2 Timothy 4:6-8 For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
The following is quoted from Pilgrim's Progress, an allegory written by John Bunyan. At this point in the story, Christian had just gotten saved and was now in the House of the Interpreter (who represented the Holy Spirit), having various things explained to him. This was the first thing he was shown:
"Then said Interpreter, Come in; I will show thee that which will be profitable to thee. So he commanded his man to light the candle, and bid Christian follow him; so he had him into a private room, and bid his man open a door; the which when he had done, Christian saw the picture a very grave person hang up against the wall; and this was the fashion of it: It had eyes lifted up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, the law of truth was written upon its lips, the world was behind its back; it stood as if it pleaded with men, and a crown of gold did hang over its head.
Then said Christian, What means this?
The man whose picture this is, is one of a thousand: he can beget children, 1 Cor. 4:15, travail in birth with children, Gal. 4:19, and nurse them himself when they are born. And whereas thou seest him with his eyes lift up to heaven, the best of books in his hand, and the law of truth writ on his lips: it is to show thee, that his work is to know, and unfold dark things to sinners; even as also thou seest him stand as if he pleaded with men. And whereas thou seest the world as cast behind him, and that a crown hangs over his head; that is to show thee, that slighting and despising the things that are present, for the love that he hath to his Master’s service, he is sure in the world that comes next, to have glory for his reward. Now, said the Interpreter, I have showed thee this picture first, because the man whose picture this is, is the only man whom the Lord of the place whither thou art going hath authorized to be thy guide in all difficult places thou mayest meet with in the way: wherefore take good heed to what I have showed thee, and bear well in thy mind what thou hast seen, lest in thy journey thou meet with some that pretend to lead thee right, but their way goes down to death."
Being a preacher or a pastor after God's own heart takes some effort. Being faithful to the Lord means that the believer cannot take the easy road. We cannot swim downstream with the world and then expect to be blessed and rewarded. I love this passage of Scripture because it shows us both the confident expectation that the faithful believer has, and also reveals the battle that is waged in our spiritual lives.
The good news is that we are more than conquerors through the Lord Jesus Christ - He gives us His victory, and it is up to us to claim those promises and walk accordingly. This is just as much true for the preacher or pastor, as well as for any believer, regardless of age or background. Our victory is in the Saviour, and we receive that victory through faith (ie. trust) and obedience to His Word.
Romans 8:37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
1 Corinthians 15:57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Corinthians 2:14 Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place.
Psalms 18:32-35 It is God that girdeth me with strength, and maketh my way perfect. He maketh my feet like hinds' feet, and setteth me upon my high places. He teacheth my hands to war, so that a bow of steel is broken by mine arms. Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great.
Habakkuk 3:19 The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments.
1 John 5:4-5 For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?
John 16:33 These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
Our victory is in Jesus.
I have fought a good fight...
Paul fought a good fight - in fact, he fought the best fight, the only worthwhile fight in light of eternity: the fight of faith. He earnestly contended for the faith. He preached it, and he lived it! He exhorted Timothy to follow his own example:
1 Timothy 6:12 Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.
And now he states that he did exactly what he set out to do. "Timothy, remember when I encouraged you to fight the good fight of faith? That's what I did. Like a boxer or a wrestler, I fought, and I won the battle - with sin and compromise, with spiritual forces of wickedness, with myself. Oh Timothy, follow my example!"
I have finished my course...
On his first missionary journey, the Apostle Paul made this comment about John the Baptist:
Acts 13:25 And as John fulfilled his course, he said, Whom think ye that I am? I am not he. But, behold, there cometh one after me, whose shoes of his feet I am not worthy to loose.
John Gill makes these comments in his Exposition Of The Entire Bible:
"The life of every Christian is a race, and especially of a minister of the Gospel, and which requires strength, courage, agility, patience, and perseverance; this world is the place in which they run; and this is only the running time; in heaven they will sit down on the throne with Christ; the way in which they run, is the way of their duty, the way of God's commandments; the mark they have in view, which they keep their eye on, and to which they direct their course, is Christ; and glory is the incorruptible crown they run for, and which, when they have finished their course, will be given them by the chief shepherd and righteous judge."
