Just as children sometimes protest that they “have no choices” or are “controlled” by their parents’ rules and requirements, so immature Christians sometimes resent the limits God’s word places on our behavior. Paul did not imply that Timothy was spiritually immature, or even that he was in any way feeling “boxed in” by being a Christian, but in 2 Timothy 2:3-7, Paul indirectly addresses this attitude (as something Timothy would undoubtedly confront, and need to answer, in others). Through three examples, he points out that the Christian’s life is a voluntary one – there are NO “draftees” in the Lord’s “army” (vv. 3-4).
Serving the Lord unquestionably does involve “hardship” at times (see 2 Corinthians 1:4 & Revelation 2:9-10), whether by persecution from outside the body or the distress of having to make hard personal choices. Paul’s words emphasize that this is a temporary distress, not a permanent one (something to endure – which implies it will end). His reference in verse 4 to being “chosen” (KJV – most modern versions say “enlisted”) highlights the fact that every Christian enters the Lord’s “army” freely, of our own choice; none of us was forced into His service. Likewise athletes and even farmers participate in their respective activities (vv. 5-6) by choice, and with the understanding that there are “rules” they cannot change.
At verse 10 Paul makes a vitally important point when he “locates” the salvation we seek – it is “in” Christ Jesus. This agrees with his words in 2 Corinthians 5:17 and Galatians 6:15, about Christians having a “new” life because of Christ. It also should take us back to his statements in Romans 6:3-6 and Galatians 3:27, where we see that a person “enters” the body/church of Christ (Colossians 1:18) by being baptized into Christ. No one is a Christian who has not been baptized into Christ, because this is the point when God cleanses/“washes” us of our sins (1 Corinthians 6:11 & Revelation 1:5). Only by “dying” (to sin) are we able to live with our Savior eternally, verse 11 (cf. Galatians 2:20-21).
Another important lesson for Christians to learn and remember comes in 2 Timothy 2:13, where Paul compares inconsistency of humanity to the consistency of God. We tend to think of God as being “like” us, instead of striving to imitate HIS qualities in our own lives, and this can lead us into thinking that He could be as petty and hypocritical as we can. The vital lesson of this verse is simply that our inconsistency does not change God’s character at all! We may convince ourselves that a moment of weakness or hypocrisy is “justified” because we don’t want to deal with the “hardship” of doing what we know is right (see vs. 3 again!), but God’s character never changes at all (Hebrews 13:8), and there is nothing we can “hide” from Him (Hebrews 4:13).
One other lesson to note in 2 Timothy 2 comes from reading and meditating on the familiar words of verse 15 (about “rightly dividing”/properly handling the word of truth). If the scriptures can be handled “properly,” this fact also implies that we can handle God’s word improperly as well. This is exactly what Satan did in Matthew 4:1-11, when he quoted scripture in trying to tempt Jesus, and this is also what Peter describes in 2 Peter 3:16, when he wrote of those who “wrest” or distort the scriptures, which results in their own (spiritual) destruction.