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Near the end of his life, the Apostle Paul wrote these words to his young protégé, Timothy, in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” From the time of Paul’s conversion to Jesus Christ in 37 AD (see Acts 9) until his death as a martyr thirty years later in 67 or 68 AD, he “ran the race” and never stopped even in the midst of severe and ongoing persecution. Let’s read from his own account in 2 Cor. 11:24-29:
Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 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. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
Before Paul’s own conversion to Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road (see Acts 9), he persecuted and approved of the murder of Christians and was proud of it. He “came from a well-respected family in Asia Minor (Turkey today) where his father was an official. He excelled in his studies and became a devout Pharisee. As a young man Paul–whose Jewish name was Saul–was sent to Jerusalem to study under the great teacher Gamaliel. He hated Christians and participated in the first execution of a Christian leader, a man named Stephen. Paul was determined to murder all those who followed Jesus, not just in Jerusalem, but elsewhere (Acts 7:54-8:3)” (quote source: “The Life of the Apostle Paul” pamphlet published by Rose Publishing). Of course, Jesus Christ dramatically changed the direction of his life on the Damascus Road as he was on his way to persecute more Christians, and he was never the same after that experience. He went from being the arch-enemy of Christianity to it’s greatest missionary and he is also known as the “Apostle to the Gentiles.”
The Apostle Paul was never one to shy away from controversy, and the same zeal he used to persecute Christians as a Pharisee, he used to serve the very cause he sought to destroy–Christianity. Jesus Christ made all the difference, and he never looked back after the day he met Jesus on the Damascus Road. He went from being esteemed and respected as a Pharisee (“living the good life” as we might say today), to becoming an outcast who was beaten, shipwrecked, stoned, imprisoned, betrayed by friends and false believers over and over again during the course of the thirty years following his conversion until his death (see 2 Cor. 11:24-29). And during that time he wrote a quarter of the New Testament in his thirteen letters, and he made the following statement that echoes down through the centuries to us today when he stated in Philippians 3:8-15:
What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.
I wonder how often we as Christians count “everything as loss” compared to the “surpassing worth” of knowing and following after Jesus Christ. The point was brought home this morning when I read a devotion titled, “Life is a Marathon,” by David Jenkins, a retired Southern Baptist pastor and freelance writer, in “Open Windows” published by LifeWay Publications, and he wrote the following (devotional passage is taking from James 1:12-15):
Life is a Marathon
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because,
having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life
that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”
As pastor of the first-century Jerusalem church, James reminded his fellow believers that all would be tempted, and that temptation, not resisted, followed a deadly path. It begins within us as desire, and then it becomes sin, which unchecked, becomes a real killer. Every believer is involved in a race–a spiritual marathon. Obstacles and detours into sin are always present. But God provides us the strength to endure, and He will reward us at the finish line with “the crown of life.”
A high school athlete, who had trained faithfully, was determined to win the trophy for the fastest runner in the marathon competition. On the last lap, he stumbled and sprained his ankle. His coach and trainer ran out to support him, but he waved them away. Suffering great pain, he hobbled across the finish line in last place. He received more cheers from the crowd than the first place winner because of his heart and endurance.
The Christian life is indeed a marathon, and Satan’s weapon of choice against us is temptation. We prove our faith and love for Christ through our endurance, gaining strength as we overcome temptation.
~Father, make us sensitive to temptation today,
and give us strength to endure to the end.~
While most of us are not called to endure many of the hardships that the Apostle Paul endured over the thirty years of his ministry on earth, as followers of Jesus Christ we are called to endure the hardships that do come our way in whatever form they present themselves. And we who are Christian are called to run that race to the finish line, keeping the faith as our ancestors did before us (see Hebrews 11). And faith requires perseverance and endurance as our “faith in action” (see James 2:14-16).
