(September 17, 2022) Richard Winter reminds us that, like Timothy, we too have an obligation to finish the race.
Keep your cool is great advice for all of us in trying moments, testing times, troubling escapades, upsetting incidents… and when we just don’t know if we’ll get through, if we’ll make it.
It’s our modern phraseology for the great advice the apostle Paul gave young Timothy in respect of fulfilling his ministry obligations: ‘… keep your head in all situations…’ (2 Timothy 4:5a).
I would draw your attention to 2 Timothy 4:5-8 in full… ‘But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store 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 longed for his appearing.’
Remember Graduation Day when you have finished your educational journey? In the above verses Paul is talking about his own soon-to-be graduation day and exhorting his young son-in-the-faith regarding his future one. He highlights what Timothy must be about, especially in view of the fact he must soon take his mentor’s place. And that must have been a frightening prospect to the young man.
Note a reality here: All of us, followers and servants of Jesus, must pass on eventually to our own graduation day, and leave kingdom work to others. That is what we have before us in this passage.
Labour on for the Lord
In the opening verses of chapter 4, Paul gives Timothy a heavy charge. And in rather sobering tones, reminds him that although he was ministering in the pagan city of Ephesus, nevertheless he was to labour on in the most significant work taking place on earth during that 1st century time.
We too, 21st century Christians, are commissioned to be doing the most significant work today. Like Timothy we are to be involved in God’s great enterprises, advancing the kingdom, and completing the foundational work began by our Lord Himself in His death and resurrection.
Timothy is reminded that he must do this because there was very shortly coming a time when –
- Truth would seem to disappear from the earth,
- Error would seem to be triumphant,
- People would give themselves to myths and fables, and
- Wrong would be called right and right be called wrong.
We ourselves live in just such an age. Today is a time when truth is disappearing, when it is no longer recognised as the fundamental base of social and governmental life.
- We see the world following their ‘truth’ not the truth.
- ‘Truth’ is now relative to a person, not a universal truth.
- With so many people (even Christians!) anything goes.
- The definition of right and wrong doesn’t exist!
Because we live in a worldwide troubled time, we need the same encouragement that Timothy needed. And the apostle summarises this for us in 2 Timothy 4:5RSV, ‘Always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.’
That really is a summary of many things Paul said to Timothy through the course of his two letters to him. These words nutshell all that he was challenging and expecting Timothy to do.
1) ‘Be steady’
As in ‘Keep your cool.’ Paul is saying: Be consistent, don’t be up one day and down the next, don’t be off and on in your Christian commitment.
The Message Bible reads ‘Keep your eye on what you’re doing.’ Let’s not get sidetracked from being about kingdom business for Jesus today.
2) ‘Endure suffering’
Suffering? No one I know likes suffering. But this has been a frequent theme in this letter. Paul has talked many times about the difficulties and the persecutions that Christians may have to face. He had already exhorted Timothy to ‘endure hardship as a good soldier of Christ Jesus’ (2 Timothy 2:3NKJV).
There are some that teach when you become a Christian God will smooth out your life so that you never have any problems… not so! Paul says we may have to endure suffering and the reason, of course, is that Christianity is a counterculture movement; it is against the trend of the day and the spirit of the age.
If we are going to live in faithfulness to what we believe, then we will experience some rejections, difficulties, and pressure… and even some persecution.
3) ‘Do the work of an evangelist’
Timothy apparently was a rather timid young man, fearful, inclined to keep to himself. Why then did Paul say, ‘Do the work of an evangelist’ urging him to boldly mix with others, to face public life, to literally step out in faith and communicate with others?
Because all our gifts must ultimately be directed to the world not just to the church! The church is in this world and in order to teach it the truth about life and about God, and to offer to the world the good news about forgiveness and healing in Jesus’ name, we have to reach out.
We don’t have to be termed as an evangelist – a preacher of the gospel. But we can all do the work of an evangelist by sharing with people when the Holy Spirit gives us opportunities to do so with! Every Christian can share the gospel, not just preachers, ministers and evangelists!
