"For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up 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 loved His appearing." (2 Timothy 4:6-8)Paul can sense that the time is near. The latter period of his life has been spent in service to God and to Christ's church. It has been a continual pouring out of his life and the cup is almost empty. He soon will be leaving this world and the son he loves, Timothy. However, Paul is not afraid, nor does he carry regrets. His life has prepared him for this moment and he is ready to end this life and continue into eternity with his God in heaven.
In life, many begin strong, but far too many fail to finish strong. They begin their lives with promise and hope only to squander the grace given to them by God and, in the end, come up short of the full purpose of God for their lives. A life is judged, not by how it begins, but by how it ends. Consider what was said of King David, "For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers." (Acts 13:36) A fitting tribute to a godly man.
How does one live their life that they may secure for themselves an end that is both good and worthy of God? Paul, reflecting on his life, mentions three specific things. First, we must fight the good fight. This is not a fight with people nor is it a fight against doctrine. Paul himself taught is that, "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." (Ephesians 6:12) Our fight is not against one another but, internally, against our flesh, our desires, and our impure passions, and externally, against the hidden forces of this age that wage war against our soul. Paul, speaking of his internal fight, says, "I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize." (1 Corinthians 9:27 NIV) We too must take up the fight to achieve mastery over our bodies and the flesh that presses its desires against the soul. Of our external fight, Paul encourages us, "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil." (Ephesians 6:10-11) We must not be ignorant of the forces of this world that wage war against our soul. We must resit them firm in our faith and not yield to their temptation or seduction.
Furthermore, Paul says that he finished the course. This Greek word could mean a race or even a carrier. Many people start out serving God with much gusto and eagerness only to grow weary along the way. Paul encourages us to, "not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary." (Galatians 6:9) and reminds us to, "consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." (Hebrews 12:3) We loose heart when we loose sight. Over and over the scriptures exhort us to look to Jesus; to remember Jesus. When our eyes are on our task it is easy to loose heart, but when our eyes are on Jesus, our strength is renewed. Even Jesus, being the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form, "In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there." (Mark 1:35) The Son of God regularly spent time with His Father and so should we that we too might be renewed in our strength, vision, and purpose. Just as our bodies will grow weak from lack of food so does our soul from a lack of communion with God.
Finally, Paul testifies that he kept the faith. Most of us live where "keeping the faith" does not put us at risk for our lives or our possessions for confiscation. However, in Paul's day and time, confessing Christ could earn you a death sentence. Today, we may face ridicule or mockery, but Paul and our early brothers and sisters faced death, and often a horrible death. It is easy to serve Christ when all is well, but we must continue in our confession when times get tough. Jesus warns of those who's faith is shallow and does not go deep. "And they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away." (Mark 4:17) Faith is not something we profess and then go about our lives as normal. It is something that is cultivated, chosen for, and allowed to become the guiding force in our lives. Faith becomes rooted when we choose to pattern our life after its message rather than continuing to live after our own will, plan, and purpose. We must continually choose to live our faith, even in the face of difficulties and persecution.
For those who live such a life and, in doing so, end strong, there is for them a reward waiting for them in Heaven which Jesus Himself will give them. Let us finish well that we too might rejoice with Paul on that day.