I love a good story! Good stories keep your attention until the very end; they generally have a main character/hero, a villain or a bad guy, some supporting characters that are caught in between good and evil, an ultimate vision of freedom, the threat of doom, some kind of increasing action, the final scene where everything climaxes and dissolves, and then the credits. The text in front of us today is like the final scene in a good story, where the entire story climaxes and dissolves (next week is the credits).
The apostle Paul has been following Jesus and proclaiming the gospel for roughly 30 years and his life was no walk in the park; this once upon a time terrorist had become a world-renowned evangelist.2 It all began with God, graciously knocking Paul off his high horse of pride-filled persecution of Christians and calling him to “suffer for the sake of my [God’s] name” (Acts 9:16).
From that point forward, the apostle Paul began sprinting towards his death, sprinting towards the finish line, with the intensity of a battle-hardened warrior. One author envisioned the apostle Paul standing in his hole-in-the-ground prison cell awaiting his death fully dressed in the splendor of the armor he described in Ephesians 6: The belt of truth holding everything together; The breastplate of righteousness still protecting his vibrant heart; The war-time studded leather boots covered in the blood of his enemies who had been defeated by Jesus at the cross, the empty tomb, and the promise of eternity, bringing Paul absolute peace in the battle; The shield of faith with the broken arrows of fear, lust, loneliness, anger, bitterness, resentment, selfishness, and pride sticking out of it; The helmet of salvation by the grace that had been given by God through the faith that had been authored by Jesus keeping Paul’s head in the fight as he trusted in God’s sovereign work of redemption; and finally, the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, the Bible, the one offensive weapon in Paul’s possession that when unleashed, transformed him into a super hero with super human abilities in the face of his enemies (let’s not forget that the apostle Paul wrote 13 letters of the NT).3
This great terrorist turned evangelist has followed Jesus faithfully until the very end and the very end is in sight, the final scene is unfolding, the credits are right around the corner, the climax of the entire story is upon us, and the image we can see is the apostle Paul finishing faithfully, standing victorious in the peaceful quiet of the aftermath of a fight well-fought, fully dressed in his battle-field clothing, awaiting his pure white robes and his crown of righteousness that would be awarded to him by the King of Righteousness that he had lived his life loving with all of his ability.
Paul’s eyes are not locked on his immediate gloomy circumstances (being wrongfully imprisoned), nor are they filled with images of the horror of his impending earthly death by execution; his eyes are locked on what it means to finish faithfully, ready for his eternal reward, and fully in love with Jesus.
Look at the text with me…
2 TIMOTHY 4:6 – 8…
6For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8Henceforth 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 those who have loved his appearing.
As I thought and prayed my way through this text this week, I kept asking myself three questions. What is my goal line? What am I leaving incomplete or what am I still resisting? What momentary rewards am I still settling for? I want to finish faithfully but I recognize that my goal lines need to be consistently adjusted, there are a few things that I keep resisting, and I still need a more compelling vision of eternal rewards to circumvent my settling for momentary pleasure.
The question is, how do I do this? How do I get a more compelling vision of my eternal reward in Christ Jesus? How do I get the strength and courage to quit resisting what God has called me to? How do I get the right goal line in my line of sight? How do I finish faithfully?
#1: I NEED TO EXPECT TO GET WRUNG OUT (V. 6)
The path of least resistance is usually my first impulse; the quickest line from point a to point b is a straight line without very many stops. I am naturally an impatient person, so I am constantly trying to envision the easiest and fastest way to get to my desired goal which oftentimes means that my goal line gets more than a little skewed and I wind up looking a lot more like Israel wandering in the wilderness of sin rather than the apostle Paul who seems to have settled his goals within moments of becoming a Christian (of course, this idea is full of holes because we know the apostle Paul was a mere man too).
Part of the way that I think the apostle Paul continued to align his goal lines with God’s purposes for his life was that he lived with an expectation that he would get wrung out for the glory of God. He did not expect to achieve the results of the false doctrines of health, wealth and prosperity; he knew that following Jesus means that we will suffer and get wrung out for the glory of God.
He expected to walk the pathway of his Savior with a cross over his shoulder as his life got poured out for the sake of the gospel so that the name of God would be proclaimed throughout the earth. This is what enabled the apostle Paul to say, “I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come” (v. 6). Remember that these words come right on the heels of Paul instructing Timothy to “fulfill your ministry” (v. 5).
In other words, Paul’s impending suffering in death was no surprise to him because he did not expect a life of ease; he expected to get wrung out for the glory of God.
#2: I NEED TO FIGHT, RUN, AND KEEP THE FAITH (V. 7)
The apostle Paul says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (v.7). I envision the apostle Paul as a man who fought tooth and nail against the forces of darkness both inside of his own soul and within the souls of those whom he ministered to; he fought for the sake of seeing men and women freed by the message of the gospel.
