One of the most common metaphors for the Christian life is that of a soldier. The image of a Christian soldier is not that of a garrison soldier wearing spit-shined boots and a starched uniform waiting on a parade but that of a combat soldier tasked with a mission for his or her Commander. The main focus of a combat soldier is completing the assigned mission.
“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.” (2 Timothy 2:3-4 NKJV)
As good soldiers for Jesus Christ, we need to endure hardships. This is easy enough to understand. Paul, Jesus and the entire Bible make it pretty clear that following Christ doesn’t mean we are going to live a life of pleasure and ease. Whether its persecution, discouragement, spiritual battles or just the general storms that come into our live, the Bible is clear that being a follower of Christ doesn’t mean we get a free pass from hardships. A part of what it means to be a good solider for Christ is that we have to be willing to endure these times without quitting.
While this is very important for us to understand, it isn’t the part I want to focus on today. It’s the idea of not being entangled with the affairs of this life. That paints quite a picture. What exactly does that mean? As I think about this, the first thing I figured out is what it couldn’t mean.
It can’t mean that we totally disengage ourselves from the world and do nothing by sing songs, read our Bibles and pray. While technically we wouldn’t be entangled with the affairs of this life, we also couldn’t accomplish the mission that God has given us (Matthew 28:18-20). So that can’t be right.
Really, you could say that any interpretation of this verse that requires us to do only “spiritual” things and never “secular” things would have to be wrong. For one thing, that kind of interpretation requires us to compartmentalize our lives and that is completely unbiblical. It is also forces us to ignore Jesus prayer that we be sent into the world just as He was (John 17:18). So that can’t be right either.
So what does it mean not to be entangled with the affairs of this life? Have you ever been so tangled up in cords or something that you couldn’t move? I have and that was what I pictured with this verse. Once when I was in the Army we were training in in a place called Viel Flicken (sp?). It was a very mountainous part of Germany and the woods were really thick. One night we were going down into a valley and we were going through a bunch of wait-a-minute vines. As we were going down a steep slope a guy named Altamore tripped and rolled partway down the mountain. He only stopped because he was so wrapped up in wait-a-minute vines. He was so entangled with these vines that he couldn’t do what he was supposed to be doing. He had been rendered missionally ineffective by these vines.
I think this is the idea that Paul is going for here. He’s not calling on us to set in church, read, pray and sing until Christ comes back. He isn’t calling on us to compartmentalize our lives or not be out among those who need Christ. He is telling us not to get so entangled with the things of this life that we can’t be actively involved in completing the mission we’ve been given.
Think about this, how easy is it to become so entangled with the things of this life that we end up neglecting our relationship with Christ? I mean, we don’t have time to read our Bible and pray, much less be actively involved in the mission of making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). This is what it means to be entangled by the affairs of this life. It is to be so entangled, so busy, that we become missionally ineffective.
Statistics show that overall the Church in America is in decline. While America’s population grows, church attendance drops. I’ve read a couple articles that suggested that this is caused by the laziness of the American Church. Personally, I don’t think the American church is lazy, I think the American church is busy. I think that many of us have become so entangled with the affairs of this life, or so busy, that we have become missionally ineffective.
I’ll add to this that I don’t necessarily think being entangled with the affairs of this life has to mean sin. Sure sin can entangle us and render us missionally ineffective, but it’s not the only thing that can. In fact, I would probably go so far as to say that most of the time what entangles us and renders us missionally ineffective will NOT be sin. It will be things that in and of themselves are fine, maybe even good, but when we become so busy with good things that we can’t do the best things, it’s a problem. When we are so busy, even with good things, that we cannot focus on our relationship with Christ or the mission that Christ has given us, then we have become entangled in the affairs of this life.
Look at the last part of Paul’s statement in verse 4. When we become entangled in the affairs of this life we cannot satisfy the One who has enlisted us into His army. Think about this. We can be productive members of society. Regularly attend church. Living a non-sinful life and still NOT be living a life that pleases Jesus because we are so entangled in the affairs of this life that we’ve become missionally ineffective. Is that convicting to anyone but me? Later Paul goes on to say,
“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:6-7 NKJV)
Paul was a guy who didn’t become so entangled with the affairs of this life that he became missionally ineffective. Therefore, at the end of his life he was able to say that he’d fought the good fight, he’d finished his race and he’d kept the faith. In other words, he had stayed missionally effective and missionally active right until the end. He had done all that Christ wanted him to do. What an incredible statement.
Now let me get you to think about a couple of questions. If you knew that when you went to bed tonight you would die, could you make the final statement, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished my race. I have kept the faith.” Could you say that you stayed missionally effective and missionally active right until the end?
If you knew that you had 40 more years to live, could you keep living the way you are living right now and at the end say, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished my race. I have kept the faith.” Would you be able to say that you stayed missionally effective and missionally active right until the end?
If we can’t answer yes to these questions we may wonder what we need to do. Let me give you two things.
Honestly evaluate your life. If the answer is no, there is a reason why. To honestly evaluate our lives, we have to start this evaluation with the realization that the problem lies with us. It is the decisions we are making that are making us missionally ineffective. As you evaluate your life, look to see if you are entangled with sin or the affairs of this life. Look to see if maybe it’s something else all together. But look to see what is making you missionally ineffective. If you can’t figure it out pray and ask God to show you.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” Psalm 139:23-24 (ESV)
Cut yourself loose. Once you figure out what the problem is you have to cut yourself loose. You have to take decisive action to free yourself from whatever it is that has entangled you. I’ve found that things like this won’t go away on their own. They won’t go away because I hope they will. They will only go away because I make the decision to cut myself loose. This is an act of faith. Doing this is saying to God, “God, because I want to be missionally active and effective for you I will do whatever it takes to make this possible.”
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” Hebrews 12:1 (NKJV)
To be able to honestly say what Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:6-7 won’t happen on accident. We will have to put forth intentional effort to make this happen. We also have to realize that the decisions we make now will determine what we will be able to say when our time comes.