A life fully lived for Christ–2 Timothy 4:7-8, part 2
Once a pastor in Norway was asked by a parishioner about how to understand death for the Christian. The pastor responded by telling him this story. “Well,” he said, “it’s like this. Once there was a peasant, and the peasant had some things to take care of in another village. So the next morning, he said to his wife that he had to travel to this particular village to do his business and that he would try to be back before nightfall.
“It was at this point that his little son said to him, ‘Father, may I go with you ?’ And any father would be thrilled to take along a son for the day and he said, ‘Of course,’ as he grasped his little hand and off they went in the morning sun, headed for the village that was some distance away.
“As they walked, they came to a river. Now the river was swollen because of recent rains, and the waters had catapulted through the particular channel they had to cross and had washed away most of the bridge. All that was left were some pillars and pilings and as a result, the little boy was very fearful and said, ‘Father, we will never get across.’
“The river was moving rapidly, but the father just looked at his son and said, ‘We’ll make it son, I’ll be very careful. I’ll hold on to you very tightly and we’ll get across.’ Grasping that little fellow by the wrist and holding on to him with the grip of a loving father, he began cautiously to pick his way from piling to piling, sometimes suspending the little guy over the torrent till he could lift him to the next place of safety, until they made it across.
“Once across, they went to the village and they did their business and when the business was complete they started home. But as so often is the case, their business dealings took longer than expected and it was already dark when they started their return trip. This particular night there was no light from the moon and the sky was filled with clouds, and as they walked along the trail through the forest towards the river in the darkness, the father heard the little fellow begin to cry.
“As he looked down, he asked, ‘What’s wrong, son?’ His son replied, ‘Father, we made it across the river in the light, but we’ll never make it across in the dark.’ Without saying a word, he reached down and scooped the little fellow up and pressed him to his chest, and in a matter of moments he was sound asleep.
“The next thing he knew, the boy woke up and found himself in his own house, in his own room, and in his own bed. Sunlight was streaming through the windows, it was morning and his father was standing in the doorway smiling–he was home.” The pastor said to the parishioner, “You see, that’s what death is like for the Christian. What you fear you never experience. You simply wake up and you’re home.”
Second Corinthians 5:8, “To be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” In our study of 2 Timothy, Paul’s words to Timothy give you a similar hope. Open your Bibles to 2 Timothy 4:6 to 8 and follow along with your outlines. After challenging Timothy to rely completely on God’s Word and to preach God’s Word, he wraps up his exhortation with the phrase at the end of verse 5, “fulfill your ministry.”
Then as Paul pens this final letter from a dark cell in a Roman prison, to Timothy who is battling external persecution from Nero and internal pressure from heretics, Paul actually shares what it is like to fulfill your ministry. Paul intentionally connects verse 5 with verse 6, by beginning verse 6 with a “for”. So Paul, what does a life fully lived for Christ actually look like–fulfilling your ministry?
Paul now, at the end of his life–with his execution just weeks, possibly months away, gives us his epitaph. And for an example of a fulfilled life, read with me verses 6 to 8. “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 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.”
Paul knows this second major imprisonment will be his last, so he writes Timothy in Ephesus a second time, because the inspired Word is being corrupted by heretics, and because Timothy is timidly fading under doctrinal pressure and Roman persecution. Paul commands Timothy to build convictions about God’s Word.
And Paul commands Timothy to preach the author’s intended message, God’s inspired Word, as is. Get God’s Word to God’s people without messing up God’s original message through His apostles. Paul commands Timothy to pay the price of suffering, endurance and difficulty like Paul did. Live a life which fulfills God’s intended ministry–fulfill your ministry.
So Paul now describes what that looks like, using his own obituary as an example. What do you want your story to proclaim as you look back on your life? What is a life fully lived for Christ actually look like? What can you pursue now which will result in you hearing from Christ, “Well done, good and faithful servant?” Paul tells Tim.