Adam Clarke adds this:
"As John fulfilled his course... It signifies properly his ministry, or life. A man's work, employment, function, etc., is his race, course, or way of life. John had a ministry from God; and he discharged the duties of it with zeal and diligence; bore the fatigues of it with patience and resignation; and was gloriously successful in it, because the hand of the Lord was with him."
Years later, Paul made this statement about himself:
Acts 20:22-25 And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.
Paul knew that if he persisted in going to Jerusalem, that journey would involve greater hardship and imprisonment, permanent separation from some of his fellow labourers in ministry. At this point in time, I do not think that Paul yet knew that this trip would result in his being taken captive to Rome in chains, brought before Nero, the Roman Emperor, and then just a few more years after that ending in his death. Perhaps he had some fears, perhaps some temptations to take an easier route - but the Apostle was headstrong and determined, and would not be moved from his set plans. Whether he faced life or death, whatever the future held for him, he was determined to finish the race the Lord had laid out for him and to be faithful in the ministry he had been given.
Now at the end of his earthly life, he could victoriously proclaim that he had finished his course! He ran the race of faith, and won the race against himself:
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
The following is from my study on the Patriarch Jacob, Wrestling Until The Day Break:
"Paul says the believer is to strive for the mastery and be temperate (self-controlled) in all things. The word for striveth is agonizomai (from which we get our word agonize) and means 'to struggle, literally (to compete for a prize), figuratively (to contend with an adversary), or genitive case (to endeavor to accomplish something).'
The word strive is also used in the following verse:
2 Timothy 2:5 And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.
Here the word used is athleo (where we get athlete from), and means '(a contest in the public lists); to contend in the competitive games.' To wrestle against the devil, to wrestle with God, and to wrestle against ourselves will involve some effort. It will cost us something - there is no such thing as instant spirituality."
From the devotional, Running The Race Of The Christian Life:
"As we can see, winning the race will involve some discipline (temperance) on our part, it will involve agony, it will involve us striving against ourselves and our sinful natures, if we hope to win the prize. We are not competing for a corruptible crown of laurel leaves, but for the victor's crown, one that is eternal and incorruptible. There is a definite aim and discipline involved if we hope to attain the prize...
We cannot win the victor's crown, unless we are striving according to the rules - and the rules for the Christian life are found in the Word of God. If we hope to be rewarded for our service to the Lord, we need to run according to the plan He has for our lives, according to His will as revealed in His Word."
So run, that ye may obtain. The word for obtain means "to take eagerly, i.e. seize, possess, etc. (literally or figuratively)." We are to give it our all, strive according to the rules God has laid down, and reach eagerly for the prize that awaits the faithful runner:
Philippians 3:12-14 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
The word apprehended in this passage is the same word in Greek as obtain in 1 Corinthians 9:24. Reaching forth means to "to stretch (oneself) forward upon." Stretching oneself - that takes some effort! Press toward, pursuing, striving after. Just as no Olympic runner can win the prize unless he is striving towards it, unless he gives it his all; we can't win the prize before us unless we set our sights upon it and eagerly pursue after it.
Paul knew the mark, the goal, he was reaching for! He was striving to fulfill the will of God for his life, to be a faithful steward of all that had been entrusted to him, and looking forward to his Master's return and hearing his commendation:
Matthew 25:21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
I don't know about you, but being able to enter into the joy of my Lord looks promising to me! It certainly beats looking back over our lives and regretting that we didn't live for our Saviour, that we didn't give Him our all!
...forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before...
Praise the Lord for His mercy and grace - mercy that wipes out our sins, and grace that gives us a new start when we put our eyes firmly back on our Saviour and repent of our waywardness and lukewarmness.
I have kept the faith...
Webster's 1828 Dictionary defines the term the faith as "The object of belief; a doctrine or system of doctrines believed; a system of revealed truths received by christians." There are various places in the New Testament where this term is used as a reference to the body of truth that the true Bible-believing Christian clings to and holds dear. Paul says he kept the faith. In an age when so many are departing from the faith, Paul's example stands out so clearly!
