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 was able to finish well because of his view of the future. This was true even though his present circumstances were not the best—he had secure hope for the future. He hoped to meet the Lord, the righteous Judge. When we understand that the One who is to judge the world, the One whom we will stand before (and Lord knows the world and we ourselves need judgment), is the One who left his throne to pitch his tent among us, who is like us in every way except without sin, who knows the vicissitudes of life, the One who gave himself for us, the One who is for us and not against us—this One is the judge we will face—we can face the future with confidence.
“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8.1) “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have the life of the age to come. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3.16-17) “For by grace you have been saved through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2.8-9) Because of God’s work through Christ and the gift of life he freely gives, we can face the future with confidence.
To finish well we must live in light of that future hope—the hope of not only our personal salvation but the salvation of the world—the time when Christ returns to restore all things (Acts 3.21), to reconcile all things to himself (Colossians 1.20), to make all things new in heaven and earth (Revelation 21.1,5). Paul could finish well because he lived in light of that day.
I think Paul also knew what John spoke of in his first letter: “ Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3.2) The final redeeming, remaking, restoring and reconciling of not only the world but each of us as individuals is part of our future hope. Things may be tough right now in these jars of clay, we may be hard pressed on every side, perplexed, even despairing, diminishing or failing in strength (2 Corinthians 4.7-12), but we can live in the certain hope of the restorative work of God for our life with him in the age to come. And that vision of the future can enable us to live in the present in a way that will empower us to finish well. That is the message I seek to embrace.
Robert Mounce tells the story of a journalist who was in charge of the obituaries. One day when he didn’t have any deaths to record, he put a sheet of blank paper in his typewriter and wrote his own name at the top. He then found himself writing his own obituary: “I have been a good husband and a fine father. I have contributed to a number of worthy causes. I have left a reputation of absolute integrity. My friends are many.” By the time he had finished the page, he had already committed himself to the task of living up to his own obituary.
Perhaps your circumstances seem pretty dismal today. Maybe things have not turned out as you had hoped. Maybe you’re considering dropping out of the Christian race. From his dungeon, the old man Paul calls out to you: “Don’t quit! Keep going! You can finish well!” Remember the past. Consider the future, and live today in a way that is faithful to God’s call on your life. If you do so, in the end you will hear the words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.