How to Finish Well
The Christian life is tedious at times (understatement?). How do we muster up enough energy to sprint to the finish line?
Under arrest and awaiting execution, Paul reflected back on the life God had so graciously given him. And, in spite of his circumstances, he did so with thanksgiving and hope, looking very much forward to the beautiful reward that awaited him for a life well lived.
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 Tim. 4:7–8).
In this passage, Paul uses three phrases to describe his own faithfulness. The first two declarations—I have fought the good fight and I have finished the race—call to mind previous times Paul has used the same athletic metaphors (e.g., the battle and the run).
What’s striking here is Paul’s confidence. He’s proclaiming, with no sign of doubt, that he has fought the fight and has finished the race. He’s sure!
If you’re like me, you’re compelled to ask, What makes Paul so sure of his success? He’s in prison and about to be executed. There were countless people in the world that had yet to hear the gospel, a task to which he dedicated his life. Many of the churches he had been writing to were filled with less-than-perfect people in need of stern correction. How was Paul so confident that he deserved—and would get—a reward?
We find the answer in the third declaration Paul makes: I have kept the faith.
Regarding this assertion, John MacArthur writes, “It was a life in which he breathed every breath and lived every moment in service of his Lord, a life in which no sacrifice was too great and no commitment too demanding.”
Paul had finished the race by keeping the faith. This is his declaration of completion. The apostle was able to claim victory because he knew that God does not require success by human standards. Instead, God requires only faithfulness from his followers. A life of faithful service to the Lord is success in the eyes of He who ultimately rewards the competitors.
Success in the Christian life means faithfulness, not victory.
An essential component to the success of a gymnast or figure skater is to understand how it is the judges are scoring. It is these judges, after all, who eventually determine which athlete receives the gold medal. What are the criteria for performance? What are the judges looking for? What do they not want to see?
For the Christian, it’s God who gives out the prize. Should we not also seek to understand his criteria for reward? To this end, Paul is holding his own life up as an example to believers that would come after him, challenging them to imitate the way in which he fought and ran. Paul has given us the blueprint for which to obtain the ultimate prize, one that is imperishable and glorious. The criteria for success in the eyes of the Great Judge is faithfulness.
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