Faithful to the End
Today we come to our second-last Sunday in Timothy. Next week we’ll finish up and the week after we’ll begin our series in Isaiah 1-12.
The title of today’s message is “Faithful to the End,” which is also the name of this series. And in much of the series, “faithful to the end” has described Paul’s encouragements to Timothy. Over an over again he’s called and encouraged him not to quit, not to pull back, but to press on in faithfulness to the end.
Today, however, those words “faithful to the end” are about Paul. Here he is at the end of his life, and he’s able to look back and give his own testimony of faithfulness to the end. See, his encouragements to Timothy haven’t been empty words. Paul is a man who had made it to the top of the mountain and was able to look down and give real encouragement to those coming up behind him.
But there’s more than this. It wasn’t just that Paul could encourage Timothy from this vantage point. It was that he really needed to. Timothy needed to be faithful because Paul wasn’t going to be around that much longer.
And we see that in that opening word in verse 6: “For.” Because. So think back to what we saw in verse 5: “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come” (2 Timothy 4:5–6).
Here’s the idea—“Timothy, you must carry on because I am about to leave. You have to keep going because I’m just about done.”
We’ve talked before in this series about the idea of a relay race—where each runner does their part to get that baton into the hands of the next runner.
And if there was ever a passage where we see the baton being passed, this is it. Paul has trained Timothy, equipped him, encouraged him, challenged him, and now the time has come. Timothy must preach the word and press on in faithfulness because Paul is at the end.
This is the moment when Timothy realizes he won’t be able to lean on Paul any more. He won’t be able to think “Well, at least Paul is still preaching the gospel. At least he’ll still be there to pick up the pieces.” No—this is it. It’s over to him now.
1. The Finale of Faithfulness
And so, in verse 6, we see what we’re going to call the finale of faithfulness. This is Paul’s recognition that he is at the end of his life. As he sits in that Roman prison, he knows that he’s not getting out alive. He’s not going to get released again like before. He fully expects a death sentence within a matter of months.
And he tells this to Timothy using two poetic phrases. First he says “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering.”
Drink offerings were a type of offering that the Jewish people would offer in their worship. Typically it would be wine that would be poured out on the ground at the base of the altar along with an animal sacrifice.
And what it did was added value to the offering. Wine was valuable, and so adding a drink offering made that offering that much more valuable. As an act of worship to God, it expressed just how much God was worth.
Back in Romans 12:1, Paul described the whole Christian life as an act of worship, calling us to present our “bodies as a living sacrifice… which is your spiritual worship.” Our life is about worshipping God. And here, in he refers to his death as an act of worship, as his life was poured out for Jesus until nothing was left.
Because that’s the thing with a drink offering. Once it was done, there was nothing left. It was just empty and done. Just like his life will be in just a few short months.
So that’s the first phrase he uses to describe the finale of faithfulness. The second phrase that he uses here is, “The time of my departure has come.” He knows that the time to die has come and that it will happen soon.
But I just love this word that he uses here for his death. “Departure.” This a word that was used to speak about a ship setting sail or a soldier packing up his tent. Paul knows that his death was not an ending but simply moving on to the next thing. The best was yet to come.
And it’s this perspective is what enabled Paul to face his death with such calmness, such resoluteness. He knew that his death was simply a departure, when his spirit would be loosed from his body, and he would go to be with Christ.
He wasn’t like so many people, clinging to his earthly life because he thought that this was all he had or because he thought that everybody needed him so badly. He wasn’t trying to build monuments to himself to keep his memory alive. He wasn’t freaking out or depressed.
He was content to die as an act of worship to God, because he knew that to be away from the body was to be at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8), and that being with the Lord was far better (Philippians 1:23).
So this is Paul honestly appraising his present circumstances and the end of his life. This is the finale of faithfulness.
2. The Triumph of Faithfulness
Next, we turn to verse 7 and see the triumph of faithfulness. This is where Paul looks not so much at his present circumstances but at what lies behind him. Like someone who has climbed to the top of a mountain, he looks behind him at the valley and reflects on the journey that got him to where he is. And that’s why we’re calling verse 7 the triumph of faithfulness.
Paul is not just at the end of his life. He is at the end of a life well-lived, a faithful life. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
We’re going to consider all three of these phrases in turn, but first, we want to notice something about all three which we don’t see too easily in English. In the original language, the order of the words in each of these three phrases is flipped around. If you were to read this in Greek, you’d read, “The good fight I have fought, the race, I have finished, the faith I have kept.”
And so by writing that way, the focus isn’t actually on Paul’s actions. The focus or the emphasis is on the goodness and the importance and the value of the good fight, the race, and the faith. And Paul understands, as he arrives at the end of his life, that by God’s grace he has done these things. The good fight—he’s fought it. The race—he’s run it. The faith—he’s kept it. And he wants to put the spotlight on those good things in order to encourage Timothy to do them as well.
Now let’s take a closer look at each of these phrases in turn.
First, “I have fought the good fight.” This was how Paul thought about the Christian life. It was a fight. It was a good fight, but it was a fight. There were challenges and enemies and opposition and conflict. To live the Christian life was to fight.
