“I have finished the course” (2 Timothy 4:7).
“But flee youthful lusts and pursue righteousness….” (2 Timothy 2:22)
If you think of life on earth as a race, the Christian life is the strangest one ever.
Okay, let’s think of life as a race.
And we don’t mean ‘rat race.’
Recently, I conducted the funeral of a 53-year-old man whose death was sudden and completely unexpected. Two weeks later, the coroner has still not figured out why he died.
This gentleman was a runner and a longtime member of a local track club which oversees dozens of races of all kinds every year. Several members of the club eulogized him during our service.
While they were speaking, something occurred to me.
Imagine a race where you have no idea how long it is or when it will end. You don’t know whether it’s a sprint or a marathon. It could be short, it could be long. You would not be so foolish as to save your energy for that final burst at the end, that sprint to the finish line, the way so many runners do.
In life, we do not know where the finish line is located. This is simply another way of saying with God’s Word, “Boast not thyself of tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth” (Proverbs 27:1). Or, the statement in James 4:13-14 which emphasizes, “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow.” Life’s race may end at any time.
For the man buried this week, the race ended at 53 years, 2 months, and 6 days.
Life is like that: a starting line here, obstacles up and down the course, a pothole here and a detour there, and eventually the finish line, however unseen and completely unknown until you hit it.
The Christian life is a race of an unusual character….
RUN AWAY–“Flee youthful lusts.”
In most races, you’re just running for the enjoyment or the competition, from here to there. But in this race–the Christian life–we are running away from some things and toward others.
We are to run away from something the Apostle Paul calls “youthful lusts.” Now, Paul is a mature preacher addressing a young pastor, so let’s remember the context.
What he called “youthful lusts” could be one thing for one person and something else for another. For good reason, I suppose, the Holy Spirit left it general and vague.
Some unbridled desires which seem to afflcit young adults more than they do others could include selfish ambition, a drive for material possessions, the passion to make a name for oneself, and with the hormones raging, sexual temptation. Come to think of it, there is nothing on that list–not a cotton-picking thing–that does not bother all us older people either. Maybe there is no such thing as “youthful lusts,” and they’re just “human yearnings.” Either that, or they afflcit us as young people and continue to hound us for the rest of our days.
I have wondered sometimes if the continual torment of what he calls “youthful lusts” drove the same Apostle Paul to exclaim, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” That’s Romans 7:24.
Run away from those things. Do not argue with them, reason with them, justify them, or rationalize them. Get out!
Of the several ways Scripture provides for believers to “flee” from harmful passions, these come to mind….
–“Make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Romans 13:14). If you are on a diet, do not keep a stash of candy bars in your desk drawer.
–“Give no place to the devil” (Ephesians 4:27). We recall how the Lord’s enemy Tobiah had rented out a room in the Temple in Nehemiah’s day (Neh. 13:4-9). Not good. Time to clean house!
–“Resist the devil and he will flee” (James 4:7).
Get away. You are no match for temptation. Run in the opposite direction. Run toward the goal.
RUN TOWARD–“Pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace….”
The goal to which we run is a life of righteous acts and godly character of faith, love, and peace.
To be known as a righteous person–a man/woman of great faith, filled with generous love, and of a strong peace–that’s about as good as it gets.
None of us will not get there accidentally.
We have to “pursue” these goals.
RUN WITH–“…with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”
You will run better with the right kind of companions and buddies. That’s the basis of running associations and track clubs. People with the same values and identical goals can encourage one another.
Loners are in trouble from the start. (See Ecclesiastes 4:9-12) This is why the Lord always sent disciples out in pairs and why He ordained that new believers would be added to the congregation.
The running companions you choose will say a lot about you and will go a long way toward determining how you finish. We recall Scripture’s line about this: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scoffers…” (Psalm 1)
I cannot read Psalm 1 without recalling my experience as a new seventh-grader in that unfamiliar school. For reasons unknown, I had begun associating with a neer-do-well whose joy in life was cutting classes and hanging out around town until time for the school bus. One day it occurred to me that I was miserable doing that, that I actually enjoy going to class and studying.
That’s when I got up and moved.
In class, I took a seat on the front row, and left my friend in the rear. On the bus, I sat with someone else. And when he wanted to hang out, I was busy.
That day, I began enjoying school, my grades began to climb upward and life became enjoyable once more.
Sometimes, we just have to get up and move.
So, while we choose to run with some people, we choose not to run with others. In Second Timothy, Paul cautions his young protege against some professing disciples who are to be avoided. “Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, men who have gone astray from the truth…” (2:17-18) “Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected as regards the truth….” (3:8). “Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone….” (4:10).
One day, the race will end.
In Paul’s case, the finish line lay just ahead and he recognized it as murderous Caesar with his killing machine. Yet, reading Second Timothy, we find no note of despair anywhere. Paul knew the Lord in Heaven held his destiny in his hand, and no earthly despot held the key to anything in his life. We are reminded of our Lord’s word to the disciples early in their ministry: “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
All the devil can do is send you to heaven.
Hear Paul as he says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
He was crossing the line, intact, upright, clear-headed.
He had won.
(I wonder did Paul see what Stephen had seen–Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father to welcome him? Acts 7:56. Did he hear the cheers of the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ in Heaven’s grandstand rejoicing in his victory? Hebrews 12:1.)
“Henceforth, there is laid up 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 loved His appearing” (4:8).
Well done, faithful runner.