Last week In verse 6, he looks at his present life and ministry and declares he’s ready. This week in verse 7, he looks at the past and declares he was faithful. This week in verse 8, he looks at the future and anticipates heavenly reward. As you examine your life, are you ready to die and face judgment? Have you been faithful in life and ministry, and are you anticipating future reward? Let’s find out.
#1 THE PRESENT DEPARTURE which Paul is prepared for
Verse 6, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.” The drink offering was the final offering in the midst of a long offering process. Paul uses the entire offering process to describe his life. And now Paul uses the closing drink offering to indicate he himself, Paul, is also at the end of his life.
The pouring out of wine on the hot coals of the fire, used in the offering process, was a slow action producing steam, which rose to the heavens as an offering to God. For Paul, this pouring out has begun–Paul’s life is ending, though not quit finished yet. In verse 6, Paul describes his death as a soon to come departure. The Greek word for departure describes the unleashing of an animal from a cart, the loosing of the bonds of a prisoner, the loosening of a tent in order to take it down, and the leaving of a ship from harbor.
For the authentic born again Christian who dies, death is laying down the burden in order to rest. Death is laying aside the shackles in order to be free, death is striking camp in order to set up residence in a heavenly place. And death is casting off the ropes of this world and setting sail to end up in the presence of God. When a believer dies, they are not dear–they’re more alive than they have ever been.
They have not left, they have arrived. They are not away, they are home. For Paul, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Paul is prepared to die and face Christ. “Since I’m about to die and have fulfilled my ministry, now Timothy, you fulfill your ministry, Timothy–and you must be prepared to face Christ.” What’s that look like? Verse 7 . . .
#2 THE PAST COURSE which Paul was faithful to
The last judgment for the Christian is the judgment seat of Christ–the Bema reward platform. Romans 14:10c, “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.” Like every godly Christian, Paul never forgot the Bema was coming, but it held no terrors for him. As Paul evaluates his past, he says to Timothy in verse 7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” These three sweet statements prove Paul anticipated this coming judgment with eagerness–he longed to please the Lord in life and is not ashamed to face Christ in death. Look at the first.
First “I have fought the good fight“
Every nuance of this phrase is true. Paul began on the Damascus Road thirty years earlier, and after his time in the Arabian desert, he traveled the ancient world in three missionary journeys. The fourth ended in Rome. Travel back then was grueling–it took months, not hours. The dangers were not losing your luggage, but being robbed, getting sick, or shipwrecked, The most difficult was you faced an intense spiritual battle as you taught God’s Word and proclaimed the Gospel.
Paul was in a spiritual struggle. The Greek verb “have fought” from “I have fought the good fight” is from agōnizomai, the source of the English agonizing. In New Testament times, have fought was commonly used in the public athletic games, such as the Greek Olympics. Paul was in a spiritual fight, which was also costly physically.
So brave Paul contended not only with the false teachers and believers embracing bad doctrine, angry civic Gentiles and the political leaders of Rome. But the more difficult battle was Ephesians 6:12, “against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” The faithful Christian life is nothing less than a fierce and relentless spiritual struggle, which never ends until Heaven.
The faithful Christian constantly battles his own flesh, his own sin, his own ignorance and his own laziness. He has to battle the temptation to do things, good things that everyone does, then refuse to do better things a few are committed to, to actually accomplish the best things which only the select give their lives to.
What are some of those best things? Worshipping the Lord with your whole heart as a way of life. Discipling others. Serving Christ in ministry with your giftedness. Seeking to share the Gospel with the lost. Cultivating a marriage and family which points to Christ. Doing all you do to the glory of God. Loving Christ, His church and His people. The select, those willing to fight the good fight, will fight in order to give their lives to the best things.
Paul makes this observation to serve as a model for Timothy and to encourage him to rely on Christ’s enabling grace. Paul fought hard against a long list of dangers and suffered greatly from a harsh list of indignities, but in the midst of the battle, Paul shouted Romans 8:37, “In all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.” We live through Christ.