It was a fight against sin (Romans 7:23, James 4:1). It’s a fight against the forces of darkness (Ephesians 6:10-20). It’s a fight to trust in God and press on in faith and obedience. And the gospel ministry was a particular kind of warfare (2 Corinthians 10:3-4) which is why Paul has previously told Timothy to “wage the good warfare” (1 Timothy 1:18) and “Fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Timothy 6:12).
And now he was able to look back and recognize that he had done that. He had fought the good fight. He hadn’t given up, he hadn’t caved in, he hadn’t been defeated. The war itself wasn’t over—the war would rage until Jesus returned—but he had completed his tour of duty. He had fought the good fight.
The next phrase he uses is “I have finished the race.” This is another common picture of the Christian life in the New Testament. “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” says Hebrews 12:1. And Paul used the language of “running” many times to describe the Christian life (1 Corinthians 9:24; Galatians 2:2, 5:7; Philippians 2:16).
In particular he also understood his life of ministry to be a race. Talking to the elders of this church in Ephesus back in Acts 20:24, he told them, “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
That word “course” comes from “race” and once again shows that idea that his life was an athletic competition to be run. And now he was at the end of this race. He had finished this course, testifying to the gospel of the grace of God everywhere he could.
Finally, verse 7 says that he had kept the faith. There’s some question here about what he means by “the faith.” Does he refer to his personal faith? That he maintained faith in Jesus over the course of his life? Or does he mean “the faith” as in the Christian faith—the body of truth that he had called Timothy to keep and guard? (2 Timothy 1:14; c.f. 1 Timothy 6:20).
In the end it doesn’t make a major difference because both true and both are inter-connected with each other. You can’t really separate his personal faith from that body of truth which he had given his life to teaching and guarding. And here he is at the end of his life, still believing, still holding on to the truth that had been entrusted to him.
So the good fight? He fought it. The race? He ran it. The faith? He kept it. This is the triumph of faithfulness: to make it to the end in victory.
Now before we move on, I just want to point out a major truth that verse 7 teaches us, which is that the Christian life is hard. It’s a fight, it’s a race. It’s hard.
I don’t know about you, but I think that this is an important reality for us to think about. Here in North America we seem to be swamped with the idea that good things should be easy. And I wonder how many people assume the same is true about following Jesus.
I know I’ve been infected by this. Just this week I was wrestling with having to trust God with a particular issue that I’ve wrestled to trust God with a lot. And it doesn’t seem to get any easier. And I found myself wondering, “What’s wrong with me? Why does this still feel like I’m fighting just to trust?”
And this passage was very helpful to me in this, because it reminded me that this whole thing is a fight. It’s all is a race. If you’re finding that certain things are hard, that’s normal. Jesus told us to pick up our crosses and follow Him. Crosses are heavy. Being a Christian is hard.
Now there’s some paradox here because at the same time Jesus told us that His yoke was easy and light (Matthew 11:30). And the truth is that following Jesus is so much less burdensome than trying to earn our own salvation or experiencing the slavery of sin. Those of you who came to Christ as adults know that the freedom of the gospel, of knowing that you are 100% accepted by God because of what Jesus did for you, completely changes everything and makes the struggle of being a disciple of Jesus a joyful struggle. You know that pouring yourself out for Jesus and His people, while difficult, is nowhere near as hard as the chains of sin or self-salvation.
But it is still a struggle. It is a fight. It is a race. Christians should be spiritually sweaty as they pour themselves out for God and others. “I have fought the good fight, I have run the race, I have kept the faith.”
3. The Reward for Faithfulness
Next, in verse 8, Paul turns his face to the future. He’s already hinted at the future back in verse 6, when he spoke about his “departure.” And now, verse 8 begins with the word “Henceforth.” In other words, “What’s after this.” What’s next. What remains after the fight, the race, the keeping of the faith.
Just think about that for a moment. Paul knows that there is more in store than just the fighting, the running, the keeping. The end of his life on earth wasn’t The End. There’s something still in store for him.
And what is that? It’s the reward for faithfulness. And that’s what he describes here in verse 8. “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day.”
Paul is looking forward here to his reward from Jesus, the righteous judge, who, like we heard last week, will judge the living and the dead. Everybody will stand before him.
Now those who have trusted in Jesus for salvation will not be judged in terms of eternal life. Our judgement day happened already when Jesus was judged for us on the cross (John 5:24). But disciples of Jesus will be judged in terms of rewards for what we did with our eternal life while on this earth.
That’s why Revelation 11:18 describes “the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great.”
So Paul looks ahead to the day of the Lord and anticipates a reward.
This is such contrast to another day that’s coming a little sooner for him—the “judgement day” when he’ll stand before the Roman emperor, Nero. From that an unrighteous judge, Paul expects the death sentence and the sharp end of a Roman blade.
But on the other side of that day is another day, the Day of the Lord, when the righteous Judge will give him the crown of righteousness.
This idea of a “crown” brings us back to the idea of a race; in the Greek and Roman games, successful athletes were given a crown of laurel leaves on their heads. And having run this race, Paul looks forward to the crown of righteousness.
