We are reflecting on what it means to finish well and considering Paul as he approached the finish line of his life and passed the baton to Timothy.
“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 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.” 2 Timothy 4.1-8
Paul could finish well because he viewed his life as an offering to God. Paul did not view his execution as a cruel tragedy or as unfair treatment in view of his many years of dedicated service. Rather, he saw it as the culminating offering of a sacrificial life. We read in Numbers 28 that after the sacrificial lamb had been placed on the altar, and just before it was lit on fire, the priest poured out on it about a quart of wine. It was the final sacrifice poured out on the existing sacrifice. That was how Paul viewed his own death. His whole life had been a living sacrifice presented unto God. Now, his death would be the drink offering poured on top of his whole life. As he said in Philippians, “But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.” (Philippians 2.17)
This was an outworking of what Paul taught. Look at Romans 12.1 as an example: As Paul put it, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercies, to offer your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship.” If we serve Christ in order to get praise and acclaim from others, we get it wrong. Serving Christ is an act of worship towards Him. If others turn away from us or badmouth us (as they were doing to Paul), or if our earthly reward for a lifetime of dedicated service is to get our head cut off, it is okay, because all of our life has been an offering to God.
I confess that this is a tough one for me. I have a hard time seeing my life and ministry as a service of sacrifice in which if I am dispensed with, it is ok. I have a hard time seeing that what matters is not me and my reputation, but what God is up to. I have a hard time actually living out the cruciform life about which I teach. This is one of the reasons that reflecting on Paul’s story, wrapped up in Christ’s story, wrapped up in God’s grand story, is helpful to me in finishing well.
As Paul neared the end of his race, finishing well meant viewing himself as expendable in God’s service. Here was the great apostle to the Gentiles, the man who did more for the spread of the gospel than any other man in church history. His influence was incalculable. Yet he could finish well because he saw himself as expendable, a drink offering. In language similar to our text, on his way to prison Paul told the Ephesian elders, “I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20.24)
So for me, as I reflect on finishing well in the present I reflect on my attitude toward service, suffering, and sacrifice. If I have inflated notions of my own importance, I will not finish well. Right after Paul’s words in Romans about being living sacrifices he said, “Do not think of yourself more highly that you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith that God has distributed to each of you.” (Romans 12.3) Each of us has been gifted in particular ways and have abilities that God seeks to use for the benefit of others and the good of his kingdom. Sometimes the exercise of those gifts requires a costly sacrifice on our part. All of us should view ourselves–and all of our service–as a sacrificial offering to God, which enables us to finish well.
“The grace given to us … has now been revealed in Christ Jesus …
who has destroyed death and has brought immortality to light through the gospel.
And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher.
That is why I am suffering as I am.
Yet this is no cause for shame,
because I know whom I have believed and am convinced that
he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day. ” 2 Timothy 1.10-12