Look carefully at the three verbs in these three phrases, “have fought, have finished, and have kept“–they translate intensive perfect verbs, indicating completed action with continuing results. Paul had no regret, no sense of unfulfillment or no broken heart of incompleteness. After the Lord took control of His life, he lived life to the fullest. Everything God enabled him to do, he did. Paul left no unfinished symphony.
And this fight is not, “Let’s get ready to rumble!”–this fight is the good fight. “I have fought the good fight.” Paul calling the fight good meant this battle is noble. Paul never forgot who He was fighting for and what he was fighting about–a good fight. The Greek word “good” refers to that which is intrinsically good and genuinely beautiful in purpose.
You are not saved primarily for your own sakes. You are saved for the glory of God and to fulfill His holy calling to be His witnesses to an unsaved world. That noblest of all callings to the noblest of all causes should inspire every believer to Matthew 6:33, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness”. This good fight should motivate you to yield every gift, every talent, every resource at every opportunity with all of your energy, to lifelong service by God’s Word in God’s power. You are all in. Paul is showing Timothy and you what a fulfilled life is.
Second “I have finished the course“
Life is a race and Paul tells Timothy he has finished his race course. God sets a specific track for each of his children to run–it is unique to you. Some of Paul’s racecourse was revealed to him within days of his salvation in Acts 9, when Ananias informed him of the things he would suffer. Now Paul had completed his course. Paul humbly makes no boast about winning his race. Paul simply declares he’s finished his race. Everything God set before Paul, had been done.
God is sovereign, and you’re equally responsible. God has sovereignly arranged the course of your life, but you are responsible to remain focused and to run with discipline. Paul uses the racecourse to remind Timothy and you, in order to fulfill your ministry, you Christians must live your faith like an athlete who runs his race–you must exercise concentration and discipline.
The Greek word for course literally means running a race–so metaphorically, course was used of fulfilling a lifetime career, occupation or military service. The course is your life. But have no illusions, your racecourse is an obstacle race–there are challenges ahead. And the way you run is to avoid two things–one is obvious and the other is not.
Hebrews 12:1 and 2 describe both, “Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus.” Repent of entangling sin–that’s obvious. But Hebrews also says, “lay aside the encumbrances“–those are the weights runners would use to train for the race, then discard those weights when they actually ran their race.
An encumbrance is not evil in itself. Normally, it may be harmless–even worthwhile. The danger and harm comes when such things hinder our service to Christ. What good things, acceptable habits, fun events and normal distractions do you do which distract you from Christ–lay those aside when they hinder your service to Christ.
Anything that weighs you down as you’re running for Christ, anyone who distracts your attention when you should be concentrating, anything that moves your focus from the Lord’s work to something else, anything that saps your energy that should be dedicated entirely to Christ–lay those aside. How do I stay motivated?
The secret to winning your own racecourse is to fix your eyes completely on Christ. Love the Lord, follow your Savior, serve your Master, honor your King, submit to your God–then treat anything that is unnecessary in your life as a spiritual encumbrance. Time to clean house. In order to fulfill your ministry, you finish the course by laying aside encumbrances.
Third “I have kept the faith“
Keeping the faith refers to the incredible marathon race effort Paul gave in maintaining apostolic doctrine and fighting to keep a pure Gospel. Paul stayed true to the truth. Paul persevered in what he preserved. Paul recognized his sacred trust regarding the Word of God. The Greek verb “have kept” means to watch over, to persevere and to guard. When Paul says “kept THE faith” with the article “the“, Paul is describing the faith objectively as doctrine. Paul invested his life in preserving the truth of the Gospel and apostolic doctrine.
