Reflection: 2 Timothy 4: 6 – 8
This epistle to Timothy was possibly Paul’s last letter (v.6), and his final advice to his protégé was “be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (v.5). And, as an aside to encourage Timothy, he testified to his own indefatigable spiritual journey in following his Lord faithfully (vv.6-8). Paul used three significant metaphors to summarize his ministry completion: he had fought the good fight, had finished the course, and had kept the faith (v.7).
What did Paul mean by these expressions? The key is in the word ‘faith.’ The context was about how one keeps faith, viz., the good fight of the faith (1 Tim 6:12), and the race of faith (1 Cor 9:24-25). This is an exercised faith in the Lord; believing He will deliver what He had promised. So, when God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9), faith in this pronouncement denotes a confidence in what He said is completely trustworthy. Paul is saying that he had kept on taking Christ at His word.
So what are the costs in keeping faith? The two metaphors Paul used were in the spheres of the military (getting into a fight) and athletics (running a race). The fighting imagery further inferred the presence of obstacles and opposition to his walk in faith; namely, the self and Satan. The prideful independence of the natural man, or ‘old man’ in Paul’s language, is antithetic to faith in God, and until one appreciates that the Treasure in heaven is overwhelmingly more precious than any the world can offer (Mark 10:17-27), one’s focus will continue to be earth-bound. Although this complex journey in the school of hard knocks, where “the gate is small and the way is full of affliction that leads to life” (Matt 7:13-14) appears severe, the solution is to count oneself dead to sin, by unremittingly putting to death the deeds of the body, and in effect, being alive to God in Christ Jesus (Roms 6:6-14; 8:12-14).
Furthermore, Paul described this fight succinctly as “not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the spiritual realm” (Eph 6:12). The subject of contention is one’s faith, and the victory over the evil one is that same faith in God (1 John 5:4), as expressed through His Word and Spirit (Eph 6:17). Paul was transparent with his grim experiences (2 Cor 6:4-10; 11:23-30), but it was his exemplary reactions that remain powerful testimonials to us of how he kept the faith.
The Christian life is also like running a race. Races are meant to be finished, and completing it will take endurance. This lifelong tracking is a constant message throughout Scripture and it is referred to in various context, but the message is clear: it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved (Matt 10:22); if we endure, we will also reign with Him (2 Tim 2:12); and, be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life (Rev 2:10).
Paul had kept the faith, discharging what had been entrusted to him in bringing the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15), and it earned him the eschatological ‘crown of righteousness’ (v.8). This emblematic righteous crown represented several of Paul’s thoughts intertwined together that implied a righteousness that was a gift from God, a consistent faithfulness in godly living, and a vindication by God of his life. As partakers of the heavenly calling, Paul’s charge to Timothy, reminds us of the need to finish well by remaining faithful in the discharge of our God-appointed responsibilities in this present world.