In an article titled, “Becoming a People of Perseverance in a ‘Now’ Generation, Part 1” (“Part 2” is available at this link), by Bernard Messing, national lead facilitator for SVM2 in Cameroon, he defines perseverance and endurance as follows:
Let’s define perseverance as “steady persistence in adhering to a course of action, a belief, or a purpose; steadfastness,” endurance as “the act, quality, or power of withstanding hardship or stress,” but in another second definition we define endurance as “the state or act of persevering.”
While they are synonyms and each word carries in it the idea of “continuance,” perseverance lays stress on a given course of action in the face of difficulty or opposition. Endurance perhaps more strongly adds the idea of continuing under resistance or the adversities of life, to carry on in spite of hardships.
Patience refers to the quality of enduring pain, hardship, provocation, or annoyance with calmness. Either perseverance, endurance or patience all are qualities of Christ-likeness (quote source here).
In our “instant access” and prosperous society here in America (whether or not we as individuals are prosperous) it’s easy–in fact, far too easy–to succumb to the temptations presented to us to the point of where we show little or no resistance at all anymore. We just “give in” (and no, I’m not going to list any specific temptations as you know what I mean). In other words, instead of “running the race” we’ve been given to run as followers of Jesus Christ, we often “coast in neutral,” instead, to our detriment. And we take ourselves out of the running by caving into temptation over and over again.
And it’s time to get out of neutral . . . .
We are called, like Paul, to finish the race and finish it well. And Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us how to do it, too . . .
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses (see Hebrews 11), let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
So instead of coasting in neutral, let us throw off everything that hinders us along with the sin that so easily entangles us . . .
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us . . .
Looking unto Jesus . . . always and forevermore . . .
Amen . . . .
YouTube Video: “Stay Strong” by the Newsboys:
There’s an interesting video showing right now on FoxBusiness.com titled “Baby Boomers Divorce Rate Skyrocketing.” Of course, these couples are in their 50s and 60s, and one of the stats in this video states that two-thirds of the divorces among Baby Boomers are initiated by the wives. Apparently, the divorce rate among Baby Boomers has doubled in the past twenty years. And, the attorney in the video states that “one third of all divorce filings contain the word ‘Facebook’ . . . and it is turning the divorce world upside down . . . one out of two (divorce) pleadings has something to do with ‘Facebook.’ ” (Source: Video link cited above includes a transcript button to the right of the video.)
A quote from another article on The Telegraph states, “Divorce lawyers claim the explosion in the popularity of websites such as Facebook and Bebo is tempting to people to cheat on their partners. Suspicious spouses have also used the websites to find evidence of flirting and even affairs which have led to divorce. One law firm, which specializes in divorce, claimed almost one in five petitions they processed cited Facebook.” This article is not specific to Baby Boomers and includes all age groups.
Infidelity is commonplace anymore. Cheating is the norm. And it appears nobody thinks twice about it unless they get caught. Whoa . . . what happened to integrity, ethics, commitment, the marriage vows? And what about fidelity?
While the following story by Dr. Charles Swindoll does not speak specifically to the subject of fidelity/infidelity as it relates to marriage and divorce, it does speak to the whole issue of fidelity and what it truly represents. Let’s read it:
What About Fidelity?
I just returned from our nation’s capital where I was privileged to spend time with many of the highest ranking officers in the military. If you have ever wondered if there is anyone in the upper echelon of the military who loves Christ, wonder no longer. Many of these men and women are magnificent models of strong Christian commitment who frequently put their faith on the line.
While sitting around a table one morning, the subject of moral purity surfaced. They spoke of the importance of an officer’s having a clean record and maintaining strong character traits if he or she hoped to be trusted in larger realms and promoted to higher ranks. Their commitment to personal integrity was expressed so spontaneously and sincerely.
As I listened to them, I was humiliated to think that a standard of high moral character was still of paramount importance among military officers while within the ranks of the clergy an epidemic of impurity rages.
