Passage: 2 Timothy 4:1-8
September is usually the restart for many things, new schools, college, university, your first job, a new job. However, September 2020 will be remembered as a restart month like no other due to Covid. As the church prepares to resume its Sunday services in person this week, it seems appropriate to remind ourselves of some basic truths about the Christian life. To help us do this we’ll focus on some of Paul’s final words to Timothy. Paul knows that his death is imminent at the hands of the Romans. Timothy is a pastor in the city of Ephesus but the church there is going through a rough patch due to false teachers. Timothy had been raised in a Christian home and had been grounded in the scriptures by his mother and grandmother (1:5). It was the Apostle Paul however who became his example, encouraging Timothy to observe how he lived out his faith in Christ (3:10). Now Paul signs off with these words to his protegee who’d observed him for over 15 years- “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (v7) Note he speaks in the past tense- fought, finished, kept. Job done! Three things about the Christian life from Paul’s final words.
The Christian Life is a Fight
Indeed, Paul tells us that it is a ‘good fight’ in that it’s one worth fighting. And, as with all fights, there’s an opponent or three. The first opponent is ourselves, or to be more precise our old sinful nature. I may have decided to give up chocolate, but I see a bar of Cadbury’s Whole Nut in our fridge and the fight is on but sadly it’s a fight I often lose. The problem with sin is that it is always attractive and the old nature is continually drawn to it. Whenever we give in to sinful temptations then we’ve not fought the good fight but given in. The second opponent is the world and its values that are opposed to Christ. John says this in his first letter- “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (2:15) It’s so easy to live for human approval and to simply go with the flow. Sadly the flow of the world runs counter to Christ and sweeps us up if we’re not careful. The third opponent is Satan, who Peter tells us in his first letter “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (5:8) He plants his lies into our minds, fires his arrows of deceit and undermines our faith in God. He’s relentless in his attacks. Thankfully God has empowered us with His Spirit to withstand these attacks and win the fight. But even when we lose, we must remember our standing before God is always because of Jesus’ perfect performance and not ours.
The Christian Life is a Race
By that Paul doesn’t mean a 100m sprint but rather a marathon. When the 40,000 runners set off in the London Marathon maybe half a dozen men and women are thinking about winning the race, everyone else is focused on one thing- finishing it. That should be the attitude of the Christian. As Paul says, “I have finished the race.” The writer of Hebrews (12:1-3) helps us in running the race. Firstly, he tells us to “throw off everything that hinders”. Runners can’t run effectively if they have too much stuff, be it clothing, gadgets or weight. They must get rid them. So too in the Christian life we need to be wary of things in life that are just getting in the way and slowing us down, it might be a hobby or job, a relationship or possessions. Secondly, he warns us of “the sin that so easily entangles”. Sin trips us up and stops us running. It would be like a marathon runner taking a wrong turn. They’ve not just slowed down but are going the wrong way. Be wary of sinful habits that have taken hold in your life. Thirdly, he tells us to “run with perseverance”. Every time I go for a run there’s a point when a voice in my head says- “why don’t you stop and walk?” It’s in those moments that I have to dig in and keep going. In the Christian life we will face many trials and setbacks and it is in those moments that we must persevere. Finally, he says that we must “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith”. The one who began the work of faith in our lives is the one who has promised to complete it. Looking to yourself and putting your faith in your efforts is a guarantee of losing your way. But look to Jesus and keep trusting him is the guarantee of finishing the race.
The Christian Life is a Treasure
Earlier in the letter Paul tells Timothy- “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you- guard it with the help if the Holy Spirit who lives in you.” (1:14) The good deposit is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. As with anything that is valuable, we take great care to keep it safe and not be reckless with it. So it is with the gospel. We keep hold of it; savour it; treasure it; believe it; pass it on faithfully to the next generation; defend it when it comes under attack; grasp it with every fibre of our being till our dying day. As Paul concludes- “I have kept the faith” meaning he has kept looking to and trusting Jesus Christ as his Saviour, Lord and only hope till the very end. Few things have been more encouraging to me in almost 25 years of pastoral ministry than seeing elderly Christians towards the end of their earthly lives still holding resolutely to Christ by faith. They often bemoan the fact that they can’t do as much as they used to, but their example is absolute gold dust to the rest of us. It’s why you’ll hear us say that the gospel is- not only the way into the Christian life but it is also the way on in the Christian life. The gospel is not about me but about Jesus from beginning to end!
Fought, Finished, Kept. Memorable final words, but he does add one more vital detail to spur Timothy on in the face of the trial- “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day- and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (v8) The crown is not a reward for our righteous life but is the righteousness of Jesus as our reward. It’s not only for giants of the Christian faith like the Apostle Paul but every single one of us who’ve put our faith in Christ and are eager for his return. Amen!