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Are You Prepared For the Race?

Date: Aug. 2, 2009

Author: Bob Henkins

2 Timothy 3:1-4:22

Key Verse: 2 Timothy 4:2

“Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.”

Every year at the start of the Indianapolis 500 all the drivers have high expectations of winning the race but at the end not every car will even finish the race. Mechanical failure, accidents, or poor decisions cause drivers to finish prematurely. All of them have great expectations, high hopes, and good intentions, but it doesn’t matter what the reason is, the fact is not every car will finish the race they start. The same applies in our lives of faith. Many people begin the life of faith following Jesus, only to give up the race. The question is; are we prepared to run this race? In today’s passage Paul encourages Timothy and helps him to prepare to finish the race of faith he started.

First, Get ready…

The first step in preparing for any race is to understand the conditions of the race. That way we will know what it will take to finish it and thus we can be better prepared. Anyone who starts something without knowing the costs is foolish. The life of faith is no different. Take a look at 3:1. “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.” In the first part of chapter 3 Paul describes the race of faith conditions. He says that in those days there will be terrible times. In other words it is going to be very difficult to be a Christian in those days. For those who have joined the race, they must know that it will not be easy. How nice it would be if the race of faith were like a walk in the park, going at our own pace and enjoying all the pleasures along the way. However that is not the case, for Paul says that it will be terrible times.

What will it be like? Take a look at verses 2-5. “People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.” These verses carry a lot of things almost too many to think about. One common theme we see here is the word love which is repeated six times. According to these verses the last days will be full of people who will love themselves, money, and pleasure. On the other hand they will not love God or good and will generally lack love for everyone but themselves.

What we see here is the result of what happens when people do not love God with all their heart. Man has the inborn desire to love and worship our Creator. It’s the way that God made us. But when we do not love the Lord with all our heart we begin to love other things in His place. We are tempted to think that loving God with all our heart is too demanding and can not be accomplished 100% of the time. However if we fall prey to this way of thinking we slowly hand over our hearts to something else. The first thing is that we fall into is self love. This is loving ourselves more than God. Thinking our thoughts and desires are more important that God’s. This is probably the most natural of these and leads to selfishness and a humanistic way of thinking. And from there it leads to money and pleasure. When these things replace our love for God there is no stopping what evil may come because people don’t get better but will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (v12) Without the love of God, they will become boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient, ungrateful, unholy, unforgiving, slanderous, treacherous, rash, conceited, brutal, and with out self-control. In one sense this is like hell on earth. How would you like to spend the rest of your life surrounded by people like this? And Paul is not saying this is limited to the world but this will be brought into the church. According to verse 5 they will have a form of godliness but will deny its power. In other words they will go to church but won’t really believe anything they hear.  And what’s worse they will be like Jannes and Jambres who stood against Moses opposing the truth.

Paul says that we should not have anything to do with people like that because they are bad news. Verses 6-8 say, “They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these men oppose the truth—men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected.” Paul says that these types of people have depraved minds and prey upon the sins of others who are weak willed and always give into to their sinful desires instead of fighting against them. In the end they gain control over them and use them for their personal pleasure because they are without love of others and only love themselves.

When I read the first few verses of chapter 3, it reminded me of a week’s listings in TV Guide, or maybe the current movie listings. One thing that we must never forget is belief affects behavior and behavior reflects belief. Your creed determines your conduct and improper behavior displays unbelief. So the popularity of these shows displays where our society’s beliefs are. Like it or not, they reflect this nation. These are the conditions that we live in. This is where the race begins, are you ready for the competition?

Second, Get set…

If we stop reading at verse 7 we will leave this place depressed. However thank God that it doesn’t end there. The end of verse 8 and 9 say, “as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.” It seems that in every race there are those who don’t want to play by the rules. They are cheaters who try to use every method they can to win the race. And sometimes it looks as if they always get the upper hand, but God is the sovereign God who controls history and it’s not over until He says it’s over. According to these verses in the end everything will be revealed. Just as the steroids deception was made known and Bernie Madoff’s and Jim and Tammy Fay Bakker’s deception was made known, these cheater as well as all the people mentioned in this chapter will be caught and their deception will be exposed in the end.

