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Philosophy for Exiting
December 28, 1980

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

2 TIMOTHY 4:6-8

Few things in life are unchangeable. Sometimes we think that everything is changing, but some things are unchangeable. At the end of this year, we are confronted with unchangeable and unstoppable time. Inexorable, immutable, relentless time marches on. Nothing stops that secondhand from moving into minutes, into hours, into years, moving us to the end of our days into our graves. Nothing stops that process. As we leave 1980, 1981 is the first year of a decade which promises unlimited change, what kinds of feelings do you have? What kinds of feelings do you have about your performance in 1980? Do you feel frustrated, unfulfilled or dissatisfied? Are you ready to exit? 

Let's look this morning at a philosophy for exiting. Paul gave it to Timothy in his letter. Paul was ready to exit. He said, “The hour has come. The time is here.” Paul was writing to young Timothy, encouraging him, training him to take his place to be the missionary, to be the minister of the many churches that had been started. To Timothy Paul wrote these words, knowing that he would soon be executed. He could read the handwriting on the wall, knowing that the end of his life was coming near. If you knew the end of your life was very near, what kind of words would you write? Listen to Paul, “The hour has come for me to be sacrificed. The time is here for me to leave this life.” How matter of fact, how realistic, honestly and openly! Paul was ready to die, ready to exit. He called his exiting a sacrifice. Perhaps he was referring to the custom in Rome. At the end of every meal, a cup of wine was poured out in sacrifice to the gods. Perhaps Paul was saying, “The hour has come for me to die. The hour has come for me to leave. And I will pour out my life as a sacrifice to Christ.” Paul did not think of himself as going to be executed. Paul looked at himself as going to offer his life to God. There's quite a difference. 

Paul did not act as if his life was going to be taken from him. He acted as if he were going to lay down his life. When facing the end of the year, or when facing the end of one's life, look at that kind of attitude. Not that your life is going to be taken from you so you go in bitterness and anger and resentment, but look at it as your act of laying down your life for God. Paul had offered everything to God. William Barclay has written, “Paul had offered his money, his scholarship, his strength, his vigor, the acuteness of his mind, the devotion of his passionate heart. All that was left for Paul to give was his very life and gladly he would offer his life.” Paul would gladly lay down his life for Christ. He was ready to exit. He was ready to leave in dignity with his head up. He was ready to leave for he had feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment. 

As we leave 1980 let's look at his philosophy for exiting. He offered his life to Christ and all that he had including his very body. He offered it all to Christ. And then in the next few verses, he lays down his philosophy which I think is good for you and me to look at. With this kind of attitude a person can leave one year and go on to the next, or leave this life and go into heaven with feelings of satisfaction, with feelings of accomplishment. First, Paul says, “I have fought the good fight.” The Good News translation says, “I have done my best in the race.” Paul is using the Greek games as an analogy, the games upon which our Olympic Games are based. As it is with an athlete, so it is in life. Paul seems to be saying it's not in the winning is the satisfaction as much as in the doing of one’s best, the expending, the giving of one's entire energy into the cause. That brings satisfaction and sense of accomplishment. I have done my best. Feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment do not come when we do just enough to get by, when we do just enough to get a passing grade, or to get a C. Sometimes C is a great grade when it took all one's energy to get it. But it's not a good grade if it was just enough to get by. 

Satisfaction and accomplishment come from doing one's best, and not from doing just what you get paid for either. Some people say about their jobs, “Oh, I just work enough to get paid. Why do any more than what I get paid for?” When you look at your work, your vocation, your profession in terms of what you get paid, then you have cheapened yourself. You are just a mere commodity, some thing that they buy and sell like the baseball player. Of course, I guess I could be a commodity if I got 7 or $8 million, what that last guy gets! But, to cheapen oneself is to put one’s vocation and one's work on the line of being paid. No one can pay you what you're worth. There's not enough money in the world to pay you what you're worth, to pay you what your creativity is worth, to pay you what your mind is worth, to pay you what your time is worth. No one can pay you what you're worth. Do your work, do your vocation because you want to contribute to humankind and be thankful if you do get enough in return that satisfies your needs. Do your work and your vocation and do your best because you're doing it for the world. Feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment do not come when a teacher teaches just to get paid, or a preacher preaches, or a doctor doctors, or an accountant counts just to get paid. The sense of accomplishment comes from doing one's best. The sense of integrity and accomplishment comes regardless of what others appreciate, regardless if you're compensated enough, regardless of what the world thinks, because you satisfy you because you know you did your best. Not content with what is shoddy and sloppy like the merchandise we buy at Christmas, but do one’s best for that sense of value.

