II Timothy 4:7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:
Luke 14:28-30 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.
The Christian life is more like a 26-mile marathon than it is like a 100-yard dash. In a sense "starting well" is not nearly as important as "finishing well". How often do we see those succeeding in the middle of life's race? They sprint out far ahead of all others. They may be placed on a pedestal to admire -- an example to aspire to. But how soon fades the beauty? What, when the pedestal comes crashing down? In the long run, the tortoise may outlast the hare. Genuine faith in Christ perseveres to the finish line.
Many biblical characters teach us lessons on going the distance and finishing well, both positively and negatively. Today I think of three.
A New Testament era disciple named Demas is mentioned three times in the Bible. In those three times we catch a glimpse of a man who began well, but did not finish. In the 24th verse of the book of Philemon, along with Marcus, Aristarchus and Lucas, Demas is mentioned as a fellowlabourer right alongside of Paul. When Paul wrote to the nearby Colossian church, he mentioned Demas to them as one who with Luke sent greetings (Col. 4:14). Our final view of Demas comes in Paul's final epistle, his near-death letter to Timothy. It is a sad look, at one who did not finish well -- "Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world" (II Tim. 4:10). Demas, a man who co-laboured with Paul, soon found that he loved the world more than he loved God. He did not persevere to the finish line.
Caleb is a fine Old Testament example of one who not only started well, but finished well, too. Caleb was one of 12 spies that Moses sent into the land of Canaan to bring back a report of it to the people. He was one of only two spies who maintained a godly report. While 10 spies forbid it, Caleb said of the land, "Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it" (Num. 13:30). With Joshua, he became one of only two people over 20 years old who would eventually enter this land. Flash-forward 45 years. Israelites have wandered in the wilderness 40 years. They've spent 5 years conquering the land of Canaan with Joshua as their leader. Caleb is now 85 years old. He does not slink back from the task he urged his people to take on 45 years earlier. He still believes the God he served in the past has the same power in the present. By military conquest he takes possession of the land of Hebron which God gives him and his family. Caleb goes the distance and finishes well (Joshua 14:6-15; 15:14).
At this point you may be discouraged. Are the only two options starting well & finishing well, or falling by the wayside and not crossing the finish line? What if I am a sputtering in the middle of the race? Is there hope? Enter a disciple named Mark to instruct us further.
Mark, also known as John or John Mark, was a young man whose discipleship apparently extended before the crucifixion of Jesus but not all the way back to the baptism of John. He was a nephew of Barnabas, the itinerant preacher who traveled with Paul from Antioch. Mark had traveled with them from Jerusalem to Antioch, then went with them when they left Antioch for regions beyond (Acts 13:5). But not far into the journey, Mark left them and went home to Jerusalem (Acts 13:13). Mark not only didn't go the distance, he inserted a source of contention between Barnabas and Paul. When they intended to go again and visit the churches they has started, Barnabas was determined to take Mark once again. Because he turned back from the previous journey, Paul was just as determined that Mark would not go. Each went his own way!
Paul, despite his strong opposition, and Mark, despite his lack of persistence, both learned that a "messed-up middle" does not have to keep one from finishing well. Immediately after Paul told Timothy about the departure of Demas, he spoke to him of the return of one who had departed -- John Mark. "Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry." II Timothy 4:11. This young disciple was even chosen of God to pen one of the gospel accounts, the 2nd book in our New Testament.
Those who do not run well in the middle stages are not necessarily destined to fall by the wayside. By the grace of God they just start running again and go the distance, finishing well!
Let us run the race that is set before us. Run with patience. Run with our eyes on Jesus.