“Finishing the Race”Categories: Sermons
American society has many quirks, but one of the strangest of them all is our cultural denial of old age and death. Everybody tries to keep the same youthful body type they had when they were 18. We have Rogaine and Botox to conceal the effects of our advancing years. We hide our elderly away in nursing homes where nobody has to look at them, and many funeral homes these days are in financial trouble because nobody goes to funerals anymore. Basically, Americans want to pretend that we’re all a bunch of perpetual teenagers who will continue to live on this earth forever.
However, all of us are here tonight because we know better. Our earthly lives are not limitless. Indeed, the opposite is true, and every day, each one of us moves one day closer to the end.
This is a sobering thought, but it doesn’t have to be a hopeless one. In Christ, every one of us can have the hope of a life that is limitless, though it is not here. However, if we want that hope, we have to be faithful to Him until the end. With this in mind, let’s consider the apostle Paul’s thoughts about finishing the race.
In the first of these final reflections, Paul encourages Timothy to PREACH THE WORD. Here, let’s read from 2 Timothy 4:1-5. There are two things in this text that we need to attend to, and the first has to do with our work. Not all of us are preachers, but all of us have a ministry to fulfill. All of us have some work that God has given us to do in His kingdom, and we are responsible for carrying out that work in the same way that Timothy was. We have to do what we know is right, and we have to continue doing it, regardless of what anybody else says or does.
We also must pay attention to the kind of hearer of the word that we are. As Paul observes, some Christians will have itching ears. They are more concerned with hearing things that please them than hearing sound teaching from the word of God. Indeed, they are offended by sound teaching.
At this thought, all of us will say, “Oh, no! That’s not me!” However, we need to pay attention to ourselves to make sure it isn’t us. Let me ask you this. The last time you heard a preacher say something you didn’t like, how did you react? Did you check his teaching against the Scriptures and show him his error from the Scriptures if he was in error? Or instead, did you get mad about it and complain about it to him or others? Brethren, hearing the truth and not honoring it is a sign of having itching ears. We all must make sure that we endure sound teaching, especially when we don’t like it.
After this injunction, Paul contemplates HIS DEPARTURE. Look at 2 Timothy 4:6-8. Even though Paul speaks euphemistically, it is clear that he is about to die. We might expect to die at home, or perhaps in a hospital bed someplace. Paul knew that wouldn’t be his fate. If tradition is accurate, and we have no reason to doubt it, he met his end by the sword of a Roman executioner.
However, Paul’s faith is such that he contemplates his imminent and violent death with joy. He says with confidence that he has done what God expected him to do, and because of that, he knows that he will receive the crown of righteousness.
From this, we must learn that it is possible for a Christian to die with assurance. We don’t see Paul being all wishy-washy here: “Oh, I hope I’ll go to heaven!” Instead, he knows he’s going, and he’s left his confidence on record for 2000 years.
He doesn’t have this confidence because he thinks he’s so perfect. After all, in 1 Timothy 1, he calls himself the foremost of sinners. Instead, his hope is founded on Jesus and His word. If we will set our hope in the same place, then every one of us can die with confidence too.
From here, Paul turns his attention to INCONSTANT BRETHREN. We see his description of recent events in 2 Timothy 4:9-15. Basically, he wants Timothy to come to Rome to see him because pretty much all of his other companions have gone elsewhere. Some of them are off working, one has left the Lord, and one has even started actively opposing Paul!
From this, we should learn to put our trust in the Lord rather than in other Christians. We tend to think of ourselves and others as relatively stable, but the reality is that all of us change and sometimes change dramatically. Sometimes the change is good. Mark is the same guy who left Paul in the lurch during his first missionary journey, but now he’s useful for service. At other times, though, the change is for the worse, and if somebody we depend on is headed in the wrong direction, we’re in a world of hurt!
In my experience, one of the most common reasons that Christians give for falling away is that the other people at church weren’t treating them right. I’m not going to get into what I’ve seen of the validity of those accusations, but I will say this: if the bad behavior of Christians can damage your faith in Christ, your faith was never in Christ to begin with. People change. People let us down. The Lord doesn’t and won’t.
In fact, Paul’s closing thoughts are about THE LORD’S RESCUE. Let’s wrap things up by reading 2 Timothy 4:16-18. Paul reveals that this isn’t the first time that Christians let him down. During his first trial before Caesar, everybody abandoned him for fear of their own lives! However, the Lord was with him through the whole process, start to finish. Jesus got him through it.
Paul expects this to be the invariable outcome. He says that Jesus will rescue him from every evil deed and deliver him safely to heaven. In light of what we just read a few minutes ago, this sounds like Paul has lost his mind. He’s expecting to get beheaded, and yet he says that the Lord is going to keep him safe???
The truth is that the safety that concerns Paul isn’t the safety of the body, nor should the safety of the body be the primary concern of any Christian. Ever since Genesis 3, it’s been true for all of us that if the earth continues, sooner or later we won’t.
Instead, Paul is concerned with the safety of his soul, a soul that has a much more fearsome enemy than any Roman emperor. He knows that only Jesus can keep his soul safe from the evil one, and he knows that Jesus will do it. For that, he anticipates praising Jesus forever and ever. We should too.