4) ‘Fulfill your ministry’
Paul means by those three words, that you should not quit until the end, but keep on until you have done all that the Lord has for you to do.
Right until you have reached that time when the Lord takes you home – only then is your ministry finished.
So, the apostle urges Timothy to fulfill his ministry. He does so because, as he goes on to say, ‘You must take my place.’ The clear implication is that Paul is passing the torch on to this younger man. The end has come for Paul.
‘I’m already,’ he tells Timothy. ‘The time of my departure has come’ (2 Timothy 4:6). And in the following famous words he describes his view of his own death and of what lies beyond. ‘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 to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
We too will have opportunity to pass on ‘our torch’ when our graduation day comes up. Part of our mission now should be mentoring the younger generation!
Three phrases about a life well spent for Jesus
What would you say about your life if you were looking back and summing up in brief words what had been accomplished? Paul uses three phrases which sum up his life’s accomplishments.
1) ‘I have fought the good fight’
It is very important to note he did not say, ‘I have fought a good fight’… as he is often wrongly quoted as saying. If Paul had said that it would be indicative of his view of how well he had done it, boasting, ‘I’ve fought a good fight. I’ve pitched in there and done the right thing.’
Rather Paul is stressing that he has fought the good fight. That is: The significant fight, the great battle which life and Jesus had presented to him.
Paul sees that battle as the one he describes so vividly in Ephesians 6:12: ‘We wrestle not against flesh and blood [people are not basically our problem] but with principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.’
In other words, Paul saw himself as having been grappling with these malevolent, clever, deceitful demons who are constantly at work in human life to interject lies and attractive fantasies to delude us, deceive us, and to lead us into sin.
2) ‘I have finished the race’
The race is something that involved the apostle in persecution, and in hardships. But such is all part of the battle, and with confidence he says that he has finished it.
In Philippians 3 Paul described that race: ‘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 3:13b-14RSV).
The race, of course, is the Christian life itself, which is lived moment-by-moment, just as a race is run step-by-step.
The question for us is whether we live each step in the flesh or in the Spirit, whether we are walking in the power of the new life we have from Christ, or whether we are still running in the old ways of thinking,
the old self-centered, fleshly, self-serving attitudes. Every moment is either contributing to reaching the goal for the prize of Christ… or delaying it, wasting time in the flesh.
The goal is the end of the race – the death of the believer. Paul knew he had run his race well and was close to the end. The prize, that he mentions in Philippians 3, is the new body, the resurrected life, the glory that awaits –the crown of life that will be given by the Lord himself.
The hope of every Christian is that we are not running vainly…
- Not running to just get through life.
- Nor just to collect our social security.
- Nor to relax and take a cruise around the world.
But that we will fulfill our ministry (whatever the Lord has called us to do, to achieve). And that we finish the race, and receive the prize which is the glory that awaits us.
3) ‘I have kept the faith’
By this Paul means the whole body of truth that is involved in the gospel. The Christian life is entirely different than anything the world has to offer.
- It is not a mere philosophy of being good to your fellow man.
- It includes that, but that is not all of it.
- It is not merely good teaching about some of the intricate mysteries of life, about what happens after death, whether there is a heaven or a hell.
It is the whole pattern of life, thought and actions centred on one person, the Lord Jesus. If you don’t live as if Jesus is returning for you personally you have nothing to guide your endeavours and focus you now.
And if we do not have the expectation that God is working out great purposes in which we will have a part, our life will be cold, dead, lifeless.
My prayer for all Christians –
It is the great salvation assurance in Christ that we have a future in heaven that gives us direction and steadies us in these troubled times.
May God help us to always be steady, to endure suffering, to do the work of an evangelist, and to fulfill our ministry!
And… that you keep your cool in all that you do.
Dr Richard Winter pastors The Connection Church, Huntington Beach, California. Contact: OnlinerConnect@gmail.com