Courage to Go On
2 Timothy 2:1-13
Dr. Jim Denison
A friend recently sent me some ads which needed proofreading:
Nice parachute. Never opened. Used once.
Nordic Track $300. Hardly used. Call Chubby.
Semi-Annual after-Christmas Sale.
Snowblower for sale. Only used on snowy days.
Stock up and save. Limit one.
Wanted: Man to take care of cow that does not smoke or drink.
Dog for sale: Eats anything and is fond of children.
For sale by owner: complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica 45 volumes. Excellent condition. $1,000 or best offer. No longer needed. Got married last month. Wife knows everything.
Does she really? Does she know the meaning of life? Does she know what really matters? Do any of us?
“Affluenza” is the new term of the day—affluence which afflicts us with its demands, overwork and overstress.
I read this week that 80% of men and 62% of women put in more than 40 hours a week on the job. But all this work is not giving our lives meaning and fulfillment. 60% of Americans feel pressured to work too much; 80% wish for more time to be with their families and themselves.
We’re starting to realize that it’s just not worth it. We’ve climbed to the top of the ladder, only to discover that it’s leaning against the wrong wall.
Then the hard times come. How do you go on in the face of chemotherapy, job loss, single parenting, the divorce of your parents, peer pressure at school, demands which are pulling you apart, the general weariness of life?
It all comes to purpose. You and I will choose to go on in the face of suffering and sacrifice if the goal is worth such cost. When we find the right purpose, a meaning to life which is worth our lives, we’ll pay any price to fulfill it. There, in that purpose, we’ll find the courage to go on.
Let me explain.
Choose to please God
Paul gave his life for a reason, as he wrote this letter from the Mamartine dungeon: “This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal” (vs. 8b-9). Why? “I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory” (v. 10). Suffering, going on, for a purpose.
Now let’s back up:
“You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (v. 1). “Be strong” means to keep on being empowered. “Grace” simply means the “unmerited favor,” the power and help which God has given you. Now stand in this strength, not in your own. In his Spirit, in his power, and not your own. And lead others to do the same (v. 2; there’s an entire disciple-making strategy in this one verse).
“Endure hardship” (literally, “take your lumps”) like a good soldier, “to please your commanding officer” (v. 4). The Greek word means the person who enrolled you in the army and has been your leader ever since.
Don’t “get involved in civilian affairs”—the phrase means to get entangled, as when a soldier gets his weapons tangled up in his clothes. “Civilian affairs” keep a soldier from fighting the battle, winning the war. In other words, stay on purpose.
Compete as an “athlete”—the Greek is the word for a professional athlete, not the amateur for whom athletics is merely a hobby. This is to be our full-time work, the passion and focus of our lives.
Do so to “receive the victor’s crown” (v. 5). This is the “stephanos,” the victor’s wreath given to the winner of an athletic contest. Do so according to the “rules;” they related to the training of athletes as well as their competition. Greek athletes had to state on oath that they had fulfilled ten months’ training before they were eligible to enter the contest. Those who wish to run in the Boston Marathon must have a time low enough to make them eligible.
To use a different analogy, sacrifice as a hardworking farmer to “be the first to receive a share of the crops” (v. 6).
Now Paul quotes one of the first hymns in Christian history:
If we “died” with him (the Greek word is a completed action, referring to our salvation experience), we will live with him (present tense, here and now).
If we endure, we will reign with him.
If we “disown” him, he will disown us. Paul refers to a person who claims not to know Christ as Savior and Lord. If we do not accept his salvation, he cannot save us.
But if we are faithless, he is still faithful.
Here’s the summary: God rewards those who fulfill his purpose for their lives.
Here we find the courage to go on: the risen, living, active Christ will reward our faithfulness to his call, both now and in eternity. And he will help us fulfill it. He will give us his power, if we will fulfill his purpose. And we will pay any price, make any sacrifice, because the reward he gives is worth all it costs and more.
When Jesus Christ is real in our lives, we find in his power and reward the courage to go on.
Expect Jesus to help
But here’s the problem for many in our culture: we don’t make our choices as if Jesus Christ has anything to do with them. He’s a figure of history, a fact of our religion, a Sunday topic, but little more. When did you last choose to do something or not, to make a sacrifice or not, based on what Jesus Christ would do personally in response? Why should you?
Last year, I picked up a book whose thesis interested me: The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown. No one had yet heard of it. Its basic idea was that Jesus was a great religious teacher, but only a man. “Christians” of the first centuries all knew this. But Constantine the Great, to unify his empire, in essence deified Jesus in the early 4th century. He and his cohorts purged all the records. And the Roman Catholic Church perpetuated the myth of a divine, crucified and resurrected Savior and Lord. People like Leonardo da Vinci knew the truth, and kept it alive through their paintings and secret society. We can find clues to this truth in these works of art and literature; thus the “da Vinci code.”