teaching 1

FINISHING THE RACE WITH JOY

Acts 20:24

REV. DR SAMSON OLASUPO A. AYOKUNLE

“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” Acts 20:24, NIV

Introduction

Our race in life began before we were born. The knowledge of Biology made us know that thousands of spermatozoa compete in a race to fertilise the egg that was released in the fallopian tube. The first sperm to reach the egg fertilised it and that was how you were conceived and given birth to.

Since the day you were given birth to, you have been involved in various kinds of races:

  • You raced to crawl, stand then walk
  • You raced to talk
  • You raced to eat: taking of milk and later eating of solid food
  • You raced to begin and complete your education
  • You raced to begin and get to the peak of your career
  • You raced to start and build a family
  • You became a Christian and have been involved in the Christian race since then.

We are living in a day when many men and women are “beginning well” in life’s endeavours but not many are “finishing with Joy.” I am encouraging those who are running well to continue that way and those who are doing badly to buckle up. My prayer is that you will finish the race set before you this year with joy. Finishing the race connotes that many people are running the race. The race is like a competition, though only one person will win the race, every runner is encouraged to be the winner. There are things to be done to win the race and the winner always receives a reward.

In every race of life, there are four categories of competitors:

  1. Those who start well and finish well.
  2. Those who start well but finish poorly.
  3. Those who start poorly but finish well.
  4. Those who start poorly and finish poorly.

Everybody can finish a race but it is not everyone who finishes that race receives a crown. Many Christians began their work with a genuine call from God and a deep commitment to serve Him. Their faith was sincere and their love for God was sacrificial. Their highest desire was to give themselves for Christ and His kingdom but along the way, the pressures, the pain, the disappointments and the failures of life have caused them to burn out, to lose heart, and to give up.

Paul saw himself as an accountant (Acts 20:24) who had examined his assets and liabilities and decided to put Jesus Christ ahead of everything else. He had faced this kind of reckoning early in his ministry and had willingly made the spiritual the number one priority in his life. At the end of his third missionary journey, as he was on his way to Jerusalem, he stopped at Miletus and had a meeting with the elders of the church in Ephesus where he had ministered for three years. In his closing exhortation to the elders at Ephesus, we see the characteristics that enabled him to walk in the works that God had ordained for him from the foundation of the world and to fulfill the ministry that God had entrusted to him. It is these same character qualities, flowing out of the fullness of Christ, which will also enable you and I to “finish with Joy” and to walk gloriously in the works that our Father has planned for us.

Definition of Terms

Three key words stand out in our topic. They will be defined in the context of our passage.

  1. Finishing: The Greek word as used in our text isTeleioo. It means to carry through completely, to accomplish, to bring to an end a proposed goal, bring to a close, or fulfilment by event especially of the prophecies of the Scriptures. It is literally to accomplish or figuratively to consummate in character as used in the passage.
  2. Race: The Greek word as used in our text isDromos. It is used figuratively as a career, or the course of life or of office.
  3. Joy: The Greek word as used in our text is Chara. It means cheerfulness, calm delight, gladness, something done greatly out of exceeding gladness. It could be personal joy, joy caused by an occasion or other person’s joy.

In summary, the topic connotes:

  1. You are involved in a race, an activity or a process
  2. The race is a competition and you are not alone in the race
  3. You must strive to win the race and in the endeavours of life
  4. You must know and understand what it takes to win the race
  5. You must also know that there are rules and guidelines for every race
  6. You cannot abandon the race under any guise
  7. Finishing the race is with Joy and not with stress
  8. The ultimate race that we must all finish is the race of eternal life, reigning with Christ at the end of our life’s journey.

Biblical Examples of People who Finished Differently:

A. Started Poorly and Finished Poorly

1. Samson because of the temptation of a woman.

2. Absalom because of the temptation of pride and power.

3. Ananias and Sapphira because of the temptation of money.

B. Started Well but Finished Poorly

1. Gideon: He won a great battle for God. His first battle with 300 warriors defeated 120,000 Midianites. Toward the end of his life he compromised for money and power and was rejected.

2. Noah: He was greatly used of God to save the world through the flood. Later in life he got drunk, and his sons had to cover his nakedness.

3. Solomon: He was used greatly as a young man to build the temple, unify the kingdom and God gave him great wisdom. In the end he had multiple wives and concubines, was drunk on riches and power, and he didn’t properly train his children, they split the kingdom.

C. Started Poorly but Finished Well

1. Paul: He was the chief persecutor of the church but became converted and became the chief promoter of the church. At the end of his life he said, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them that love his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7,8).

