Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted him. 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. Think over what I say, for the Lord will grant you understanding in everything. (RSV)
So how do we share in suffering? Several versions translate this to share in hardships. Hardships or sufferings, is there a difference? Probably not in Paul’s mind. We saw in the previous lesson that a faithful person must be prepared to endure many things. Some are hardships while others are more serious and I would call them suffering.
The Greek word translated “share in suffering” really should be translated “share in suffering along with …” Since Paul didn’t identify who to share the suffering with, it can be presumed to be Paul or even others who are on the front lines of spreading the Gospel. So sharing in suffering isn’t to be understood as taking the burden from Paul or others but it is a call to enlist to do whatever is necessary to further the kingdom of God. And thus, comes the metaphor of a good soldier.
At this point it is important to make sure this is a metaphor and not meant to be taken literally. If we were to take it literally, then it would be a call to do physical violence to anyone opposed to the Gospel as can be seen in other religions that use similar words. Since this is not what Jesus preached (Matt 5:43-48), then we can be assured that Paul is using a metaphor and not expecting us to take up arms to do physical battle (2 Cor 10:3-5). This is further clarified by using two non-military metaphors.
And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. (Luke 8:14 KJV)
The first way in which a soldier of Jesus Christ is like a soldier of the world is in having a single-minded purpose. Full time soldiers don’t have businesses on the side. They have to be able to drop everything and deploy. Many soldiers have gone into battle with concerns of the home front instead of the dangers that are immediately around them. They are vulnerable because they are distracted and are more easily killed in action. The follower of Jesus can’t be like the person who claims to have put Christ first in his life but is more concerned with achieving abundance for himself in this life.
The strange part of not being single-minded is being choked. The world teaches us that the more we have, the happier we will be. But these things actually choke our spirits. We may feel good on the outside and appear to be happy, but our spirits are gasping for air. The more we hear the call of the world, the wheezing of our spirit grows quieter. Instead of producing fruit, we are producing thorns. Those thorns tear at our marriages, relationships, work, and even civic duty. Instead of being effective in our service for the Lord, we lose even more time trying to patch our holes and doing that is usually in unbiblical ways.
Satisfy the Commander
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:10 NASB)
Being a good soldier requires us to remember that God created us for a purpose. This means that He is our Commander. He has a plan and He wants us to accomplish it. He did the hard part when He rescued us through Jesus from our old commander, Satan (Eph 2:1-3). If we thought about that long enough, it should be sufficient to keep us trying to satisfy Him instead of ourselves.
And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Heb 4:13 ESV)
We must give account for our actions to our employers in the world; how much more should we consider that there will be a day when we must give account to our heavenly Commander? This is one of the big areas that separate true followers of Jesus from those who profess to be Christians but don’t live like it. It’s called surrender. Being ready to give account to our Lord is demonstrated in surrender to His will. He doesn’t need to ask us what we did because He sees all. Instead, He will tell us how well we followed Him (Matt 25:31-46).
The soldier knows that he must obey orders because his life and those in his company depend on it. There are even times when he is called upon to give his life while not understanding the circumstances. Some larger battles have been won because a few obeyed at the cost of their lives in what some would have called a suicide mission. Many lives have been lost because a few have refused to obey similar orders. Then, some have lost their lives senselessly because their leaders are fallible and gave bad orders.
How much more should we obey our Lord in total surrender to Him? He is infallible. He works all things for the good of those who love Him (Rom 8:28). We often baulk at that truth because we don’t see the bigger picture but think that the verse means we should individually receive good out of every trouble. We question God when we don’t see the good in our lives. Our eyes are then only focused on earthly things instead of eternal things. We don’t understand that our suffering or afflictions may not be for us but to strengthen others or even bring them to salvation. We don’t consider the eternal glory that we will receive and more importantly, the glory it brings to Jesus (2 Cor 4:16-18).
Follow the Rules
Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. (John 4:20 KJV)
You would think that God would be pleased when people worshiped Him regardless of where or how. But that isn’t what was required in the Old Testament. God made it clear the there was a place and way to worship Him (Deut 12:11). That didn’t change until Jesus came and offered Himself as the once-for-all sacrifice for sin (Heb 10:9-10). So you ask what is Paul talking about with an athlete and competing by the rules.
Just like the people of the Old Testament, people today want to do things their own way. The Old Testament worship pointed to Jesus. There was one way to approach God and that was by the sacrificial system that represented what Jesus would do to make a way for us. There is still only one way to approach God and that is through Jesus Christ (John 14:6).
