Summary: We have hope only because we have faith. We only hope for what we believe is attainable. And we believe, or have faith, in God because of his love for us.
(Lectionary Reading is 2 Timothy 4:6-8,16-18 -- 9-15 is left out)
Collect prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen. (Psalm 19:14)
What we don’t say is sometimes even more important than what we do say.
In our reading today from Paul’s second letter to Timothy, Chapter 4, verses 6 to 8 and 16 to 18, we see the Apostle Paul’s dedicated faith as his life draws to a close. The Lectionary skips verses 9 through 15; and, while the makers of the Lectionary had their good reasons for leaving those verses out, they were important enough to Paul for him to include in his letter.
In them, Paul mentions some people who have fallen away, or for other reasons are unable to be with him in his time of need. Before we look at what we haven’t seen, let’s look at what we have seen.
This is the last letter written by Paul before his execution in Rome. He wrote it from prison in A.D. 66 or 67, about 40 years after Christ’s death and resurrection. Paul’s conversion is described in the Book of Acts, and occurs shortly after his participation in the murder of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr.
For decades Paul preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the worst condition imaginable, and kept his faith in God, even in the toughest times. Paul describes some of the difficulties he endured in Second Corinthians 11:24-28,
“Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, 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 own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 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.
So when Paul says in today’s reading, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” he’s not bragging; in fact, he’s really understating things quite a bit, isn’t he?
“Fighting the good fight” seems to draw a different mental image than merely enduring suffering imposed by this world as a result of our faith, but that’s what Paul is referring to. He finished the race, metaphorically, by endurance. All athletes know that speed doesn’t finish a race, endurance does. No matter how fast you run, you can’t win a race you don’t finish, and you can’t finish without endurance. And the key to endurance is faith.
In a foot race, our faith in our ability to make it to the finish line keeps us going. When we lose faith in our ability to finish, we stop running and collapse in a heap. Faith is what keeps us running physically and spiritually.
Paul J. Meyer wrote in Unlocking Your Legacy:
“Cost and self-sacrifice do not make something hard. Nobody feels sorry for the athlete who wins an Olympic medal, even though the person paid an incredible price through grueling effort behind the scenes, denying himself or herself certain things, probably for several years, all for one hopeful brief moment of glory. The medal, once attained, minimizes every cost and self-sacrifice.”
Meyer continues, “Following God is similar in many respects. There are costs and self-sacrifice to be made, but that does not mean it is hard to follow God. Hard is when you compete but never win, invest but lose everything, work but receive nothing for your efforts, and show love but receive hate in return.... When I compare my costs and self-sacrifices with what I have already received and will receive in return, my costs and self-sacrifices are insignificant!”
Our faith is Jesus and his promise of eternal life lets us press onward through whatever this fallen world can throw at us. Whether fire, flood , or famine, faith will see us through. It doesn’t apply just to guys like Paul or Peter or John or James. It applies to every one of us. Faith will see us through adversity.