Be a Finisher!
At the beginning of every year there is pressure upon people to change their habits. Many want to begin the year off right by making resolutions to be a better person. For example, thousands of weight loss products and books are sold. Gym memberships soar. But studies show that nearly 90 percent of all New Year's resolutions fail. Most of us are great starters, but lousy finishers.
In a culture where around fifty percent of marriages end in divorce, it is apparent that we don't seem to have what it takes anymore to do the hard work of completing what we've started. Starting something new is exciting and exhilarating at first. But it takes work and determination to see something through to completion. The work isn't glamorous and it isn't even fun, but it is necessary to turn failure into success.
So too, in the Christian life, we can start out so well, with hopes of doing great things for the God we love but can become derailed to the point that we end up being saved "yet so as by fire" (I Corinthians 3:10-15). We can end with the result that the works of our lives will be burned up before us without having experienced all the wonderful things that God had in store for us to do and become.
I. The Race Set Before Us
The book of Hebrews was penned around 70 A.D. just before the fall of Jerusalem. It was written to a persecuted church community of Hebrew Christians who were wavering in their faith and were considering going back to Judaism. This epistle talks about the superiority of our Lord Jesus Christ over all other religions, including Judaism. Indeed, it would be foolish to turn away from the only source of salvation offered to mankind. If we neglect so great a salvation, what else is there in its place? The obvious answer to this is nothing. (Hebrews 2:3).
In chapter 11, the writer talks about the great heroes of the faith, who, though many endured great trials and persecutions, remained faithful to the end. It is these faithful of past generations who compose the great cloud of witnesses, spoken of in chapter 12. They witness to the value and the blessing of living by faith. We should all be inspired by the godly examples set by these saints to run our own race that the Lord has set before us.
II. Becoming Disqualified
In I Corinthians 9 Paul talks about being under compulsion to preach the Gospel (16). He says that it is a stewardship entrusted to him (17). His desire is to do whatever it takes to preach it, to become all things to all men in order to save some (22). He then compares his Christian life to a race, and to a boxing match. He tells us in verse 24-26a:
"Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore, I run in such a way, as not without aim....."
Here Paul is using an illustration familiar to the Corinthians, the Isthmian games. These occurred every other year and were second only to the Olympic games in popularity. in these contests the person competing would receive a wreath, showing that he was victorious. He tells the Corinthians that the reward for a well lived Christian life is much better than such a perishable item. We receive eternal rewards for remaining faithful to the Lord.
He then goes into the boxing illustration. He says in verses 26b-27:
"I box in such a way, as not beating the air. But I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified."
It is here that the King James says:
"But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway."
Some people want to take a passage like this and say that Paul was talking about losing salvation. The truth is, he was not referring to salvation at all, which is a free gift of God's grace (Ephesians 2:8,9). Paul, was once again talking about the loss of reward, or the loss of the prize for living a life of submission to the Lord and following his will.
What a terrible waste of the gift of life that God has given to us if we, at the end, become disqualified because we don't do all that we can to live in a disciplined manner. It would be a shame to stand before the Lord one day and have absolutely nothing to show for a whole lifetime!
It was the late C.T. Studd who said: "Only one life twill soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last." The rest of the things we do are totally worthless in terms of eternity. We have to take that more seriously.
We all must have the attitude of the Apostle Paul that we are going to finish the race that God has given us, and that nothing will keep us from following the Lord Jesus Christ. It is my hope that we can all say at the end of our lives what he said:
"For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: In the future 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" (II Timothy 4:6-8).
May it be our ambition to have someone put this epitaph on our grave stones one day:
"He finished well, and left a marvelous example for others to follow!"