D. Started Well and Finished Well

1. Job: He was consistent in his serving of God. He never bowed under pressure but held on to God. Even when he lost all he had, he was still faithful to God. He received double for all he lost.

2. Joshua: conquered the Promise Land for Israel, and at the last of his life he challenged everyone to live for God and testified at the very last: “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

3. Daniel: As a young man he stayed true to God. He did not bow down to foreign gods, but bowed down to Jehovah and was thrown in the lion’s den for it. However, God delivered him and he remained relevant to God and the people.

Dr J. Robert Clinton, professor at Fuller Seminar did a study of male leadership in the Bible and determined that only 30% of them finished well. How many of you here today want to finish well? How many of you will commit yourself to finishing well?

Fundamentals of Finishing with Joy

Finishing with Joy is the attitude of believing you can do something and having the courage and determination to see it through to the end. The winner of any competition always comes from among those who finish. Here are some fundamentals of finishing with Joy:

1. Vision: The foundation for Finishing with Joy

It is the beginning of anything one wants to do. To craft a vision is the foundation on which every structure is built. How do you craft vision and execute vision? To run with vision is to finish well.

2. Relationship: The Wheel of Finishing with Joy

Relationship is a means of finishing well because you are created to connect with other people. Your relationship with people will determine if you will finish well or not.

3. Succession: The Proof of Finishing with Joy

Life is a race. The need for succession is critical in any organisation because no man can lead forever. Only God cannot be succeeded. This year is our year of new leadership in the Convention.

4. Holy Spirit/Word of God: The Grace to Finishing with Joy

The Holy Spirit guides one into all truth. The Word of God is a lamp and a light to help us navigate the journey to finishing well with Joy.

5. Finance: The Key to Finishing with Joy

When individuals, churches and Denomination craft vision(s), funding is key in the execution of the crafted vision.

6. The Church: God’s Method of Finishing with Joy

The Church is God’s method in the last day. The church has been empowered to be the model of finishing with Joy.

7. Rapture: The Gains of Finishing with Joy.

The earth is not the final abode of Christians. Jesus has promised to come back for the church and Individuals. Don’t finish with Joy on earth and finish with sorrow on the last day.

Secrets of Finishing with Joy

The secrets of finishing with Joy is seen in the life of Paul as seen in Philippians 3:10-14.

  1. You must be willing to DIE vs. 10

For anyone to finish with Joy, death is a pre-requisite. Death here does not mean physical death, it means: death to self, death to pride, death to shame, death to what others are saying, death to discouragement, death to side talks/comments, death to those whom you love. Death is used metaphorically here to mean:

  1. Separation – Leaving the crowd to move to the top.
  2. Sacrifice – Giving up to go up.
  3. Solitude – To meditate and receive grace for higher level.
  4. Self-denial – Acknowledging Christ rather than self.

Paul was ready to die (Remember Agabus prophesy). If you are not willing to die, you are not ready to finish with Joy.

  1. You must place a DEMAND on yourself vs. 11

Placing a demand on yourself is challenging yourself to get to the top. It is motivating yourself to win the race of life. Placing a demand on yourself entails the following:

  1. Discovering yourself

In discovering yourself, you must know the following:

  1. Know your source: Where are you from? Who are you?
  2. Know your purpose: What am I here to do?
  3. Know your limitations: What are the things I cannot do?
  4. Know your potentials: What can I do well?

One of the purposes/goals of self-discovery is freedom.

  1. Disciplining yourself

The word discipline means to punish, guide, instruct or compel. Without discipline, there will be no decorum. A man who lacks discipline is like a man without teeth. He cannot finish with Joy.

  1. Do not Demotivate yourself

There are two types of motivation: Internal and External Motivation but internal motivation is greater than external motivation. It does not matter what type of de-motivation you get externally make sure you are not demotivated Internally. Demotivation leads to limitation. When you discover, discipline and do not demotivate yourself, you can then say after Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

You must push yourself to do the things that are not convenient for you at times. Wake up early in the morning, sleep late at night (not watching television or chatting), read wide, pray and fast on your own.

  1. You must be DETERMINED to win the race vs. 12

Determination is needed on your way to finishing and winning the race.

This is making up your mind to finish despite oppositions, situations and/or conditions. Determination sees you through to the finish line; determination will make you not to give up. Determination helps you win the race.

  1. You must DETACH yourself from the past vs. 13

The past is only good for reference. Yesterday is in the tomb, tomorrow is in the womb. It will interest you to know that until you deal with the past, you may not attain a glorious future. God will not consult your past to determine your future. You must forget two things about your past:

  1. Past Successes

Paul’s past successes that he forgot includes: His shadows healing the sick, his casting out demons, missionary to the Gentiles, a just teacher of the word, he excelled more than the other Apostles, signs, wonders and miracle attended his ministry. No matter your achievement in life, you can do better than what you have done. There is room for improvement.

