“Of Soldiers, Athletes, and Farmers!” #3

First Presbyterian Church of Elmer

107 Chestnut Street

Elmer, NJ 08318

Sermon Notes (Sunday March 6th, 2016)

Rev. Mouris Yousef, Pastor

 

Of Soldiers, Athletes, and Farmers!” #3

Philippians 3:12-14; 2 Timothy 2:1-7

 

Seneca (c. 4 BC – AD 65), the first century Roman philosopher once said, “Life is like a play; it’ s not the length but the excellence of the activity that matters.”   Excellence is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well. It’s living above the curve; it’s going the second mile; it’s refusing to give anything less than one’s best. This is what Paul wanted to see in the life of Timothy and in our lives today. He is giving us a ‘how to’, if you will, of living with spiritual excellence.

 

Today we continue our series of messages on 2 Timothy 2:1-7. As mentioned, the Apostle Paul uses three illustrations, three analogies, in describing the Christian way of living: the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer. Paul encourages Timothy to willingly embrace sufferings for the sake of the gospel; a tough sell in our comfort-oriented culture as I said last Sunday.

 

Last Sunday we had the chance to reflect upon the analogy of the soldier. The spiritual warfare is real! The question we asked, “What makes a good soldier?” 2 Timothy 2 gives us two important qualities that every good soldier possesses which are necessary in our lives if we are to be good soldiers for the Lord – enduring hardships and avoiding entanglement. As we do so, we will please our commanding officer, the Lord.

 

The Italian polymath, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) once took a friend of his to see his masterpiece of the “Last Supper.” The friend’s first comment was, “The most striking thing in the picture is the cup.” The artist immediately took his brush and wiped out the cup, saying, “Nothing in my painting shall attract more attention than the face of my Master.” Nothing should mean more to us than to please God, our commanding officer.

 

This morning we move into the second analogy. In 2 Timothy 2:5 we read, “Anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.” The athlete was another favorite metaphor for Paul. Paul often likened the Christian life to a race. In 1 Corinthians 9:24 he says, “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.” As we look together at this analogy this morning, please allow me to share with you two important observations:

 

First: A Rule Keeping Athlete

Our text says athletes must compete according to the rules. Every sport has its own rules. So, what does it mean for the Christian to compete according to the rules? Well the literal Greek says, “the athlete is not crowned unless he has contended lawfully.” The word “lawfully” should give us a clue. Paul was saying if we intend to receive the heavenly prize we must live according to the laws or rules God has set down in His Word.

 

A few years ago I heard the story of a woman who was a world class runner. She had been invited to run in a race in a nearby state. She got her directions over the phone and left early the morning of the race to be there on time. When she got to the town, she could not find the race. She stopped at a service station to ask for better directions. The man told her that he knew a race was taking place at a nearby shopping center. She told him that this must be the race, got her directions and drove furiously to get there. She jumped out of her car, ran to the sign up table to let them know she was there, jumped into the pack of runners just as the started said, “You’re off!”

 

She ran brilliantly. In fact, she could not believe how fast she really was. She was so fast. She finished the race in first place beating everyone. Just then, however, she saw a sign hanging at the finish line that made her heart sink. The sign told the name of the race. She was at the wrong race. She had run the race on the wrong course.

 

Many people are doing the same today. They are running the wrong race! They are running for money, for fame, for pleasure, for security, for self-centered dreams, for many other things, but they are in the wrong race. Even if they finish in what appears to be first place, they lose. In the race of life you must be on the right track. To enter this race, you must receive Jesus Christ as your Savior. You can’t run your way into this race, Jesus pre-qualifies those who come to Him and receive Him by faith. It is called Salvation. You are not saved by your effort, but by His grace. But, once you receive Him, you are in the race. You are to live your Christian life like an athlete lives for his or her sport.

 

Second: The Nature of the Race of Faith

In 2 Timothy 2:5 Paul uses the word, “compete” to describe the nature of the race. “Anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.” The word compete comes from a Greek root word which is agon. We get an English word directly from this Greek word – the word is Agony. The Greek word speaks of the striving, anguish, agony and pain of those who run the race. This athletic word is used by Paul often to speak of the commitment necessary to be the right kind of Christian.

 

Now, what is the purpose in this illustration? God desires that we understand that the Christian life is not a picnic. The Christian life is not a rose-strewn path. We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, but once we are saved we enter into a kind of agon, a life of dedication and commitment to excellence for Christ. An Athlete does not expect his or her practice and play to be easy. They know that the way will be hard and the competition difficult. But the athletes have a saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” We have to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Too many people who claim to know Christ act like they are on a cruise where their every wish should be met and their every whim satisfied. Christian life is not a playground; it’s a battlefield. Christian life is not a picnic; it is a life of agony.

 

Friends, today we are invited to examine ourselves. As we come to the Lord’s Table, we bring ourselves into the light of God’s mercy and grace. How have you been running? How has your training been going? Are you consistent, day after day, hour after hour? Are you disciplining all parts of your life, so that you will grow in Christlikeness? Are you working hard, willing to endure suffering? How is your focus? Are you focusing on Jesus? Are you ready and alert, keeping your eyes fixed on Him, expectantly awaiting His return? Friends, this is the race of faith — the most important race of your life, the race whose goal is eternal life with Christ, made perfect in Him. I encourage you to run your best in this race. In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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