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Mission Accomplished

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
October 9, 2021 4:00 am

Mission Accomplished

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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October 9, 2021 4:00 am

The best runners aren’t looking around during the race; they focus on the finish line and run hard. Alistair uses a similar metaphor to reflect on Paul’s ministry. Find out how to persevere in faith to the end, on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.


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The best runners don't look around during a race. Our focus is on the finish line, and they run hard toward it. Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg uses a similar metaphor to reflect on the final days of the Apostle Paul's ministry. We're continuing the series titled Guard the Truth. Let's join Alistair as he teaches from 2 Timothy chapter 4.

The verse to which I should like to draw your attention is verse 7. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Some years ago, I had the privilege of playing golf with a man who was the chairman of a Fortune 500 company. I had met him at a camp, and he invited me to play golf, and I was quite overawed by the stature of this gentleman. I was trying to think of some sensible things to talk about in the round, or a good question to ask. And at one point I asked him, I said, What keeps you awake at night? And he answered immediately, Succession planning.

That's what he said. And I didn't really know what he was talking about, but I said, Oh, that's remarkable, and let's just continue to hit the ball. But I've since realized that it was—that he had good reason to be concerned about that, because Wall Street would be watching to see if the person that took his place would be able to maintain the stock and everything that goes along with it. Well, that was a very understandable and earthly perspective. Paul's concern is the same concern but from an eternal perspective. And so now, having declared the consecration of his life and the prospect of death in verse 6, he now makes this great declaration in verse 7. And what he's saying there is, he has completed his assignment.

The title that I gave to this morning's talk is simply Mission Accomplished. And here in the English translation, each of these phrases begins with the personal pronoun I, which actually is not true in the Greek. Because in the Greek it begins, in each case, with the noun. So it reads, for example, The fight I have fought, The race I have finished, The faith I have kept. Paul is not here guilty of some form of hubris in the way in which he is approaching the end of his life. He is not coming to the end of his days proud of his own achievements, making much of himself.

And to read verse 7 in that way is to misread it entirely. He is simply giving a report of what is the case. I have now completed the assignment I was given. Now, let's then say something about the man himself, Paul. Let's take a moment or two to consider the assignment or the mission that he's just completed, and then just a word or two concerning the means of the completion of the mission. Or if you like, let's say something about the man, something about the mission, and something about the means.

All right? First of all, then, the man. I don't want to assume on a morning like this that everybody says, Oh yes, I know who the apostle Paul was, and so on. So let me just tell you two things about this man Paul. Number one, he was a converted man. He was a converted man. Now, you say, I'm not sure about that terminology.

Well, we can put it in a number of ways. He was once going in this direction, and his life was turned around, and he began going in this direction. He was once focused on himself and his achievements, until he suddenly found himself focused on Jesus and his accomplishments. And this came about as a result of him encountering Jesus himself. We're not going to take time this morning to rehearse it all, but you can read it in Acts chapter 9. When you read the story of Paul's conversion in Acts chapter 9, it is immediately obvious that there were a number of elements in that conversion that are not normal.

At least, they're not routine. The blinding light that was brighter than the noonday sun, the voice that came from heaven, the blindness of Saul himself, the encounter with Ananias, and so on. All of these elements were unique to him. But the distinctive nature of his conversion can be seen in three simple ways.

Let me tell you what they are. Because in saying this, we have criteria by which we can determine the nature of conversion. Is a man or a woman converted? Have they been changed by Jesus? What would the marks be?

These are not all the marks, but these marks will be present. Number one, as you see it in Paul, he had an entirely new view of Jesus. When he was converted, his perspective on Jesus changed.

Makes sense. He thought that Jesus was a fraud and an imposter, that the followers of Jesus were worthy of imprisonment or even death. But all of this changed.

All of it changed. He began to affirm Jesus. He went immediately into the synagogue and began to proclaim that Jesus is Lord.

You can read all of that as you read through the Acts. A completely new view of Jesus. Also, a completely new view of himself.

He was absolutely convinced about what he was doing. He was convinced about himself and about his own achievements. When he writes to the Philippians, he says, you know, if you want to have somebody who argues with you about personal achievement, then if you want to talk intellect, I'm your man. If you want to talk theological erudition, I'm your man. If you want to talk about somebody who always did his best, who never really did anybody any harm unless they deserved it, then I'm your man.

What a change! I see when he writes his first letter to Timothy, he puts it in very graphic terms at the beginning of 1 Timothy. He says, you know, I once was just a complete vagabond and a rascal, and if it weren't for the grace of God, the mercy of God, I still would be. 1 Timothy 1.12, he says, I thank him, that is, God, who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. That was volume one of his life. You go to volume two, a proponent of the good news of Jesus, the story of his grace, and so on. What was it made the difference?

He says, I received mercy. You see, the converted person knows that the reason they have been changed is on account of God's mercy. They didn't change themselves. People think that the reason church exists is as a sort of gigantic self-help agenda with a few Bible verses, and that what you're supposed to do is just bring about the change in yourself.

