Topic: Perseverance of the Saints Passage: 2 Timothy 4:6–8
Missionary CT Studd wrote a poem and the opening stanza says this:
Two little lines I heard one day,
Traveling along life’s busy way;
Bringing conviction to my heart,
And from my mind would not depart;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
Those two lines: “only one life, ‘twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” I want these lines to be lodged in your mind and not depart this morning. Your life matters. You can do nothing to change the past (yesterday, last week, the last ten years, or your entire life up until this point). What matters supremely is how you live from this day on, how you finish your life. Paul himself understood this. In Philippians 3 he said,
One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus… (Philippians 3:13-14)
You cannot change the past, but by God’s grace, empowered by the Holy Spirit, your future can be lived for Christ’s fame and renown. And if you do, you can finish strong and cross the finish line without regret.
This is the Holy Spirit's message from this text. Let’s think through the context. Remember last week’s text, Reid covered verses 1-5, just touching on verse 5. Well, I want to touch on it briefly again, because it helps us understand why Paul is saying what he is saying. Paul was urging Timothy to continue in faithfulness all the way to the end. Here’s what he said said,
As for you [Timothy], always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (v. 5)
That last phrase is the point. Fulfill your ministry. Complete your ministry. See your ministry through to the end. And that is the call today. Every Christian, purchased by the blood of Jesus, is called to ministry. The word ministry is “diakonia”. It is part of the word grouping for serving, service, servant. Here it’s translated ministry. Every Christian is called into Christ’s service, and as such we are to be faithful in it to the end. We are all part of the great commission, which is to make disciples. Make disciples of all nations.
It is important that we see our Christian service starting where we are, with the people in front of us. Of course, God wants to use us beyond these walls and even perhaps beyond the borders of our state or nation. Of course! But remember Christ told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would empower them to be witnesses starting in Jerusalem and spreading out from there. This means serving and ministering to those in front of us first. Which means, first in your homes, in the church, in your neighborhood, in your place of work, in our broader community, and out from there.
So Paul urges Timothy to be faithful to the end, to complete his ministry and see it through to the end. And then Paul gives in verses 6-8 what could be the message written over his entire life. Really it could have been written on his tombstone, though he certainly didn’t have a tombstone. Let me read it again:
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 race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge will award me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
What is the point? Paul is not just reminiscing over his life now that he is near the end. Paul says these words to encourage and motivate Timothy to continue. And it is meant to motivate us as well. May these God-breathed words be a great help for us to finish strong. Here’s what Paul does. He looks at his life from three perspectives: 1) the present in verse 6, 2) the past in verse 7, and 3) the future in verse 8.
And here’s the challenge: May we live by God’s grace and with the help of the Almighty Spirit of God in such a way that we finish strong and are able to say the same thing Paul does here at the end of our lives. That’s what we want, right? No regrets at the end.
So, let’s look at and learn from and be motivated by Paul.
THE PRESENT: A DRINK OFFERING (v. 6)
First, Paul looks at his life from a present perspective - in the present. Here’s what he said:
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. (v. 6)
Paul’s entire life, from the Damascus road to this moment in a Roman jail cell awaiting execution was an offering to God. You know the words he wrote in Romans 12:1: “Present or offer your bodies as a living sacrifice…” His life was laid down for God in the service of others. Paul communicated this numerous times and lived it to the end. Listen to his words in 2 Corinthians 12:15:
I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls…
I’ll be spent. I will go all the way. I’ll be drained to the bottom for your sake. Mothers, isn’t that what it's like to have children? What an honor to do it for Christ’s sake!! Listen to what Paul said just earlier in this letter to Timothy:
I endure everything (all suffering) for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus.
Paul endured everything - every beating, imprisonment, discomfort, slander, and pressure - for God’s people. Certainly he understood the words of the apostle John in 1 John 3:16, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. “
He saw his life as one to be laid down; a life to be poured out as an offering to God in service to others. In a sense his entire life was an offering. But here in our text is Paul’s final offering to God, he is to be poured out as a drink offering. This is a beautiful picture Paul gives us here. It’s in reference to the offering of wine that was to accompany every sacrifice made under the Old Covenant. The offering of a bull or a ram or a goat was not complete until the drink offering was given. And in Numbers 15, it says a few times that the drink offering was a pleasing aroma to the LORD.
