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Becoming a Winner
October 12, 1980

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

2 TIMOTHY 2:3-15

Have you seen that poster of Snoopy with his head down very dejectedly carrying his tennis racquet? The caption at the bottom says, “It doesn't matter if you win or lose, until you lose.” That old adage— it doesn't matter if you win or lose, but how you play the game—must have been invented by the losers. When I was in high school, our basketball team never won a game the whole four years. So that was our motto—It doesn't matter if you win or lose, but how you play the game. 

Most of us want to win. Very few choose to lose. Most of us want to be winners whether it's in a competitive sport, or whether it's in our vocation, whether it's with people, we want to be successful. We want to be winners. Paul is writing in our passage this morning to young Timothy. Young Timothy is the leader of the church in very divisive and upsetting times. Evidently he needs some encouragement for Paul is writing to encourage him. Last week, we looked at the verse where Paul told him, “God did not give you a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power and love and self control.” Now he follows that verse with the one that was read this morning. It talks about winning, and gives very practical helps on how to be a winner. He writes to Timothy, “Put up with your share of difficulties like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. In the army, no soldier gets himself mixed up in civilian life, because he must be at the disposal of the man who enlisted him. Or take an athlete who cannot win any crown unless one is kept all the rules of the contest. And again, it is the working farmer who has the first claim on any crop that is harvested.” 

Paul is using examples of the soldier, the athlete and the farmer. The soldier to be a winner must have loyalty and an absolute commitment. In the Roman army, there was no room for any civilian life for the  soldier, to be a Roman soldier, committed his entire being to the army. He speaks about the athlete. If the athlete does not keep the rules, the referee doesn't let him or her win anyway. And it's the hard working farmer who gets the harvest, as we did yesterday with the walnuts. It takes work to get a harvest with months and months of preparation, and then the actual harvest. It’s a lot of work. Ann Evans says she's used muscles she never used before. 

In these three examples of the soldier, the athlete and the farmer, I see three principles about how to be a winner. Number one, winners are goal centered, and goal focused. Winners know what they're about. They're focused on the goal, that they can reach it. The soldier’s goal is victory. The athlete’s goal is the crown of  Paul's day, the crown or the wreath. And the farmer’s goal is the harvest. The successful farmer, the successful athlete and the successful soldier keep their eyes on the goal. Today is Columbus Day—that is it used to be; now I don't know if Columbus Day is today or tomorrow. They keep changing it. All I know for sure is today is October 12. Columbus set out to reach India and didn't make it. Somebody observing Columbus characterized Columbus like so many of us. First, Columbus didn't know where he was going. Second, when he got there, he didn't know where he was. And third, when Columbus got home, he didn't know where he had been. And besides that, he did it all on a government grant. Well, perhaps Columbus was successful. After all, he did have a goal. The successful winner has a clear goal in mind. 

Secondly, winners have a singleness of purpose and are willing to train, discipline and work toward the achievement of the goal. They have power of concentration, power of focus, and are willing to do and to expend whatever is necessary to attain that purpose. Take football. I never knew what was involved in football till my son Timothy played. When you're a father, there are very few other people out on the football field. You only see your own son out there. He's the biggest hero on the team, of course. I'm amazed and impressed with him and all the other boys who play football. But many are weeded out. Too many quit and give up because they can't take the schedule and the heat of those long hours of practice. He comes home battered, bruised, cut and tired. H can hardly make it to the table, much less to bed. But, next day he's raring to go back. That kind of commitment is what it takes to be a winner. 

Or look at the bands. I've been impressed this fall with the East Union and Manteca bands, the best I've ever seen. This is our seventh time to see the bands. We've been here seven years, would you believe that? How those bands have improved—the way they march, their formations and they're playing. It's just exciting to watch. But, you don't get that without discipline, without training. You don't achieve that kind of a goal without good hard work. Like a choir. How exciting it is for me to see the youth choir get organized. They are just beginning, I hope they don't give up. I hope they keep at it. It's training, it's work and it's discipline that produces great music. We have a very talented and gifted director. Now's the time to really make music that glorifies God. You just don't stand up and sing to have a choir. You just don't stand up and sing like you do around the piano. It takes work, it takes discipline, it takes training. I personally am not interested in being involved in anything that is mediocre, that is second rate. I'm not interested in attending or giving my money or my devotion or my time or my energy to anything that is content to be mediocre, content to be secondary. That's all right when you're singing around the piano. That's all right when you're playing football out in the yard. That's all right for rest and relaxation. 

