What do the waves do to those messages? They erase them. With one swipe “Justin loves Annie” is wiped away from the sand as if it was never there to begin with. God’s grace does that to our sins and our weaknesses. They’re all written there on the record but when we turn to God in faith His wave of grace comes up and washes it away.
Review: Start with the End. Begin with the end in mind. Your own end. Paul was at the end of his life and he was confident. Fought the good fight. Finished the race.
Third, he kept the faith. What does Paul mean by “kept the faith”? When Paul says “the faith” here he is referring to the whole corpus of truth given to him by God. Paul did not think up all that he taught on his own. He did not sit in meditation for long hours; he did not contemplate the great sages of the past and build on the wisdom that came before him; he did not pioneer a new morality or ethic or religion. What he spent his whole life teaching others was something that was taught to him directly by God. He said as much in 1 Corinthians 11:23, “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you”. And with even more punch he warned in Galatians 1:12, I did not receive the Gospel from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.”
Now, Paul is at the end of his life – a life that he lived fully in service to Jesus Christ – and the question is: did Paul end his ministry teaching the same thing he began with? The answer is absolutely “Yes!” A person can change their mind about things as they age. Their politics may change, their thoughts about the particulars of a relationship, their thoughts about what matters in life. But one thing that is supposed to be the same from beginning to end is the Gospel. And Paul never departed from the teachings Christ had given to him. “I have kept the faith” he declared.
The word “kept” literally means “to keep by guarding”. This word conjures up an image of a soldier and a steward. A steward who carefully manages the property of his Master. He was a fiduciary of the faith entrusted to him. Like an investment banker who manages other people’s money is to be faithful and competent with that money to make it grow. Like a custodian tends to the building and grounds owned by someone else to keep it up, making it reflect well on the owner. Like a babysitter watches over the children of someone else in the same manner the parents would themselves. Like an ambassador to a foreign nation would conduct himself so as to bring honor upon his homeland. Or like a mother faithfully following a family recipe.
My late grandfather loved my grandmother’s spaghetti – when she made it the way his parents made it. His father was Greek and a chef by vocation and his mother was Italian – which is to say she was born a good cook. And as far as my grandfather was concerned there was only one recipe for spaghetti – the recipe he grew up with, which included meatballs and sauce from scratch. One time my grandmother tried sneaking some storebought sauce as a substitute to save time hoping he wouldn’t be able to tell. She says he took one bite, frowned pushed the plate away and said, “This isn’t spaghetti”. Translation: “It’s not the right spaghetti”. My grandma laughs about that moment and for decades of marriage remained a faithful steward of that recipe as it was handed to her. She safeguarded it, making sure the content of the recipe never altered whenever she made it. She “kept” the recipe.
That was Paul – he kept the recipe. The recipe of the faith. It was the trust God committed to him – the trust of managing divine truths. He never altered it – it wasn’t his to do such a thing. As a good steward, correctly handling the word of God, he faithfully ensured that whoever he gave it to received it the same as he did. And of this Gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher” he said in chapter 1 verse 11.
And because that’s what God expected of Paul, Paul expected that same fidelity in those who learned from him. What you have heard from me keep as the pattern of sound teaching…” Paul said in chapter 1 verse 13. Incompetence is no excuse. “Let us all not strive to be teachers” James 3:1 warns, “For you know that those of us who teach will be judged more severely.” What James warned Paul admonished. “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you he said in chapter 1 verse 14. Then, in what is the official theme verse of Moody Bible Institute, Paul said in chapter 2:15, “Do your best, to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” Don’t be incompetent, lazy, or presumptuous with God’s word. Handle it reverently, carefully, faithfully. Keep it pure and unchanged. Keep the faith.
The truths of our faith are not an experiment for us to tweak and modify while we go along. We don’t get to vote on what is or isn’t true. Our Master has deposited with us His most precious truths and we are guardians of that trust until our lives are over.
But the word “kept”, meaning “keep by guarding”, also brings up a soldier image. Why? Because in order to keep the faith you will have to fight. There is no getting around this. Your spiritual knuckles will be bloodied. Why? Because of Satan. That tireless agent of deception works around the clock day after day to penetrate the fortress of truth with lies. Therefore, God expected Paul to guard it from heresy and error and falsehoods. This is “Fighting the good fight”.
Paul was confident looking back over his life that he had done this. Someone once suggested to me that Paul was arrogant for talking like this. I don’t think Paul was at all. I think Paul was confident, and, confidence is not arrogance. A person in not humble because they lack confidence. The key difference is this: confidence is when a I compare myself with myself. I see how I’m better at something today than I was back then and I gain more optimism about my abilities. I know I can do this or that. Confidence is certainty of your own abilities and accomplishments. Arrogance on the other hand is the superiority I feel when I compare myself with others whom I see as inferior. Paul didn’t say, “Well, when compared to Demas, I’m pretty good.” Or, “Man, would you look at Phygelus and Hermogenes, I’m a saint compared to those two derelicts.” It was nothing of the sort. Paul was confident that he had done just what Jesus sent him to do decades earlier. It would be like an employee saying, “I’ve been a great employee: I’ve never missed a day or been late to work in all my years; I’ve covered other people’s shifts when they needed, I’ve always done quality work with few errors, I’ve never complained or talked bad about my boss. I’ve been a good employee.” I wouldn’t say they’re arrogant. I’d say they were confident in what they had accomplished their career as an employee.
