Run to the Finish Line

I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful (2 Timothy 4:7Open Link in New Window).

Aren’t parents always telling their kids what they should do? Paul treated Timothy as his son and he sure sounded like a father. Do this … do that … live like this … don’t live like that … All sarcasm aside, it’s actually a privilege it is to have parents and mentors teaching us younger ones how to live. They’re older and wiser. They have a lifetime of wisdom. They have seen lives stray off course and fall into shambles. Because they love us, they don’t want us to crash and burn. So over and over again they urge us to do what is right. Many times our parents will tell us to save for retirement. They wouldn’t want us to be penniless at 65, eking out subsistence living just on Social Security. Paul being a spiritual father was more concerned about our eternal “retirement” and especially the Judgment Day. Will we receive a heavenly reward or something much less desirable? He wants us to be prepared to stand before God on that day. Near the end of his life, Paul wrote 2 Timothy, and gave Timothy much fatherly advice to live the good life of faith:

    * Fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you (1:6)

    * Hold on to the patter of right teaching (1:13)

    * Follow the Lord’s rules for doing his work, just as an athlete either follows the rules or is disqualified and wins no prize (2:5)

    * Work hard so God can approve you. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed (2:15)

    * Run from anything that stimulates youthful lust. Follow anything that makes you want to do right (2:22)

    * You must remain faithful to the things you have been taught (3:14)

    * Be persistent, whether time is favorable or not (4:2)

At the end of the letter, Paul urges Timothy to “complete the ministry God has given you” (4:5). For Timothy, his ministry was to preach the word of God and to teach the people to obey Christ. Paul urged him to continue in this ministry even when the time for doing so was favorable or not, whether he had to suffer for the Lord or not.

As an inducement to encourage Timothy to be faithful to the Lord, Paul “solemnly urged” Timothy to remember that he will one day be judged by Christ Jesus when He appears to set up his Kingdom. On that day, Christ will judge both the living and the dead. At the time of Paul’s writing of the letter, he knew that his life was about to end (4:6) and he had a clear conscience before the Lord that he had faithfully completed the ministry God had given him even in the face of severe opposition. In his life, he had so identified with the ministry of Christ that he had actually shared in the persecution and suffering of Christ. And so Paul was confident that he fought the good fight, he had finished the race. And because Paul had been faithful to the Lord, he had faith that when Christ returned to judge him he would be found faithful and would be rewarded with the crown of righteousness.

Immediately after writing this, Paul criticized Demas (probably some helper in Paul’s ministry) for deserting him because “he loves the things of this life” (4:10). That must have been greatly humiliating for Demas as the letter was probably widely distributed and read in churches at the time, even though it was addressed to Timothy. This makes me think of what the Lord Jesus said: “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24Open Link in New Window). Paul’s criticism of Demas seemed to be that his interests were divided; he had two masters. Jesus also talked about how you can judge a tree by its fruit. “A healthy tree produces good fruit, and an unhealthy tree produces bad fruit” (Matthew 7:17Open Link in New Window). The scary part is then Jesus said that every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Shortly after that Jesus said that even though people call him, “Lord,” does not mean that they will make it into heaven.

“Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to me as ‘Lord,’ but they still won’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The decisive issue is whether they obey my Father in heaven. On judgment day many will tell me, `Lord, Lord, we prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, `I never knew you. Go away; the things you did were unauthorized.(Matthew 7:22-23Open Link in New Window). 

While we know from the whole counsel of Scripture that salvation is not by any of our good human works; we can only be saved by trusting in the perfect work of redemption of Christ through His death and resurrection. Over and over in the Bible we are urged to run the good race and run to the finish line. Jesus said that those who listen to His teaching and obeys Him are like those who build their house on solid rock. That house will survive floods, hurricanes and tsunamis. But those who ignore His teaching are like those who build their homes on sand. When the testing comes their lives will come crashing down. So our salvation is completely by faith in what Christ already did for us. But working out our salvation includes our obedience. If we obey Christ, we will stand in the judgment. If we ignore Him, what hope do we have?

I take this as a sober reminder of the reality of the coming judgment day. Paul solemnly urged Timothy to persistently preach the word of God and so complete the ministry God had given to him. There must be a reason why Paul gave such a formal charge (or command to duty). It must be because there is possibility of coming before the Lord, the righteous Judge, and being found unfaithful. Then we will not receive the prize. But if we are found faithful, then we will be given the prize that awaits all those who eagerly look forward to Christ’s return. So we come back to Paul bold statement:

I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful (2 Timothy 4:7Open Link in New Window).

Can we say the same of ourselves?

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I have fallen short, way short, of being faithful. Please have mercy on me and help me to forget what is behind and press on heavenward, toward the high calling following You. Help me to be faithful to obey Your commands and to complete the ministry that You have given me. I eagerly look forward to Your return. By Your grace, may I be found faithful. 

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