“A Faithful End” – 2 Timothy 4:6-8
“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.”
These are the last words of encouragement from Paul to Timothy. These final three verses function as a conclusion to the exhortation just given. Timothy was commanded in the most solemn of ways to preach the Word in response to the fact that many will no longer have an appetite for this wholesome and life-giving Word. In that sense the why has already been given in vv. 3-4. But these verses answer the question, “why is this command given now and in such demanding terms?” The answer: because Paul is soon to depart this world.
John Chrysostom, a 4th century preacher and pastor, said of these verses, “Often, when I have taken the Apostle into my hands, and have considered this passage, I have been at a loss to understand why Paul here speaks so loftily: ‘I have fought the good fight.’ But now by the grace of God I seem to have found it out…He is desirous to console the despondency of his disciple, and therefore bids him be of good cheer, since he was going to his crown, having finished all his work, and obtained a glorious end.”
These words are not spoken as a boast but remain in the vein of encouragement. Paul knows that Timothy, from a human perspective, will soon be on his own. Paul knows this and so does Timothy. Paul therefore does not approach his departure casually, but accurately. As he surveys his present situation, reflects on his past ministry, and anticipates his coming transition to glory, Paul remains worshipful.
Worship in Submission to God’s Sovereignty (v. 6)
“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come”
We’ve mentioned this already, but don’t make the mistake of reading these words outside the context of the verses that precede. Timothy has been commanded, in the most direct and powerful of ways, to preach the Word of God all the time and with all his being. Why? Because Paul will no longer be able to do so. The greatest preacher of all time (with the single exception of our Lord), the most fruitful church planter, and the missionary with the most miles logged is not long for this world. Timothy, you be of sound mind, steadfast in your doctrine, and preach the only Word that is powerful to save and sanctify…because my time for preaching is done.
Note how he refers to his passing: I am already being poured out as a drink offering. The imagery here is that of a libation of wine being poured out in addition to a burnt offering (Num. 28:7). In the Levitical context, this drink offering, or libation, is an offering of thanksgiving in addition to the offering that is consumed upon the altar. Paul is saying that his very life is being offered or poured out in accompaniment to the singular offering for sin; namely, the offering of Jesus Christ upon the cross.
What makes this statement so beautiful rather than fatalistic is the fact that this verb is in the passive voice. Paul is not pouring out his life, as it were, before the altar and neither is the Roman government taking his life. God, sovereign in all things, has seen fit to pour out Paul’s life in this manner.
Next is such a simple statement: The time of my departure has come. The word departure (ἀναλύσεώς) literally means to loose. We render it as departure because this term was used of soldiers who loosed tent lines in preparation to break camp and sailors who loosed the anchor cable in order to make way. It came to carry the nuance of preparing to move out. Paul does not view death as annihilation. He is simply preparing to depart his physical body until the time when he shall receive a new body incorruptible. Paul is hauling up his anchor and breaking camp because it is time.
What humility even at his final hour. Paul is not the master of his ship, nor is the Roman Caesar. God has already appointed the time of Paul’s death and Paul humbly submits to His master’s call. Paul is looking death in the face and does not cower like those who have not hope, nor does he grin back like the proud pagan. Rather, Paul uses this opportunity to submit in humility and worship.
Worship in Faithful Perseverance (v. 7)
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”
These three statements capture the history of Paul’s ministry. These are not boasts. The Greek actually makes clear that the emphasis is perseverance rather than triumph. Paul says that he has fought, not that he is victorious. He says that he has finished the course, not that he has beaten everyone else. This review of his ministry is meant to encourage Timothy, for one day he too will be poured out as a drink offering. Will he be able to look back upon his life’s work and say the same thing?
A Faithful Struggle – This good fight is better translated as good struggle. The idea is not that of armed conflict but that of effort, struggle, strife, and contention. No opponent is mentioned because Paul is not struggling against another being. His ministry itself is the struggle. Ministry is nothing if not an exhausting struggle, yet it is a good and beautiful struggle. It is of little use to burst out of the blocks with great power and speed only to collapse on the side of the track just halfway through the race. Paul has run his course without stopping.
Many men quit this struggle because they tire of struggling. They don’t like the long hours, the short nights, the ceaseless study, and the seemingly lack of return on their investment. Paul is not boasting that he has struggled so as to overpower some opposing force, seen or unseen. He is simply stating that he kept his hand to the plough. He’s claiming perseverance. He never quit. The implication is clear: Timothy, don’t quit.
A Faithful Pace – It is clear by this time that Paul is using the imagery of athletics. The term struggle (ἀγών) has been used to describe the actions of wrestlers. The term course (δρόμος) here has been used for a footrace. But again, Paul is not claiming victory in the sense that he has outpaced all of the opposition. The phrase states that he has completed the course, or finished. The point is that there is no race left to run, not that Paul has run faster, harder, and more bravely than anyone else.
We are given a course to run, a lined-out path that is marked with a definite beginning and a definite end. Paul is nearing the end of his course and can see the finish line. His course is complete or finished. Oddly enough, this is the same term (finished - τελέω) that Jesus cried out as His final statement before giving up His spirit (Jn. 19:30). The implication is clear: Timothy, keep running.
A Faithful Purpose – The first two statements are clearly metaphorical while this final statement is plainly spoken. I have kept the faith. By the faith (τὴν πίστιν) Paul is referring to the sum total of the Christian religion. The complete word and doctrine which we believe and trust. Paul here claims to have kept or guarded this faith. His ministry has always been a defense of the gospel as much as it has been a proclamation of that same gospel.