Like Elijah confronting the prophets of Baal, like Isaiah scolding Ahaz, like Jeremiah warning the people, like Daniel boldly preaching to Nebuchadnezzar, Paul spent his life in opposition to error and preserving God’s truth. With his life, Paul had guarded the body of truth entrusted to him. Paul stood firm in the faith before the rage of the Jews and the violence of the mob.
Paul stood uncompromising before Felix, Festus, and King Agrippa. Paul had not even wavered standing before the savage Nero. Paul finished his obstacle race, he kept the faith pure. He preached it, he lived it. He loved Jesus Christ, he honored His truth, he followed his Lord in all things. A fulfilled life is gained by one who pays any price to boldly teach Christ’s Word and proclaim the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. Are you keeping the faith? In verse 7 with these three graphic clauses, Paul just told of his service for Christ, which all leads to a future hope.
#2 THE FUTURE REWARD which Paul is hoping for
Verse 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.” Having discussed the present and the past, Paul turns his eye to the future. In the mind of Timothy and the first century reader, it is completely natural after the noble fight, the race satisfactorily run, and the faith steadfastly exercised, to receive the reward of grace.
First The future Reward for PAUL
Paul anticipated his future reward. With death behind him, he’d soon stand before Christ at the Bema judgment. Verse 8a, “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.” Paul is reminding Timothy that, although salvation is free, eternal rewards are earned. You are not judged for sin, but you are judged for your service to Christ.
Paul had no doubt he would receive a crown. The word translated crown refers to the victor’s crown in the Greek games–the victor’s reward made of oak leaves or ivy that was given to the winners of Greek athletic events. Paul expected to receive a “crown of righteousness.” Scripture mentions other crowns–1 Peter 5:4 mentions “the crown of glory,” James 1:12 mentions “the crown of life,” Philippians 4:1 refers to “the soul winner’s crown,” Revelation 2:10 refers to “the martyr’s crown.”
The Bible doesn’t say, but I believe Paul probably will receive all those crowns. The one he was sure he’d receive was “the crown of righteousness“–it would be his reward for having relied completely on the righteousness of Christ for salvation, teaching the Gospel where one must trust Christ’s righteousness to cover them and living a life dependent upon the Holy Spirit, so that the righteous one would live through him righteously.
Verse 1 confirms Christ Jesus the Lord is also the Judge. And this umpire respects the contest and the rules He Himself has laid down. Christ is the righteous Judge, who on that notable day, will give whatever is due. In his epistle to the Romans, Paul developed the entire subject of righteousness–how it is required, how it is received, and how it is reproduced. Paul knew the difference between the righteousness of Christ that is imputed to us by God and the righteousness of the saints that is implemented in us by and through the Holy Spirit.
The Greek word of is a genitive–depending on what kind of genitive it is–the of in the phrase “of righteousness” could be the righteousness that covers us from salvation in Christ, or the crown of righteousness which results from the righteous actions of those who’ve been made righteous. Because of Christ, you are made perfectly righteous and on the basis of Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice, you will be rewarded and/or in dependence on the Spirit as a believer, you can do righteous acts, which will be rewarded.
Like 1 John 3:7, “Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.” And like Revelation 19:8, “It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” Now it is possible to work really hard for Christ but lose your reward, because the focus of your service was not directed at Christ, nor done for God’s glory, nor labored in the power of the Spirit. But a life lived in dependence upon the righteous one, the righteous Judge, will display righteousness, which will later result in a crown of righteousness.
In true salvation, God makes you righteous before God–perfect. But in practical sanctification, righteousness is practiced and pursued. As far as was humanly possible in a body of flesh, Paul had allowed the indwelling Holy Spirit to make him like Christ. Paul sought to live by the Holy Spirit according to the Word of God. And as a result, Christ as the righteous Judge would see that Paul received the appropriate reward for His dependence upon the Spirit and the Word of God. And this reward can also come to you.
