2Timothy4v6to8: FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT

Introduction. Read 2Tim4v6to8.

Some people, men especially, are quite unprepared for a major life-style change. This is true of certain sportsmen who find it difficult to adjust to being out of the limelight. Tommy Lawton was a great early post war centre forward. He was lauded by the terraces but after it all came to an end he found himself on the scrapheap and struggling so much he had to receive social security and ask friends for money and jobs. Paul Gascoigne is a modern day example of a great sportsman who could not live without football.

The greatest life-style change of all is death. We should all ask ourselves the question, "Am I ready."

There is a tombstone in a cemetery in the U.S.A. with the following inscription:

Pause now stranger, as you pass by
As you are now, so once was I;
As I am now, so soon you'll be.
Prepare yourself to follow me.

Next to the tombstone someone had placed a board with the following words:

To follow you, I'm not content
Until I know the way you went.

The apostle Paul was ready for death because he knew the way he was going. Earlier in this epistle he had written to Timothy: For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. 2Tim1v12.

Matthew Huffman, the six-year-old son of missionaries in Brazil, awoke one morning with a fever. Before long he lost his eyesight. His parents put him in their car to drive him to hospital. On the journey Matthew raised his arm and reached out. His mother gently pulled it down but he repeated the action. So she asked, "What are you reaching for Matthew?" Her son replied, "I'm reaching for Jesus' hand." He reached hospital in a coma and two days later died of bacterial meningitis.

Matthew, albeit so young, knew who to reach out to in the hour of death. Both he and Paul were ready because of their belief in Jesus the great Shepherd of the sheep. (With thanks to SermonCentral for the anecdotes.)

In this short passage near the end of his last letter Paul makes three things clear:

(1) His perspective on death.

Paul's reaction to his impending death was very different to that of many in Britain today. There was no fear, no bitterness, no despair and no apathy. He certainly did not cling desperately to life in the belief that you only live once. Paul viewed his life in two ways:

(a) As a kind of sacrificial thanksgiving offering. At the conclusion of a special Roman meal a cup of wine was taken and poured out in gratitude to the gods. It was often poured over a charcoal fire. The alcohol would evaporate leaving a residual sweet and pleasing aroma.

Paul saw his martyrdom like that. He would make it a thanksgiving offering for all God's blessings to him in life. Paul would transform a cruel and unjust execution into something fragrent to God by his attitude to it. In this the apostle was following in the footsteps of his Master. Jesus said that no man would take his life from him but that he would lay it down of himself. Jesus took the opportunity on the cross to offer his life to God as an atoning sacrifice for mankind's sin. God in grace accepted the sacrifice Jesus offered and I am in no doubt that God, too, accepted the thanksgiving offering of Paul.

It is very unlikely that we will be martyred. However it is highly likely that sometime in our lives we will suffer. Our attitude to suffering can either make us or mar us. We can either glorify God in it or curse God for it.

(b) Not as an end but as a release. The Greek word translated 'departure' had several significant associations in the time of Paul. It could refer to:

  • Unyoking an animal from the shafts of a cart or from a plough. The ox would welcome this release from its toil. I felt like this when I finally retire from 37 years of teaching! So Paul saw his death as a rest from his labours. Only someone who has worked as hard as the apostle can fully appreciate what the prospect of rest meant to Paul.

  • Releasing a captive from his bonds or fetters - unshackling him - setting the prisoner free. Paul viewed death as setting him free from the world, the flesh and the Devil. No chains could bind Paul in death. He was finally set free from the old nature and any inclination to sin whatsoever.

  • Loosening the guy ropes of a tent, striking camp and moving on to pastures new. Paul believed that in death he would be travelling to a better land.

            There is a happy land, far, far away,
            Where saints in glory stand, bright, bright as day;
            Oh, how they sweetly sing, worthy is our Saviour King,
            Loud let His praises ring, praise, praise for aye.

