It sounds like the first line of another bad joke, but have you ever considered what a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer have in common? At a basic level of observation there does not seem to be anything of value that would coalesce these three with a sense of commonality. However, a deeper observation of Scripture finds there is one thing they all have in common: they are each used by the apostle Paul to describe aspects of Christianity.
Consider 2 Timothy 2:3-6:
Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully. The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits.
In this passage the apostle considers attributes from each of these types of people to make application to the Christian. Each one relates something different, but each attribute is equally vital to the survival of the servant of God.
No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier (Vs. 4). Part of the soldier’s responsibility is to not worry about what is happening around him, but to ensure that he does his job performing the orders of his commander. His duties are vital to his survival and that of his fellow soldiers; therefore he must be wholly focused on the task at hand.
The same holds true with Christianity. Christians are to have one focus in life: the fulfillment of the orders of our Lord and Commander. Those orders will penetrate every aspect of our lives and relationships, but in order to be accomplished acceptably our focus must remain on the task at hand. It is easy for Christians to get caught up in the petty things of this world; to become distracted or disheartened by the wicked deeds of others around them. Nevertheless, the Christian must remained focused on what the Lord commands, for only by maintaining that focus on truth and godliness can a man ensure his eternal survival and aid his fellow man.
And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully(Vs. 5). The athlete who desires to win in an event can only do so by striving for his goal according to the rules. The athlete who refuses to compete according to the rules will be denied the goal of winning the endeavor before him.
In Christianity, there is only one way for us to win the race that is set before us (Heb. 12:1), that is by running it according to the rules. There are no shortcuts in Christianity, there is no changing of the rules in the middle of the game, the same rules apply to all and will be equally applied across the board. Therefore, the only way for the Christian to win the race and receive the prize is if the individual has played by the rules.
The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits (Vs. 6). The farmer who works in the fields or vineyards is the first partaker of the fruit of his labor. He has worked diligently to plant and cultivate seed and to protect his crops from harm, therefore he is the first to enjoy the fruits of his labors.
In the life of the Christian the principle of sowing and reaping is often taught (Gal. 6:7-9; Mat. 6:19-21). As Christians, when we sow our spiritual fields with the word of God, when we live our lives according to his commands and teach others to do the same, we reap the rewards of our labors. The Christian is not sowing to gain physical wealth and crops, but is working with the desire of reaping a spiritual harvest of eternal rest for the righteous (Heb. 4:11).
As Christians we need to live and work having learned from the examples of the soldier, athlete, and farmer. We must remain focused on the orders of God, live according to the rules he has put in place, and labor toward the reaping of the final harvest. If we are willing to apply these attributes to our lives we will realize in eternity the truth of Paul’s statement later in the context, when he writes, “It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him” (2 Tim. 2:11).