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2 Timothy 4:1-8
THE VIEW FROM THE END ZONE
Intro: I love to watch football games and one of my favorite parts of a ball game is the after game interviews. You know, they will interview players and coaches from both the winning and the losing teams. The winners always say something like this: “Well, it was a good day for football. We were able to execute our game plan and everything just came together for us.” The losers sometimes say things like: “Well, it just wasn’t a good day for us. We weren’t able to execute and our game plan never came together like we thought it would. Those other guys just had a better day.”
Calling the game is much easier when you’re standing in the end zone! It is always easier to look back and see what you did right and what you did wrong. Life is a lot like that too! It’s not easy to look ahead and see what’s going to happen. We all come to the field to win, but there are times when we must walk away having lost the big game.
As I read these verses, I am aware that Paul is standing in the end zone of his life and he is looking back over the game he has played. These verses are as close as we will get to an after the game interview with Paul. However, for all intents and purposes, his ministry is over. He is sitting in a Roman prison, with nothing to look forward to but his execution at the hands of the Roman government. Paul knows his time is up, but he wants to give us an interview before he leaves for glory.
I’m glad he did! You see, here is a man who played a good game! He didn’t fumble the ball. He had not been tackled by the enemy. He had stumbled but a few times and he has reached the end zone of his life with his ministry and his testimony intact. I think he might have something to say that we might be interested in.
I would like for us to listen in to these powerful words of the great Apostle. He is, in effect, writing his own epitaph. You know what an epitaph is don’t you? It is those words your loved ones, hopefully they will choose the words and not your enemies, have carved into your headstone when you die. I think of an epitaph I read one time that went: “Here lies Lester Moore. Four slugs from a forty-four. No Les. No Moore.” Or the headstones I saw down in the cemetery of Gilboa Methodist Church. These grace date from the late 1,700's. On a few there are hands with the index finger pointing toward heaven. Indicating, I suppose, where they think the deceased might have gone to. But, on a few, there is the picture of hands chained together at the wrist, with the index fingers pointing down towards Hell.
I think if Paul could have supervised the chiseling of any inscription into his headstone, it would have been the words of verse 7. This great man writes his own epitaph before his death. In these words of these verses, we find the after game interview of a faithful servant of Jesus Christ. He breaks the entire Christian life down into three neat, clear components. What he has to say to us about his walk with the Lord will help you and me with our own walk with the Lord, as we too inch ever closer to our own end zone experience. Notice what was important to Paul as he stood in the end zone of life.
I. HE SPEAKS ABOUT THE WARFARE
(Ill. The words “fought” and “fight” both come from the same word that gives us our English word “agony”. They were used in Paul’s day to refer to ancient Greek games, where contestants struggled one against the other for supremacy. The contest that Paul seems to have in mind is the wrestling matches that were so popular in that day. Paul’s desire is to remind us that, as believers, we are not on a playground, but a battleground. In our Christian walk, we are engaged in battle and the best word to describe that battle, at times, is the word “agony”. Let’s see what he has to say about the battles we face!)
A. The Entry Into This Warfare - We enter the fray when we are “born again”. As soon as a person is saved by grace, they become a spiritual creature, 2 Cor. 5:17. Before their conversion, they were dead in sin, Eph. 2:1, and were dead to the things of God. They were a willing participant in the works and activities of the devil. However, when they are converted, they become alive to God and His work. They are indwelt by the Spirit of God, John 14:17; 1 Cor. 12:13. The problem with this lies in the fact that the old man of sin is still alive as well. This creates tremendous spiritual conflict within the life of the believer, Gal. 5:16-17. The old nature still desires the old ways of living and the sins of the flesh. The new nature wants to please the Lord and there is a struggle that ensues. Add to this the fact that Satan will do everything in his power to cause you to stumble and fail, 1 Pet. 5:8, and you have a recipe for conflict and battles! I think we would all agree that this life is filled with spiritual battles, especially if you are seeking to serve the Lord!