But, when we're seeking to be the church of Jesus Christ, the best is our goal. We should be content with nothing less. The best ministry we can have to children, to youth and to adults in the community is our goal—not to be content with anything mediocre, not to be content with anything second rate, The Lord deserves the best as does our people. 

And that's the third principle of this passage. How to be a winner? Expect the best. We rarely achieve anything above our level of expectation. What we expect puts the ceiling on anything we want to do. Rarely do you get above that level. So expect the best, put your sights on the best and then work for it. Do not be dissuaded but be optimistic. When you see problems, they are not problems; they are opportunities to be creative. And don't give up until the soldier  gets the victory, the athlete gets the crown and the farmer gets the crop. How to be a winner? Be goal centered. Have a singleness of purpose with concentration, training, discipline and expect the best. 

But, what is a winner? Paul goes on in the passage and writes to Timothy about his goals. To be a successful person, the choosing, the selection of the goal is all important. In 1 Corinthians 9:25, Paul writes, “All the fighters at the games go into strict training. They do this just to win a wreath that will wither.” But we do it for a wreath that will not wither. The wreaths were made of flowers that withered and died. Is the crown of your goal made of flowers that will wither and die? Or is the crown made of metal that will corrode and rust? Is your cause one that will not ultimately satisfy? Jesus said, “What does it profit a person to gain the whole world but lose your soul?” What good does it do to win something that will not last? 

And Paul then urges Timothy to work on training, discipline and struggle for the goal. The goal that Paul challenges Timothy with is the goal of proclaiming the gospel, proclaiming the good news to everyone that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. In verse 10, Paul says, “That they may have the salvation that is in Christ Jesus and the eternal glory that comes with it”. Paul said he endured the pain, he endured the punishment, he endured imprisonment. And tradition tells us he was even crucified, he was even killed. Paul endured all that so everyone may hear the good news, that his neighbor may have salvation. 

That is a vision, that is a goal that is worthy of your time, worthy of your talents, worthy of your devotion— that this whole world may know the gospel, that this whole world may know salvation. That's a goal worthy of you—that you care and are concerned about your neighbor, the one who is hungry, the oppressed and exploited in Latin America, the victims of earthquakes, the people who live in our town who are lonely and discouraged, who need salvation, who need to be saved from their condition and lifted up into the arms of God. 

You need a purpose, a direction and meaning in your life and that goal—to preach, to teach, and to live it and to act it— is a goal worthy of you. The result of being committed to that goal Paul tells us is to know the glory of Christ. In verse 11, he wrote, “If we have died with him, then we shall live with him. If we hold firm, then we shall reign with him.” That's our victory—to live with Christ, to reign with Christ, and to know the glory of Christ by doing his work. 

But Paul is a realist. He knows it is not easy to win. It's not easy to attain glory. Paul puts in this phrase, “But if we disown Christ, then he will disown us.” Success is not guaranteed. Even with a goal and determination, singleness of purpose and training and discipline, we may fail and receive the consequences of our failing. Paul is a realist, knowing it's not easy to succeed and win. 

But then he closes on the grace of God. He closes this whole passage by saying, “We may be unfaithful, but God is always faithful.” When you fail, when you get discouraged, remember your faith for the future, your faith in victory, your faith in the goal is not faith in your own ability, not faith in your  own capacities, but faith in God. 

Even when we don't get the best, even when we don't achieve the best, our faith is not in our own faith. Our faith is in God who is faithful. The certainty is that what underlines everything we do, even when we fail, God is still faithful.

© 1980 Douglas I. Norris