The word for kept here (and keep in 1 Timothy 6:14) means "to guard (from loss or injury, properly, by keeping the eye upon)." Paul exhorted the young preacher, Timothy, and all who would later read these letters, to keep the faith, keep God's Word, keep the commandments He has given to us!
1 Timothy 6:13-16 I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession; That thou keep this commandment without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ: Which in his times he shall shew, who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.
1 Timothy 6:20-21 O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: Which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen.
2 Timothy 1:13-14 Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us.
The word for keep in the last two passages means "to watch, i.e. be on guard (literally of figuratively); by implication, to preserve, obey, avoid." Like Timothy, we are to keep the trust the Lord has given to us, we are to hold fast to His Word, we are to guard it in our hearts, we are to avoid anything that would hinder us from doing so - and we are to keep this trust by power of the indwelling Holy Spirit!
Consider these other New Testament references to the faith:
1 Timothy 4:1-2 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;
1 Timothy 6:9-10 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.
Acts 14:22 Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.
Acts 16:5 And so were the churches established in the faith, and increased in number daily.
Ephesians 4:11-16 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
Philippians 1:27 Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel;
Colossians 1:21-23 And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;
Colossians 2:6-7 As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.
Titus 3:15 All that are with me salute thee. Greet them that love us in the faith. Grace be with you all. Amen.
1 Peter 5:8-9 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.
Jude 1:3 Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.
2 Timothy 4:8 Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
Looking back over his life since he turned to the Lord Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, the Apostle Paul was satisfied that he had been faithful and that there was a crown of righteousness waiting for him as a reward for his faithful service to the Lord. These rewards weren't just for the Apostles or for pastors or preachers, but are available for all the children of God, for all that are faithful in their service to the Lord.
The following is adapted from: Smyrna: The Persecuted (Suffering) Church.
"There are five crowns altogether that are given as rewards to the faithful Christian - five being the number for God's grace. The word for crown in all of the following passages is stephanos, which is the victor's crown.
1. The Incorruptible Crown - 1 Corinthians 9:25 And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. This crown is promised to those Christians who keep themselves in subjection and are temperate (self-controlled), and do not let the flesh dominate in their spiritual walk.
2. The Crown Of Rejoicing - 1 Thessalonians 2:19 For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? This crown will actually be those believers we have had a part in leading to the Lord and will one day spend eternity with in Heaven.
Philippians 4:1 Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.
No wonder it is called a crown of rejoicing!
3. The Crown Of Righteousness - 2 Timothy 4:8 (quoted above). This crown is the reward for those who faithfully yearn and look for the Lord's appearing.
Titus 2:13 Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;
4. The Crown Of Life - James 1:12 Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him. This crown is promised to those who endure temptation or are faithful unto death. The word for life in this passage and Revelation 2:10 means 'spiritual life.'
Revelation 2:10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
Revelation 3:11 Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.
5. The Crown Of Glory - 1 Peter 5:4 And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. This crown is the one that is promised to faithful Pastors (elders)."
When I was preaching last week on this passage of 2 Timothy, I realized something: These five crowns picture the grace the Lord gives to us. Not only is salvation all by grace - Jesus Christ paid the complete penalty our sins deserve, and there is nothing we can do to earn our salvation, only trust in the Saviour to save us - but these rewards are too. By that I mean, He saves us, He equips us to serve Him, and then He rewards us for doing so! Oh the boundless love of God!
One final point that might be a blessing to you: 1 and 2 Timothy contain so many exhortations to the young preacher, Timothy, to stand strong and be faithful, to follow Paul's example, to cling to and uphold God's Word in his ministry - and when we go to this passage at the end of the book of Hebrews, we find he did just that!
Hebrews 13:23 Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you.
It's possible that Hebrews was written after 2 Timothy, and if so, it is interesting to see that Timothy also endured imprisonment, and was faithful to the Lord as well.
If Paul and Timothy can serve the Lord faithfully, so can we! We have the same indwelling Holy Spirit to empower us, the same Word of God to preach and change lives, the same promises to claim, and the same Saviour to look forward to seeing face to face one day.
Paul fought the good fight, he finished his course, and he kept the faith. Will that be said about you, or I?