Introduction. Read 2Tim2v 1to13.

In this passage Paul illustrates various aspects of Christian service by likening the dedicated disciple of Jesus to certain well known figures such as the soldier or athlete.

(1) The torchbearer. You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. v1and2.

We are all familiar with Olympic torchbearers. The torch is lit in Greece where the Olympic Games originated. Then it is carried by a series of runners all the way to the location of next Olympic Games. The Olympic flame probably represents the spirit of the Games. So the spirit of the Games is passed from one athlete to another until it reaches its final destination.

Paul tells Timothy that he must be a torchbearer. He has been entrusted with the gospel truth - the sacred flame of God's great provision for sinful men - and he must pass it on to others.

Some might say that we do not need torchbearers today. We have the Scriptures and they contain all we need to know about the gospel. However, I have to say that the basic truths I hold dear and which undergird my Christian faith are those I have heard over and over again from the pulpit. Let me just summarise what they are: God made man in his own image and placed him in a perfect environment. Our first parents disobeyed God and fell from grace. Since that time men and women due to their flawed nature have not lived up to the standard God set. The only hope of men being reconciled to God is if atonement can be made for their failings and short comings. Jesus, in the will of God, offered himself as an atoning sacrifice for men's sins upon the cross at Calvary. God graciously accepted the payment that Jesus made. So now if a person believes in Jesus and trusts in his finished work at Calvary that person's sins will be forgiven. Furthermore the believer will have new life through the gift of God's Spirit, will be received into God's family and can look forward to sharing in Christ's resurrection when he finally returns to earth. This is the sacred gospel flame and it does depend upon the Christian preacher faithfully passing it on to others.

(2) The soldier. Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs - he wants to please his commanding officer. v3and4.

There are three lessons to learn from the soldier:

(a) It is not easy being a soldier. The soldier needs to be physically fit and the Christian needs to be spiritually fit. The believer keeps fit through prayer, bible reading, meditation and worship.

On active service the soldier has to endure long periods of tedium where nothing much happens. This is certainly true for many Christians. They attend churches where there are rarely new faces in the congregation and the only changes are losses due to death.

The soldier does face an enemy - an elusive enemy that specialises in surprise attacks - ambushes, suicide bombs, snipers and roadside mines. It is easy for the soldier to be caught unawares. The Christian faces an enemy who operates in very much the same way. He specialises in catching us with our guard down. Perhaps we have been subject to unfair criticism or let down by someone we trusted or treated with contempt. It is very hard to remain calm under this sort of fire.

I knew a young man who served in the Marines. Not only did he get shot at in Afghanistan but when he went into a pub back in England got picked on by local hard guys spoiling for a fight. Christians are not universally admired. Sometimes the fiercest attacks come from the most unexpected quarters - our own kith and kin.

(b) The soldier needs to be free from distractions. When he is on active service everything has to be put on one side so that he can concentrate all his attention on defeating the enemy. When a soldier goes to war he has to leave behind his nearest and dearest.

Christians are so easily entangled by the things of the world. We daydream at prayer, we skip the midweek prayer meeting and we allow secular interests to eat into the time we should be spending serving Jesus. It is a sad state of affairs when a Christian finds himself giving less and less time to Jesus. The Master even says: "And do not set your heart on what you will eat and drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Lk12v12and13. See exposition on Lk9v57to62.

Some time ago I read a biography of Billy Graham, the evangelist, by his daughter. She found her father's frequent absence from the family home difficult to accept. There were times the family needed Billy but he was away on a crusade. There you have it! When Billy Graham was in the midst of a great evangelistic campaign he needed to be free from all distractions to concentrate body and soul on the interests of his Supreme Commander.

(c) The soldier has to follow the orders of his commanding officer however inconvenient they might be. We sometimes forget just how demanding Jesus' orders are. Consider Lk6v36and37: "Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the most high, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your father is merciful." See exposition on Lk6v27to36.

(3) The athlete. Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor's crown unless he competes according to the rules. v5.