So what should he do? Let’ read verses 14-15. “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Even though the race would be tough, Paul never sugar coated it. He revealed it for all to see. As they say, the race must go on! (actually I think they say that about shows but it worked here) Paul urged Timothy to continue in his life of faith and believing in what he was taught and was convinced of. Timothy had the blessing of hearing Bible stories from childhood. (Maybe his mom and grandma told him Bible stories when he was a baby in his crib. Before he could even understand what they were saying.) This was a great blessing because he had the privilege to hear God’s word all his life. There is a danger among our second gens who sometimes feel that it was a curse to be born into a UBF family because they never had the chance to go into the world and experience the life of sin. They feel burdened and wonder why they had to be born into such a stifling life. But they fail to see the wonderful blessing that has been poured upon them by God to put them into such a loving and protecting family. And to have the blessing of hearing God’s word which is able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Jesus. Bible study is the best way to prepare for the race of faith.

If you ask, most competitors will tell you of someone who inspired them to compete. Tiger Woods was inspired by his dad and because of him he decided to take up the challenge. Likewise Paul inspired Timothy to run the race of faith. (Spiritual mentor) And he gave his own life as an example to live by. Take a look at verses 10-13. “You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” Paul put his life on display for all to see. Timothy had followed Paul and knew how he lived, what he taught, his way of life, and his purpose. Timothy could see how Paul suffered living for the gospel. How he lived by faith with love, patiently enduring the persecutions and suffering. And he states as a matter of fact that everyone who wants to live a godly life in Jesus will be persecuted as well. Therefore when we live a life a faith, it is not a matter of if we will be persecuted, but a matter of when. For if the world rejected and persecuted Jesus, if we profess to follow Him, why would we think the world will treat us any different? But through it all Paul didn’t worry because the Lord always rescued him. Not only that he never became bitter, resentful, or revengeful toward those who persecuted him or who deserted him. Instead he showed God’s love toward them and prayed that it may not be held against them.

In any competition, there is always training involved. Even Joey Chestnut, the hot dog eating champion, who set a record this year by eating 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes, had to train. (I don’t’ know how he trains) Likewise in the race of faith we have to be trained to compete. So where can we receive this training? Let’s read verses 16-17. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Our training comes from the word of God. In order to compete spiritually, we need to be equipped spiritually. We need spiritual training. There is a difference between worldly wisdom and godly wisdom. Worldly wisdom may help us to understand the world, like how to build a better mouse trap, but it does not help us understand spiritual things. Worldly wisdom may correct outward actions but it does not change the heart. The Bible has power because it comes from God, the Creator of all things. And He gives us insight just as an owner’s manual helps us to operate our things. The word of God helps us to teach, rebuke, correct and train in righteousness. It helps us to be right with God. Paul wanted Timothy never to doubt God’s word but to trust in it so that he would be equipped to do the work God had planned for him.

In the final chapter Paul laid the ultimate challenge before Timothy. Let’s read verses 1-2. “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.”

This was as if Paul was laying out the course of the race before Timothy. Like a driver who scouts the race track before the race begins. This was the challenge that lay before him. This was his battle field where he would compete for the prize. Paul took this charge very serious viewing it as if he was standing in the very presence of God. At the end of his life Paul thought about God’s work and who would carry it to the next generation. And when he looked around the one he saw was Timothy. There was nothing particularly striking about Timothy. He wasn’t a superstar, or well connected. He didn’t have a lot of money or a superior intellect. But what he was, was a reliable man. He wasn’t bold but he was faithful. And Paul encouraged Timothy to entrust the gospel to reliable men.

