So now, my sons, listen to me. Never stray from what I am about to say: Stay away from her! Don’t go near the door of her house! If you do, you will lose your honor and will lose to merciless people all you have achieved. Strangers will consume your wealth, and someone else will enjoy the fruit of your labor. In the end you will groan in anguish when disease consumes your body. – Proverbs 5:7-11, NLT*
by Barry C. Black, Chaplain, United States Senate
Many years ago, I was introduced to the game of chess. I wanted to get to know sailors on the ship where I served as chaplain, and the quickest way to do that was to learn this interesting game. When the ship’s workday ended the chessboards would come out. No one seemed to talk or listen; they simply wanted to play chess. If I expected to get to know my sailor congregation, I had to get to become a chess player.
After I learned how the pieces should be moved I began playing, losing every game. I actually lost more than 25 consecutive games, but what did it matter? I was doing ministry. Finally, my ego had taken a sufficient beating and I decided to read a chess book. It was a book I purchased when the ship entered the port of Rota, Spain. I read this one book and suddenly began to win. In fact, when our ship set out to sea again, a chess tournament was announced. The sailors laughed when my name appeared on a list of 25 participants. After the tournament ended several days later, it was announced that I had come in second place. I was able to go from losing every game to winning most of the games I played by learning one simple principle: “Begin with the end in mind.” By focusing on the final stages of the chess game rather than the beginning or middle stages, I positioned myself to be far more competitive. Learning endings helped me create strategies for what preceded the final destination of victory.
Similarly in life, it is not enough to start well; we must end well. Matthew 24:13 states, “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Endings are just that important. The Apostle Paul was so excited about ending well that he made this declaration in 2 Timothy 4:6-8, “As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.” Although religion calls for many sacrifices, it also enables us to end well. Each of us should make it his or her business to strive to end well.
Why is this so important? It is important to end well because in so doing you protect your honor. Proverbs 22:1 tells us, “Choose a good reputation over great riches; being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold.” In Proverbs 5:7-11, which I quoted at the beginning of this article, we see the words about losing your honor to merciless people. Think of the leaders and champions who make the news because of moral missteps. Most of them would give everything they owned to get their good name back. Recall how David ended poorly because of his sin with Bathsheba. Recall how Samson lost his eyes and his honor in Judges 16 because of moral missteps that kept him from ending well. Your honor is worth far more than anything this world can offer.
A second reason why we should strive to end well is because safe guarding your soul is worth more than anything this world can offer. Mark 8:36 puts it this way, “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” This is a simple way of saying that your eternal wellbeing is worth more than worlds.
A third reason to strive to end well is because it will extend your life. Remember death can be brought on prematurely by sin. Although the Bible reminds us in Psalm 31:15 that our times are in God’s hands, the scriptures also warn that we can die before our time (Ecclesiastes 7:17). So ending poorly can be catastrophic.
How can we end well? To end well, we must first respect the laws of sowing and reaping. Galatians 6:7-9 challenges us with these words, “Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” As long as time shall last seed time and harvest will continue (Genesis 8:22). The laws of sowing and reaping are as certain as the law of gravitation. Strive to end well by remembering you reap what you sow.
A second way to end well is to avoid to the sin of presumption. This has to do with continuing to deviate from integrity because we see no negative consequences. Ecclesiastes 8:11 describes this attitude in these words: “When a crime is not punished quickly, people feel it is safe to do wrong.” Let us never doubt the inevitable consequence of sin.
A third way to end well is to keep your conscience clear. The apostle Paul worked to ensure that his conscience was clear. He stated in Acts 24:16, “Because of this, I always try to maintain a clear conscience before God and all people.” We see a tormented conscience in the Proverb that begins this study. It states, “You will groan in anguish when disease consumes your body and you will say, ‘How I hated discipline.’” Here is an individual who did not avoid being punished by his conscience. David describes the same experience in Psalm 51:3: “I acknowledge my transgression, and my sin is ever before me.” He also was tormented by his conscience.
A final way to end well is to guard your health. Proverbs 5 speaks of the groans that come from the anguish of disease. So often we end poorly because we fail to guard our health. Romans 12:1 puts it this way, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.” God desires living sacrifices, not dead ones. Moreover, 1 Corinthians 6:19 reminds us that our bodies can have a special occupant: “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself.” When I realize that my body is the temple of God’s Holy Spirit I will not only guard my health but I will position myself to reach my final destination victoriously and enter eternity to receive my crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8).
I learned in playing chess well you must the end game. You must master life’s end game also. You begin with the end in mind by striving to protect your honor, safeguarding your soul, and extending your life with integrity. You then take four more important steps:
- Respect the laws of sowing and reaping.
- Avoid the sin of presumption.
- Keep your conscience clear.
- Guard your health.