Read 2 Timothy 4:1-8
Have you ever watched a relay race? Runners race around a track or along a prescribed course and one passes a baton to another and the race continues uninterrupted as the next runner carries the baton.
The two runners involved in the transfer of the baton could just both stand still and hand the stick from one to another. In longer, slower races that is sometimes how it is done.
But in relay races of a mile or less, the transfer of the baton is one of the most important parts of the race and often determines the winner.
So as to lose as little time as possible, the baton is transferred while both runners are moving—and the faster the better. Each lane is marked with an exchange area. As the runner with the baton approaches, the runner who will receive it begins to run.
The runner with the baton gives one last sprint and catches the runner ahead and transfers the baton. For one the race is completed. He has given all he has and often doubles over in exhaustion.
The receiver’s race has just begun. He takes the baton on the move and accelerates as fast as he can.
A relay race can be lost in a bad hand off or a dropped baton. The transfer is critical.
Paul is passing a baton to Timothy. Now Paul has other batons to pass, but for the moment, we look at the transfer to Timothy.
In two separate letters Paul transfers some critical information. These tidbits of wisdom, challenge, and support will surely sound familiar.
Watch out for those who manipulate the law. As bad as they are, Paul says, “I was worse and God worked through me.”
Paul challenges Timothy to run a good race and keep the faith, praying all the time and in every place, while leading others to pray without anger or argument.
Paul tells his protégée that the world will use anything goes tactics, but Timothy’s conduct must be beyond reproach.
He tells this young man that when the going gets tough, some of his followers will get going—right on down the road. They will abandon the faith.
Paul tells Timothy to be wise and even tactful as he deals with all sorts of people, but don’t give in to playing favorites.
He challenges Timothy to lead people to eternal riches and to take hold of the life that is truly life.
He is to guard the gospel that has been entrusted to him.
This is some very challenging counsel, but Paul accompanies it with considerable support. He reminds Timothy that fear doesn’t come from God. Being timid is not God’s handiwork.
God gives you a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline.
Paul tells this young man that the Spirit is already alive and at work inside of him. Fan those flames and let God’s Spirit break into full stride.
The second letter to Timothy begins with a challenge. Timothy is told to be strong in grace. Paul gives examples of the soldier, athlete, and farmer. Each must stay true to what they do.
The soldier’s measure of effectiveness is the approval of his commanding officer. Likewise the examples of the athlete and the farmer convey this message to Timothy: Be true to who you are.
We have all heard the phrase, “He is a Jack of all trades and a master of none.”
Paul is saying be a master of one thing—living in God’s grace. Be good, strong, effective, and exceptional in living in God’s grace.
This might seem strange coming from Paul who became all things to all men so that some might be saved; but Paul did not try to master all things.
He reached out into as many areas of life as he could but remained strong in grace himself. Every place that he went; he carried the gospel and lived fully in God’s grace.
This is what Paul is challenging Timothy to do.
He is challenged to do his best to present himself as a workman who does not need to be ashamed of his work. As God’s servant, he must properly handle the word of Truth.
Some translations read, “Rightly divide the word of God.”
Both translations are necessary for sufficient understanding. First, we must study to understand what these sacred words really mean.
Second, we must divide what is critical for holy living from those things that Paul might describe as disputable matters.
Timothy must know what God’s word means and must apply the proper direction in the proper places without getting wrapped up in peripheral arguments.
Then Paul makes analogy to a household that has common items and special items. Some are made of fine metals and others are wood or clay.
Timothy is challenged to be the gold standard for handling the word of God.
Paul then heaps on perhaps the biggest challenge so far. He tells Timothy what is to come. He says this is what is ahead of you.
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.
Timothy might be thinking, “Could it get any worse?”
So Paul adds, and some will try to worm their way into the lives of the weaker members of your congregation—those who live form over substance and do not understand what it is to worship in Spirit and in Truth—and they will try to steal these weaker members from you flock.
This is a load of challenge. It is enough to make most folks throw in the towel right then and there, but Paul follows quickly with words of support.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
But Paul comes right back to challenging Timothy. He tells him to be prepared to preach the word in season and out of season.
That pretty much says, it is always preaching season. The gospel has no vacation time coming and can’t call in sick.
But people will not always want to hear the truth. In fact, they may reject those preaching the truth for those who will tell them what they want to hear.
People will not listen to preachers who challenge them and will replace them with those who only encourage.
People will want you to preach to itching ears.
I think I understand this one uniquely. In the course of my Marine Corps career, I was accused of being tactful twice. I was, however, acquitted on both counts.
Christian—follower of Jesus—we are charged to speak the truth in season and out of season even if it isn’t what people want to hear. We speak the truth in love to our brothers and sisters and in obedience to our Master.
The servant of God who is thoroughly equipped for every good work will know when to challenge and know when to support and encourage.
Too much challenge brings the likelihood of retreat and surrender. We might say there is too much meat in our diet.
Too much support brings confirmation that nothing more is needed. We might say that we are happing nursing all the days of our lives.
Too little of each creates something called stasis. It means that nothing is happening here.
But proper doses of challenge and well timed support and encouragement produce growth. We move from milk to meat without skimping on fiber or other nutrients.
Challenge and support properly balanced create growth.
Paul’s objective with Timothy is to set him on a course of growth. As Paul hands off the baton, he expects to see Timothy accelerate.
Once the runner has taken hold of the baton, he no longer looks back. His race is ahead.
Paul’s race was about over. He was about to pass the baton, but for a short time he would run stride for stride with Timothy to ensure a good handoff.
And like the best runners, Paul gives these last strides everything he has. Every good runner saves a little kick for the end but doesn’t want anything left in his tank when he is finished.
