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A Profile of Enduring Faith - Finishing|
Finishing Strong (2 Timothy 4:6)
Sent to Finish
By 7 p.m. on October 20, 1968, at the Mexico City Olympics Stadium, it was beginning to get dark. The last of the Olympic marathon runners were being assisted away to first-aid stations. Over an hour earlier, Mamo Waldi of Ethiopia had charged across the finish line, winning the 26 plus mile race looking as strong as when he'd started. As the last few thousand spectators began preparing to leave, they heard police sirens and whistles through the gate entering the stadium.
The attention turned to that gate. A solitary figure, wearing the colors of Tanzania, came limping into the stadium. His name was John Aquari. He was the last man to finish the marathon in 1968. His leg was bandaged and bloody. He had taken a bad fall earlier in the race. Now, it was all he could do to limp his way around the track. The crowd stood and applauded as he completed that last lap. When he finally crossed the finish line, one reporter asked the question everyone had been wondering. "You are badly injured. Why didn't you quit? Why didn't you give up?" Aquari, with quiet dignity said, "My country did not send me seven thousand miles to start this race. My country sent me to finish."
Mandate to Finish
Let me affirm that it's the same way with God. God didn't just send you and me to start this race. He didn't just send us to begin a noble task for Him or a noble relationship with Him. God sent you and me both to start and to finish.
How Many Finish?
In terms of the Bible's analogy of the Christian life as a race, how many of your friends who used to walk with and serve the Lord are still in there running the race? Think seriously! How many of the Christians you knew back when you first came to faith in Christ, are still faithfully walking with and serving the Lord?
How many of the committed Christians you knew in high school have dropped the "committed" part by the time they finished college or hit their 10th high school reunion?
How many seventy or eighty-year olds do you know who have been believers for decades and are finishing strong in the faith? In other words, they are still walking with and serving the Lord in whatever way they are able. And they are still an example of enduring faith for others to follow.
Last Lap Fall-Out
Some of you may know several people. But sadly, others can barely name one or two. It seems that there are plenty who start well in Christianity, but few who end well.
Bible scholar William Barclay writes:
"It is easy to begin (the Christian life) but hard to finish. The one thing necessary is staying power, and that is what so many people lack."
So many people fall out on the last lap. Why? Because of the type of race it is - a lifelong marathon whose course is very unpredictable and extremely challenging. Because we're required to run in conditions that are very harsh and even sometimes downright hazardous. Because we're human - and sometimes we respond to the pressures of our race course in the wrong way.
Three Responses to Tough Times
I believe there are three basic ways in which most of us react to the tough times which God, in His absolute sovereignty, has placed us.
1. First, we can react "indifferently:" We tell ourselves to relax and not let things get to us because they are going to all work out after awhile.
2. The next way we often react is "impulsively." When we're in the hard spiritual times we tell ourselves to do something, anything, just to get some fast relief from the pain that we're experiencing - pain because our faith is being tested and refined by God. We run for the comfortable benches on the sidelines instead of enduring toward the finish line.
3. A third common response is based on "insecurity:" We watch for what others are doing in the tough course of events they are in and then we do that. Fear has us looking to conform to what the majority is doing rather than listening and responding to what Jesus wants us to do.
Consequence from 3 Responses to Tough Times
Let me quickly point out the fallout from each of those knee-jerk reactions:
"Indifference" will often result in "unreliability" because we fail to consider what God could be teaching us in the test.
"Impulsiveness" can lead us into "disobedience" because as we run away from the trial God has us in we side step what it is He desires to do in our lives.
"Insecurity" requires that we be "conformed" by the pack rather than be transformed by following Jesus.
If those are the wrong reactions to running in tough times, what, then, are the right responses that will enable us to finish strong?
Let's look at 2 Timothy. In 2 Timothy we find that Paul was dealing with an enormous failure rate of people as they were dropping out of the race. As he writes the letter to Timothy, Timothy was on the verge of dropping out. Perhaps in some ways he already had.
Timothy on Verge of Dropping Out
We find that Paul had to remind himself that Timothy was, in fact, a genuine believer (v. 1:5).
Timothy had been in the battle for some time and he was weary. Church members had resisted, intimidated and opposed him. They were likely pressuring him to abandon sound doctrine and the true message in favor of a kinder, more user-friendly one (v. 1:6-7).
The world, almost certainly, had opposed him to the point where he was ashamed of the testimony of Christ (v. 1:8).
Timothy was weak and had backed away from the ministry (v.2:10, 12).
Timothy had likely given in to sin in various areas of his life (v. 2:22).
He had stopped following Paul's spiritual and moral example (v. 3:10, 14).
Timothy had stopped providing solid Biblical instruction and counsel for his flock (v. 4:1-4).
Local Church Members Bail Out
Others once associated with the local church there had also bailed out:
Phygelus and Hermogenes (v. 1:15)
Hymenaus and Philetus (v. 2:18)
Demas, Crescans, and Titus (v. 4:10, 16).
So these last words of Paul record a massive breakdown by many in the faith.
4 Right Responses
But, in chapter 4, Paul tries to rally Timothy by giving him some words of challenge and encouragement. Paul has come to the end of his life. For the last 30 years he had served, sacrificed, and suffered for Jesus Christ. These are his last words in all of Scripture. Let me draw out four right responses to dealing with the questions and problems and uncertainties we're going to face as we live for the Lord. These words are from someone who finished the course - the apostle Paul.
1. Be Realistic (v. 6)
You and I need to face the facts realistically. Look at verse 6 with me:
2 Timothy 4:6 - "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come" (NASB).
As Paul wrote this, he was in prison, cooped up in an underground Roman cell. The day of his death was perhaps not too far away, and he faced that fact squarely. He refused to be a "Polly Anna" about the situation. He didn't entertain any unrealistic hope that he might be allowed to continue on in his missionary endeavors for the Lord. To deny the reality of his own situation would have only weakened his determination. Paul was determined to stay strong. So he faced reality, painful as it was.