Paul had served the Lord Jesus Christ faithfully for years and now the only thing that was left for Paul’s ministry to be accomplished was for Paul to have his blood spilled and die a faithful martyr - to be poured out as a drink offering. This was Paul’s curtain call, his final offering to God will be his blood spilled as a faithful witness of Christ. Paul knows for certain that he is going to die.
Yet he is not defeated! You hear a triumphal note in his words. He knows the time of his departure has come, but he is not sad. He knows the Sovereign of the universe could rescue him from death. God did many times. But Paul also knew that his death would be victory as well. How is it that the saints overcome Satan in Revelation 12?
And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. (Revelation 12:11)
Paul's life was an offering, spent and poured out for God’s glory and the good of others. Is your life being spent for God’s glory? Is it being spent for the eternal good of those you are called to love and serve? At the end, faced with the prospect of dying, Paul saw his present circumstances as being “poured out as a drink offering”. What a way to die. To be faithful all the way to the end, and then to see your dying breath as a drink offering to God. Brothers and sisters, this is an aroma that is pleasing to God. But Paul also looks at the past in a particular, helpful way.
THE PAST: FOUGHT, FINISHED, KEPT (v. 7)
Next, at the end of Paul’s life he looks at the past and the course of his life in Christ. Look at verse 7:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
If we want to be able to say the same thing at the end of our lives (and I know we do), then we need to hear the three ways Paul described his life and ministry: a good fight to be fought, a race to be completed, the faith to be kept. In fact, for the sake of emphasis, that is how the Greek reads, “The good fight I have fought, the race I have finished, the faith I have kept.”
1. Paul saw his life and ministry as one of “fighting the good fight”.
We are in a war… The Greek word for fight is agonizomai, from which we get the word agony and agonize. Paul knew this and so did Timothy because Paul urged him to fight in these two letters by Paul. In 1:12 Paul said, “Timothy, wage the good warfare”. At the end of his first letter, Paul again exhorted Timothy, “Fight the good fight of faith…” (1 Timothy 6:12). At the end of Paul’s life, he could look back and see the conflict, see the battle, and say, “I fought the good fight”.
Well, what or who was it that Paul fought like a champion against? Of course it is a spiritual fight against Satan and his evil forces and work. The great passage on spiritual warfare makes it clear that ultimately our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of evil. It is our ancient foe who seeks to work us woe. Paul fought to advance the Kingdom and Gospel of Christ and push back the forces of darkness. Ministry is a fight (explain: children, unbelievers, prayer (!!). But we also need to remember it is a good fight. God is pleased with this kind of fighting. The weapons of our warfare are mighty, for tearing down evil strongholds. In fact, it displeases God when we act as though we are on a picnic at the beach when a war is raging.
Paul looked back and was able to say, “I have fought the good fight”. I left it all out on the battlefield. Brothers and sisters, we are in a fight. We are in a fight to walk with Christ, we are in a fight for the souls of others, we are in a fight for our families, our children, we are in a fight for truth. May we live and fight so that we may say the same thing as Paul.
2. Paul saw his life and ministry as a race to be completed.
“I have finished the race”. The idea here is that Paul had finished the course God had set for him in ministry. The word race here alludes to a course on which you would run a race. Think of a cross country course. For Paul it started on the Damascus road and now here at the end he can say, “I have finished. I’ve completed my course.” Amazing!
One of my favorite verses about ministry, one that I think about and pray that it would get into me is Acts 20:24 where Paul says,
But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
That’s what Paul said years before this letter to Timothy. Now at the end of his life he says, “I have finished the race, I have finished my course.” Listen, nobody wakes up one day and just happens to be on course. You will not just happen to be on the course. You will not just haphazardly be in the race, on the right course. Many, no doubt we can think of some, appear to start out on the course, following Jesus, but then get off course.
Long ago, mariners on the sea, in order to stay on course, had to keep track of the north star. It’s the same with us, except the north star in Jesus Christ, right? We have to keep our eyes on him.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before (that’s the course), looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Let’s get on course, in the race, stay in the race with our eyes on Christ.
