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 10 September, 2000


Run Your Best
2 TIMOTHY 4:1-8.


Olympians compete not only against each other, but also against themselves. One great achievement is to do a "P.B.": personal best. They want to achieve the Olympic motto "Citius--altius--fortius": "Faster, higher, stronger". Whenever an athlete achieves beyond his or her best ever achievement, then you have a success, whether a medal is won or not.

One personal best which stands out in my memory, resulted in a gold medal for Dean Lukin in the Los Angles Games 1984. Dean Lukin, from Port Lincoln, South Australia, was an amateur in Olympic weight lifting. He was the son of a fisherman who worked for his dad. He built massive legs and arms hauling in huge blue fin tuna from the southern ocean. He was 24, already a millionaire, owning a white Mercedes and two light planes. He won gold in the super-heavyweight division in the Commonwealth Games and the national titles. He trained only in the 16 weeks prior to the Olympics because work came first. The super heavyweight lifters from Russia, the Eastern block countries and America trained full-time, held all the records, and had won every previous Olympic gold medal. At Los Angles Dean Lukin was to lift his personal best.

After the first round he trailed in third place behind the American Mario Martinez who was the favourite and Manfred Nerlinger from West Germany. Dean Lukin, after the snatch was 15 kilos behind Mario allowing for the personal weight difference. In the final clean and jerk Mario lifted 220 kilograms, his personal best. But Lukin with a great effort lifted 222 kilograms. 

The West German tried for his personal best but fell flat on his back. Then Lukin lifted 227.5 kilos, his personal best. Lukin was now guaranteed at least a silver medal. Mario then lifted another personal best of 225 kilos. 10,000 American spectators roared, certain their man had won the gold medal. Mario Martinez came back on stage for three encores. Lukin was, on the combined weights 12.5 kilos behind, and he had just lifted his personal best for the second time.

The speakers announced "Dean Lukin will pass other lifts and go for gold. He has ordered the bar to be loaded to 240 kilos." The crowd was stunned. As he walked on stage, Lukin was attempting 12.5 kilos more than he had ever lifted before. With the cleanest of clean and jerks he heaved the bar above his head, holding aloft the equivalent of two large refrigerators! The judges signalled a clean lift. He had won. The crowd went delirious. I jumped high into the air! That night the Russians took him out to dinner, treating him like a hero because he had defeated the Americans. He had done his best.

God wants us to do our best, to be the best we can be. As a child, I was taught the distinction between comparative and superlative cases, by the little rhyme:
"Good, better, best, never let it rest, 
Until your good is better, and your better best."
That is true not only for the Olympian, but for the Christian. Paul said: "Run in such a way as to win the prize." "Run your best". 1 Cor 9:24 In everything you do, in your spiritual life and personal character, keep on growing to maturity. We want your personal best always!

Throughout the Bible there is a continuous call for every person to be his or her best for God. The Israelites were to give the best of their crops and flocks as offerings to God. After all, God gives the best to us. God expects the best from us. God uses the superlatives to describe our relationship with Himself.

God wants us to reflect His character. The Lord Jesus said "You are to be prefect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5:48. Peter 1 Peter 1:15-16 said: "But just as God who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy." Because God is holy, those in whom He is working are expected to progress toward holiness. Because God is perfect, those in whom He dwells will move in the direction of His perfect standard. 

Trying to live at our best, does not mean we shall always succeed. Pursuing the standard of perfection does not mean that we can never fail. It means that when we fail we deal with it. Those with true faith will fail, but, as a pattern of life, will confess their sin and come to the Father for forgiveness. 1 John 1:9 Perfection is the standard. If one's life does not reveal growth in grace, righteousness and holiness, an examination into the reality of his faith is in order, even if that person thinks he has done great things in the name of Christ. But some will say: "You can't expect a person to constantly strive to be better, can you? You surely don't mean, we should seek a personal best all of the time?" The answer is "Yes" and "Yes". God calls us to be at our personal best. That is not just some desire, but a way of living for a Christian. 

John Wesley saw our striving to be at our personal best as a matter of obedience. He said to know Christ is to grow more like Him. We must say the words of faith. But our obedience to God is seen in the way we grow in perfection. God can work in our hearts to remove the tendency to sin. We may do wrong things but we will always confess and seek not to do them again. We will strive to grow in our Christian obedience. As Jesus said Matt 5:48 "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." 

The word "perfect" in the New Testament teleios means the same as in the Old Testament. It was used of the offering of a sacrificial animal. An animal given to God as a sacrifice was to be perfect, in the sense of being a good, clean, disease free animal. The Jews were not to give as an animal sacrifice some animal that was dying, lame and diseased. We give only our best to God. Exod 12:5 When we give ourselves to God, we must do so with thorough commitment to Him. Gen 6:9; Deut 18:13; 2Sam 22:26 The word "perfect" means we must seek to be "mature" 1Cor 14:20; Eph 4:13; Heb 5:14; 6:1 God wants us to be mature people, with total commitment to Him and His will. That is exactly how Simon describes his desire for himself to be in the Youth Page of our Mission Talk this week. 

