We Often Learn What Matters Too Late
by Dr. Henderson Ward
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My neighbour and friend died recently and he amazed me with his dying sentiments. These were not uttered on his death bed but spoken to me some months before he died but prior to his fatal decline into senility and helplessness. He was concerned about his legacy and he was deeply concerned how he would be view afterwards but he tried to be diplomatic and casual about it.
This man would be deemed a success by his peers and all his countrymen would look back on his life and heap great praise and accolades on his majestic life. All this was said at his funeral by government ministers and big-wigs and there seemed to be a rapturous consensus that this was a man of great accomplishment, dignity and of the finest reputation. All of this seemed appropriate for a Knight of the Realm as he was, a distinguished President of the Senate and a multi-millionaire who had done extraordinarily well for himself. But in truth this Knight of the Realm was deeply uncertain as to his legacy. He was concerned that his heirs were either not interested or capable of taking over from him and carrying the torch onto the next generation. He decided to sell his vast property holdings and do some final things but death is not our servant and always arrive at the wrong time.
As I was contemplating on the passing of my friend my thoughts went to another man who everyone who knew him would regard his life as superbly successful, very distinguished and a man of such irrepressible dignity and godliness that they are few who would ever be his equal. I am referring not to Jesus Christ who is beyond comparison but to the indomitable St. Paul. When St. Paul came to the end of his life he was superbly confident, knew that he had done all that was required of him and was ecstatic of his reception in the afterlife.
Paul had achieved nothing in terms of material prosperity and were he alive in our modern world he would have been described as a poor man who had lived a life of deprivation and penury and who ended his days as a prisoner all alone and frightfully deserted. This would in no way be a reflection on Paul but an apt assessment on the distortion of our values and the topsy-turvy world as it currently exists.
Here is what the Apostle Paul, unlike and in contra-distinction to our Knight of the Realm, had to say when he knew that death was near and his final days on earth was imminent and so it was necessary to say his goodbye, " 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." (2 Timothy 4:6-7)
Paul had no heirs or earthly family so he did not agonise over that.
Paul had not acquired any wealth or riches and cared zero about that.
Paul did not pursue political objectives or reputational standing in the eyes of the world or tried to be a celebrity who was concerned with his dying image. No, not one whit. Paul knew what was important in life, he concentrated on what really mattered and he was glad to let the world know where he stood on these things.
This was not a man who was hesitant, uncertain, at a lost how to regard his situation and his after-life prospects and his standing in the world of Christendom. Death did not intimidate him and its imminence was not disastrously untimely and although a relatively young man, he died at the approximate age of 62, he was more than prepared to face down and triumph over this monster and set a beautiful example for all believers for all time.
Note carefully the important things that Paul mentions here that are the principle concerns for him at the point of death.
He says I have fought a good fight.
He says I have finished my course.
He says I have kept the faith.
In truth if you read these statements with a jaundiced eye you would think that Paul was ego-centric and it was all about him and his achievements. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Apostle Paul was commissioned by Jesus himself and took his responsibilities very seriously and went all out in spite of the horrendous efforts of others to derail him and prevent him from carrying out his mission. One time after stoning Paul the Jews dragged him out of the city and left him for dead (Acts 14:19) only for Paul to recover and continue to do God's work.
I HAVE FOUGHT A GOOD FIGHT means that life is a fight and we can fight it well, manfully and with distinction or we can become supine, toothless and dilatory and let life overwhelm us and make excuse after excuse for our failure and blame everyone in sight and excuse ourselves. You only have to look back and examine Paul's life to see how he conducted himself and with what probity and integrity he conducted his business.
Paul worked with his own hands for his upkeep; working as a tentmaker along with others so that no man could accuse him of scrounging. "After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth; And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them. And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers." (Acts 18:1-3)
Paul never sought any titles, decorations, distinctions or financial support for himself from any church. He never raised funds for a "love offering" or sought in any way to gain financially for his ministry other than to collect money for the poor brethren in Jerusalem. The apostle Paul never sought wealth or high position for himself and never lord it over the assemblies but took a lowly position and showed by example how Christian ministry should be conducted. No wonder he could say, "Follow me as I follow Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1)
I HAVE FINISHED MY COURSE means a lot more than that my life is over and I've come to the end. No there is certainly a lot more to it than that. Paul was saying that his life was dedicated to doing those important things that Christ had assigned to him and he had completed all of those tasks with diligence and thoroughness. Here was a recognition that was unlike his beloved Olympics. Paul was aware that at the Olympics there was just one winner in every race; one medal only was given and so you competed and got that one medal or you failed. Here Paul was reminding all believers that in this race, this life's race it was not the one who finished ahead of the pack but ALL FINISHERS were declared winners.
It must be glorious to look back on life and note that you have been in lock-step with the will of God and you have not wavered or be sidetracked from that which is important and that which really matters. So many people in order to gain acceptance or recognition or entry to the club will compromise and do abominably and then end up with bitter regrets. So often we pay a heavy price, "For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God." (John 12:43)
I HAVE KEPT THE FAITH means a lot more than that I have kept my trust in the Lord and so has remained faithful by his grace. Yes Paul did keep his faith resolute and fixed on God and never lapsed for a second but here he was saying more than that. The Apostle Paul was saying that all the things that were taught him by revelation, all the minutiae of doctrine and the blessed traditions of Christianity he faithfully administered and passed on to the church without addition, deviation or ambiguity.
Paul during his ministry asserted, " For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation..." (Romans 1:16) and he stuck relentlessly to that gospel, defending it to all-comers and holding all believers, even the Apostle Peter, to its glorious tenets and hallowed traditions. Paul knew that the gospel of Jesus Christ if undiluted and seriously accepted was life-giving, spiritually and mentally uplifting and the only hope for the spiritual emancipation of mankind. And so his passion was to convey all the ingredients of the faith on to the early church and thus to all Christendom. The Apostle Paul knew what really mattered, what in this life is really important and he committed himself to it his entire Christian life.
When all is said and done will we look back on our life and say like Solomon, "Vanity of vanities saith the preacher, all is vanity" (Ecclesiastes 12:8) or will we rejoice in the knowledge of getting it right like Paul, "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" (2 Timothy 4:7-8)
So what matters most to you now? Your family, your reputation, your status in the club, your riches and wealth, your good name or doing the Master's will? You decide.
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