In his last letter to Timothy Paul penned his own epitaph, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7.) In doing this Paul gave his younger protege penetrating insights into his heart before being beheaded by Nero.
Paul's bold claim gives us three challenges as youth leaders to take both in our lives and ministries. Let's take a look at each and how they apply to us.
1. Fight the good fight.
It's interesting that when Paul refers to the good fight in Ephesians 6:10 he is referring to spiritual warfare. He wrote, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places."
I personally believe that this was Paul's personal "good fight." It was how Satan attacked him in his private life. Maybe it was a battle with lust (2 Corinthians 11:29.) Maybe it was jealousy over those who preached the gospel more eloquently than he did (2 Corinthians 11:6..) Perhaps it was a battle with a physical ailment that made him struggle with the Lord in frustration (Galatians 4:15.) Or maybe, just maybe, it was a combo platter of the things listed above.
Satan used one/some/all of these (or something else) to attack the great Apostle and try to bring him down. Paul wrote, "Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you....'" 2 Corinthians 12:7-9.
This was Paul's good fight. He fought against sin and Satan and came out victorious through Christ!
Whatever set of struggles you are facing right now just know that they are part of your "good fight" package. Satan wants to use these to destroy you. Jesus wants to use these to transform you. From lust to pride to grumpiness to greed God can use these struggles to make you fully dependent on Him. As you fight the good fight in the power of Christ you'll be able to experience increasing victory in these challenging areas.
Personally, I believe Satan especially to target youth leaders in these areas of temptation because teenagers are a key demographic. 85% of those who trust in Jesus do so by the age of 18. Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter. Bring down the youth leader and the teens will scatter. Youth leaders take heed, gird up and fight the good fight!
2. Finish the race.
Paul had a race to win. He made this clear in his words to the spiritual leaders of Ephesus in Acts 20:24, "However, 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—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace."
Paul's race was specific (he was focused primarily on reaching Gentiles.)
Paul's race was strategic (it centered on planting thriving churches in ever widening swaths across the ancient world.)
Paul's race was strenuous (it took every ounce of his strength and eventually cost him his life.)
You have a race to run too. The writer of Hebrews makes this clear, "...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" Hebrews 12:1.
The race marked out for you is specific, should be strategic and will be strenuous. And it should have as it's epicenter "the task of testifying to the good news of God's grace" to and through your target audience...teenagers.
3. Keep the faith.
Paul challenged Timothy to do what he had been doing for decades...to keep the faith. He wrote, "What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us" 2 Timothy 1:13,14.
We have a Biblical responsibility as youth leaders to "guard the good deposit" of sound theology that has been delivered to us through the Holy Spirit via godly men and women over the centuries.
To guard it we have to have it. To have it we need to engage with it. So, with this in mind, let me ask you a few questions:
-Are you reading Scripture both devotionally and theologically?
-Are you a student of the Bible and theology?
-Could you spot out false doctrine if it were being taught to your teenagers?
-If so, would you be able to take your students to specific Scriptures to win them back to a sound faith?
As shepherds sometimes we need to fight off wolves. To do that we must learn how to wield a staff effectively. Paul knew how to do that when some of the Galatians started accepting a "yes, it's by faith but you must also ______________" gospel. In the same way, we must keep the faith and help our teenagers to as well.
May we all, along with Paul, be able to proclaim at the end of our lives, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith."