Developing Spiritual Stamina
    
1 Timothy 6:12-14

       By Paul Robison

Someone said: “My mother taught me about stamina by saying: 'You’ll sit there ’til all that spinach is finished'” (Quote on sermoncentral.com). Stamina is “a resistance to fatigue, illness, and hardship” (Webster's Collegiate Dictionary). “A recent television documentary pointed out that the cheetah survives on the African plains by running down its prey.  The big cat can sprint 70 m. p. h., but it cannot sustain that pace for long.  Within its long, sleek body is a disproportionately small heart, which causes the cheetah to tire quickly.  Unless the cheetah catches its prey in the first flurry, it must abandon the chase.  Sometimes Christians seem to have the cheetah's approach to ministry.  We speed into projects with great energy, but lacking the heart for sustained effort, we fizzle quickly.  We vow to start faster and run harder, when what we need may be not more speed but more staying power--stamina that comes only from a bigger heart.  Motion and busyness, no matter how great, yield nothing unless we allow God to [help us develop] the heart” (Lovejoy, ser.ill.com).  What keeps elders leading year in and year out?  What keeps deacons serving year in and year out?  What keeps Bible class teachers teaching year in and year out?  Money does not drive these good brothers and sister; they all have those big hearts which gives them stamina to keep on keeping on.  It looks like Timothy might have been wearying in ministry.  He was working with the church in Ephesus, and it had been in chaos because some who were elders had shipwrecked their faith and were teaching doctrines contrary to those of Christ in order to gain a following and to pad their own pockets.  Timothy had to deal with these heretics who were trying to persuade members to join their ranks. “This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare” (1:18). “Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership (4:14).  You see how Paul is continuing to urge to Timothy to hang in there in this spiritual battle for souls!  We saw a few weeks ago how Paul gives some challenges to develop spiritual strength: identify and withdraw from the heretics, realize what is true gain (godliness with contentment), and understand the dangers of riches.  Then we saw last week how Paul admonished Timothy and the members at Ephesus to gain spiritual direction by fleeing from the heretics' wicked behaviors and by pursuing virtuous behaviors like righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience or endurance, and gentleness or composure.  Obeying Paul's imperatives in verse 12-14 can help all Christians to develop spiritual stamina or spiritual staying power.  Let's read this text and then we'll notice five imperatives in more detail: “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.  I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ's appearing.”
 
The first imperative in verse 12 is: “Fight the good fight of faith.” Actually, the original text has a verb which means “to carry on a conflict, contest, debate, or [law] suit” (Stauffer, TDNT).  It is a word which sounds very similar to our word “agonize”.  Think of a young man who is a collegiate wrestler in a tournament.  There is nothing fake about these matches.  The two wrestlers go at each other with all their wit, quickness, and strength.  Paul is telling Timothy: “Keep struggling in the good contest about the faith!”  Timothy is not to give up!  He is to continue to resist and to debate any new opposition who teaches falsehood.  Like Jude wrote, “[He is to] contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saint (Jude 1:3).  “In January 1993, the Galeras volcano, located in Columbia, South America, suddenly erupted.  One week later a geologist, Dr. Fraser Goff, was sampling gas vents in a canyon west of the volcano summit.  The guide who was with him jokingly said, 'Do you want to look for some gold?'  Dr. Goff picked up some of the rocks and later cut them into thin slices.  He found that there was real gold in the rocks, quite a bit of gold.  This was the first time scientists had detected visible gold particles in an active volcano. More than a year later, Dr. Goff announced that the Galeras Volcano, which remained active, was spewing more than a pound of gold each day into the atmosphere and depositing 45 pounds of gold a year into the rock that lines its crater.  He explained that magma from inside the earth has many components, including gold, and estimated that there is a gold vein at the volcano's base that is at least 10 feet wide.  Just as the ultra high heat and pressure of the volcano can produce gold in rocks, the pressures and trials of our lives can bring forth spiritual gold.  If we draw close to God during difficult times and if we will not surrender to Satan, we will find the gold of increasing faith, [stronger] character, [greater] wisdom, and nearness to God” (Trials in Larson).  “Keep struggling in the good contest about the faith!”  A wise man once said, “The key to victory is to outlast your opponent.  You are not to give up.  You must keep your head; keep using strategy after strategy, keep persevering in the struggle until the enemy finally gives up.  At that point, you will gain the victory” (Patton)!  How well are we struggling in the good contest about the faith?  Could we even recognize when the faith is being attacked?  Do we know how to use the Scriptures to defend the truth and to overcome error?  Have we grown weary and almost given up in our wrestling matches against evil? “Fight the good fight of faith!”  This will help to develop spiritual stamina!
 
Now notice the next imperative in the next part of verse 12: “Lay hold on eternal life!”  The verb for “lay hold” means to seize something with your hands (Thayer) or to grasp something firmly (TDNT).  A good wrestler will often use his hands and arms to latch onto the legs, arms, chest, or neck of his opponent.  And he will hold on tenaciously in order to cause his opponent to weaken or to lose his balance.  You see, Paul is wanting
Timothy to firmly grasp or to latch onto eternal life and never let it go. This imperative means: “Keep focusing on the ultimate goal!”  Keep struggling for the faith and keep focusing on the goal!  Isn't eternal life the deepest longing of mankind and isn't Jesus' resurrection the trump card of Christianity?  “He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25). “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to each one according to his deeds: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self- seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil” (Romans 2:5-9).  “And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life” (1 John 2:25).  Eternal life is the trophy of this wrestling match!  Keep focusing on the goal!  “God has given certain animals some amazing capabilities.  The chameleon, for example, shows an uncanny accuracy in nabbing bugs with its tongue.  Some scientists recently discovered why.  These scientists worked for an optical university in Germany, and they discovered that this animal has eyes that work like the telephoto lens on a camera, and this requires having both positive and negative lens.  No other animal has this, so the chameleon has super-vision” (Vision in Larson).  You see, Christians are like the chameleon.  We have a super-vision that most people don't have.  God has revealed the end of story, the most important rewards that anyone will ever receive: eternal punishment or eternal life.  We need to make all our decisions keeping these end rewards in view.  This is the super-vision that Christians share.  Do you live according to this super-vision?  How many times does heaven and eternal life cross your mind in a day?  Does keeping this end goal in your mind's eye affect how you make decisions, what actions you perform, and why you live as you do?  Firmly grasp eternal life!  Keep focusing on the ultimate goal!  This will help to develop more spiritual stamina!
 
The next imperative is found at the end of verse 12: “to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”  Timothy was called to eternal life by the preaching of the Gospel, and he made the good confession that Jesus is the Son of God and the Supreme Lord at a congregation in the presence of many brethren who heard his confession and saw his baptism.  One commentator notes that the good confession was associated with one's profession of faith made at the time of baptism, and this action took place in the primitive church before an assembled congregation (Kelly). “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10).  When we worked in Italy, we lived about 10 miles from a very old church building that was built in about 325 A. D. This church building had two buildings: one was called the hall of instruction and the other was the place of worship.  Between the two buildings was a hallway with a baptistery, and it was deep enough to show that the person baptized was immersed.  Why was this baptistery located between the two buildings?  It was to show architecturally that after adequate instruction, then one could be baptized, and then he would be added to the saved and could worship with them.  This is exactly what the New Testament teaches: “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about 3000 souls were added to them.  And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:41-42).  The next imperative is: Keep remembering the responsibilities!  Paul wanted Timothy to remember that day that he decided to become a Christian and his responsibilities associated with bearing the name of Christ.  “I therefore the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1).  “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from every lawless deed, and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:11-14).  Did you hear those responsibilities for each Christian: bear with one another, be unified, live soberly, righteously, godly, expectantly, and zealously?  Are you living up to your calling and confession?  Keep remembering the responsibilities you have as a Christian!  This will help you to develop spiritual stamina!
 