  1. Past Failures/difficulties/Situations 2 Corinthians 6:3-10

Paul’s past failures includes: he was rejected by other Apostles, numerous beatings (scourged five times), many imprisonments, sleepless nights and hunger, dangers of false brethren, fighting within and fears without.

When you don’t forget your past success, you will not to make extra effort, you become lazy, a storyteller instead of a trail blazer. When you don’t forget past failures, it limits you, puts fear into you and makes you lose courage and enthusiasm.

  1. You must have the DESIRE to always move ahead vs. 14

Desire is the starting point of all achievements. Desire is having strong passion for something. It was desire that pushed the Wright brothers to build the first aeroplane after great scientists have declared it is impossible for a metal to fly in air/space. Desire says, “I want it, I will get to my destination, in spite of any short coming or failure in life”.

Hindrances to Finishing with Joy

There seems to be temptations, trials, and just plain personal problems to keep people from finishing well. They stop one lap before the finish line. Some of these hindrances are:

  1. Money – We are all faced with the prospect of greed and selfishness when we don’t discipline our desire for money; we eventually fall and compromise our principles. Example – Ananias and Sapphira, Gideon’s golden ephod.
  1. Power – Many people want power. They always want to be the boss. There is a right use of power and there is abusive power.
  1. Pride – Is being selfish and egoistic. While every man must have a healthy respect for himself, he must also recognize “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
  1. Material Things – It is possible for the “lust of the eyes” to get to anybody. People want a bigger car, a bigger house, a bigger everything. Because Esau was the firstborn, he was in line for the inheritance of his father Isaac. But he gave up his birth right for a mess of pottage, he let physical desires get between him and God’s will.
  1. Sex – Illicit sex has been the downfall of many in the Bible. David – sinned with Bathsheba, and for the rest of his life the results of this sin became an ongoing problem. One of his sons murdered another, one of his sons raped his daughter, he temporarily lost his kingdom and they fought right up until David’s deathbed when Adonijah and Solomon fought over the kingdom.
  1. Plateaued growth – Many men reach a high level early in life, and then quit growing. They try to hang rather than continue growing throughout life. Any team knows that when you hang on to a lead, you lose momentum. John Maxwell calls momentum, “Big Mo.” When a team loses Big Mo, it usually loses the game. Men who finish well with Joy continue to grow until the end of their life.

How to Finish with Joy

  1. Have a Life-long vision: Early, find out what God wants you to do, and never turn back. “No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
  1. Be Disciplined: It is good to learn to be disciplined. This means being disciplined in your time management, spending money and management of people. It means to discipline your temper, your lust, and your laziness. “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1,2).
  1. You must continue to learn: You must keep learning to the very end. Paul said, “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). Continuous learning made Paul affirm: “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:13).
  1. You need Mentors: Those who finish well in sports have a coach to continually challenge them, correct them and help them. You need a coach or a mentor to motivate, counsel and keep you from quitting. A mentor gives you a shoulder to climb to see far and be able to finish with Joy.
  1. Genuine Humility: True humility is not seeing ourselves for less than what we are; rather, it is a confident affirmation of who God has made us to be in Christ and the ministry He has set before us. Paul walked humbly before the Lord and before His people. We get into trouble when we see ourselves out of proportion—as more than who God says we are or as less than He sees us to be.
  1. Unalloyed Obedience: And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. (Acts 20:22-23).

Paul was obedient to the point of death. He continued to follow the leading of God’s Spirit, knowing that afflictions, pain, persecutions, prison and even death were before him.

  1. Intimate Relationships: I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, (Acts 20:20).

Paul shared intimate relationships with people. Earlier he said that he served with tears. He was with the people and his heart went out to them and was open to them as well. Paul was knowable, touchable, available, and able to be moved deeply by their needs and their cries.

  1. Endurance to the End: But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. (Acts 20:24-25).

Paul endured to the end. Endurance may well be the most important character quality in finishing race. Paul was committed to finishing his race whatever the cost. He did not bail out in the face of overwhelming obstacles because he knew God was there and was able to keep his heart

  1. Integrity and Character

Paul’s integrity and character were well known within the church at Ephesus. He said, “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you.” This confidence was the foundation for the message he now brought to the elders. The character and integrity which flows from us as godly men and women will be the foundation for our ministries as well.

Running the Race

The Christian life is akin to a race. The race here represents your assignment from time to time. As there are different types of races, so there are different types of assignments. Every race has a rule of running it.

