2Tim 2:4 “No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier.”
The Bible compares the Christian life to many things. It compares it to a man who sells everything he has to buy a single pearl (Matt 13:4), to being an athlete who runs his race with diligence (1 Corinthians 9:24), and to a soldier who is enlisted for battle (2 Tim 2:4). The Bible uses extreme examples to illustrate that like these people, a Christian should have a single-minded goal in life - and that is to please God.
A Christian who has a worldly heart is like a soldier who is in a foreign land and starts to become busy and caught up with all of the attractions of that new land. He quickly loses sight of his goal and his duty, and pretty soon he’s made his home in that foreign land because he’s captivated by all it can offer. His mind is constantly occupied by these new things and he has forgotten about the war he came into the land to fight. It didn’t happen all at once but very slowly it happened without him even realizing it because he was following the subtle desires of his flesh and lost sight of his higher calling. The same thing happens to many believers.
Mark 4:19 “But the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.”
The subtle pleasures and cares of life can creep in, at first very harmlessly. But then over time they start to grow. It’s like a little flat balloon that the devil slips into my heart. He will deceive me by saying that it’s just a small insignificant deflated balloon that doesn’t take up much space, that there’s plenty of room for it. But once it is in my heart (where I cannot exercise my will anymore to say no to it consistently), the devil will then slowly inflate it over time, little by little. Then, over time, it will crowd out my affection for God. The previously flat balloon in my heart that’s filled with worldly cares grows, and the other balloon in my heart which is filled with the desire for God gets squished by it, and becomes smaller.
This verse (Mark 4:19) explains much about why it’s often hard to follow God with consistent whole-heartedness. Why do we sometimes lose our desire for God and our desire to please Him? Because desire for enjoyments and the things of the world creep into our heart and ‘choke’ and ‘suffocate’ the word. Our heart only has so much room in it, and if it is crowded up with desires for the world then our desire for God will suffocate. If we fill our stomachs with junk-food, we will have no desire for healthy food. We may not outwardly reject God, but our Christian life will be unfruitful and useless for God’s purposes. We will slowly drift from Him and make no spiritual progress. We will lose our closeness with God and a consequence of this is that we will also lose our peace in the Lord and become disturbed more and more by the troubles of the world. God might have to allow us to see that we cannot find rest in the things of the world in order that we will come back to Him for rest, just like the prodigal son went back to his father only after the world let him down.
Since Jesus said that a desire for “other” things can choke the word, we should understand that the “other” things He was talking about aren’t necessarily sinful things. We can refrain from sin, but still live to please ourselves (in things that aren’t sinful) and in that way choke the word out of our lives.
1 Corinthians 10:23 “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.”
There is a type of Christian who is content to be saved from Hell, but then desires to spend the rest of his or her life not living for God, but instead doing many ‘lawful’ yet ‘unprofitable’ things. They are comfortable with themselves as long as they are not committing any major sin, and apart from that, they can enjoy as much of the world as they want. They want to have Heaven for themselves when they die, but they also want to have the “heaven” that this earth has to offer too!
This is not the type of heart that loves God. If we really love God we will not primarily look to gain pleasure for ourselves, but we will strive to live our lives to please God. As our verse in 2 Tim 2:4 says, a solider does not entangle himself in everyday life, because he wishes to please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. If we love God, we won’t live for our own pleasure. Our goal will be to please God above ourselves.
There’s a picture of this in the Old Testament. In Israel, the most sacred spot in the whole world was called the ‘Holy of Holies’. This was in the tabernacle and later in the temple, and it represented where God dwelt. It was so sacred that only the high priest could go in once a year (Heb 9:7), and God gave specific commands of what was to be placed in there. Nothing and nobody could go in there that didn’t belong.
In the New Covenant, each of our bodies are called the temple of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy of Holies is now each of our hearts. So just like in the Old Covenant, nothing should enter my heart that doesn’t belong because my heart is the place that should be totally occupied with God. Your and my heart is the sacred place that belong to God and we shouldn’t crowd them with pointless worldly things. We must treat our hearts with sacred reverence:
Prov 4:23 “Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.”
To “watch over your heart with all diligence” means to be careful what you set your primary desires after. It’s not sin to enjoy the blessings that God has given us. The Bible says that God has given us many of these things for our enjoyment (1 Tim 6:17). We can freely enjoy things of this world which aren’t sin. But we should never let an enjoyment or interest in certain things of the world become an obsession, where our hearts are entangled in them and we start to chase after them. Our strongest desire in life should be to please God because we love Him. So be very careful when your desires start to stray away from God. When this happens, repent immediately and determine yourself by the grace of God to press into the Lord whole-heartedly again. Strive to please God, spend less energy on other things and trust God to let them fall into place where He allows them to:
Matthew 6:33 “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”