Finish Strong

Samson led Israel for twenty years in the days of the Philistines.

Judges 15:20

When people think of the biblical character Samson they usually focus on his strength and the fact that he was seduced by Delilah. Growing up in church, I heard over and over again the story of the end of Samson’s life–how Delilah deceived him into revealing the source of his strength and how that led to his demise.

But did you know that he led Israel for 20 years? Did you know that Samson’s story in the book of Judges stretches from chapter 13 through chapter 16. Samson’s life got four chapters of the Bible but usually only the last one is taught.

Did you know that the angel of the Lord showed up to Samson’s mom in the same way that He did to Gideon? Did you know that Samson’s mom had to commit to a Nazarite vow while she was pregnant with Samson even before Samson committed to it in his own life?

Did you know that Samson was married to a Philistine girl long before Delilah entered the picture? Yet, the girl’s father ended up giving her away to another man while Samson was gone on one of his exploits. To do this in that day (even in our own) was a total betrayal of trust.

Think about how many times Samson must have fought for and rescued the Israelites from the oppression of the Philistines in twenty years. Two decades of being an instrument of the Lord to save and deliver the people of God is no small thing. Yet, so many of us only remember the last few months of his life.

I believe this is a good warning for those of us following Jesus with our life and especially for those in full-time ministry. Finishing well is such an important thing in God’s Kingdom. People won’t remember the twenty years of faithful ministry. They’ll only remember the big mistake that brought you down. We’ve seen this truth play out with more than one famous minister that we respected.

The apostle Paul reminds the Corinthians about how the Israelites rebelled against God in the desert and then gives them a warning:

These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:11-13

Paul reminds us:

1) If you feel strong against temptation, don’t get arrogant but stay humble. God’s grace is what empowers you to walk in holiness.

2) The enemy doesn’t have new tricks; his temptations with you will be the same that he’s used against others.

3) God is faithful. If you are following Jesus, He’ll help you navigate temptation.

4) The Holy Spirit will show you a way out and a way through. You’re never alone when facing temptation.

Paul knew how important it was to finish the race strong. We aren’t given permission to peter out at the end of our ministry or at the end of our life. God’s expectation is that we will run the race of life hard all the way through the finish line. We are never to let up and never get complacent.

To the leaders in the church of Ephesus Paul articulates the vision he has for his own life and a vision we should capture for our own:

 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…

Acts 20:24

How can you make sure you finish strong?

Everything That Hinders

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. 

Hebrews 12:1-2

Most Christians understand that sin can easily entangle us as we run our race of faith. Sin wraps like cords around our ankles tripping us up and keeping us from running. These cords of sin must be severed from our life or our faith will limp along unfruitful. Most of us have experienced this reality and know this all too well.

But what is sometimes missed is that there are things in life that are not sinful but can still be a hindrance. The passage of scripture above calls us to throw off everything that hinders. Because these things are not overt sin, they can fly under the radar of our lives. They are not like the cords of sin, tripping us up, but they do have a dampening effect on our faith.

We see the same reality represented in how the priests worshiped in the Temple. They would offer sacrifices on the altar in order to address sin. The sacrifices were about atonement for sin with blood. But then the priests would walk over to the wash basin–made of bronze mirrors–and wash with water. This washing wasn’t about being cleansed from sin but about getting the “uncleanness” off of them.

There are things that we read, things we listen to, and things we watch that aren’t necessarily sinful but do end up dulling our sensitivity to the Spirit. Likewise, there are habits of distraction and escape that aren’t sinful but lull us into a passive faith and trap us into keeping our minds on the things of the world rather than on things above (Colossians 3:2). These things gradually contaminate our mind and our heart if we continue to expose ourselves to them. These are the hindrances that need to be thrown off. These are the “unclean” things that need to be washed off.

Paul says it this way to the Corinthians:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.

1 Corinthians 10:23

If we are going to run with perseverance and “not grow weary and lose heart”(Hebrews 12:3), we need to run light. In other words, we can’t run with unnecessary things weighing us down. It could be our interaction on social media or our relationship with food or alcohol. It could be our favorite way to escape that becomes a bad habit. Whatever it is, if it is a hindrance to our sensitivity and intimacy with the Jesus and the Holy Spirit, it needs to be thrown off.