Paul challenged Timothy to reflect on specific qualities seen in three different lines of work: the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer. Timothy would have seen people from these lines of work on a regular basis so remembering the images would be easy. Some similarities bring these three jobs together. All three required discipline to excel in their fields. All three careers involved physical activity. All three also required a great deal of time. All three also required endurance in some form or fashion. Instead, Paul called attention to characteristics that set these three jobs apart from the other two.
The Soldier. Paul pointed to the focus required to be a soldier. The good soldier focused on bringing honor to his commander. He was not in it for his own glory or to make a name for himself. He did not worry about his own daily affairs, because it was not about him but about his commander. If the soldier brought honor to the commander, the commander would take care of the everyday needs.
The Athlete. Paul emphasized the keeping of the rules. In our mind, most of us would think about keeping the rules during the contest itself. The rules of the event were certainly part of it, but in the ancient games, one was required to participate in the training regiment if he was to compete. There were no last minute entries (at least not without a bribe). All participants were required to practice with the other contestants in the weeks leading up to the event and were expected to arrive at that practice in physical shape. They had to look the part of an athlete as well as perform. For the ancient athlete, preparing was everything.
The Farmer. Paul noted that the farmer worked hard yet was the one who received a reward from the harvest. The soldier fought to bring honor to his commander. The athlete represented his region or city and competed to bring honor to his gods. The farmer on the other hand worked to gain a reward. However, his reward was not gained until after the harvest was complete. Crops are of value only after the harvest, with very little to show for it prior to then.
Paul presented these images and then challenged Timothy to be mindful of the images. Soldiers seek to bring glory to the commander. Athletes look the part and are prepared. Farmers endure knowing a harvest will one day take place. As a servant of Christ, Timothy and all believers are to be reminded that we serve to bring honor to Christ, that we prepare ourselves to represent Christ well in this world, and that we must be motivated by heavenly rewards awaiting us in eternity. No doubt, Timothy kept these in mind as he pastored and we need to keep them in mind today as we live as a follower of Christ.