  • Short distance races -100m/200m/400m
  • Middle distance races – 800m/1500m/3000m
  • Long distance races – 5000m/10,000m/marathon
  • Relay races – Involves exchange of batons

In running a race, you must be aware of the following:

  1. Distractions – This is mostly from the crowd. Some will cheer you, some will jeer you. Whether cheering or jeering, you must not listen to either of them else, you will not finish well.
  2. Deceptions – These comes from those who can influence you.
  3. Detours – These are false information from those who do not know but claim to know in order to sabotage your journey.

However, if you want to finish and finish with Joy, you must do the following.

  1. Run the race with passion: intense emotion or compelling action.
  2. Run the race with purpose: the aim or goal of doing or becoming.
  3. Run the race with perspective: the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance.
  4. Run the race with patience: you need a lot of patience in the race of life.

“You have need of patience that after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.” Hebrews 10:35

Running the race with Passion without Purpose will lead to distractions. Running the race with Passion without Perspective will lead to detours.

Whatever assignment you were given in life, the church or in the body of Christ, do it with Passion mixed with Purpose and with the right perspective, you are guaranteed finishing and finishing well.

Conclusion

The secret to Paul’s strong finish is summed up in verse 24. The verse does not only apply to the apostle Paul, but to all who know Christ as Saviour and Lord. Paul was a man to emulate. From his hope of the Gospel, the ministry of the word, his journey to Jerusalem; none of his experiences shook his faith, nor inject fear into him, nor cause him to alter his purpose and design. He went through the course and race of his life by suffering cheerfully and joyfully for Christ; his Christian course and race, which began at his conversion, ended with a joyful prospect of being with Christ in an endless eternity; and so he did finish his course as he himself testified:

For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing. 2Timothy 4:6-8, NIV

At the 1992 Olympics 400m men’s final, all eyes were on one man; Derek Redmond, the favourite to win the gold. 175m away from the finish line, he heard a pop in his right hamstring, he pulls up lame as if he had been shot. He stood up and began to hop on one leg, then slows down and fell on the track.

Medical personnel came in with stretcher to take him off but he refused saying “I’m going to finish the race”. He stood up slowly and began to hop on one leg.

In a moment that will live forever in the minds of millions, Redmond started moving towards the finish line. What is he doing, what does he thinks he is doing? He’s going to attempt to hobble his way to the finish line all by himself as a result of pride, stubbornness of heart or what?

Redmond was dead to all side talks and comment. Then slowly the crowd of 65,000 people in total disbelief rose and began to roar. The roar got louder and louder. Through the searing pain, Redmond heard the cheers, but “I wasn’t doing it for the crowd” he would say later. “I was doing it for me” whether people thought I was an idiot or hero, I wanted to finish the race.” One painful step at a time, each one a little slower and more painful than the one before, his face twisted with pain and tears, Redmond limps onward, and the crowd many in tears cheer him on.

Suddenly, Jim Redmond his father beat the security guard and runs out to his son, with two security people chasing after him. “That is my son out there” he yells back at security “and I’m going to help him.” Jim reached his son at the final curve about 120metres from the finish, and wraps his arm around his waist. “I am here, son”, he says softly hugging his boy, “We’ll finish together”. Both moved towards the finish line until a few meters to the end when Jim released his grip on his son, so Derek could cross the finish line by himself. Then he throws his arm around Derek again, both crying along with everyone in the stands and millions watching on TV all over the world.

“I’m the proudest father alive,” Jim told the press afterwards, tears in his eyes. “I’m prouder of him than I would have been if he had won the gold medal. It took a lot of guts for him to do what he did.” He finished the race. Never in the history of the Olympics has a man gotten such a heroic stand and ovation.

Derek Redmond finished in spite of all odds, because of the following as seen in various enumerations in this paper:

  1. He had a desire to finish the race.
  2. His desire was backed up with determination.
  3. He had to detach himself from the noise of the crowd.
  4. He died to the side talks, cheers and jeers on the field.
  5. He placed a demand on himself to finish at all cost.

When you have desire, determination and place a demand on yourself, help will show up for you. I see you finishing the race in 2021 with Joy and ultimately wearing the crown of righteousness at the end of age.

Shalom.

Sources


Alexander MacLaren’s Expositions of Holy Scripture

Bill Mills and Craig Parro. Finishing Well in Life and Ministry: God’s Protection from Burnout

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon

https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/acts-20-24.html

https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-52-finishing-course-acts-2022-27

https://www.studylight.org/commentary/acts/20-24.html

https://www.leadershipresources.org/11-marks-of-finishing-well-in-ministry/

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