************ Sermon on 2 Timothy 4:7-8 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on October 8, 2000

2 Timothy 4:6-22
2 Timothy 4:7-8
"I Have Finished the Race"

Topic: Perseverance
Subtopic: Keep On Trying
Date: 10/2000.101
Title: Olympics 2000

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- Nearly an hour after the medalists had taken their victory lap on Sunday, October 1, 2000, three lonely marathoners made their way into Olympic Stadium -- drawing more cheers than the winners.
First came Jose Alejandro Semprun of Venezuela, carefully plodding his way into the stadium more than 20 minutes after the previous marathoner. He circled the track, finishing 79th and coming within two seconds of finishing in three hours.
Semprun, 27, came down the final straightaway with the race clock directly in front of him. He could see the seconds ticking off ... 2:59.36 ... 2:59.37 ... 2:59.38.
As he approached the finish line, the crowd tried to will him to go just a tiny bit faster, but he just couldn't. The clock read 3:00.02 at the end of his race.
Then came Rithya To of Cambodia, who smiled and raised his arms to the adoring crowd as he slowly covered the final 20 yards. Then the 32-year-old To, the flagbearer for Cambodia two weeks earlier during the opening ceremony, began grimacing. He collapsed to the track a few steps after finishing in 3:03.56.
The Cambodian stayed on the ground for several minutes, and then was removed on a stretcher.
Finally, more than five minutes later, the last runner entered the stadium. Elias Rodriguez of Micronesia was in 81st place, but he accomplished what 19 other men in the marathon could not -- he finished.
Rodriguez crossed the line in 3:09.14, more than 59 minutes behind the winner. After he crossed the finish line the workers quickly gathered the orange cones on the track and set the stage for the closing ceremony to begin.
These three men were in intense pain, they had no chance of winning a medal or a place in the record book, yet they finished the race anyway. Why? Why didn't they just quit?

The answer, I believe, comes from a similar incident at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968:
Topic: Perseverance
Subtopic: Keep On Trying
Date: 10/2000.101
Title: Olympics 1968

It was 7 p.m. on October 20th, 1968. Only a few spectators remained in the Mexico City Olympic Stadium. The winner of the 26 mile marathon had crossed the finish line more than an hour ago, and now, the last of the marathon runners were across the finish line and leaving the track.
As the last few spectators began to leave, those sitting by the entrance suddenly heard the sound of sirens. One last runner appeared at the entrance. The man, whose leg was bloody and bandaged, was wearing the colors of Tanzania.
The Tanzanian runner, experiencing intense pain, hobbled around the 400 meter track in the stadium, and the few remaining spectators rose and applauded him as though he was the winner.
After crossing the finish line he slowly walked off the field without turning to the cheering spectators. In view of his injury, and having no chance of winning any medal, a curious spectator asked him why he did not quit the race.
The Tanzanian runner replied, "My country did not send me 7000 miles to start the race, but sent me 7000 miles to finish it."
Do you see why he finished the race? Do you understand why the three men at this year's Olympics also finished the race? They were sent by their country not just to start the race but also to finish it.

Those who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior have also been enlisted in a race. Jesus has enlisted you to not only start the race but, more importantly like the marathon runners to finish the race and to finish well.

After publicly professing their faith, almost every Christian teenager starts off the Christian life full of life and vigor and energy and joy. But over the years something begins to happen. Their initial enthusiasm begins to burn out under the demands of college, career, family, recreation, and worldly goods. The race that started out as a sprint is no longer even a jog in the park!

This evening I want to urge all of you to be like the Apostle Paul. He not only started the race, but he ran all of the race, and he ran it well:
(2Tim 4:7) I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

You Young People before me this evening make a pledge, a commitment, to run and to keep on running the Christian race. You who are parents do not let all your responsibilities and all the demands on your time keep you from running well for the Lord. And, you who are elderly if you find you have not run well, if you find your life is full of bitterness and complaints and criticisms, it is not too late to regain the enthusiasm and joy you had when you were younger and to run well for the Lord.