The next imperative is seen in verse 14, but let's read beginning with verse 13: “I urge you in the sight of God who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep this commandment without spot, blameless ...”  “I urge you” is an expression used for an important action.  Where was the first time we heard this expression in this letter?  Go back 1:3: “As I urged you … that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith.”  A writer in ancient times would often repeat at the end of his letter the main idea found in the opening of the letter.  And this is what Paul is doing.  Paul began by telling Timothy to exhort the good Ephesians brethren neither to teach falsehood nor to give attention to the heretics' false teachings.  Now notice that Paul adds some pressure here by calling in God and Jesus as witness to what he is about to say: “I urge you in the sight God who gives life to all things, and before Jesus Christ who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate.”  So what is Paul going to urge Timothy to do while God and Jesus are watching on as witnesses?  “That you keep this commandment without spot and blameless.”  In the original, the word “this” is really “the”.  Keep the commandment without spot and blameless.  To what commandment is Paul referring?  Because of the word “this”, many commentators link it back to something close in the immediate context, like verse 11, which talks about fleeing and pursuing. This interpretation would work, but there is another one that seems better.  Since Paul is trying to reinforce the action mentioned at the letter's beginning, then Paul is giving a fourth imperative: “Keep on warning members to teach healthy doctrine and not to get caught up in the heretics' falsehoods!”  Keep warning the brethren!  Isn't that exactly what good church leaders are supposed to do?  “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).  “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3)!  “Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior” (2 Peter 3:1-2).  Keep warning the brethren!  Every Christian can drift away or wander away from the truth. Thus, we must help each other to stay on the narrow and difficult path that leads to heaven.  The old hymn has it right: “Rescue the perishing, duty demands it; strength for your labor the Lord will provide.  Back to the narrow way patiently win them; tell the poor wanderer a Savior has died” (Crosby).  “Keep warning the brethren” is another imperative that will help to develop spiritual stamina!
 
The last imperative is found at the close of verse 14: “until our Lord Jesus Christ's appearing.”  Warning the brethren was to continue until Jesus' second coming.  This idea could be turned into this imperative: “Keep looking for His appearing!”  Of course, all Christians know that His appearing refers to Jesus' second coming where all the dead shall be raised, then judged, and then rewarded with eternal punishment or eternal life.  Note Jesus words in John 5:28: “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice, and come forth—those who have done good to the resurrection of life and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.”  A writer for a magazine rode in a small boat down the Mississippi River from Memphis, TN to the Gulf of Mexico.  Then he flew in a plane and saw plainly where the river had left its tracks when it previously flooded the Delta, the home of eight million people.  Now there are 2,203 feet of levees with an average height of 25 feet to try to help control the river, but engineers confess that aren't really in control of it when a flood comes.  The writer wrote: “What the river has written in the mud again and again is simple: 'Someday soon.'”  The writer's words were prophetic. The article was published in February, and one of the worst floods in history hit the Delta that summer.  God's Word warns us: “Someday soon and nothing will stop Jesus either.  A wise person gets ready and lives with hope!  Keep looking for His appearing!  Your stamina will increase!
 
When you keep struggling for the faith, keep focusing on the ultimate goal, keep remembering your responsibilities, keep warning the brethren, and keep looking for His appearing, and then you will be able to develop spiritual stamina to endure the Christian marathon.  Someone wrote this poem: “I've dreamed many dreams that never came true, I've seen them vanish at dawn; but I've realized enough of my dreams, thank God, to make me want to dream on!  I've trusted many a friend who failed and left me to weep alone; But I've found enough of my friends true-blue to make me keep trusting on.  I've drained the cup of disappointment and pain, I've gone many a day without song, But I've sipped enough nectar from the rose of life to make me want to keep living on” (Allen in Swindoll)!  Don't give up the Christian race!  Keep developing your spiritual stamina!