2 Timothy 4: 6-8, 16-18
You may or may not remember that shortly after I came Carol T got sick once again. We had many good conversations getting to know one another covering topics from kids to grandkids, from cowboy boots to birds. As her life came near to the end we had a conversation about her memorial service – not something everyone is willing to do. But not Carol! She was very clear on a several hymns and anthems to be sung and several scriptural pieces to be read. Today’s passage is one of them and in fact, the one in which I based my reflection. It was one of Carol’s favorites and when I hear these words I think of her.
Written in the Apostle Paul’s name, the passage for reflection today is written to Timothy to encourage him, to not give up, to endure faithfully as Paul had to the end. Hear now these words of encouragement.
“As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory 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 and they 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 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, to live by 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? That we just made it to the end being the best that we could be?
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 early belief in Christ was really difficult and it 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’ and unheard of 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 what’s important. What’s important here is he started and finished the race, completion is key. We always think that winning is the goal but it’s not. It’s first having the courage to start the race to begin with! Not all people do. I think first time bold 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. Once after his conversion experience he knew how he wanted to live his life to the end. And that was following Jesus and telling his story of transformation.
We wrestle daily don’t we? There is some sort of fight that we have to face and to struggle with each day. And if not a fight, a difficulty that holds us back from living fully into who we are and what brings us joy deep down in our hearts. Life is never easy, there is no guarantee that life will be lollipops and roses. As I look at my newborn grandbaby I know that all the hopes and dreams of this world are upon him and he has great potential. But I also know that there will be disappointments in life for little Beau. I wish it were different but it isn’t. There will always be some obstacle in our way. At times those obstacles are rather small like Stop N Shop being out of chocolate chips just when you had a hankering for and the time to bake cookies. And sometimes obstacles are gigantic; they are the fight of our lives.
Once when I was doing chaplaincy work at YNHH I was with a man 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 there wasn’t much time at all. 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.
My friends, it’s not about winning the race, it’s about completing the race. How do you want to complete your life? How do you want to live your days, however many you may have? You don’t have to wait until your days are numbered to live into your fullest. The time is here and the time is now. Today is a given, tomorrow is not. 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, they say, it’s a marathon that we need to complete. So develop your lives 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’. After the day you were born God said, ‘You are good.’
Live your days now that you might also be able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have kept the faith.”