Christian life and ministry as an athletic contest, race, and exercise of trust.There’s a third thing I want you to see here. Look at verse 7. Here’s Paul’s assessment of his service. A lot of people would have looked at Paul and said, ‘You know, Paul, you’re a brilliant man. You’re an educated man. You’re a tremendous orator, you’re a great writer. You had so much potential. You have wasted your life. You have just thrown your life down the tubes, because look at you: you started these churches, and…let’s see…let’s look at the church in Corinth. (Yeah, that’s a great success!) And let’s look at all the squabbling going on in the Christian churches, and let’s look at all the pagan opposition and persecution against your teaching. Why, you’ve just wasted your life!’
And the Apostle Paul says, ‘Oh, no! I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith.’ That’s his three-fold assessment of his service, and we see his picturing again the Christian life and ministry as an athletic contest, a race, an exercise of trust. He’s been engaged in this good fight, this good contest, this good match against Satan and against the powers and principalities; against the world, and the flesh, and the devil; and against Jewish and pagan opposition and violence; against religious error and persecution; and he has been faithful to keep fighting that fight. Paul sees that as a life that was worth it.
And then he says that he’s been running the race. It’s the picture of a long-distance run, and in that race he has had one holy passion. He has had his eye on crossing the line, and the prize of the glory of God through the salvation of sinners.
And he says, “I have kept the faith.” In the ancient games, you remember, those who participated in the games had to vow, they had to pledge that they would play by the rules. There was an oath of loyalty, and it’s as if Paul is saying, ‘I’ve fought the fight, I ran the race, and I was faithful to my pledge of loyalty. I kept the faith. I defended and proclaimed the true gospel. I continued to live in trust of the promises of God. [I added this emphasis -MH]
Now, why does Paul say that to Timothy? Because he knows that the world is going to say to Timothy that Timothy’s labors are in vain. And the Apostle Paul wants to say back to Timothy, ‘Living life like I have lived it is not a wasted life. This is what you ought to aspire to. You ought to aspire to fighting the good fight, and finish the course, and keeping the faith. That’s what you ought to aspire to.
Another great sermon (except that I think Paul was a pretty lousy orator, at least compared to other public leaders)