            Come to that happy land, come, come away;
            Why will you doubting stand, why still delay?
            Oh, we shall happy be, when from sin and sorrow free,
            Lord, we shall live with Thee, blest, blest for aye.

            Bright, in that happy land, beams every eye;
            Kept by a Fatherís hand, love cannot die;
            Oh, then to glory run; be a crown and kingdom won;
            And, bright, above the sun, we reign for aye.

(2) His performance in life.

Paul reviewed his life as a servant of Jesus Christ using three terms more commonly used by sportsmen. Paul claimed to have:

(a) Fought a good fight. It will help us to understand what Paul meant by this if we establish what a boxer needs to fight a good fight.

  • He shouldn't underestimate his opponent. Paul never underestimated what a powerful and crafty opponent Satan is and nor should we. He will hit us when our guard is down. He is never so dangerous as when we feel on top. Nor can we expect him to fight fairly. Satan is adept at hitting below the belt.

    Just consider King David. There he was one fine spring evening, restles and bored, prowling about on the roof of his palace. In a garden below a beautiful women was bathing .... .

    Satan is particularly active when our spirits are low and we are at our most vulnerable.

  • He needs to be supremely fit. Boxers undertake a rigorous training regime. Hours and hours are spent in the gym; skipping, lifting weights and sparring.

    A Christian needs to keep fit. One of the best ways to do this is to keep active in Christian service. King David should have been with his army besieging Rabbah. When a Christian begins cutting down on the work they do for Christ there is often a decline in spiritual stamina. The less you do the less you want to do with devastating consequences for your spiritual fitness.

  • He needs to be skilful. A boxer needs a good defence and the ability to throw some good punches.

    Jesus was able to counter Satan in his duel in the desert by quoting Scripture. Paul, too, made good use of the Old Testament in his controversy with the Corinthians. There is no doubt that one of the best defences against the jabs of Satan is to have in mind appropriate Scriptures. I have in front of me a Gideon New Testament. In the front is a very useful section on where to find help in time of need. For example, how should we react if unjustly criticised by fellow Christians. Satan would encourage us to retaliate or to harbour resentful thoughts. My Gideon Bible refers me to Luke6v27and28 where Jesus says: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you."

    We need a good knowledge of the Scriptures to mount a skilful defence against Satan.

  • He needs to be courageous. A boxer has to withstand heavy blows - to be knocked down - get up and carry on.

    There is no doubt that Paul fought a good fight. He had been battered and bruised but still fought on. See 2Cor11v16to33. Also my exposition on this passage. Paul had been on the canvas more often than not - but never stayed there long!

    Too many Christians give up after a bruising encounter. They are disillusioned and defeated. The way to win is to resist the Devil. The scriptures promise if we do this he will flee from us.

(b) Finished the race. The emphasis here is on finishing. Many who set out on a super marathon which may be as long as a hundred miles or a super long trek drop out. The same could be said of students undertaking a rigorous course of study or of graduates entering the teaching profession. Many give up.

The most important factor in ensuring a long race or arduous trek is completed is the right mental attitude. Here are three good pieces of advice for the marathon runner:

  • Be aware of what it takes to complete the race. Be prepared for obstacles along the way and likely setbacks. It is significant that almost at once after Saul's conversion Jesus appointed him the apostle to the Gentiles and showed him how much he must suffer for my name. Acts9v16.

    This contrasts with the teaching of some modern evangelist that if you become a Christians all your problems will be over. This gives rise to unrealistic expectations.

  • Keep in mind that there is a finishing line. Every step brings the runner one step closer to the finishing line. It helps to set small targets - just another mile - just another 400 yards - and so on.

  • Bear in mind the goal. Most people running the London Marathon do so to raise money for charity. This is their objective and it motivates them to keep on going. I can remember some staff at the County Upper School organising a 40 mile weekend trek. Tim the PE teacher volunteered to go. He was nimble but overweight and I bet him £5 he would not complete the walk. He limped into the staff room on Monday, very much the worse for wear, but with hand outstretched in my direction. The £5 bet had kept him going.