And if you know yourself, you know that you can't. Paul couldn't. In fact, he didn't even think he needed a change. But converted, a whole new view of Jesus, a whole new view of himself, and a whole new view of others who love Jesus. Up until his conversion, all he did was hound these people down, imprison them, and do them to death. You remember, he had stood and said, You can leave your cloaks and your coats here, when Stephen, the first martyr, had been stoned to death. And now he gathers with these people. Now he breaks bread with these people. Now he shares in fellowship with these people.

Why? Because he just woke up one morning and said, You know, I think I ought to go to church. Because he decided, I'm going to get a wee bit religion. No, because he was converted. Because he was changed from the inside out. Have you been changed from the inside out?

Would you ever use that verb? I was converted during such and such a period when I was in my infancy, when I was a university student, when I was going this way? That's enough.

I said two things. So the second thing, he's not only converted, but he was absolutely convinced. Convinced of the truth that underpinned his testimony. 2 Timothy 1 and verse 12. This is why I suffer as I do, but I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. He says he has given me this good news, I'm absolutely committed to it, and I am convinced of it.

It's very, very important. That's why he says to Timothy in this letter, Timothy, I want you to continue in the things you have become convinced of, knowing those from whom you learned these things. Well, it would be strange if Timothy was supposed to be convinced and Paul himself was not also convinced. No, he is a converted man and a convinced man, and his conviction gives rise to his testimony.

So, that's enough on the man. Let's say something about this mission—the mission itself. What is the mission or the commission that he has received? Well, again, without even going out of 2 Timothy, in verse 11 of chapter 1, he tells Timothy that he was appointed as a preacher and an apostle and a teacher. In fact, back in the record in Acts chapter 9, when Ananias is a wee bit diffident about going to see this slaughtering fellow Saul, God's word to him is, You just go ahead and do what I told you to do, Ananias, because this man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel, and I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name. And so Ananias departed and did exactly what God had told him. So his mission, then, is the mission of the gospel.

He has been appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher. And it is in light of that that he then makes this declaration here in verse 7. Verse 7 is actually just three ways of saying the one thing. When I looked at verse 7 at the beginning of last week, I simply wrote down the three things. I wrote down the fight, the race, the faith.

Let me just take them in reverse order for a moment. What about this faith, then? The faith—he's referred to it as the good deposit, as sound doctrine, and so on.

Well, he says, this is what I've been on about all the time. Remember, before he launches into his great treatise on the resurrection, he says to them, What I received from the Lord is the gospel that I preached to you. It's this in which you have taken your stand and by which you're being saved. If you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless, of course, you believed in vain, for I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died, that he was buried, that he was raised, that he appeared, and so on. And I am the least of the apostles, he says.

I'm unworthy to be called an apostle, but I was appointed to this task. He's not blowing his own trumpet. So when he says, The faith I have kept, that is what he's referring to. How did he keep it? Well, by believing it, by proclaiming it, by preserving it. What he preserved he proclaimed. And what he proclaimed was the means of his preservation.

Because what he believed mattered. And what we believe matters too. We cannot play fast and loose with the faith.

If you want to know what the faith is, it's not simply the notion of subjective belief in something, but it is the very body of truth that has been given to us in the Scriptures. But I want you to understand that if you start to fiddle with what you believe concerning the faith, you're actually taking the ground out from underneath your own feet in terms of your subjective understanding of truth—slow, inevitable collapse as a result of apparently inconsequential destruction. Most of my friends who have given up on the faith are not those for whom they faced a wholesale, mighty destruction in a moment.

Some. But most who said, That little piece doesn't matter, and this little piece is irrelevant, and we can deal with that little piece later on. And before they knew where they were, they had nothing left at all. When he says the faith is referring to the body of truth, which is the foundational belief of basic Christian understanding. Now, the race needs no explication, does it? We all understand about a race. It's a favorite metaphor of Paul in, you know, he says in 1 Corinthians 9, In a race all the runners run, but not all get the prize. What he's referencing here is that if you're gonna run this race, you have to be prepared for the struggle that's involved in it. And if you're going to fight the fight, then you can't just wimp out.

The commentators argue about whether the fight is Paul referring to wrestling in the Greco-Roman world, or whether it's just an extension of the athletic metaphor. It really doesn't matter, does it? Because the point is clear. I was given a mission. This mission was a hard assignment.

There's no thought that Paul is going to be gathered to the skies on flowery beds of ease. No. I've fought this one out. I ran this race. And I have kept the faith. You see, the reason it's so significant is because there is no greater endeavor. There's no greater endeavor.

Eventually, all the toys go back in the box when the game is over. And eventually, we stand before the one who apportions the rewards. That's going to be verse 8. And the crown that is there is an imperishable crown, and the theater is crowded with the angelic host who, Peter says, long to look into these matters. And at the heart of it all, you notice the mentality of Paul.

Again, it's not bravado. When he takes his leave of the Ephesian elders, he says—this is Acts chapter 20, and verse 24—he says, I do not count my life of any value, nor as precious to myself. You say, well, is he a masochist? He doesn't like life? No, no, no.