Paul says, “I have been poured out like a drink offering.”
He has given it all he had to give. He can pass the baton, collapse, and look back and say:
· I ran a good race
· I fought a good fight
· I kept the faith
He can look ahead and say, “I know what is coming. The Lord will give me my victor’s crown. He has a crown of righteousness waiting on me. I ran my leg of this race with all I had to give.”
But Paul knows that Timothy’s race is really just beginning. The two ran together for a while but now Timothy has the baton.
Paul has charged him to keep his head in all situations. He is saying that you have the baton now. Hold on to it and deliver it safely to the next generation.
· Run your good race
· Fight the good fight
· Keep the faith
Your crown is waiting for you and for all who take the baton and run their leg of the race.
Today, we carry the baton of the gospel and of following Jesus.
Some of us have carried this baton for decades and are now running stride for stride with someone who will take the baton from you.
Some have been running just a little while and are reaching to receive the baton.
Yet others see your teammate running towards you and know that very soon it will be time for you to receive this baton.
If you are near the end of your race, it is time for that last kick—that last little sprint that draws out every ounce of energy you have so that you can say, “I ran the good race. I gave it all that I had.”
Some are just now receiving the baton. Grasp it firmly. Don’t let it go. Be that workman approved who properly handles the truth and run your leg of the race getting quickly into full stride.
And some have been carrying the baton for some time but you have yet to come to the end of your race. Maybe you still have some strength. Maybe you seem winded. Perhaps some have even stopped and rested.
Some are wondering if they should keep on running. Sometimes things just seem hopeless. Maybe it would be different if we had someone like Paul who would challenge us when we became content with how far we had run, pushing us to grow in faith—to truly live the words that we thought we had properly handled.
Maybe we would get back in the race if someone like Paul would just urge us on, encourage us, and remind us that we are thoroughly equipped for this race we are to run.
If we just had a mentor like Timothy did, maybe we could get back in the race.
I believe that we have not one, but three mentors available to us.
First is God’s holy word. These old words are living and active and they are useful in living the righteous life that God desires.
Second, we have been given the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that he would not leave us alone. The Spirit has come and lives within us and walks along side us and urges us to prayer and action and right living.
Think of the names for the Spirit: Truth, Comforter, Counselor, and Helper. Is that not a formula for a life-long Mentor? God’s own Spirit administers doses of both challenge and support pointing us towards real growth.
Finally, we have the Body of Christ. We actually have the mind and body of Christ, but for now we just look at how the Body of Christ applies here.
When we follow Jesus, we are family.
That doesn’t just mean that we are all going to the same place to eat Thanksgiving Dinner. It means when someone gets off course, we guide him back gently. When another is down in the dumps, we encourage her to get back in the race.
When someone has said they have followed Jesus for 40 years but is still on spiritual milk, we add a little meat to their plate.
It means that we never drop the baton. If one person has a gift from God, he uses it for the good of the body. If another has a weakness, the body compensates.
When each of us gets to the end of our race we want to look back briefly without regret. We don’t want to say, “I wish I have loved more, or given more, or invested more of myself in another person.”
We want to say with certainty, “I know what it is like to be a living sacrifice. I have lived my life fully for God. I didn’t hold anything back.”
Paul tells Timothy and he tells us as well:
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 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.
How sad will it be if you reach the end of your life, look back and say:
· I could have taught that Sunday school class.
· I could have forgiven others instead of carrying that burden of hurt all of these years.
· I could have prayed more and worried less.
· I could have tithed 10% and still hand plenty to make it to the end. Truly, had I tithed, I would have had more than I do now.
· I could have spent more time helping those whom Jesus called the least of these my brothers.
· I could have written much more of God’s holy word on my heart instead of faithfully watching my television shows year after year.
· I could have poured myself out and trusted God to fill me back up every day.
· I could have trusted more and doubted less, trusted more and feared less, trusted more and lived this life to the full.
I hope that none of us comes to the end of our days and looks back and says any of those things.
A journalist named Hunter Thompson rose from poverty and a misguided youth to some prominence by riding with the Hells Angels for a year and then writing about it. You may not have read this work but you will probably recognize one of his most notable quotes.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!”
We might say, “Wow! What a race!”
I hope that one day each of us will be able to say:
· I am all used up. I don’t have anything left. I poured it all out for God. I was a living sacrifice.
· I have run the good race.
· I have fought the good fight.
· I have kept the faith.
· I am ready for what God has in store for me.
At no point did I mention anything about running a flawless race. We will probably fall down a few times. We might just make some wrong turns. But we get back up and get reoriented and get back in the race.
And there is some risk in running our race. Our race is not like the fancy car commercials where 3 cars skid across the parking lot like synchronized swimmers ending up perfectly aligned. Remember that those ads end with the footnote, Professional Driver on a closed course.
Our race is not on a closed course. It is on the highways and byways of real life. But it is our race and we are to run it.
William Greenough Thayer Shedd, a religious scholar of the 19th century once said, “A ship is safe in harbor, but that is not what ships are for.”
A ship that never leaves the harbor defies its reason for existence.
A life not lived fully for God’s glory is worse.
We have a race to run.
We are all at different points in our race, but we must firmly hold onto the baton, run the race set before us pouring everything we have into it, unencumbered by things that weight us down, and reach the end having no regrets for we have poured ourselves out by being God’s light and love in this world.
People know us by our love and passion for following Jesus. They understand what the term salt of the earth means because when they encounter us they get a taste of life, and goodness, and love, and living to the fullest extent possible.
When we hand off the baton, we too will say, I have run the good race, fought the good fight, and kept the faith.
Totally expended, we will be ready to see Jesus and receive our own crown, and be completely healed and filled up for the life that is to come.