To grow to be your personal best involves more than becoming a Christian. It means allowing your whole nature to be under the influence of the Holy Spirit and His gifts of grace. You have been born again. Now you are helped by God to grow in your character and in those personal qualities we admire in true Christians. This process is called "sanctification".

Regeneration - being born again - is followed by sanctification - growing to spiritual maturity - until the Christian is brought into perfection - being like Christ. That is the special work of the Holy Spirit and it is not completed until we stand before God's face in heaven. Rom. 6:13; 2 Cor. 4:6; Col. 3:10; 1 John 4:7; 1 Cor. 6:19. 1 Cor. 6:11; 2 Thess. 2:13 Paul gave a great account of how he sought to be his best for God. He found it a struggle, and many times he slipped back. Rom. 7:14-25; Phil. 3:12-14; 1 Tim. 1:15 However, God's grace always helped bring him back on track.

When we studied the lives of David and Moses we discovered they were remarkable men who also failed. Yet they were mature enough to realize their faults and sought to have them forgiven and their lives changed. David, Psalm 19:12, 13; 51. Moses, Ps. 90:8 Job, Job 42:5,6 and Daniel Dan. 9:3-20 were each conscious of their weakness and sought to strengthen their characters. A believer who seeks to be at his or her personal best all the time, discovers moral imperfections which feel like sins. Believers find their lives are in constant warfare, and they need to take time to be holy and to pray. God is a loving Father who wants to correct our imperfections and to confirm our graces. Such people do not talk about it a great deal. The very best Christians are the least prone to claim the attainment of perfection. They will say their personal best is still a long way off. 

Christians will strive to reach a state of spiritual wholeness or completeness. Put another way, Eph 4:13 "until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." That will be our personal best!

The point of personal best, is not an individual achievement. Dean Lukin had his coach by his side focusing his energies. His mother was in the dressing room urging him on in a way that made him determined. A personal best is a quality that is achieved by human effort plus the help and support of others. God is perfect and can demand from us perfection. He is willing to be with us to strengthen us and help us. 

Christians are to grow from spiritual infancy to maturity and share the full stature of Christ, in whose image they are renewed and perfected. Col. 3:10 A tension exists here. On one hand is our desire to be at our personal best. Phil. 3:16, 12-14 On the other hand, sin is always an option and is attractive to all believers. 1 John 1:8 The tension is between what we want to be and what we are. But as Paul testified, God's grace is available to help us. Rom 7:14-25 Your personal best does not mean that you never fail, nor are you sinless. Growing to maturity, or becoming perfect is never equated in the Bible with sinlessness. In this life no Christian becomes God. We are sinners saved by grace, constantly being forgiven, but continually growing to maturity in Christ, which will one day be completed in heaven when we shall be as He is. 

The divine gift of perfection will be fully realized only in eternity. Phil. 3:10-14; 1 John 3:2 It is a personal best goal to be sought 2 Cor. 7:1; Heb. 6:1 but will only be found in heaven. Eph. 4:13; Jas. 3:2 How, then, may even this limited perfection be achieved? Is being at our personal best an impossibility?

The New Testament locates the means of perfection in Jesus Christ. Through His suffering and exaltation, God made Jesus perfect Heb. 2:10 and fitted Him to win for the church and the individual believer a completeness which mirrors His own. Col. 1:28; Heb. 5:9 So we and all Christians can be saved, and through the Holy Spirit helped to become more like Christ. Heb. 7:25; 4:14-16

Perfection is an exciting ideal. How wonderful to be free of the nagging tug of sin within. To be free of the sense of guilt that accompanies failure. It is no wonder that the idea of perfection attracted Christians. John Wesley insisted on an exciting kind of perfection available to modern Christians. But is perfection possible in human beings? It is, if you understand that the perfection that Jesus was demanding was not a life totally free from all sin, but a completeness, a wholeness, a Christian maturity. A perfect Christian is complete, whole, mature. We can be mature believers, without implying we are sinless. We are simply living at the level of our personal best. That is what Paul understood, when at the end of his life, he wrote: "the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." That includes us, who have believed in Jesus Christ, who seek daily the forgiveness of sins, grow constantly seeking to be more like Him, and keep to the level of our personal best. Athletes seek a "P.B.". So should Christians. So should you. 

  Dr John F. MacArthur, Jr. "The Gospel According To Jesus" Zondervan, 1988. 

Rev Dr Gordon Moyes

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