The apostle Paul was no sideline cheerleader nor was he an armchair quarterback nor was he a backseat driver and he certainly was not an outside critic. This man ran the race; his legs knew the weariness of grinding it out mile after exhausting mile; his lungs knew the pain of gasping for every breathe to keep on going; his mind knew exactly what it was like to be tempted to just collapse in absolute exhaustion. He was not concerned with winning the race though; he was overjoyed to finish the race, to complete the job that God had given him.4
Paul never wavered in his faith; he kept on trusting God and trusting God and trusting God when everything seemed to be crumbling down around him. When Satan’s temptation became too much to resist, when Sin’s momentary promises edged their way into Paul’s imperfect life, when Death taunted his weary mind, the apostle Paul always bounced back in repentance and faith.
This is why he could say that he had fought the fight, finished the race, and kept the faith until the very end. Paul was a fighter, a runner, and a keeper. He fought furiously, he ran with endurance, and he kept ahold of his faith. The apostle Paul’s ability to continuously pursue what God had called him to was marked by the strength and courage of a repentant man. He kept fighting, he kept running, and he kept believing and trusting as he resisted every urge to quit and surrender.
#3: I NEED TO FALL IN LOVE WITH JESUS (V. 8)
For all the ink that has been spilled and the words that have been said about the apostle Paul being a fighter, he was also a lover. I think he deeply loved the people he preached the gospel to, and I even think he loved the enemies who stoned, beat, abandoned, betrayed, and abused him. Just reading the account of his trial hearings before King Agrippa and Festus and hearing his concern that they would hear and respond to the gospel are enough to prove that Paul loved people fiercely (Acts 25 – 26).
Even more clear than Paul’s love for people (enemies included) was his love for Jesus; his vision of what it would be like to be in the perfect presence of his Savior; his vision of heaven continuously back-fed his deepening love for Christ. I think this is why he says, “Henceforth 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 those who have loved his appearing” (v. 8).
The apostle Paul was a fierce fighter because he continuously experienced the never-ending love of God in Christ Jesus, and he could not help but to fall more and more in love with the One who took his filthy rags of self-advancement and promised him a white robe of unearned perfection in the crown of Christ’s righteousness.
The promise of complete perfection in the presence of our crucified, risen, and returning Savior, this is what I believe caused the apostle Paul to fall head over heels in love with Jesus’ time and time again. He looked forward to the Day when there would be no more tears, sin, or suffering in Heaven.
How do I get the right goal line in my sight? I need to expect to get wrung out for the glory of God. How do I get the strength and the courage to quit resisting what God has called me to? I need to fight, run, and keep the faith. How do I get a more compelling vision of my eternal reward in Christ Jesus? I need to fall in love with Jesus all over again. This is how you and I can finish faithfully.
In fact, it seems to me that everything in this passage today actually revolves around the final point. When you and I fall more and more in love with Jesus, then, and only then, will we be able to stop resisting his calling on our lives and happily pursue getting wrung out for the glory of God.
We must remember that the apostle Paul is writing these final words to Timothy the young pastor of the church that Paul had planted years ago in Ephesus. In the final words of his 13th letter of the NT, he writes about getting wrung out for the glory of God as he fearlessly pursues God’s calling on his life because of his deep love for Jesus. He writes these things to the one church that the apostle John in the book of Revelation says “you need to return to your first love” as he challenges them to fall in love with Jesus again (Rev. 2:1 – 7).
This challenge to return to our first love, to fall in love with Jesus, has got to be the essence of the entire Bible from the beginning to the end, right? A lack of love for the Lord is why Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, it is why Cain killed Abel, it is why Noah got drunk, it is why Moses doubted God, it is why Abraham lied about Sarah being his wife, it is why Israel continuously rebelled against God, it is why David raped Bathsheba and murdered her husband, it is why the prophets called Israel to repent or suffer the consequences, it is why Judas betrayed Jesus and Peter denied Jesus, it is why Paul lamented his inability to obey God perfectly in Romans 7, and it is why you and I struggle with willingly getting wrung out for the glory of God as we pursue his calling on our lives.
But the beauty of the entire story is this: Jesus never failed in pursuing his calling to be our Savior and he willingly and joyfully was poured out as the offering of atonement for our sins on the cross. And on top of that, he left the tomb empty and gave us the promise of Heaven… the promise of eternity in his perfect presence with his crown of righteousness and his pure white robes in place of our filthy sin-stained clothing.
The finish line for us and for Paul is the doorway of heaven. The fight we fight, the race we run, and the faith we keep is the activity of repentance and faith. Falling more and more in love with Jesus is what happens every time we resist Satan, Sin, and Death and turn to the revealed Christ in his Word through prayer, praise, and community. Falling more and more in love with Jesus… this is how we finish faithfully! – Amen!
1 Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this paper are to the English Standard Version Bible, The New Classic Reference Edition (ESV) (Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, 2001).
2 R. Kent Hughes and Bryan Chapell, 1 – 2 Timothy and Titus, (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2012), 278.
3 Ibid., 277 – 278.