Thirty years ago, I preached a sermon titled “Dedicated, Law-Abiding, and Hardworking” from 2 Timothy 2, beginning with verse 3. My life, especially in the early years, was wrapped up in three metaphors from 2 Timothy 2:3–7—the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer. When I write words for Generation Z (those born between 1995 and 2015), these are among the first verses that come to mind.
I grew up on a cattle and grain farm in northeastern Kansas. Therefore, I learned the value of hard work from my youth up. I was driving a tractor in the hay fields before starting first grade. Little did I know then that it is the hardworking farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops (2 Tim. 2:6). I entered grade school, and I learned immediately that I like sports.
I played all available sports in high school (in those years, we didn’t have the breadth of the sports we have today, especially at a small school), and I played basketball at Geneva College. In that arena, I learned that an athlete must play according to the rules (v. 5). After coaching for a year at Geneva College after graduation, I was drafted into the U.S. Army and spent one full year as an infantryman/company clerk, beginning at the rank of private E-1 in the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. While there, I learned that a good soldier must be dedicated and cannot be entangled in civilian affairs (v. 4).
There is a growing concern among some people that the younger generation, including our covenant youth, are putting off adulthood as long as possible.
There is a growing concern among some people that the younger generation, including our covenant youth, are putting off adulthood as long as possible. And perhaps that is partially due to what they see in the lives of those of us who are older. Leisure is all-consuming these days. The leisure economy is what makes much of our world tick today. That is one reason why cities on the coast are so popular. We live in a leisure-based economy. My wife told me recently that she met a man who told her that every day is like a Saturday for him. He meant by that statement that his days don’t have the cares or responsibilities of the usual work week.
Maybe the millennials have learned it from the baby boomers. But for whatever reason, there is a substantial concern today about our children putting off adulthood as long as possible. I heard Don Kistler, at that time the head of Soli Deo Gloria Publications, say several years ago that the average age of a profession of faith two hundred years ago was five years old. Do you think the Puritans were concerned that their children were delaying the responsibilities of adulthood? I don’t think so. Think of all the Puritans who were trained at the great colleges by the time they were in their mid- to late teenage years.
Today, in some settings, decisions such as joining the church as a communicant member are delayed as long as possible. In lots of ways, our children may be picking up from the parents that they really aren’t ready for adulthood.
Let me come back to the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer. The soldier knows that if he is to be successful, he must put away the concerns that don’t relate to the life of a soldier. Remember Uriah the Hittite? Uriah wouldn’t lie with his wife, Bathsheba, even when King David encouraged it. He didn’t feel comfortable sleeping in the same bed as his wife when the other soldiers were in the field sleeping on the ground.
The athlete plays by the rules. If he doesn’t do so, he risks bringing his team down with him. A lot of Christians, both young and old, risk shipwrecking their faith for the passions of the moment. They seem to think that it doesn’t matter if they cut corners or don’t intend to follow through on their commitments.
The farmer is a hard worker. During the summer months, he works from sunup to sundown. During the winter, he gets his machinery ready for the spring, and he cares for any livestock he has, regardless of how much snow is on the ground.
Young Christians, the church needs you. Prepare for battle. Become a grown-up. Work hard; separate yourselves from that which easily entangles you; and obey your heavenly Father. Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead (2 Tim. 2:8). Focus your eyes on Jesus, and on Him above all else.
Dr. Jerry O’Neill is president emeritus and professor emeritus of pastoral theology at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh.