A man was on the practice golf course when the club pro brought another man out for a lesson. The pro watched the fellow swing several times and started making suggestions for improvement, but each time the pupil interrupted with his own version of what was wrong and how to correct it. After a few minutes of this interference, the pro began nodding his head in agreement. At the end of the lesson, the student paid the pro, congratulated him on his expertise as a teacher, and left in an obviously pleased frame of mind.
The observer was so astonished by the performance that he asked, “Why did you go along with him?” “Son,” the old pro said with a grin, as he carefully pocketed his fee, “I learned long ago that it’s a waste of time to sell answers to a man who wants to buy echoes.” [Illustrations for Biblical Preaching compiled by Michael P. Green]
My friends, our world today is much like the man receiving the golf instruction. Some people think that they are the experts in all things. They don’t listen to advice; avoid lectures, and certainly don’t want to be told what to do. Times have certainly changed. Years ago people sought out mentors, advisors, and coaches in the workforce to help them mature in their career. Christians sought advice from their spiritual fathers. Today, everyone thinks that they know better; they believe that their boss is stupid, everyone is an idiot, and only they have the answers. It’s true, fools want echoes, and wise people listen to advice. Today, in our epistle reading from 2 Timothy 4:5-8 we see the mentor, St. Paul offering pastoral advice to his pupil Timothy. Timothy was a wise bishop that heeded St. Paul’s counsel in building the Church of Ephesus.
Here is a little background about the context of today’s epistle. When St. Paul wrote his final letter to Timothy, he was in prison and knew that his martyrdom was very near. St. Paul reflects that he did all that God asked and fought the good fight. St. Paul refers to his pending death as a departure. The word for departure in Greek has several interesting meanings. The word is used when an animal is unyoked from the shafts of a cart or plough. The word is also used when prisoner’s bonds or fetters are loosened when he is released. A military meaning involves armies breaking camp and unhooking or loosening their tent ropes. Finally, we see the term for departure referring to releasing the moorings on a ship. St. Paul is telling us his time had arrived; He will soon depart this world and his heavenly reward is waiting. Before St. Paul’s final exit, he penned this letter giving Timothy final advice on four elements of the Christian faith.
Our God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Our Lord is consistent and we are encouraged by St. Paul to “remain steady.” This means that we remain sober, unwavering, and steadfast during hard times and trials and to have self-control in all things. Staying in control is not easy. How can we have self-control when the sky is falling and the world around us is blowing up? What do we do when our lives are out-of-control? St. Paul stands as our example. His life was chaotic, filled with conflict, adversity, and life-threatening events. He understood that even though he had no control over his circumstances God was “in control” of his life. St. Paul was aware of his environment and knew the proper way to act when things changed. Consistent people don’t get rattled when they are faced with adversity, trials, and difficult situations. They know that God is ultimately in control and there is no situation beyond His mercy. Each trial for the consistent Christian is a challenge and an opportunity to grow one’s faith. The challenge is to simply let God be the Master of our lives. Consistency is directly related to being true to Christ and His Gospel. In other words, Christian consistency is obedience to truth and righteousness. Consistent living is complete sobriety so that our minds are open to the Holy Spirit while simultaneously filtering out the pollution and misinformation of this world. Consistent Christians lead virtuous lives by living for the glory of God by helping Him care for and transform His creation. In addition, consistent Christians are not complacent Christians, but actively spend all their energies emulating Christ. Such was the life of St. Paul. He was consistent to the end.
Ability to Endure Hardship
Tertullian said, “He who fears to suffer cannot be His who suffered.” Suffering, and hardship are part of life. Granted, they are a part of life that many of us want to avoid, however, despite our best efforts to avoid suffering, somehow we cannot escape some hardship. Our bodies deteriorate. We all experience the loss of loved ones, job stress, and the effects of dysfunctional relationships. Some of us lose our jobs, others must take care of aging parents, and there are people who are victims of crime or unforeseen tragedy. In reality, no one lives a storybook life all the time. Our beloved saints endured a great deal for their faith. Many were martyred, however, they welcomed their suffering because it purified their soul and developed their faith. St. Paul is testament to someone who actually boasts of his hardship. From his other epistles we learn that he was beaten with rods (three times), he was shipwrecked (three times), he was stoned, and faced dangers from robbers, hostile Gentiles, and Jews that wanted to destroy him. Paul’s suffering enabled him to become completely dependent on God’s mercy for survival. By relying on God rather than his own abilities, St. Paul’s burdens became a blessing. He totally committed his life to our Lord. Ultimately, he completely understood the Christian calling to “take up one’s cross” so that he could receive his heavenly crown.
