3. What would other people say about your level of commitment? Why not ask a few friends to tell you what they think, giving them the right to be totally honest with you?