Whatever competition the athlete enters is governed by rules. Even something as simple as the 100 metres sprint has rules. You cannot begin until the starter fires his pistol. Three false starts and you are disqualified. The sprinter must also keep in the right lane. A competitor in the long jump has to be very careful not to over step the take off board. A wonderful jump can be disqualified if the take off board is over stepped by a fraction of an inch.

Christians should be concerned to follow carefully the procedures laid down in the New Testament. Let us take for example the Great Commission: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you." Mt28v19and20. It is absolutely clear from this command of Jesus that baptism follows conversion. It does not preceed it! This means the baptism of infants is invalid. Secondly, everyone who is a convert to Christianity and a disciple of Jesus should be baptised. It is NOT optional for the believer. The ironical thing is that many Baptist churches are attended by adult Christians who have never been baptised! Jesus expects us to follow his procedures. They are not something we can safely ignore. The church is divided and weakened over the issue of baptism.

(4) The Farmer. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. v6.

It is perfectly possible for a man to be a share cropper. He pays a share of the crop he grows for the privilege of farming land he does not own. Paul considers that the man who does the actual farming should be the first to take his share of the crop. He believes that hard work should be rewarded.

I have some problems with Paul's analogy. Many Christian workers do not see much fruit for their labour. The farmer may have to wait for a harvest - but he does not have to wait very long and he nearly always receives some return for the work he does. Christians can be engaged in preparing the ground, sowing the seed, fertilising and irrigating it without really ever participating in a harvest. This is true of much missionary endeavour. The great growth of the church in China followed the expulsion of Western missionaries from that land. The missionaries sowed the seed but others reaped the harvest.

Jesus recognised this. After his encounter with the woman of Samaria Jesus said to his disciples: "I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. ..... I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labour." Jn4v35to38.

I feel very sorry for pastors of small rural churches who work hard and see some young people converted. Perhaps this is their share of the harvest! But these young folk go to university, get their degree and then find a job many miles from their home church. They join a new church - and some other minister reaps the benefits of another man's labour. The small country fellowship that loses its young people like this will inevitably decline.

Jesus looked far ahead after his encouraging encounter with the Samaritan woman. He said to his disciples: "Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together." Jn4v36. A day is coming - the last, great ingathering of the harvest - when sower and reaper will rejoice together at the success of their joint labours. See exposition on John4v27to42.

(5) The Liberator. Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal, but God's word is not chained. v8and9.

Paul consoles himself with his gospel. God the Father keeps his promises. He kept his promise to David: Your house and your kingdom shall endure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever. 2Sam7v16. God the Son will keep his promise to all believers including Paul: For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."Jn6v40.

Paul also consoles himself with the fact that although he is in chains and abandoned by many Christians the gospel that he preached is not chained. God's word is not chained.

Paul has acted as a liberator. Some years ago caged mink were liberated in Britain. Once liberated they multiplied. It has proved nigh impossible to put the wild mink back in the cage. Paul let the gospel loose in the Roman world. There was no stopping it! There was no stopping the gospel in China during the oppressive rule of Mao tse Tung or in Cuba under Castro. Today there is no stopping the gospel in countries like Iran. Militant Muslim would doubtless like to suppress the gospel but God's word cannot be chained.

(6) The hymn writer.

Paul concludes this passage with what is probably part of a hymn. I like to think of the little apostle singing this fragment over and over again for consolation. He reminds himself that those who die with Christ will live with him and those who endure to the end will reign with him.

Hymn writers have brought great comfort to Christians. The hymn writer conveys the wonderful truths of Christianity in a memorable way. On Sunday we sang John Newton's great hymn: 'How sweet the name of Jesus sounds.' I thrilled to words of the fifth verse:

          Weak is the effort of my heart,
          And cold my warmest thought;
          But when I see Thee as Thou art,
          I'll praise Thee as I ought.

Many, many Christians have followed in Paul's footsteps and taken comfort from the well loved words of a favourite hymn. Thank you John Newton, thank you Charles Wesley, thank you Fanny Crosby ... .