If you and I are going to finish well, we need to realistically face the tough facts that come into our lives as well. Only then will we be able to find ways to get over the problems and stay on course.
For example, if you claim Christ as Lord and Savior, know that there are going to be people who are going to oppose what you stand for and who are not going to like your message. Know that when you share the gospel with others, the majority of people won't respond in a positive way. Be realistic about the cost involved in following the Lord!
2. Be Committed (v. 7)
2 Timothy 4:7 - "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith" (NASB)
We need to be committed to finishing what we start. Paul emphasizes three things here that are important ingredients to finishing the race well. Two of these are "implied" and one is "assumed."
Determined to Finish
1. First, we need to be determined to finish what we start. We may need to fight against difficult and grueling circumstances. It's a battle! We need to battle ideas and other things that are raised up against the true knowledge of God. We need to battle the things that threaten to corrupt pure doctrine and true Biblical instruction. We will also often need to battle ourselves when it comes to winning out over sinful habits and attitudes that slow us down. (I said that so easily. It's not that easy, is it? We won't win the battle unless we've got a firm faith with which to fight).
2. We need to be disciplined. Paul said he had finished the course. That did not happen by chance. It was the result of a disciplined pursuit of God. He had to discipline his mind and his body so that he wouldn't fall out of the race.
Look at 1st Corinthians 9:24-27
9:24 - "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.
:25 - Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
:26 - Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim. I box in such a way, as not beating the air,
:27 - but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified" (NASB).
Pray and Commune with God
Being committed to finishing the race well means that we need to give ourselves to praying and to communing with God on a regular basis. It involves Bible study and worship and other spiritual exercises. Those are the things that are going to carry us to the finish line.
3. Walk with God.
Furthermore, a third element we need that is implied in this passage is that we will need to walk with God. We can be tough, have all the right disciplines, and still miss the Lord in the process. Walk with God. Don't just talk about God! We can become so consumed with ministry that we forget the Master. We can become so weighed down with winning the lost that we neglect the one who won us, Jesus Christ. Nothing can substitute for your relationship, your day by day walk with Jesus Christ. NOTHING!
III. Be Focused (v. 8a)
2 Timothy 4:8a - "in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day" (NASB)
You and I need to learn to focus on the future when the present is difficult. Do you see how Paul is looking ahead here? Instead of focusing on his impending execution - what's immediately ahead - he is anticipating the reward he will receive from Jesus for finishing the course. The thought comforts him in that depressing dungeon. Who knows, maybe it even put a smile on his face, something which just frustrated his captors to pieces!
Focus on the Future
When the present is difficult, we need to focus on the future. Perhaps you are raising a houseful of little people with sticky fingers and dirty faces. Do you ever entertain the thought of giving up, of quitting? Take your focus off the stained sofa and put it on the end product - mature adults who love the Lord Jesus and who can hand their enduring faith off to the next generation.
No matter what your circumstances are, encourage yourself by focusing on the finish line. Ask God to help you focus there. Ask Him to help you handle the situation.
IV. Be Encouraged (v. 8b)
2 Tim. 4:8 - "in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day, (v. 8b) and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing" (NASB).
We Are Not Alone
We need to be encouraged by realizing that we are not the only one that is standing firm and hanging in there during these tough times. Look at the last part of verse 8. Probably one of the most demoralizing thoughts we can be hit with when we are struggling is to entertain the idea that we are all alone. We begin to think that no one else has the same difficulties we do.
Has that ever happened to you before? All of us face similar hurdles as we run this race. There is nothing new under the sun. Paul told the Corinthians that,
"no temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man" (1 Cor. 10:13)
Take comfort in that simple fact. You are not alone. James says to "confess your faults to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed" (James 5:16).
When we keep our struggles with sin to ourselves, we end up thinking we are all alone. Find a brother or sister who is strong and is headed the same direction in this race you are, towards the finish line. Draw close to them, create a mutual accountability.
Tempted To Quit?
When you feel like quitting…
The Bible lists quite a few people who felt like quitting from time to time.
Elijah faced a tough situation and said, "Lord, take my life…" Moses faced it, too.
So we can be assured that we will face tough times, especially if we desire to live a godly and distinctive lifestyle. I don't know about you, but I've more than once entertained the thought of giving up and giving in. How many of you have entertained the same notion?
Let me give you two quick helps:
1. First, learn to count your blessings. Those memories of God's provisions and faithfulness can greatly encourage you and add strength to your stride.
2. Second, remind yourself that whatever is really worth having is worth sacrificing for. Is finishing well and strong worth the sacrifice? I believe it is. But more importantly, Jesus thought so…remember? In Hebrews 12:2-3 we find these words about the Lord:
Hebrews 12:2-3 - "fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Let us consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (NASB).
I want to leave you with one more thing to think about. When we think about whether or not we'll finish well in this race of faith, most of us focus years ahead to when we might die. What we need to do, no matter what your age or status, is ask ourselves how well we are running now in the shorter, less glamorous dashes of life. Maybe it's a Sunday School class you agreed to take for a couple of months. Are you doing your best to pray and prepare each week, or are you "winging it?"
Perhaps it's a project you're working on for your boss. Will the finished product be first class or mediocre? Don't look at what someone else is doing. Rather, look at what you are doing!
What about when someone asks you to do behind the scenes work, or your roll gets changed? Does your pride cause you to want to quit serving altogether? Or do you hang in there and still give your best?
If we hang in there, then we can say with Paul,
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).
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