B. The Enemy In This Warfare - Man is never the enemy! Man may be used by the enemy for his purposes, but man is never the enemy, Eph. 6:12. Therefore, we need to learn how to forgive one another and walk in love as the Lord has commanded us, Matt. 22:37-39; Eph. 4:32. Often, we are guilty, in our zeal to combat what we perceive as evil, of fighting one another and that is a situation God cannot bless, Gal. 5:15. May we be careful to focus on who the real enemy really is! His name is Satan and he comes to us dressed as an angel of light, 2 Cor. 11:14. That is why he is so successful. He hides his true colors, while he causes us to fight to wrong enemy. A person may be a tool in the devil’s hand, they may speak the devil’s words, they may do the devil’s business in the church and to you and me, but that person is never the enemy. If anything, they need our prayers more than ever!
C. The Energy In This Warfare - Notice that Paul says, “I have fought a good fight.” Paul isn’t taking the credit for his successful ministry, but he is echoing the same thought he expressed in Gal. 2:20. He may be the one in the battle, but his energy comes from the one Who lives inside his heart! Thankfully, we do not have to fight the spiritual battles in our own power, but we can fight them if we will learn to stand in the power of the Lord, Eph. 6:10. If we can ever learn to stand in His power, we will be able to come to the end zone of our life and say with confidence, “I have fought a good fight!”
D. The Equipment In This Warfare - Just as a reminder, the battle we are fighting is not fleshly in nature, and neither are the weapons we are to use in the battle, 2 Cor. 10:3-5. Carnal people wield carnal weapons! The stinging arrows of gossip, the cruel spears of personal attacks, the sharp swords of threatening words and the harsh whip of cowardice and deception are the weapons of evil. The weapons of our warfare are designed to enable us to stand in the thick of the battle while our Lord fights them for us, Eph. 6:11-18! In fact, all of our weapons are defensive in nature, except for the Word of God and prayer! And, each of these must be used properly and for the glory of God.
II. HE SPEAKS ABOUT THE WALK
(Ill. Paul turns from the wrestling arena to the area of track and field. He has in mind the runners in the Greek games, who were required to run great distances in the hopes of being the victor. Here, Paul gives us some insight into the race we are running.)
A. He Mentions The Race - The word “course” literally refers to a “career or a race”. Paul merely reminds us that we each have a race to run! This thought is echoed in Hebrews 12:1-3. There area few thoughts I would like to pass on about this race we are engaged in today.
1. This race is individual in nature- I am not competing against you, nor are you competing against me. We mus remember this, or jealousy will creep in and cause us to stumble!
2. I cannot run your race and you cannot run mine - The individual course that we are to run has been planned out by the Lord. He decides whether the way is easy or difficult. He decides where we run and how long we run. So, the best thing we can do is stay in the lanes that God puts us in and run our own race. I will have enough to answer for at the end of the day for myself, without having to explain your race also.
3. There is only one person to watch in this race - We are not to watch one another, but we are to look to Jesus. He is the only One Who matters!
4. Whether your race is short or long, you can finish well - The judge will not judge us based on how someone else ran! Our own race will stand alone!
B. He Mentions The Reality - When Paul uses the word “finished”, if you listen closely, you can almost hear the apostle say “Whew!”. (Ill. Paul is referring to the ancient Marathon in the Greek games. In 490 B.C., the Athenians won a crucial and decisive battle over the forces of King Darius I of Persia on a plain near the small Greek coastal village of Marathon. One of the Greek soldiers ran nonstop from the battlefield to Athens to carry the news of victory. But he ran with such unreserved effort that he fell dead at the feet of those to whom he delivered the message. The marathon races that are so popular today are named for that battlefield. They also are a tribute to that soldier, the length of the run being based on the approximate distance (just over 26 miles) he ran in his last maximum effort for his country. He had completed his course, and there is no nobler way for a man to die.” He had finished his course when others around him hadn’t, v. 10. The reality of the matter is this: The race is difficult at times and it is easy to wander off course or fall by the wayside. That is why we are cautioned in Heb. 12:2 to get rid of anything that would hinder us from running a good race! I don’t know about you, but I would like to finish well!
Not everyone in this room is going to finish well. That is just the reality, but here is another reality: You can finish well, if you will keep your eyes on Jesus and run to please Him alone!