3. Finally, Paul saw his life and ministry consisting in keeping the faith.
Paul said, “I have kept the faith.” The faith. My understanding of this is that Paul is saying he remained faithful to the body of truth, the good deposit that was entrusted to him - “the faith”. I don’t think Paul is simply saying, “I have kept believing up to the end”, but rather that he guarded and kept the sacred trust that Christ gave to him, in terms of apostolic doctrine.
For Paul, the responsibility to write, communicate, and keep the truth (the good deposit), unstained was all important. The phrase that he uses “good deposit” a couple of times in these letters alludes to a treasure that is to be returned to its owner in the same way in which it was received. Paul confidently (not in his own strength) said, “I have kept the faith”. Brothers and sisters, if we are going to finish strong, this must be our aim as well. We have a responsibility, though not as an apostle, to care about, seek to understand, guard, speak and spread, and contend for the truth as well.
We’ve looked at how Paul views his life from the perspective of the present as a drink offering, and he looks to the past in that he finished the course of his life and ministry. Now let’s see what he says about the future (v. 8).
THE FUTURE: A CROWN (v. 8)
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 all who have loved his appearing.
Paul looked forward and saw a crown in his future. The word henceforth means looking ahead or in the future. It is actually quite stunning. Paul looked forward to the Day of Judgment (“that Day” and the righteous Judge) with joyful anticipation, not dread and was expecting a glorious reward.
This language of a crowning is used in a couple other places in the NT. Here in 2 Timothy 4:8 it’s called the crown of righteousness. In James 1:12 it’s the crown of life. In 1 Peter 5:4 it’s the crown of glory. It’s all saying the same thing. It’s about a reward for faithful service. We see this in the word, “award”. The word means reward, render, repay. It’s an amazing, breathtaking thing. If you understand the gospel and grace and God’s holiness. The only thing we deserve from our Lord, the righteous Judge is his wrath. That’s what we deserve!
And yet the Lord gives a crown to those who for a life of steadfast, faithful service. The Lord, the righteous Judge will say on that day “Well done, good and faithful servant”, and crown us. And here’s the thing, we won’t look at it and say “wow, I really did good”. I don’t know how long it will take, but we will take the crown off our heads, and cast them at the feet of Jesus (Rev. 4) knowing that any good thing we did was his work in us.
Here’s the question. Paul saw a crown in his future. He had that strong indomitable hope. Who can look forward like Paul with this kind of expectation? Paul said, “This is not just for me, but also for all who have loved his appearing.” There it is. Those who love his appearing. And I suppose this makes total sense. Paul lived in such a way that when he thought of the future and the coming of Christ and judgment, he leaned forward, he leaned into it in expectant joy rather than shrinking back (1 John 2:28). And all who have this love, this longing for the appearing of Christ can joyful expect to be crowned from our righteous Judge, the Lord as well.
Paul looked to his life in the present, the past, and the future and this was meant to motivate Timothy to press on, to finish strong. It’s meant to motivate us too. So how did Timothy finish? Was he faithful to the end? Did he fulfill his ministry? Did he finish strong? Many don’t (2 Timothy 4). Well, listen to what is recorded of Timothy:
Timothy was the celebrated disciple of St. Paul, and bishop of Ephesus, where he zealously governed the church till A. D. 97. At this period, as the pagans were about to celebrate a feast called Catagogion, Timothy, meeting the procession, severely reproved them for their ridiculous idolatry, which so exasperated the people, that they fell upon him with their clubs, and beat him in so dreadful a manner, that he expired of the bruises two days after. (Foxe’s Book of Martyrs)
Did Timothy “fulfill his ministry”? Indeed he did! By God’s grace, you can too. For Timothy, I have no doubt that these words from Paul echoed in his ears from when he first read them to his death. May they echo in ours.
Listen, today is the beginning of the rest of your life. Forgetting what lies behind, let’s seek the Spirit's power today to live in the present a life poured out for the purposes of God - fighting the good fight of faith, staying on course, keeping the faith, so that by the Grace of God we may look forward, lean forward, even strain forward with expectant hope and joy for the crown from our righteous Judge. I started with the opening stanza of CT Studd’s poem and I’d like to finish with the final lines. It goes like this:
Only one life, ‘twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last,
And when I am dying, how happy I’ll be,
If the lamp of my life has been burned out for Thee