“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Paul wrote this to Timothy while he was in jail. He expected to be executed soon. Over the years, he had mentored and discipled Timothy who had risen up to be a faithful Christian leader and pastor. Paul tells Timothy that even as he faced death, he was confident that he had done what was right and he was confident of receiving his reward from God (v8). By this stage, Paul had experienced the expansion of the new church and the spread of the gospel across Europe and Turkey. He had led the church faithfully and he had seen many people come to Christ. However, he had also seen many people who had lost their commitment to God or had been led astray by the wrong teaching. He had been abandoned by friends and co-workers and had come under multiple attacks. However, he had stayed faithful and committed to what God had entrusted to him. It seems obvious, but we should understand that after receiving Christ it is important to remain committed to obeying God’s word until the end of our lives. Paul knew that he had finished his journey well and was certain of gaining his reward. Will you be as certain as Paul when your time comes? What if you knew that you would die next week? Would you be as certain then?
Paul had decided to pass the baton of his leadership over to Timothy. In a relay race, the runner finishing one leg of the race is required to pass the baton to the next runner while they are both running. The receiving runner’s arm must be outstretched backwards and he must be ready to grab hold of the baton. If the baton is dropped, crucial time is lost and the runners are likely to lose the race. It is the responsibility of the incoming runner to make sure the exchange is done properly by making sure the baton is safely placed in the receiver’s arm. Even if there are difficulties with the passing of the baton, the receiving runner must finish the race, otherwise the team is disqualified. Paul was preparing Timothy for the responsibility of becoming the next church leader. He did not want Timothy to drop the baton and he wanted Timothy to finish the race. At that time, there were so many problems facing the church that there was every chance that the church might not survive. Paul gave Timothy his instructions in the form of this solemn charge, with God and Christ Jesus who will judge the living and the dead as his witnesses (v1). There is nowhere to hide when God and Christ are our witnesses. These instructions should therefore be taken very seriously.
Here are Paul’s instructions to Timothy. Preach the word; be prepared in good times and bad times; correct, rebuke and encourage with great patience and careful instruction (v2). This is what is required for Christian ministry. We must remember that the Word of God is the basis for all preaching. We should not divert from it. We should be prepared to speak the truth at all times. We should instruct and disciple others carefully. We should correct, rebuke and encourage each other, and do this with love and utmost patience. What a challenge! Paul warns Timothy that the time will come when people will reject the truth and choose to listen to lies (v4). The people who peddle these lies will become very popular (v3). This is as true today as it was in Timothy’s time. Despite this we need to stay focused on what is true and right, which is the Word of God. We should expect and endure hardship, and in doing so we are confident of God’s help and His promises. We should do the work of an evangelist and complete all the duties of our ministry. In short, we should be fully committed and finish everything that God has appointed us to do until we “finish the race’ of our lives.
This may seem like heavy teaching, but it is crucial to our understanding of Christian life. Starting well in our Christian journey is good, but finishing well is absolutely crucial. Our eternal lives depend upon it. When we reach the end of our lives will we be able to say confidently that we have done everything that we were supposed to do, with God and Christ as our witnesses? This is what Paul desired for Timothy and what God desires for each of us.
Almighty God, I want to fight the good fight and to keep my faith in You. Help me to be disciplined, faithful and committed to what you have taught me through your word. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.