Look at what he's saying. I don't count my life of any value, nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. So he says, no to cowardice as he embraces the fight, no to laziness as he runs the race, no to cluelessness as he keeps the faith. He is God's man with God's gospel, and finally, a word concerning the means, and that is God's grace. Paul, of all the apostles, has this as the underlying theme, the melody line of his life. Even again, when he says that he has been added to the apostles' band, he says, But it is by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of the rest of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is within me.

Well, that's an encouragement, isn't it? He said, My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness. So says Paul, Once I got that, I said, Therefore I would all the more be happy to glory in my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For when I am weak, then I am strong. In one sense, it is the very weakness of Paul that makes this such an attractive package. I don't think our reaction ought to be, Well, look at that.

That was Paul. He did all that, and look at me, and I have to go back to work on Tuesday or whatever else it is. I don't know what I'm doing. He said, I do not account my life as anything. I account my life as everything.

He said, He didn't mind about this, and I mind about that. Oh dear, oh dear, what a mess I am. Well, then you just feel a lot like Mr. Fleming. You know Mr. Fleming? Which Mr. Fleming? Oh, Mr. Fleming from a long time ago.

He lived in Leith, just outside of Edinburgh. He wrote to his friend and his pastor, Samuel Rutherford, to tell Rutherford that he was really making heavy weather of his life and he needed some direction. Listen to just a couple of quotes. He writes to his pastor, I've had some success by God's blessing in making money, but I am a bankrupt before God in my soul. My inward life is an unraveling heap, and I need guidance and direction.

Help me! So Rutherford responds, Well, you've come to the right man. I am a wonderful man. I am your pastor.

And I seldom, if ever, put a foot wrong. Let me tell you exactly what to do. Now, listen to how Rutherford writes back. He says, You complain that your time is fast-speeding away and that you have not even begun to employ it well.

So is mine. I give a good part of my time to my business, as you say you do to yours, but just like you, that leaves me no time to give to God. God forgive me for the way I forget him and neglect him all the time that I am bustling about in the things of his house.

And then he says, Let us both begin, and me especially, to give some of God's best earthly gift back to him again. Being what? Time. That's what we have in common.

We vary in talents, backgrounds, abilities, gifts, responsibilities. The future comes in at the rate of sixty seconds a minute. What are you doing the rest of your life?

I have only one request of your life. As if, in the words of Jesus himself, are you spending it all with me? Well, we've only got the time that is before us now—as a church, as individuals, as moms, dads, parents, teachers, servants, whatever it might be. And here, this little Jewish convert, so opposed to Jesus, and then so committed to him, a converted man, convinced about the faith. And he says, The fight, I fought it.

The race, I run it. The faith, I kept it. I find great comfort in pretty poor poetry. I mean, I have read some difficult poems, but most of them I don't get.

Without my English teacher, I'm well at sea. But can I just give this to you in case some of you are saying, Oh, brother, here we go now, the great Apostle Paul and me. Well, here's Annie Johnson Flint. If in doubt, quote Annie. Do you know this poem? I look not back. God knows the fruitless efforts, the wasted hours, the sinning, the regrets.

I leave them all with him who blots the record and graciously forgives and then forgets. I look not forward. God sees all the future, the road that's short or long will lead me home, and he will face with me its every trial and bear for me the burdens that may come. I look not round me, then with fears assail me, so wild the tumult of earth's restless seas, so dark the world, so filled with woe and sorrow, so vain the hope of comfort and of ease. I look not inward.

That would make me wretched. For I have naught on which to stay my trust, nothing I see save failures and shortcomings and weak endeavors crumbling into dust. But I look up into the face of Jesus. For there my heart can rest, my fears are still, and there is joy and love and light for darkness and perfect peace and every hope fulfilled. Well, you see, that takes you to verse 8, which is next time.

And in verse 8 you have this great picture. Remember, when you did your first race at primary school, and your mother told you, Don't look at the person on either side of you. Don't look back. I will stand behind the string, and you look at me, and you just run straight at me.

And what did you do? Yeah, you went like that. And here you are running the race of the Christian life.

You keep doing it all the time. Well, here's the picture. Jesus is standing at the finishing line. He's the one going, Come on. Come on. You're going to finish this. Come on.

Come on. The only way any of us can persevere to the end is by the grace of God. You're listening to Truth for Life Weekend.

That's Alistair Begg with a message titled Mission Accomplished. Just a reminder, this is the last weekend we're offering the book Devoted to God's Church, Core Values for Christian Fellowship. Author Sinclair Ferguson reminds us that the church isn't merely a building, it's God's family. As you read through the book Devoted to God's Church, you'll gain a deeper understanding of the relationship bonds that unite us together in a church congregation. Sinclair explains that the most basic picture of the church consists of those who have been given new life by the Spirit's work and are gathered together by faith in Jesus Christ. That's the church. That's the family of God. Find out more about the book Devoted to God's Church when you visit our website at I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for listening today. How could the Apostle Paul talk with certainty about the future when he knew his death was imminent? We'll hear the amazing answer next weekend. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-08-12 21:21:02 / 2023-08-12 21:30:06 / 9

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