I I Have Fought the Good Fight
A Paul says, "I have fought the good fight." I thought of this line when, during the Olympics, I watched the Olympic gold-medal Greco-Roman super heavyweight wrestling match. On the one side was Alexander Karelin, a three time Olympic champion, who hadn't lost a match in 13 years, who hadn't lost a point in a decade. The newspapers describe him as a man
who has literally frightened foes into submission, the guy who looks like your worst nightmare come true, who stalks his opponents like a killer with a noose ... a steel-ribbed, Neanderthal-browed Russian giant who sprinkles gunpowder on his cereal. How he trained, no one knew. Myth was, he ran high-stepping through four-foot Siberian snowdrifts.
On the other side was Rulon Gardner, a pudgy, 6-foot-1, 286-pound Wyoming dairy-farm boy with a 54 inch chest. Before the Sydney Olympics he was best known for his worst moment how he missed his weigh-in at the 1996 Olympic Trials. Missed by 22 seconds. Bad information. Slow elevator. He trained for the Sydney Olympics by lifting young heifers and irrigation pipe.

With this build-up the match itself was a bit of a disappointment. All that we saw was two big men pushing each other around a mat. Gardner won not because he was a better wrestler but because he outlasted his older opponent and made no mistakes. He matched force with force, chest with chest, muscle with muscle. We would have to say that Gardner "fought the good fight."

"I have fought the good fight." This line also came to mind when I was reading about Cheryl Haworth, an American weightlifter who participated in the Women's Super Heavyweight category at the Sydney Olympics. This 17 year old woman is awesome. If Vince Vander Weide hired her at Aaron's Towing, he could get rid of his tow-trucks. Why? Because of what she does for fun. For fun she picks up cars in parking lots and moves them! In winning the bronze medal Cheryl Haworth also fought the good fight.

B "I have fought the good fight." This implies a fight, a struggle, against an opponent. Paul's fight was against Satan and the spiritual forces under his control:
(Eph 6:12) For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
But Paul also fought the ignorance and blindness of paganism (cf Acts 16:16-23 and Acts 19:23-28). And, Paul fought those Judaizers who perverted the Gospel of grace by saying you needed to be circumcised in order to be saved (Acts 15:1-2).

Against all of these opponents Paul fought and fought well. He battled courageously, consistently, and victoriously.

II I Have Finished the Race
A Paul says, "I have finished the race." I want you to note what Paul does NOT say. Paul does not say, "I have won the race." That is not what he says. He says, "I have finished the race." Paul does not think of the Christian life as a sprint, as a 100 meter dash, where speed and victory are the only things that count; rather, he thinks of the Christian life as a marathon. In a marathon it is endurance and perseverance that counts.

"I have finished the race." I thought of this during the Sydney Olympics when I saw Suzy Favor Hamilton in the women's 1500 meter final. Suzy Favor Hamilton collapsed about 75 meters from the finish line. She got up and continued running even though she knew she would now finish last. She collapsed again after crossing the finish line and was taken off the track slumped in a wheelchair. Suzy Favor Hamilton "finished the race."

Marla Runyan, who ran in the 1500 final, also finished the race. Marla Runyan is legally blind. She finished the race though she can't really see the track, she can't see the other competitors, and she can't see the finish line.

B "I have finished the race." Paul is thinking here of the obedient Christian life. Paul was faced with the temptation of sin (Romans 7:23-25; 2 Cor 12:7). In a world when so many indulged in the desires of the flesh, Paul restrained himself and lived a God-glorifying life. Paul would be out of place in our world where everyone is a victim and no one is responsible for their own actions, because Paul accepted full responsibility for what he said and did.

III I Have Kept the Faith
A Paul says, "I have kept the faith." According to my Greek dictionary this means he has observed the rules, he has honored his oath or pledge.

"I have kept the faith." I would have to say that the Bulgarian weight-lifting team at the Sydney Olympics did not keep the faith. Ivan Ivanov, was stripped of his Olympic 56 kg silver medal after testing positive for a diuretic. Izabela Dragneva, the gold medal winner in the women's 48 kg category lost her medal after testing positive for a diuretic. Sevdalin Minchev, the men's 62 kg bronze medallist lost his medal and was expelled after testing positive for a diuretic. A total of 27 athletes were banned from the Sydney Games because they tested positive for banned drugs. None of these athletes can say, "I have kept the faith."