C. He Mentions The Reward - Those competitors in ancient Greece competed to win a little crown made of either oak leaves or laurel leaves. Those little crowns quickly perished. Athletes today compete for trophies and medals that will also perish. Paul looks beyond the end zone in which he stands and he sees a day when the Lord Jesus Christ, the only official in the race of life, will give him a crown that will never fade away! Paul is telling us to keep running and don’t bother waiting around for men to reward you or cheer your efforts. Just run the race, because pay day is not down here, it is over there! The Lord is watching your race and He sees everything you do. Notice that Paul calls Him “the righteous judge”. Men may not get it, but He does! He will reward you for a race well run. So, keep running, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith!
III. HE SPEAKS ABOUT THE WORD
(Ill. Paul ends his epitaph by calling attention to how he has handled the Word of God. Since Paul was a preacher, we may think that what he has to say here only applies to preachers, but in truth, there is a word here for all of us today!)
A. He Had Preserved The Message - When Paul says “I have kept the faith”, he means that he has “guarded it” like it was a precious treasure, which it is! How did Paul guard the faith? He maintained it in its pure form and he passed it down to others who would do the same, 2 Tim. 2:2. There are all kinds of opinions as to what the church should be and how it should operate, but one of our primary missions in this world is to be a repository for the truth. We are to be like a spiritual Fort Knox guarding the precious Word of God, refusing to alter it one bit, while we faithfully pass it down to the next generation. In fact, one of the surest way to gage the effectiveness and health of any church is to look at how they handle the truth! If they are keeping the truth, they are honoring the Lord. If they have altered the message, then they have slipped into error!
B. He Had Proclaimed The Master - Involved in this idea of keeping the faith is the sharing of that faith. Unlike the Hope Diamond that is keep behind several feet of glass so that people may see it but not touch it, the Gospel we hold is designed to be given away! It is the only treasure in the world that becomes more valuable as you give it away! Paul’s testimony to his ministry can be found in 2 Cor. 4:5. There he says, “For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake.” Paul is telling us that while he guarded the Gospel, he was also in the business of giving it away. Let me encourage you to give away the treasure! If all we ever do with the truth is keep it under lock and key, then it benefits no one and it will cause us to become nothing but dusty, dry museums where the truth is stored in a look but don’t touch fashion. However, if e become active in giving the treasure away, it will bring new life and purpose to our lives and to our church!
C. He Had Protected The Messenger - Notice that Paul says, “I have kept the faith”. Here is a man who has reached the end of the journey and he is still clutching the message, not just with his hands, but with his heart. Through all the battles he has fought, through all the lonely valleys he has traveled, Paul never fell out of love with Jesus! Despite the fact that he was lonely, v. 9-12, discouraged and facing death, he still held on to his relationship with the Lord. What is he saying? As you go through life, you are going to face some difficulties. You are going to get hurt. There will be times when you will be misunderstood and misrepresented. There will be days when you must walk all alone. However, in spite of what you may be called upon to face in this life, you keep your faith in Him! If you can keep your eyes on the Lord while you run the race of life, you will reach your end zone and be able to say “I have kept the faith!” Not everyone is going to be able to say that, but you can if you will run for Him and Him alone! Friends, man will fail you, just ask David, Psa. 41:9, but I assure you that the Lord Jesus Christ will never fail you! You will reach the end of your course and find that you are still in possession of the ball! I want to be able to say “I have kept the faith” don’t you?
Conc: What kind of epitaph will men place on your headstone? Regardless of what you and I may say about our lives, or what others may write about us when we are no more, God has the final word! When you stand in the end zone of your life, will you be able to look back and say, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:” You can! Maybe you need to talk to the Lord about the Warfare, the Walk or the Word. There will be a post game interview, let’s be able to give a good one that is honoring to the Lord! If there is a need in your life, you come.
Perhaps you wandered in here and you are lost today. Let me just remind you that you can only get to Heaven if you know Jesus Christ. If you have never been saved, please come to the Lord today and call upon Him by faith. He will save your soul if you will come to Him.
Let’s just mind the Lord today and let Him have His way in this invitation!