Don’t mistake confidence for arrogance. Don’t mistake humility as the absence of confidence. Don’t you want to die with this kind of confidence? Don’t you want to close your eyes that final time eager to go on and see the face of Jesus Christ?
Now, does this mean Paul lived perfectly? That he never did anything that given the chance to do over he wouldn’t do differently? Of course not. Paul may have thought that he was too harsh at times, as in that fierce argument with Barnabus he had years ago over John-Mark (Acts 15:36-40). Maybe Paul’s own sins were deeply regrettable to him, as when he was so transparent in Romans 7:14-24.
No, Paul looked back on the forest of his life, and was confident that his life on the whole was one of faithful, devoted, and zealous service to God. If you want to nit-pick, there were failures I’m sure. But, all great men of God from history were mere men also. Moses’ angry outbursts (Ex. 2:11-12; Numbers 20), Abraham’s timidity (Gen. 12:11-13), David’s lust on one occasion (2 Sam. 11) and pride on another (2 Sam. 24). It ought to comfort us to know the revered men of Scripture were not perfect. But what made them so great was their confidence in the perfection and greatness of God. Their failures in sin, their lapse of faith in a circumstance, their shortcoming and failures were washed away by God’s grace.
Michigan has such beautiful beaches and what do we all do on the beach? We like to write messages in the sand where the waves slide back and forth. What do the waves do to those messages? They erase them. With one swipe “Justin loves Annie” is wiped away from the sand as if it was never there to begin with. God’s grace does that to our sins and our weaknesses. They’re all written there on the record but when we turn to God in faith His wave of grace comes up and washes it away. John 1:16 says, “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.” Grace upon grace, blessing upon blessing. Again and again, and again and again. Seventy times 7 times Jesus told Peter to forgive his brother, and that command was based on the willingness of God to do the same with repentant sinners.
Paul kept the faith. That’s why he was so confident. The faith he kept is the same faith we have today. If we keep it the same, we too can have that same confidence.
Confident Looking Forward (v8)
Let’s end with verse 8. We’ve seen Paul confident as he surveyed his past. In verse 8 Paul is confident as he anticipates his future. His future in the next life. Read verse 8, “….”
Paul knew what was waiting for him. And it thrilled him. “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far…” he told the Philippians. “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” he told the Corinthians. Paul couldn’t wait to go finally and see the Lord and be with Him.
But Paul is confident not just about seeing the Lord. He is confident the Lord has something for him when he gets there. Jesus, the righteous Judge, has a crown waiting for Paul. A crown of righteousness. What does that mean? Does it mean Paul lived in such a way that God saw fit to save him? No. This crown is not a token of salvation. Salvation is a free gift of God, handed out regardless of merit to any and all who would believe on the name of Jesus.
But crowns? Crowns we see in Scripture are earned. By faithfulness and devotion to Jesus Christ in the CHristian life. We may all be Christians but we all do not live to the same quality of the CHristian life. God has prizes and rewards for those who seek to make the most of their Christian life. And Paul was sure he had won his crown of righteousness.
Crown here is “stephanos”, and by using this Greek word Paul was using the image of a victorious athlete. In your mind you have to imagine the podiums where the winners stood, soaking up all the glory after winning their contests. While they stood there before the crowds cheering for them the Judges would come and place crowns made of oak leaves or ivy on their heads. These are the stephanos crown – the crowns awarded to athletes who won in their games.
I remember playing little league baseball when I was in my early teens. One year I was fortunate enough to be on a team that won a tournament – a tournament that the team hadn’t won in a long time. They had us line up along the baseline from home plate to 3rd base, facing all our fans. They all cheered as the Director of the league came and one by one placed medals around our necks. (My brother said it was the only day in my life I’d ever be a winner). But, because we won in the contest we got awards. Of course, while the medals were cool, I think at that age we looked forward to the reward of icecream bars after the game more than a piece of metal.
Winning! Awards for winning!
It’s that kind of image Paul had for himself when he got to the otherside. Paul knew he had won because he knew he had fought the good fight, he had finished the race, and he had kept the faith. That’s why the crown of righteousness waited for him. Righteousness here means doing what is in agreement with God’s standards.” Paul did not fall short. Paul upheld the standard of truth in living and in teaching.
Application: Live now for your reward so you can confidently look forward to it. Has the way you’ve been living as a Christian up to this very day given you any confidence a crown of righteousness is waiting for you? If so, wonderful and praise God! If not, I would ask, do you want one? If you know you can get one, and, you can know that you will get one, would you not want it? How does the Lord want to change you to get you on that path? What ways might the Lord be seeking to sanctify you?
Keep in mind what Paul says here: Jesus is the Judge. That’s the truth. Jesus will inspect all of our lives. Man I don’t want any of us to be ashamed on that day and miss out on the rewards available to us. These rewards are the honor we get at the end of this life, but, they are what we enter the next life in eternity with, as our honor and glory. They will be testaments throughout all of eternity of how we spent this short time on earth.