By Eric Ang

(from Bethesda Bells July 2002 issue)

In 2 Timothy 2:5 we read that "if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules". The whole book of 2 Timothy is devoted to the Apostle Paul's "last days". As he looks back he encourages all Christians to "endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ"/

In today's softened Christianity we live as if an athlete and a  soldier can be produced with the immediate injection of steroids. We often need emotional upliftment and God in His mercy lifts us up through an encouraging word, a "spiritual experience", or even a smile and a pat on the back. But strong spiritual muscles which we need to make us good soldiers and athletes are developed through great patience and endurance through hardship. We must not "entangle" ourselves "with the affairs of this life". (2 Timothy 2:3, 4)

As Christians, we have committed ourselves to run the race. The amazing thing is that we seem to change our minds midway in the race, run backwards sometimes, get distracted, purposely eat a bowl of chilli so that we get diarrhoea in the middle of the race, stop to take a rest, seem to forget that the prize at the end of the race is worth winning. An athlete cannot run at his own pace, when he feels like it, and still win the race. 

The race of life seems to be a long one until you look back at the years which have flown by. Obituaries often have the verse "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7). How may I wonder, actually lived lives which could be compared to the Apostle Paul in order to claim those words.

In 2 Chronicles 16:9 we are told that "the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him". King Asa was punished because he had forgotten where his real military strength and protection came from.

As we run the race and sometimes feel weak and discouraged, never forget to call on the Lord who will strengthen you. But at the same time don't consciously "entangle yourselves in the affairs of this world". The key word here is "entangle" or "snared" or "trapped". As with all traps, it comes most unexpectedly and you are out of the race. By the grace of God He will always "provide a way of escape" (1 Cor 10:13). But what a waste of valuable race time if we don't run according to the rules of the race. We will also lose the crown.

"And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules." (2 Tim 2:2-5)