Summary: This message is based on Philippians 3:13 where Paul describes someone running in a race and actually finishing it. The idea coming from this message is that we are all running in a sprint individually that we must complete in order to run in the relay.
A Starter Or A Finisher
Two weeks ago, before the ice storm last week, I told you that I was pressing on. I was pressing on regardless of my past failures and missed opportunities. I told you that once Jesus laid a hold on me I held back, like a drowning man who was being saved, I was not letting go of my Savior. The title of my message this morning is “A Starter or A Finisher” and we will reexamine Philippians 3:13 that we discussed briefly two weeks ago.
Before I go there though, I want to give you a reference point through an example so that you can visualize the overall point of the message. As many of you know I watch boxing. On March 8, 2003 heavyweight boxer Wladimir Klitschko lost a title fight against Corrie Sanders. This fight was Ring Magazine’s upset fight of the year because by all counts Klitschko was the heavy favorite and should have won. At the time he had won many of his fights by early round knockouts. He was bigger, stronger and faster than Sanders and most other heavyweight boxers at the time. However, Sanders appeared to know something about Klitschko that others did not know – he was a strong starter but he could be a poor finisher. If he went toe to toe with Klitschko chances were slim that he would win the fight. However, if he let him swing away and he dodged and took minimal damage, Klitschko would tire himself out pretty quick because he was a big muscular guy. So that’s what Sanders did – he let Klitschko swing away and tire himself out and then once he was tired, Sanders beat him – badly. After that fight Klitschko hired the late Emanuel Steward as his trainer and he focused on increasing Klitschko’s stamina. After several months of working with Emanuel Stewart, Klitschko was undefeated in all of his fights while Stewart was alive. Klitschko was a starter, but if you got him into the late rounds, he was not a finisher.
In my last message I talked about how we establish New Year resolutions and oftentimes fail to achieve them. I talked about how our past failures impact the decisions we make today about our present and our future. Our past failures motivate us to start strong but also allow us to feel okay when we do not finish what we start. This morning I want you to think about what you have going on in your life both spiritually and in the natural and ask yourself are you a starter or a finisher. Now you may think that you cannot be finisher unless you are a starter so everyone starts out as a starter. Well I would disagree. Many people plan to do something but never take the first step to do it. Being a planner with no action is not the same as starting and not finishing and that is a totally separate issue and sermon for later. As you think about you, I also want you to think about the people in your life – do you associate with people who finish what they start?
Please turn to Philippians 3:13 and let’s reacquaint ourselves with verse thirteen. It reads, “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.” (Philippians 3:13) As I shared with you previously, Paul said that while he had not laid hold of it yet (that final prize) he willfully decided to forget what was behind and reached for what laid ahead. Remember, the word “forgetting” in the Greek portrayed the idea of something you should “turn away from and forget” or when used in the passive sense, “something put aside, deliberately ignored, purposefully disregarded, and completely forgotten.” It denotes something that may have been true in the past but was no longer applicable today. Paul was saying that in order for him to reach forward he had to forget about what was behind. This reaching forward while forgetting what was behind is not a onetime thing, it’s a continual choice that is made daily.
I want you to see what Paul was seeing. When Paul used the term “reaching forward” he used the Greek word epekteino. It is a word that was used to picture runners in a foot race. This word portrays a runner who is running with all his might towards the finish line before him. If you have ever watched a track race, what happens when the runner gets to the finish line? As they approach the finish line they either lean forward or stick out their chest to be the first to cross. This is because the rules say that the torso, the chest area, (not the hands, legs, head, etc) must cross the finish line. If you watched the 2016 Summer Olympics you saw the runners doing just what I described. They kept their eyes on the finished line and they ran towards that goal. If the runner is to win the prize, they must give it their best and complete the race. What Paul describes in verse thirteen is the image of someone running a sprint race, not a relay. If you get nothing else from this message, I want you to leave here understanding the difference between running a sprint and running a relay. I will reference the natural before I translate it to the spiritual.