To the Galatians he guarded the gospel by grace alone through faith alone from a false gospel which demanded works. To the Colossians he guarded the gospel of Christ alone from a false gospel which reduced Christ’s person and work. In his first letter to Timothy he guarded the gospel according to Scripture alone against a false gospel according to human wisdom. In all of his writings he made clear that this gospel is only and always purposed for the glory of God alone. Yes, Paul can honestly and humbly say that he has kept the faith. The implication is clear: Timothy, guard this same faith.
Even as he reviews his life of ministry, Paul turns to worship. It is not in his own strength that he has struggled, finished, and guarded. It is the Spirit of the Living God who provides this power (1:7). He gives all glory to God! Even in review of his faithfulness, Paul worships.
Worship in Anticipation of Glory (v. 8)
“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.”
After analyzing his present circumstance and reviewing his past ministry, Paul now sets his gaze on his imminent future. Though he is not yet present with the Lord, the crown that awaits him is already laid up, secured, and reserved for him. This crown is not the rulers crown (διάδημα) worn by the king, but the victor’s crown (στέφανος) given to those who finish. This crown is a crown of righteousness.
What does this mean? What is this crown of righteousness? A more precise translation is likely the crown which is righteousness. Paul does not speak of a reward that only he will receive for his excellent and impeccable service; for he continues on to state that all who love the Lord’s appearing will also receive this crown. Again, he is not boasting. His eyes are on the prize given to all who complete this race and guard the faith that has been entrusted to them. His eyes are on the prize of righteousness.
At the moment of conversion, we are declared to be righteous by God’s grace through faith in Christ. Yet we do not experience righteousness while we remain trapped in cursed flesh. Only after the cursed corpse is shed will we receive (not earn) realized righteousness.
This is so amazing to me. This statement is a window into the heart of Paul. While he remains on earth and prepares himself for his death, his desire is to truly be holy as God alone is holy. He is waiting in great anticipation for the moment when he will receive this gift of righteousness so as to never taste sin again! This amazing gift is not reserved only for Paul, but for any and all who have loved the Lord’s appearing!
It is here, at this closing phrase, that gives me the most pause. What does it mean to love the Lord’s appearing? There is no doubt what is meant by His appearing. Clearly Paul is referring to the second coming of Christ when He will judge the living and the dead and establish His kingdom on earth (v. 1). But this crown will be given to those who love this appearing. The idea is that of longing or anticipating. But what is actually being described here? I think we can flesh this out by giving four key components of this love for the second appearance of Christ.
First, it indicates those who actually believe He will return. – There is a world of difference between intellectually admitting that the Bible states that Jesus will return and actually believing that Jesus will return. In the days of Noah, people believed that Noah warned that destruction was coming, yet they did not believe this warning was true. Instead they went about their lives; eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage (Gen. 6:1-22; Matt. 24:36-39; 2 Pet. 2:5). They heard the warning. They believed that the message was a warning. But they did not believe the validity of the warning or else they would have taken appropriate action. The Son of Man is coming. We read this. We believe that what we read says this. But do we actually believe the validity of what we read? The way we live our lives reveals our belief.
Second, it indicates those who actually desire Him to return. – It’s one thing to believe that Christ will certainly come again. It’s another to wake each morning and desire that this would be the day. Satan and his demons truly believe that King Jesus will return, but they stand ready to oppose Him. Do we desire to see His coming? Do we long for His reign? Do we desperately want Christ to come and fully undo and reverse the curse? Our actions speak louder than words.
Third, it indicates those who prepare for His return. – Jesus Himself commanded preparedness of His followers and made it a mark of those who are truly His (Matt. 25:1-13). How can one be prepared for Christ’s return? Confess, repent, and believe. This is no mere suggestion nor is it applicable only for the unregenerate. Christian, confess your sins, repent from them, and believe/trust in Christ. This is the business that we daily undertake, and this is how we prepare for our Lord’s return.
Fourth, it indicates a lack of longing for this present world. – To love this present life and world is to be an enemy of the cross and Christ. Jesus stated plainly that those who love their lives will lose it and those who give their lives for the sake of the gospel will certainly find it (Matt. 16:25). Let goods and kindred go. This mortal life also. The body they may kill. God’s truth abideth still. His Kingdom is forever.
This crown is reserved for those who belong to Him. Christ will not award realized righteousness to any who the Father has not already declared as righteous. This crown is already reserved for Paul who will soon receive it from the hand of the only wise, just, and righteous judge; the Lord Christ Jesus.
During the reign of “Bloody” Mary, queen of England, countless protestants were butchered as the evil monarch attempted to undo God’s work of reformation. Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley were two high profile protestant preachers who were condemned as heretics and sentenced to burn at the stake. On the day of their execution, as they were walking to stake, Latimer turns to his companion and said, “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; for we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.” Ridley kissed the stake to which he would be tied. Both men knelt in prayer and then resigned themselves to the flames. This is the same worshipful attitude we find in Paul. As Paul especially gazes into his impennate future with Christ, he does so in worship.
There are two main implications that we must take from this text. The first concerns the work that remains. Paul writes these final words as an encouragement to Timothy who is, for now, being left to continue the work ordained by God and begun by Paul. The work must continue until the Lord returns. We must continue to preach, reprove, rebuke, and exhort with great patience and instruction. We must continue to struggle, continue to run, and continue to guard because our time has not yet come. To love and long for our Lord’s appearing demands that we remain engaged in the task at hand and live our lives in humble submission to the One who is coming to reign and rule.
The second concerns how we face our coming time. Paul did not throw himself upon Roman spears, but neither did he run from them. He did not court death, but neither did run from it. He simply obeyed his Master’s call until death prevented him from going any further. We are all bullet-proof until Christ calls us home. May we continue the struggle as we long for the day of His return! Soli Deo Gloria!