Paul says, “I have done my best.” It's also translated, “I have fought the good fight.” Life in the final analysis is not a gift on a silver platter. Life is not just a game of chance and luck. Life is a fight. It's a struggle. It's a battle. And those who conquer receive the crown of righteousness. One of the many persons in our church I admire is Lois Smith. For years she has been crippled. 39 years ago she was in an automobile accident that maimed her. She has not been able to breathe with a full use of her lungs for 39 years. She breathes with her diaphragm. Try that sometime. Don't breathe with your lungs, breathe with your diaphragm. When she gets a cold, it's a very serious business for the lungs fill up. She's now in the hospital. She’s had a struggle these last few weeks to breathe. I  saw her Friday and she's doing much better. I said to her, “I admire your spirit.” Many times she has almost died over the years. But she fights. I said, “I admire your spirit. I admire your persistence. You inspire me.” She grabbed for her pad to write for she can't talk now. She has a tube in her trachea. And her fingers are so gnarled, she can't hold a pan or spoon or anything with her fingers. She puts the pen in her palm and she writes very legibly. She wrote, “When you quit, you're through.” Simple but profound. When you quit, you’re through. When you tend to feel sorry for yourself, when you worry whether you can succeed, when you worry whether you're going to make it, fight the good fight, do your best. 

Secondly, Paul said, to exit with feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment, “I have finished the race. I have run the full distance.” Perhaps he was referring to that most famous of the Greek races—the marathon. The Battle of Marathon was a decisive battle between the Greeks and the Persians. The Greeks won that battle. One of the soldiers ran all the way back to Athens to take the message of their victory. When he arrived in Athens, he fell exhausted and said, “Rejoice! We have conquered!” And then he died from the strain. But he did what he had to do. He finished his race. He gave the message and then he died. Today the marathon is a long, jogging race. The winner is not the one who comes in first or second or third, the winners are all those who complete the race, who finish the race. And therein lies the feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction. 

How many projects did you begin this past year that you didn't finish? How many projects did you just start? Satisfaction comes not in the starting, but in the completing, in the obtaining of the goals. Not necessarily to get the trophies, not necessarily to be the big winner, but to complete and finish with that staying power, that persistence, that sense of responsibility that starts and completes. Paul says, “I have finished the race and I'm ready.” 

Paul’s third statement, “I have kept the faith.” Keeping the faith in the Greek games meant two things. It meant first of all—on your honor, you prepared for 10 months, you trained for 10 months prior to the game. You gave your word, your faith that you had done the training. And secondly, you promise to keep the rules. You will not resort to trickery, to anything cunning in order to win, but you would keep the rules and you would run the race with integrity. “I have kept the faith,” said Paul. Keeping the faith probably meant to Paul, “I have kept my promise to God.” God enters into a covenantal relationship with you and me. God reaches out, loves you, claims you, saves you. And you're part of the covenant is to be loyal and faithful, to promise as you did at baptism and at church membership to attend, to pray, to give and to serve. Paul said, ”I’ve kept the faith.” 

Keeping the faith also means to keep the faith that God has in you. God has tremendous faith in you. God has created you. God has placed you here. God has redeemed you in Jesus Christ. And God has called you into service. God has given you a task to do, that no other person on this earth can do, he has given it to you, and he has called you. God has tremendous faith in you. Keeping the faith is to act on that faith that God has in you. 

When you can say, “I have done my best. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith”, then you are ready to exit and waiting you is what waited Paul, when he wrote to Timothy. “And now there's waiting for me the prize of victory awarded for a righteous life.” The laurel wreath was the prize in the game. And the prize of life, according to Paul, is to be rescued from evil and taken safely to the heavenly kingdom. The prize awaiting us is to be greeted by Jesus who will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into my joy.”

© 1980 Douglas I. Norris