2 Timothy 4: 6-8, 16-18
We will continue following the lectionary as Ernie did last week in the Epistle of 2 Timothy the 4th chapter. Written in the Apostle Paul’s name, this passage is written to Timothy to encourage him, to not give up, to endure faithfully as Paul has to the end. Hear now these words from the Contemporary English Version.
“Now the time has come for me to die. My life is like a drink offering being poured out on the altar. I have fought well. I have finished the race, and I have been faithful. So a crown will be given to me for pleasing the Lord. He judges fairly, and on the day of judgment he will give a crown to me and to everyone else who wants him to appear with power.
When I was first put on trial, no one helped me. In fact, everyone deserted me. I hope it won’t be held against them. But the Lord stood beside me. He gave me the strength to tell his full message, so that all Gentiles would hear it. And I was kept safe from hungry lions. The Lord will always keep me from being harmed by evil, and he will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. Praise him forever and ever!” Amen.
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” What beautiful and encouraging words these are, some of the most repeated words of scripture from the Bible. Paul is presented as a wise apostle who is passing on advice to a new pastor and now has to say goodbye.
Timothy, you see, is dealing with issues of the early Christian community and Paul, who is has been imprisoned and dealing with his own ‘end of life’ issues writes to encourage Timothy to this end. To be courageous, to fight the good fight of faith and finish life’s race with confidence knowing that he will have done his best because that’s what Paul does, that is how he views his life, and how life should be lived.
Paul, we know, is not perfect but he is self-assured (sometimes overly confident) that he has done his best to use his faith, to endure his faith, to keep his faith and to share his faith, that God has redeemed him from the dungeons, the dark alleyways, the dark nights of his life. And in this passage he knows that because he did the best that he could, with what he had and with what God had given him, he will receive the crown of life. Isn’t that what we all hope for at the end of our days? A crown of righteousness given to us, personally by the Almighty just for the fact that we tried to do our best in our living.
So what does Paul exactly mean when he says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith?” He means that he has fought the fight of faith in a day and age when our early belief in Christ was trying hard to gain traction. It wasn’t the given Christianity as it is today, it was a small group of people witnessing to the life, death and resurrection of some ‘renegade’ Jew. But Paul was determined to fight with all of his might the good fight against the prevailing sentiment and the Empire. He had a mighty faith and fought an unwavering fight, never giving up, and in the process being imprisoned many times.
He also says he finished the race. He didn’t say that he won the race, winning the race is not important. What’s important here is he finished the race, completion is key. We always think that winning is the goal but it’s not. I think first time marathoners hopes and goals are just to finish the race, to say, ‘I’ve done it.’ Paul didn’t have to win, he strove to the end to be a witness for Jesus Christ. He kept on the path one foot in front of the other always getting closer to the finish line.
And he kept the faith, he never gave up. If ever there was someone who kept the faith it was Paul. He never gave up or gave in. He never lost faith when all odds were against him. He knew how he wanted to live his life to the end. And that was following Jesus and telling his story.
For us, this verse means that we wrestle daily, that there is some sort of fight that we have to fight each day. And if not a fight, a difficulty that holds us back from living fully and into who we are and what brings us joy deep down in our hearts. There will always be some obstacle that will be in our way. At times those obstacles are rather small, sometimes gigantic and sometimes they are the fight of our lives.
About a year ago now I was with a man in the hospital who was just given the news that there was nothing more that could be done for him, he had cancer. As he sat there in his hospital bed we talked about end of life issues, palliative care, resuscitation measures, then he was quiet. After some silence I said to him, “Greg, it’s not all about how you want to die, the bigger question is how do you want to live out your days now that you know they are few?” He was fighting the biggest battle of his life. And he didn’t give up, he fought it to the end, he completed the race, on a ventilator listening to music that brought him complete joy. You could even see him tapping his finger slightly. He was a musician by profession.
It’s not about winning the race it’s about completion. How do you want to complete your life? How do you want to live your days, however many you may have? We don’t have to wait until our days are numbered to live into our fullest. The time is here and the time is now. Only you can effect how you live out your days. Will you fight the good fight of faith, will you endeavor to complete the race without the pressure to be the best or the most perfect, or to cross the finish line first? Finishing is good enough for God, just finishing. Being you. That’s is all that God asks.
Life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon that we need to complete. So develop your gives and use them. Find joy with what surrounds your and live in gratitude. Have faith that God will love you to the end for who you are, because that’s how God created you. After God created for six days straight, God always reflected with, ‘it is good’. You are good.