Sunday School Lessons

Always in Training

Do you know of people (or have you been one of them) who have gotten out of shape during the pandemic?  I know that some people used that opportunity to get out and go for walks, or to spend time at home exercising, but the “COVID 15” is a real thing for others.  (For readers outside the U.S., that would be the “COVID 7”, I guess, measuring kilograms of potential weight gained.)

Another interesting thing to watch is sports teams who were obliged to jump into a season without the usual practice.  While I’m sure many of them worked to keep fit and train on their own, there is an element of teamwork that cannot be achieved remotely, and this could be observed in early-season games.

Paul reminds us (via a letter to Timothy) that practice and focus are important in the process of following Jesus.  He uses several illustrations to remind us about the value of giving up something lesser for something greater.

No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.
2 Timothy 2:4‭-‬6 NIV

(I think that it’s good to remember that Paul and Timothy, while both serving as evangelists and leaders in the church, were also guys.  Paul uses metaphors like being a soldier, athlete, fighter, and farmer, which Timothy would have been able to relate to.  Maybe they even got tickets to go watch the Olympics or other sports together, when they were in the same town.)

Back to this passage: You can’t be a good soldier if you worry about distractions.  While I respect those who serve in the Reserves, and have both a civilian job and obligations to the military, when their weekend to train comes up, or when they are called up for deployment, that is their priority.  A full-time soldier – especially one who is deployed with constant responsibilities – cannot be putting 40 hours a week into another job, and still doing his or her job.  And, like a follower of Jesus, a soldier’s role is to obey the commanding officer.

In the same way, when we think of Olympic athletes (maybe next year?), they sacrifice years and years of their lives for training so that they can try to win on the global stage.  And, if they cheat (which unfortunately does happen sometimes), any victories that they win are taken away from them when they get caught.

For those of you who know what it means to work the land, you might relate best to the farmer.  I don’t think that there are many jobs in this country that require as much of a full-time commitment as farming.  The farmer cannot decide to just sleep in when the seeds need to be planted, or when the harvest window opens up.  Vacation schedules are not set by when it is convenient or when other relatives want to travel.  The farmer doesn’t just work to make money, though: like all of these examples of people that give up something for a greater cause, he or she should get to eat from the land, too (and, the good stuff, not just the late-season leftovers).

Just like soldiers, athletes, and farmers, following Jesus means that we are committed to Him first.  His instructions take first priority in our lives.  We might “give up” other activities to invest in becoming more like Him, whether that means joining others for worship and study, or our own Bible reading and prayer times.  And, when the time comes that we are called to plant seeds of faith or bring souls to Jesus, we must not hesitate to jump in and do what we need to.

Finally, though, like the sports leagues that couldn’t practice together, if we don’t serve and minister with others regularly, our team skills can tend to atrophy in the church.  So, stay attentive to what is most important, but don’t just do so on your own: share your practice time with others, too!

From Sunday School lesson, prepared for and taught on October 11, 2020.


  • Christian Standard, Volume CLV, Number 10, pages 83-84. © 2020 Christian Standard Media.
  • Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
  • The College Press Commentary, 1, 2 Timothy & Titus, by C. Michael Moss. Ph. D.  College Press Publishing Company, © 1994.

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