The Expository Files


 Competing According to the Rules

 2 Timothy 2:5

In a series of metaphors written to encourage Timothy in the work that he was doing, Paul wrote, "And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules" (2 Tim. 2:5). Paul's exhortation struck a resounding chord in me as I began to meditate on it.

Though there are many who would lightly toss aside the idea of "lawkeeping" when it comes to Christianity; yet, is this not exactly what Paul is exhorting Timothy to do in this passage?

The Greek word translated "according to the rules" is nominos. The same Greek word is translated in 1 Timothy 1:8 as "lawfully." It's root word is nomos, which is translated "law" in a variety of passages and is used both in reference to the "law of Moses" (cf. 1 Cor. 9:9) and the "law of Christ" (cf. Gal. 6:2).

In a very real and physical sense, just about everyone understands that you cannot win in an athletic competition unless you abide by the rules of that competition. Those who do not abide by the rules are accused of cheating and are typically disqualified from the competition. What amazes me is that we struggle with the spiritual application of this passage!

Paul is clearly saying that unless we run the Christian race lawfully, we will also find ourselves without a crown of life, which is the prize we are striving for (cf. Rev. 2:10; Jas. 1:12; 1 Cor. 9:25; 1 Pet. 5:4)! This should strike a pretty strong chord with us. Unless we want to find ourselves disqualified, we had better run according the laws that Christ has set forth in His law (cf. 1
Cor. 9:24-27; 2 Cor. 13:5; John 8:31-32; et. al.).

So, before one so carelessly casts aside the idea of "keeping the law of Christ" (as many are teaching today) and disparage it as some form of "legalism" to be avoided, we had better reflect carefully on Paul's metaphor a bit more. One way of running this race set before us leads to a crown (cf. 2 Tim. 4:8) whereas the other way does not (cf. Matt. 7:21-23). To those Jesus rejected, He said, "depart from Me you who practice lawlessness" (vs. 23). Interestingly enough, the Greek word He used there for "lawlessness" was anomian. The reason for their rejection
was that, while they did many wonderful works, they clearly did not do so "according to the rules."

As Paul wrote then, so we repeat now, "Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things" (2 Tim. 2:7; cf. Eph. 5:17).


By Jonathan L. Perz
From Expository Files 19.11; November 2012