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 impending death as a departure. He said, “The time of my departure is near.” Paul saw his death as not the end of things but as his departure to what was next. The Greek word that Paul used described the unyoking of an animal from a plow or cart. It was also used for loosening the bonds of a prisoner. It was also used for loosening the ropes of a soldier’s tent or for loosening the mooring ropes of a ship.
But let’s be clear, the Bible never teaches that death is a friend to be welcomed. The consistent teaching of the Bible is that death is an enemy to be defeated, which is exactly what is accomplished though the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. “Death has been swallowed up in victory. ‘Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15.54-57)
Many Christians mistakenly view human beings and death through the prism of Platonic philosophy—where the material world is bad, the spiritual world is good, and death brings about the release of the soul from this earthly life, set free from the world. That mistaken perspective is what has led many to believe that our ultimate destination is a disembodied life off in heaven somewhere in the sky.
The biblical view is very different. We don’t have a soul, we are souls—the totality of body, mind and spirit. The material world (including our bodies) is good—created good and called good by God himself. Good, but also marred, damaged, and twisted by sin, death and the fear of death. In Christ, God has set loose his healing salvation for the world, not so that we can escape the world but so that God can make all things new. We can live in the new heaven and new earth with God dwelling here in the midst of it all, the earth his temple as originally intended.
Yes, Paul was about to depart, and we all we depart at some point, but our departure is to be with the Lord while we await with all creation the resurrection of the dead and the restoration of all things. The truth was that Paul had many departures: he departed Damascus after Christ grabbed hold of him, he departed Antioch after he and Barnabas had led the church there for a time, in order to spread the gospel around the world. He departed life with his friends so that he might be taken in chains to Rome to take the good news of Christ to the center of the known world at that time. Finally, he was awaiting a final departure. Ultimately it is a departure into a new order of life—life that is like the Resurrected One.
When we have Paul’s view of death as departure to the next thing God has for us, we will be able to finish without fear and even with anticipation, knowing that to depart and be with Christ is much better. So to finish well, keep in focus Paul’s view of the present: present ministry is reproduction; present life is a sacrifice to God; andimpending death is a departure to be with Christ.
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. ”
2 Corinthians 4.16-18