The aged apostle Paul, in his sixties, sat alone in his dark and damp prison cell in Rome. Having travelled so much and met so many people, his thoughts probably raced back and forth as he traced his life—his early days of childhood and youth, his impeccable training as a Bible scholar, his wrongly directed passion against the people of the Way, his life-changing encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, his experience of deep understanding as he read the Scriptures in the light of Christ, his years of missionary service bringing the gospel to many corners of the earth, his joy of seeing people converted and churches planted, his sufferings and travails of beatings, imprisonments and false accusations, his battles with false teachers who were infiltrating the churches, his proteges such as Timothy and Titus, his fellow-workers such as Luke, Silas, Barnabas, Mark, Priscilla and Aquilla, and so on.
Paul knew that the end was near. His time on earth was drawing to a close. Paul did not deny his impending death as some are wont to do; he knew that his earthly ministry was being concluded and that it was time to go to his Lord in heaven.
It was while thinking about his impending martyrdom that Paul made three wonderful declarations—statements that deeply inspire (2 Timothy 4:7).
I have Fought the Good Fight
Paul often used the metaphor of battle and struggle to depict the Christian life. This fight is against the three enemies of the soul—the flesh, the devil, and the world. At the heart of this battle is an unseen spiritual warfare. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
Paul also knew from experience that this war was not fought according to the diabolical terms of the devil or the shrewd tactics of the world. The world’s methods of warfare include weaponry, physical might and earthly power. However, Jesus refused to be an earthly Messiah. He fought the battle through the cross of self-sacrificial love challenged the sinful ways of the world.
As his Lord, so was Paul. He was convinced that the real spiritual battle is fought not with the powerful weapons of the world, but with the self-giving love of God; not by taking up the sword but by taking up the cross; not with might but with truth; not with worldly power but with divine love; not with a loud mouth but with a gentle spirit; not with worldly shrewdness but with godly simplicity. The next time we are tempted to employ the world’s methods of warfare, we would do well to remember this.
I have Finished the Race
In stating that he had finished his race, Paul moved to his second metaphor—a disciplined athlete who runs to win according to the rules. He shared with the Ephesian elders in his farewell speech to them, that his top priority in life was to “finish the race and complete the task” that the Lord Jesus had given him (Acts 20:24). Paul, therefore, shook off anything that hindered his race and ran consistently—without giving up hope, even in the most difficult of circumstances (Hebrews 12:1).
Paul felt the joy of faithfulness and “long obedience” to Christ. He had refused to compromise his message, motives, or methods, neither to cut corners nor take shortcuts in the race. He ensured that the gospel that he preached neither sprang from error nor was adjusted to accommodate strong opposition or popular expectations. Paul did not carry out his ministry out of impure motives—for wealth and applause. And he did not change his methods to suit base desires and motives; he did not use flattery or trickery. Paul operated according to God-given principles that ensured that he completed the race faithfully and successfully. God had given him stamina through all the challenges along the way and he was about to gloriously finish his race.
I have Kept the Faith
Paul’s third metaphor can also be applied to his third statement—a diligent and hardworking farmer will see a rich harvest. God had sown the seed of the gospel in his life; it was the faith that he had carefully guarded. And Paul had in turn sown the same seed in the lives of others, making disciples of Christ and planting churches. He had diligently sown the seed, and he knew that there would be a rich harvest in the days ahead. Like a hardworking farmer, he had diligently done his work and kept the trust of his Master. He had guarded the faith and passed it on.
Paul felt the elation of a runner who had not dropped the baton in a relay race and who had now passed it successfully to the next runner. He was delighted to have kept the faith as he had received it from the Lord and His other servants. Not only did Paul retain his personal faith in Jesus amid all kinds of challenges and disappointments, he had also kept the faith—as the body of truth we call the gospel. He had faithfully held on to the gospel faith that is connected with the life, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Future: A Crown of Righteousness
Having reviewed his past, Paul then looked forward to his future. Yes, he had a future, for death would not be the end for him; rather, it would mark the beginning of a brand new future for him—a future in eternity in the glorious presence of Christ.
The Lord will give him a crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8). Here Paul referred to this victor’s crown—the crown that was essentially a trophy, a recognition that one had completed according to the rules and had won. This crown will not sit well on the head of a sinful or proud person; rather, it will be a sign of great humility and gratitude. Those who wear it will know that they are unworthy of these crowns, but that they had received it by the grace and mercy of God. This crown of righteousness is not something to be worn as an achievement or award, but as a reminder of the greatness of the Lord who has made it possible for redeemed sinners to wear such glorious crowns.
The crown is not just for the elite in the kingdom of God; it is for anyone who would place his or her trust in Christ and live out that trust in faithful obedience as they wait for the return of the Lord.
May we, like Paul, fight the good fight, finish the race and remain faithful to the end.
- Reflect on Paul’s three wonderful declarations (2 Timothy 4:7). How did he fight in the spiritual battle? How did he run? How did he keep the faith? Write down lessons for yourself and assess how your spiritual life is going in the light of your reflections
- Imagine receiving and wearing your crown of righteousness. What do you think the Lord would say, and how would you respond?
Excerpt and adapted from Faithful to the End by Robert Solomon. © 2014 by Robert Solomon. Used by permission of Discovery House. All rights reserved.
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