What was Paul’s charge? According to verse 2, he was to preach the word, be prepared, and to correct, rebuke and encourage with great patience and careful instruction. Paul said, preach the word. What does it mean to preach? Preach simply means “to make known.” This was Timothy’s primary responsibility. Notice that Word is capitalized here signifying personification. The word here refers to Jesus. He was to tell about Jesus. These days preaching has a negative connotation so people don’t like to be preached to. I don’t even like to be preached to. Still Paul said that Timothy should preach. I don’t think that we have to stand out on some soap box with a mic and amp yelling at people. But I do think that we should not be afraid to tell others about Jesus.

In order to preach, he had to be prepared in season and out. What does it mean, in season and out? This past week the Bears reported to training camp. This is the sign that the football season is about to begin. (something Julia hates) In the NFL there used to be “the season” when they played the games, and “the off season,” where the athletes could rest. But nowadays because the competition is so fierce there is no off season. Athletes must prepare year round with little down time if they want to compete at a high level. Likewise in the race of faith there is no off season. Because this competition is for the highest prize, eternal life. So we must be ready all the time. Peter said, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15) We never know when we will have to opportunity to share the gospel of Jesus with others. But when the opportunity arises we have to be ready to share with them why we have put our hope in Jesus. Not only that according to verse 2 he should be ready to correct, rebuke and encourage. This is the battle field because no one likes to be told that they are wrong. I believe that people like to be encouraged but no one I know likes to be rebuked. But this is in line with Jesus’ world mission command which says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” As a leader Timothy not only had to preach the word but he had to help them to live according to it.

For this Timothy would need great patience and careful instruction. (Not just any patience but great patience) Why? Because a time was coming when men would give up sound doctrine and truth and turn to myths. They do this to suit their own desires and seek out those teachers who say what their itching ears want to hear. They seek out those who will tell them their lifestyle is okay. (V3-4) (Did you ever have itching ears?) People are slow to learn and stubborn in their ways so Tim would need all the patience he could get. When this happened Paul encouraged Timothy to keep his head and don’t blow up and endure those hardships like a good soldier.

As with every race Paul wanted to make sure that Timothy never lost sight of his ultimate goal. Let’s read verses 7-8. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 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.” Paul’s ultimate goal was the crown of righteousness to be handed out when he entered the kingdom of God. This was his hope. If his hope had been in anything else such as power, money, a career, or people he would have been let down because he had none of those things. But the one thing he did have, which was hope to enter God’s kingdom, that could never be taken from him. This was how he prepared himself to run the race of faith. His hope in heaven enabled him to win the race.

As Paul laid the challenge before Timothy nearly 2000 years ago, I lay it before you again today. Do you have the courage; do you have what it takes to run this race? Do you have the faith to carry the gospel into the next generation? This is the course that lies before you today. Will you take your place at the starting line? Some may say, “Na that race isn’t for me.” But whether we know it or not we will run a race throughout our life time. There are only two races, the race of faith or the race of unbelief, otherwise known as “the rat race.” (who has heard of the rat race?) I didn’t really know the meaning of that term until I worked downtown and took the train to work everyday. When the train stops you hear the bell and the doors open and everybody moves so fast to get where they are going and we look like a bunch of rats running in a maze. So we’re going to run a race regardless. And if we don’t choose we will by default get involved in the race of the world. If we run it for ourselves, eventually we will become like the people mentioned in the beginning of chapter three. It’s inevitable because that is our sinful nature. And eventually this race has no hope and leads to death living with the motto, “he who dies with the most toys wins.” On the other hand, if we run the race of faith for God, this race leads to the crown of righteousness and eternal life. The choice is up to you; choose wisely. Are you willing to be what Jesus wants you to be? If you are, and I pray so, the going won’t be easy, but at the finish line Jesus awaits with the crown of righteousness for all those who cross it. By God’s grace I hope to see you at the finish line. Get ready, get set, go!

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