A Christian should be aware of the difficulties he or she will experience along the way. Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress is a realistic guide to what the Christian can expect as a disciple of Jesus. Bunyan's pilgrim kept in mind his goal - to reach at the last the Celestial City. (Some new converts never get beyond the Slough of Despond!)

It should be the believer's goal to remain true to Jesus and to serve him to the best of his ability in order to be resurrected from the dead and to enjoy eternal life. Paul wrote to the Phillipians: I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Phil3v10and11.

Paul finished the race!

(c) Kept faith. I feel the commentators rather miss the point of this statement. I believe all Paul's claims are those that could be made by competitors in the Greek Games. Competitors had to train virtually full time for several months to be eligible for the games. So I expect they were sponsored. A sponsor had faith in the athlete to perform well and the athlete would do his best to keep faith with his sponsor.

This is certainly how it is today. When a footballer is selected to represent his country in the World Cup he should give of his very best to keep faith with the selectors, the manager, the supporters and team-mates.

The apostle Paul kept faith with Jesus who chose him to be the apostle to the Gentiles. He kept faith with Barnabas who selected him to help in the work at Antioch. He kept faith with the church at Antioch who sent him on his first missionary journey. He kept faith with all those Christians who contributed to the collection for the church in Jerusalem.

We, too, need to keep faith with:

  • Jesus. He called us to be his disciples. Remember what he said at the Last Supper: "Now that I your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Jn13v14and15.

  • The church that nurtured us and appointed us to a particular task. Many Christians simply fail to realise that they have an obligation to their church. They see it as providing a service for them and if that service is inadequate leave and go somewhere else.

  • Individual Christians who respect us and rely upon us. We should do our best never to let our brothers and sisters down.

When Andy Murray was part of the Great Britain team that won the Davis Cup he seemed to experience even more joy than when he won Wimbledon. I think this was because he was representing his country.

Christians should never forget that they are representatives of Heaven - of the Man in Heaven - Jesus Christ the Lord. There is no joy like succeeding in his name and for his sake.

(3) His prospects at the Judgment.

The athlete in the ancient Greek Games who won a competition was crowned with a laurel wreath. It was a great honour - a fitting reward for keeping faith, finishing the race or fighting a good fight.

Paul describes his reward as:

Guaranteed. It was in store for him - laid up for him in heaven. It is like the inheritance that Peter describes - kept in heaven for you. 1Pet1v4.

Glorious. It is a crown of righteousness and not a wreath that fades. Paul's beautiful crown for righteous living will be studded with all those jewels in store from laying up treasure in heaven.

          I am thinking today of that beautiful land
          I shall reach when the sun goeth down;
          When through wonderful grace by my Saviour I stand,
          Will there be any stars in my crown.

          Will there be any stars, any stars in my crown,
          When at evening the sun goeth down?
          When I wake with the blest in the mansions of rest,
          Will there be any stars in my crown

(c) Personal. Paul's crown would not be awarded by any earthly dignitary but by Jesus. Nero might treat Paul as a loser but the King of Kings would honour him as a winner.

(d) Future. The judgment occurs after Jesus' return to earth. It is then the award ceremony will take place. We can rest assured that the crowning day IS coming.

(e) Shared. The Olympian's crown, like the gold medal today, was only awarded to winners. Crowns of righteousness will be given to ALL who fight well, finish the race and keep faith. There will be many winners! Everyone who genuinely longs for the appearing of Jesus will be crowned. There will be many, many who will be wearing crowns of varying magnificence in the Day of the Lord.

(f) Permanent. The Olympic winner's laurel wreath soon faded but Peter says our inheritance, and that includes our crown, can never perish, spoil or fade. 1Pet1v4.