B "I have kept the faith." In saying this, Paul declares that he has remained true to God, true to his ministry, true to the Gospel. The Jews hated him for preaching that Jesus is God. The Romans hated him for preaching that Jesus is Lord. And they persecuted him for this. Listen to how Paul describes what he underwent:
(2Cor 11:24-27) Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. (25) Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, (26) I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. (27) I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
Yet, in spite of all of this, he kept true to the faith; he kept preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

At the end of his second letter to Timothy Paul mentions specific people and events that tried and tested his commitment to the Lord. He mentions Demas who deserted him (2 Tim 4:9). He also mentions Alexander the metalworker who "did me a great deal of harm" (vs 14). Paul goes on to say that "at my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me" (vs 16). Yet, he kept the faith!

Paul kept the faith. Over and over again Paul kept the faith.

There are those who wanted Paul to preach a righteousness by works. People who wanted to believe that they are good enough to save themselves. People who thought they could earn or buy their own way into heaven. People who fooled themselves into thinking we are not so bad or fallen after all. Nothing doing, says Paul. He kept the faith. (Cf Galatians 3.)

There are those who wanted Paul to teach that freedom in Christ means freedom from law. People who wanted to believe that Christian freedom means sexual freedom. People who wanted to believe that in Christ they could indulge in every desire of the flesh. Nothing doing, says Paul. He kept the faith. (Cf Galatians 4; Acts 15.)

There are those who wanted Paul to teach that all paths, all religions, all faiths lead to God and heaven and eternal life, that everyone is saved. Nothing doing, says Paul. He kept the faith. (Cf Acts 17.)

There are those who wanted Paul to teach that salvation is man's decision. People who wanted to believe that God is not sovereign. People who wanted to believe that sinful man is capable of choosing for God and against sin. Nothing doing, says Paul. He kept the faith. (Cf Romans 9.)

There are those who wanted Paul to teach that Jesus was less than divine. Others who wanted Paul to teach that Jesus was not fully human. Still others who wanted to deny the virgin birth or the resurrection. Nothing doing, says Paul. He kept the faith. (Cf 1 Cor 15, Philippians 2:5-11, etc.)

IV Three Kinds of Members
A Again, I want to urge all of you to be like the Apostle Paul. He not only started the race, but he ran all of the race, and he ran it well:
(2Tim 4:7) I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

How do you measure up?

Over the years of serving different churches I have noticed three kinds of people in the church.

First, there are those who have not enlisted in the race. Maybe they come to worship every single Sunday. Maybe their lives are upright and clean. However, for whatever reason, they fail to make a public commitment to live for Jesus. These people are spectators rather than athletes, bystanders rather than participants, couch potatoes rather than medalists. Instead of going to the starting gate these are the people who go to the concession stand. They are content to just sit back and relax and take it easy. No commitment, no training, no involvement.

B Second, there are those who have wandered off the track. At one time they made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. At one time they stood before God and His people and promised to follow Christ no matter what the cost. Since, then, however, they have lost their enthusiasm. Some have become weighted down by the pressures of family and career. Some have found other pursuits. Some have sold their soul to gain the world. Some are too busy with sports and recreation. These people fight the wrong fight, run the wrong race, and keep the wrong faith.

C Third, there are those who with Paul fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith. These people, do you know what they do? They fight against sin, the devil, and his whole dominion. They strive to live obedient lives. They tell others about Christ. They cling to the Christ of the Bible and do not abandon the precious faith of the fathers and mothers of the Reformation.

D Examine yourself, my brothers and sisters. Examine yourself openly and honestly. Which group do you find yourself in? Can you honestly say with the Apostle Paul, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith"?

Finally, I want you to notice that God rewards those who, like Paul, have been faithful. Those who fight the good fight, who finish the race, who keep the faith have a great and wondrous expectation:
(2Tim 4:8) 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.

Is this reward meant for you? Are you one of those to whom God will say, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have fought the good fight, you have finished the race, you have kept the faith. Here is your reward." Will you hear these words?
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