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
Next to the tombstone someone had placed a board with the following words:
To follow you, I'm not content
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:
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.
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:
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:
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 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,
(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.