The Difference Between Finishing Strong and Finishing Well

In 2006, Floyd Landis performed one of the greatest cycling performances in history. At stage 17 of the Tour de France, Landis smoked his competition as he traversed five mountain passes over the 105 mile course with frightening power. His strength and endurance led him to victory.

Landis’s dominating victory established him as the next Lance Armstrong. But after the race, he was disqualified and disgraced for blood doping. Three weeks ago, he confessed to the accusations.

Landis finished strong but he didn’t finish well.

Please join me as we explore the difference.

TODAY’S READING

1 Kings 9:1-12:19
Acts 8:14-9:25
Psalm 130:1-131:3
Proverbs 17:2-5

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

1 Kings 9:1-12:19. As Solomon concludes the construction of his palace (13 years after dedicating the temple), God issues him the promise: “As long as you remain faithful to me, you and your descendants will always sit on the throne. But if you worship other gods, then I will cut you off from my blessing.” This statement foreshadows what will eventually occur to Solomon.

In 9:10-14, we read about the souring relationship between Solomon and King Hiram of Tyre. Previously, Solomon had utilized his neighbors for the wood used in the temple and royal palace. But Solomon’s method of payment provides for us a window into Solomon’s spending habits, as the New Bible Commentary explains:

“Solomon’s transfer of twenty cities in Galilee to Hiram (in exchange for a vast quantity of gold) implies that Solomon’s dues could no longer be raised by taxation.”

Looks like Solomon had unwisely overspent his budget!

The fact that Hiram didn’t like the cities Solomon had given him tells us that the wealth of Jerusalem hadn’t trickled down that direction. Perhaps Solomon was the king, but not the king of all Israel. This possibly sowed further seeds of discontent that would germinate after his death.

Part of the reason Solomon spent so lavishly could be attributed to the fact that his country wasn’t at war with the surrounding nations. “Solomon,” in fact, means “peace.” Instead of spending the taxpayers’ money on building an army and going to war, he spent it on developing Jerusalem into a magnificent city.

And what was Solomon’s weakness? Women. He loved them—and they became his undoing. “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been” (1 Kings 11:4). This was a violation of Deuteronomy 17:17, which says the king “must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.”

Despite God’s blessing—even appearing to him in a dream four times—Solomon’s wives led him to worship other idols. In fact, not only did he worship idols, but he led the rest of Israel in the worship of idols by building worship places for the gods of the surrounding countries.

This is extremely important: Solomon didn’t shut down the temple—it continued functioning as normal. Solomon simply added the surrounding gods to an ever-growing list of acceptable worship practices. This was a violation of God’s first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3).

Politically correct values that try to convince us that all religions are equal, lead us into Solomon’s downfall.

Even after God told Solomon that he would tear away part of Solomon’s kingdom and give it to someone else, we see no evidence of repentance. The king’s heart was already hardened toward God. David repented of his sin while Solomon, his son, did not.

Upon his death, Solomon’s kingdom was torn into two countries: Judah (David’s tribe of Judah and the tribe of Benjamin) and Israel (the other ten tribes).

Acts 8:14-9:25. As the gospel begins spreading around the world, we read about the conversion of a eunuch from Ethiopia. The country of Ethiopia mentioned in this passage was likely situated in present-day Sudan. At the time, this was the remotest location in the civilized world.

Next, we are introduced to the story of Saul’s conversion. Notice that Jesus appears to Saul and tells him, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” An offense against the church is an offense to Jesus. The story of Saul (the Hebrew name for “Paul”) is repeated three times (chapters 9, 22, and 26).

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THE WORD MADE FRESH

Two weeks ago, I participated in the funeral of my uncle Eugene Klassen. Barely 50 people attended the ceremony. He wasn’t famous nor did he ever accumulate any significant wealth. Yet sitting there, I realized Eugene finished well. He remained faithful to his wife throughout their marriage, and more importantly, he remained faithful in his commitment to God.

Solomon, on the other hand, enjoyed a life of wealth and prosperity. His wisdom garnered the admiration of royalty from around the world. Solomon died a very prosperous king. But like Floyd Landis, he finished strong but he didn’t finish well.

Who would be deemed a greater success in the eyes of God—Solomon or my uncle Eugene?

My uncle Eugene, of course.

This reinforces to me the importance and value of faithfulness. Our greatest accomplishments aren’t the accumulation of wealth, worldwide fame, or even an international ministry. Our greatest success is simply finishing well.

With God’s help, anyone can do that!

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. What weaknesses in your life potentially turn your heart away from God?
  3. What does it mean for you to finish well?

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www.bibleconversation.com

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Difference Between Finishing Strong and Finishing Well

  1. Mike:

    Great insight about Solomon’s political and personal downfall. The comment about overspending his budget was perfect.

    Not much changes in the world does it?

    Also the story about your uncle Eugene (great name by the way) was encouraging. As we have talked about living the better story, I am reminded that that better story has little to do with being famous, or powerful (looking at the biking story and Solomon those things may diminish our stories), but simply letting God take our simple, everyday lives and fill them with his story.

    One hesitation. Can any of us with our mere human perspective really say God deems one person a greater success than another?

    Thanks for today’s blog.

    • I guess it all depends on how you define success. It seems to me that God doesn’t share the same definition as most people. Society defines success as fame and wealth. “Successful businessman” is a common term in newspapers and magazine.

      The biblical definition of success concerns the character of a person more than their material exploits.

      Especially in Paul’s letters, we read about the importance of perseverance. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” Paul writes in 2 Timothy 4:7. As we begin reading about the kings that followed Solomon, we’ll run into passages where the writer points out how various kings began faltering in their later years. They didn’t finish well.

      All that to say, I can’t define success on God’s behalf–but Scripture certainly gives us indications of what it looks like. And one important element is finishing well.

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