There once was an ant that felt imposed upon, overburdened, and overworked. You see, he was instructed to carry a piece of straw across an expanse of concrete. The straw was so long and heavy that he staggered beneath its weight and felt he would not survive. Finally, as the stress of his burden began to overwhelm him and he began to wonder if life itself was worth it, the ant was brought to a halt by a large crack in his path. There was no way of getting across that deep divide, and it was evident that to go around it would be his final undoing. He stood there discouraged. Then suddenly a thought struck him. Carefully laying the straw across the crack in the concrete, he walked over it and safely reached the other side. His heavy load had become a helpful bridge. The burden was also a blessing. [Illustrations for Biblical Preaching compiled by Michael P. Green] My friends, our Christian character develops by enduring hardships and turning these challenges into bridges that lead us to Christ. Our struggles build Christian character.
Christianity survives and thrives through its universal call to bring all people to salvation through Jesus Christ. We are called to know and proclaim our faith by witnessing for Christ. Witnessing our faith not only allows others to be saved through the grace of our loving Lord, but also witnessing strengthens our own convictions. Think about this for a minute. Our faith is always one generation from extinction. Christ’s Church is not able to rejuvenate and fulfill its mission to spread the good news if we don’t bring others into the Christian fellowship. Fortunately, our loving Lord chooses to communicate the good news of salvation through believers, (like us) which are empowered by the Holy Spirit. St. Paul encourages Timothy to do the work of an evangelist. Note that Timothy is not called to be an evangelist. Here is the point. Not all people are given the spiritual gifts of being an evangelist. Very few people can intimately reach others to come to know Jesus Christ. Getting lost souls to humble themselves before God, confess their sinfulness, and want to change the focus of their lives dependent on receiving special gifts from the Holy Spirit. Evangelists are these special people who are able to help people change their hearts, souls, and minds so that no longer live for themselves, but dedicate their lives for the glory of God. Even though we may not be called to be evangelists, we can still perform evangelist work by witnessing to others about our personal faith in Jesus Christ. We all can share how our loving Lord has changed our lives so that we live each day with meaning, joy, and hope. Pointing others to Christ, planting the seeds of salvation is the calling of every Christian. Showing others the way of salvation is the work of evangelism.
A young boy about seven years old went to Disneyland with his family, but in the excitement of going on all the rides, he was separated from them. He was having such a wonderful time that it was quite a while before he realized that he was lost. When he discovered the predicament he was in, he at first figured that he could find his way back to his family. But, after a time, it finally hit him that he didn’t know where he was going or how to get there. He was lost, really lost!
The same is true for unbelievers. They may not know it yet, because they may still be having a wonderful time, but they are lost all the same. Sooner or later, it’s going to get them that don’t know where they are going or how to get there.
Two things were necessary for the boy to be reunited with his family. First, he had to recognize his condition. Second, someone had to show him where he could find his family. So, too, in evangelism – the Holy Spirit will first convict individuals of their lostness, but we Christians are commissioned to show them the way of salvation. [Illustrations for Biblical Preaching compiled by Michael P. Green] This is the work of an evangelist; it is the calling of every Christian to help lost people find the way of salvation for Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
One of the most overlooked aspects of our faith is our heavenly reward. Too often, people focus on their trials and tribulations and forget that God has a better life planned for us in His Kingdom. St. Paul endured hardship and lived a disciplined life for God’s glory because he had his sights firmly fixed on his ultimate goal: entrance in to God’s Kingdom. St. Paul wanted to forever enjoy eternal fellowship with God and have a seat at God’s heavenly banquet. St. Paul equated his struggles with preparing for an athletic contest. Today, at the end of his life, St. Paul reflects that he “fought the good fight,” he “finished the race” and is ready to receive his heavenly crown (stephanos) of righteousness. Our challenge is similar to St. Paul’s quest. Since our God is just, our heavenly rewards will be based on the quality of our lives.
Our eternal reward reflects the amount of God’s glory that we have allowed to shine through us. It is like a chandelier that has many light bulbs, some 25-watt, some 50-watt, and some 100-watt. The light bulbs as a whole all give and contribute light to the room. That’s the way it will be in heaven, but some of us will be contributing only 25 watts, others 50, and still others a full 100 watts. How much of God’s light do you want to shine through you? [Great Quotes & Illustrations, compiled by George Sweeting] Maximizing our spiritual brilliance depends on shutting down our personal generators and powering our lives by the energies of the Holy Spirit.
Bing Crosby had just sunk his final put during a game of golf at La Moraleja golf course near Madrid, Spain, when he turned to the spectators and acknowledged their applause by saying, "It was a great game." As he turned to walk to the clubhouse, he collapsed and was carried inside by his three golfing partners. There, a physician unsuccessfully tried to resuscitate him. Someday too we will expire from this phase of life. Like St. Paul, we will be released from carrying our burdens; we will be freed from the bonds of sin as we pull up our tent stakes in this world and set sail from this world into God’s Kingdom. Living well, playing a great game, fighting the good fight depend on uniting our will to God’s will for our lives. This means consistently living in accordance to God’s word and having faith that our Lord see us through personal trials. Playing a great game also means sharing Christ’s love with others so that everyone can experience His love and mercy. Fortunately, there is no limit to God’s reward provided that we heed our Master’s advice and not echo the world’s foolishness. Amen.