Second The future Reward for BELIEVERS
You also will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, where the righteous judge will evaluate your life. Second Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
Paul says here in 2 Timothy 4:8b, “The crown will be given not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” Paul linked the rewards believers will receive “on that day” with the measure of their love for His appearing. Paul is reminding you there are two kinds of people–those who fear standing before Christ and those who would love being near Christ. Which are you?
John Calvin was even more pointed. With my edits, Calvin says, “Those believers who are devoted to the world, who love this fleeting life, are not motivated by the coming of Christ.” And if you are here this morning, not excited about the coming of Christ, you are too devoted to this world. Is Christ’s coming a dread or a delight to you? Is it a pain or pleasant? Are you indifferent or intense about His return? Christ’s return changes everything . . . everything.
Live like Christ is coming back today. Look forward to His return. A steady focus on the Lord’s return for His bride is a powerful motive for righteous living. The apostle John said the same thing in 1 John 3:2 and 3, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”
Sadly, it is possible for us to lose our crowns if we fail to live a Spirit-filled life which is obedient to the Word of God. If we fail to dependently by faith, serve Christ, disciple others, share the Gospel and love the Lord in all things–you and I will lose our reward. Paul looked back on his life and by grace, he fulfilled his ministry. As you look at your life, have you fulfilled your ministry? Are you ready to live for Christ? Are you ready to die for Christ? What should you do?
A To fulfill your ministry, be prepared to BATTLE the enemy
Satan had sought to undermine Paul’s teaching by opposing him. There had been Galatian legalists, Jewish ritualists, and Colossian Gnostics. There had been forged letters. There had been vicious attacks on his integrity, his personal appearance, and his unpolished speech. Paul’s stand against Satan was simple–2 Timothy 1:12b, “I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”
What God committed to Paul, Paul committed back to God. Paul had practiced what he preached. He had waged war night and day against all the power of the enemy. Now Paul was a battle-scarred prisoner of war, but even so, the devil did not know what to do with Paul. If Satan turned Paul loose, he’d turn the world upside down for Christ. If Satan locked Paul up in prison, he’d win his jailers to Christ, engage in prayer that would exalt Christ, then write letters that would arm multitudes of believers in ages to come to please Christ and resist Satan.
If Satan killed Paul, he’d simply be promoted to glory, where he longed to be. You are to battle the enemy with truth lived and battle Satan with truth shared. Go to war and look forward to that day, fight for that day, serve for that day in order to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
B To fulfill your ministry, your race has a PURPOSE
In the same context of 1 Corinthians 9, Paul says some very dramatic things. On either side of running his race to win and doing all to God’s glory, he tells you the purpose of running and glorifying God– can you spot it?
“I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. 23 I do all things for the sake of the gospel… 24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God… 33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 9:22-24,31,33).
You run your racecourse so you might see those who are the enemies of Christ become His friends–that they would get saved. That those without Christ would be forgiven, cleansed, born again and made family. This is why Paul ran his race, and this is why you should run your race. Purpose for all genuine Christians is to want the lost to be found, the dead to be made alive, the filthy to be cleansed, and the sinner forgiven.
C To fulfill your ministry, you must be IN Christ
Just like Paul finished his course and is about to go home to Heaven, Christ dying on the cross for the sins of His children finished His course. Jesus declared in John 19:30b, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. The Greek word finished means to bring to an end, to complete, to perfect, so when the Lord triumphantly cried, “It is finished,” He meant His sufferings were over. The great work of redemption was done.
“It is finished“–that verb is also in the perfect tense, which is good news for you. Perfect means past completed action with present abiding results, meaning Christ’s work on the cross was finished, but its effects are still at work today. You today, right now, can be saved by the finished work of Christ. Jesus, being fully God, could be an acceptable sacrifice for sin on the cross. Jesus, being fully man, could take the place of man dying for sin in our place.
If you exchange your life for His, surrender your will for His, depending by faith on His Person and work, and turn from your sin, then you can be saved today. Only then can you fulfill your purpose. Turn to Christ now. Let’s pray.