As Christian leaders, we need to reaffirm our commitment to moral purity and to private lives that are absolutely free of secret sins. While forgiveness continues to be the pulse-beat of a grace-oriented ministry, a firm commitment to holiness remains vital. Those who adopt a deceptive, compromising life of hypocrisy are responsible for the damage that occurs when they are found out. Nor are the consequences erased, even though they may repent and seek the Lord’s and others’ forgiveness.
Often, we are too quick to breeze past the damage that has been done, attempting to hurry the process of forgiveness at the expense of the restoration process. A contrite heart has no expectations and makes no demands; it acknowledges that the deception and the extent of continued sin result in the continued forfeiture of many of the privileges that were once enjoyed. Please read that again. If you’ve gotten soft on this issue, stop and read the daily reading suggested above (also cited below). Don’t try to explain these verses away. They mean exactly what they say.
The issue here is not a lack of forgiveness; it’s the faulty thinking that forgiveness is synonymous with the returning of all rights and privileges.
Never has the truth of Peter’s words resounded more clearly: “It it time for judgment to begin with the household of God” (I Peter 4:17).
Proverbs 6:27-29 (NIV1984)
Can a man scoop fire into his lap
without his clothes being burned?
Can a man walk on hot coals
without his feet being scorched?
So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife;
no one who touches her will go unpunished.
Proverbs 6:32-33 (NIV1984)
But a man who commits adultery lacks judgment;
whoever does so destroys himself.
Blows and disgrace are his lot,
and his shame will never be wiped away.
As believers, we need to reaffirm our commitment to moral purity
and to private lives that are absolutely free of secret sin.
Those are very serious words to consider in a world where “anything goes.” While I have never been married and, therefore, have never had to endure the pain caused by an unfaithful spouse and a divorce, this issue of fidelity hits all of us, single or married, right between the eyes. If we call ourselves Christian, no excuse will cover it. None . . . .
Living a life of moral purity in a world that scoffs at such a notion isn’t easy, but then we are not to be conformed to this world as Romans 12:2 reminds us: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The longer we linger at the door of temptation when the opportunity presents itself the more likely we are to go through it.
I Corinthians 10:13 reminds us that “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” God has promised to provide a way out of the temptation so that we can endure it and not succumb to it. The real issue is, do we want Him to?
As Dr. Swindoll states at the end of his devotion, “As believers, we need to reaffirm our commitment to moral purity and to private lives that are absolutely free of secret sin.”
Are we willing to take a stand in a world that scoffs at sin?
Update: I found an interesting Bible study on Bible.org on I Corinthians 10:1-13 titled “It Ain’t Over ‘Till It’s Over” that every Christian should read. It encompasses four major areas where sin can take hold in our lives and how it will destroy us. Those four areas are:
1. Idolatry: Putting anything or anyone ahead of God in our lives.
2. Immorality: The consequences of allowing immorality into our lives is staggering.
3. Testing God: Complaining even though God has faithfully provided for us.
4. Grumbling: Grumbling incessantly and never being satisfied.
In I Cor. 10:1-13, the Apostle Paul gives us a little history lesson from Old Testament Israel when God brought them out of Egypt and slavery and brought them into the wilderness to test them before entering the Promised Land. We need to heed that lesson today regarding two spiritual realities (taken from the article): (1) All of God’s people experience great spiritual privileges (10:1-5), and (2) many of God’s people experience great spiritual failure (10:6-13). And here’s the very hard lesson we cannot ignore: “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness” (10:5). Approximately two million people came out of Egypt and entered the wilderness; and only two, Joshua and Caleb, came out of the wilderness and entered the Promised Land forty years later. The four areas of sin mentioned above destroyed all but two of them.
Yes, let us take heed . . . .
“These are all warning markers—
danger!—in our history books,
written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes.
Our positions in the story are parallel—
they at the beginning, we at the end—
and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were.
Don’t be so naive and self-confident.
You’re not exempt.
You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else.
Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless.
(I Cor. 10:11-12 MSG)