Learn what Jesus had to say about living Godly lives in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:1-7:27) and you will see that even though Jesus paid for all our sins, He expects us to live in a certain way and do His will (Matt 7:21-23). We aren’t left to our own concepts of godly living or ways to approach God. We must follow the rules. The rules don’t save us, but our obedience to Jesus demonstrates that we are saved and that He is living in us. His rules aren’t burdensome (Matt 11:28-30) like the Old Testament because they come from a changed heart that wants to do His will. It comes from a heart that is married to His.
Not following these rules means we are disobedient which demonstrates we are not in the kingdom of God. Jesus says He doesn’t know those who are disobedient. Their hearts are leading them away from God just as those in the Old Testament who ignored God’s provision strayed from God and worshiped on every hill. They soon worshiped other things and sacrificed their own children (2 Kings 16:1-4). Those who attempt to come to the Father through any way except Jesus are doing the same thing.
Share in the Crop
I would venture to say that when most people look at the metaphor of the farmer sharing in the crop, they immediately think about other places in Scripture where a minister of the Gospel is to be materially rewarded. Jesus told the disciple that while they were on the road to stay in one house and eat what was provided (Luke 10:7). Paul made several references to being supported while ministering but he also deferred support so that he wouldn’t be accused of peddling the Gospel (1 Cor 9:10-12, 2 Tim 2:6).
While it is important to make sure that ministers are supported, there is more to this verse than physical support. I say this because the previous two metaphors were talking about our attitude toward service. It seems that the third should have an application that goes beyond getting paid.
I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Cor 9:23 NIV)
Paul often comments that his blessings in spreading the Gospel is not in the physical rewards but in the rewards of seeing people come to Christ.
Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved. (Phil 4:1 KJV)
Paul established a relationship with those he led to the Lord. Twice in this verse he calls them dearly beloved. He calls them brethren or brothers (I’m sure there were a lot of sisters there too, but that’s the way the talked back then). They were family, the family of God.
His reward was joy, something that is of heavenly origin when someone comes to Christ (Luke 15:7). If you have ever led someone to the Lord, you have experienced this joy as well. He also referred to this joy as a crown. Some have called this the crown of soul winning. But as I look at other similar verses (Phil 2:16, 1 Thess 2:19, and 1 Thess 3:9) they all relate to joy, not a physical or spiritual crown that we will receive. What is even better is that we get a foretaste of that eternal joy when we see the results of our ministry in the lives of people.
Think about It
Oh, how I love your instructions! I think about them all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are my constant guide. Yes, I have more insight than my teachers, for I am always thinking of your laws. (Ps 119:97-99 NLT)
Paul’s writing has become as important as the rest of God’s Word. His command is to think about what he has written. David knew the importance of mediating on God’s Word. We get better understanding the more we think about the Word. We can contemplate the metaphors Paul used and compare them to other Scripture. As we do that, we will become wiser.
Thinking over instructions such as God has provided through Paul’s writing should be something we do all day long. Of course, we can’t do it every second, but how much better would it be to think and meditate on God’s Word than listening to talk radio on the way to or from work when those programs are designed to aggravate instead of edify. Pundits make a living dividing and making you think that other people are your enemies. If they are your enemies then thinking about God’s commands will make you wiser than them. It will also make you realize that perhaps the commentators don’t always have your best interests at heart.
As we think about and study God’s Word, we will also be able to advance in understanding beyond those who have taught us. We respect godly teachers and try to learn as much as possible from them. But the truth is that they are taking God’s Word and explaining it to us. They aren’t coming up with new revelations that aren’t in Scripture and if they are, then we should be wary of them. We shouldn’t stop listening to godly instruction, but we should be able to dig into the Word and understand it ourselves. Our goal should be to apply the Word to our lives and grow in Christ. We can’t do that if we don’t think it over.
When we think it over, then the Lord gives us understanding. For example, think about these three metaphors. What understanding do you get that you can apply to your life in each of them? Is there more to them than what I’ve said? Is what I’ve said beneficial because it aligns with the Word or is it preaching something else? Think it over and look up other verses from cross references or do a word study. Whatever you do, keep thinking it over when you study God’s Word. Thinking it over fulfils the command in Phil 4:8 and you will have peace because God is with you (Phil 4:9).
 NT:4777 sugkakopatheo (soong-kak-op-ath-eh'-o); from NT:4862 and NT:2553; to suffer hardship in company with: (Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary.)