Once again, there’s some uncertainty with exactly that “crown of righteousness” refers to. It could refer to the fact that the crown is righteousness—that the reward for running and fighting and keeping the faith is to finally be made perfectly righteous in God’s presence.
Here on earth we’ve been justified or counted righteous in Christ, but there in God’s presence we will finally be righteous through-and though. We won’t have to fight with sin anymore. And that could be one angle on Paul’s words here.
The other way we could understand these words is that the crown of righteousness is the crown given to the righteous. It is the reward given to those who were faithfully righteous over the course of their life.
And as we often see, both of these senses are true. There will be a reward for the righteous in God’s presence. And a part of that reward will surely be just being there in righteousness. Nothing to hide, no more sin to fight, no more struggle against the world and the flesh and the devil.
And we can’t forget that in all of this the greatest reward will simply be being with Jesus. We won’t get to heaven and meet Jesus and start looking around saying “so, about those rewards I read about?” Like Philippians 1:21 says, just being with Christ will be far better than anything here on earth.
And that’s what Paul has to look forward to. Yes, he’s about to face a corrupt political leader, an unrighteous human judge, but he’s not freaking out, because he knows that on the other side of that is the righteous judge who will reward him the crown of righteousness. This is the reward of faithfulness.
4. The Secret to Faithfulness
And finally we come to the last phrase of verse 8 and our final point this morning, which has to do with the secret of faithfulness.
And the question this answers for us here is, “How did Paul make it? What sustained him over the course of his life? What enabled him to keep fighting, keep running, keep keeping the faith?”
And we’ve already seen part of the answer. It was the reward. But in the last part of verse 8 Paul opens this up in a way that is very helpful for us. He explains that this reward is not just for him. He doesn’t think that, in his life, he’s done anything extra-special. The crown of righteousness isn’t just for him. No, this crown of righteousness will be given “not only to me but also to all who have…” and what does he say next?
We might expect him to say “the crown will be given not only to me but also to all who have fought the good fight and run the race and kept the faith.” Because that’s what he’s been talking about, right? That’s what this reward is for?
But instead he says that this reward will be given to “all who have loved his appearing.” Which means that loving the appearing of Jesus is the secret that enabled him to fight and run and keep the faith.
Think of it this way. This is like a high school senior saying, “I’m almost finished grade 12, and I’m looking forward to the high school diploma which the principal will give to me, and not only to me but also to everybody who studied hard to pass their classes.”
And if they were to say that, you’d understand that “studying hard to pass their classes” was a very important part of “finishing grade 12.” They are almost two ways of describing the same thing.
And so it is here in verses 7 and 8. Who gets the crown of righteousness? On the one hand it’s Paul, who fought the good fight, ran the race, and kept the faith. And on the other hand it’s everybody who loved the appearing of Jesus.
And what this shows us is that loving the appearing of Jesus is tightly connected to fighting, running, and keeping the faith. In fact, we can say that loving the return of Jesus is the secret to fighting, running, and keeping the faith.
Loving and longing for the return of Jesus is what enabled Paul to press on in faithfulness.
And we know that we’re on the right track here because of verse 10, which we’ll look at in more depth next week. Verse 10 says that “Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.” Demas was not faithful to the end; he abandoned Paul and left him high and dry. He couldn’t take the pressure of the good fight and the race.
And why? Because he loved this present world. He was in love with the things he could see and touch and experience here and how. And he loved this present world more than he loved the appearing of Jesus.
People who are in love with this present world will not be faithful to the end. Because being faithful to the end is hard and it might wind you up in dark and wet Roman prison. And if you’re in love this present world, then you’re going to say “I’m out of here,” and you’re going to set down your cross and go find someplace more comfortable that makes you feel better.
But if you love the return of Jesus more than this present age, if you’ve “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13), then you’re going to be able to suffer and stay faithful to the end. Because you’re not looking for this present world to satisfy your desires. You’re not looking for this present world to make you happy and fulfilled. You’re not looking for this present world to supply you with joy. Your hope and joy and satisfaction are bound up in that day when Jesus breaks through the sky and finally makes all things new, and you’ll be able to suffer, to fight, to run, to keep the faith, and to stay faithful to the end—even if that means months in a dank prison waiting to have your head chopped off.
If you love the appearing of Jesus, then nothing in this present world can take away anything that is truly important to you. You could lose your status in life, your possessions, your money, your friends, your freedom, and ultimately your life—and yet, then nothing truly important has been threatened, because nothing can take away the fact that Jesus is coming to reign forever, and that’s what you’re living for.
This was the secret to Paul’s faithfulness. He loved the appearing of Jesus.
So what have we seen so far this morning? We’ve seen Paul’s finale of faithfulness, the triumph of faithfulness, the reward for faithfulness, and the secret to faithfulness.
And along the way we’ve been reminded of some really important truths. We’ve been reminded that death is not the end. That the Christian life is hard. That the appearing of Jesus must be more important to us than anything in this world if we’re going to stay faithful to the end.
But how do we wrap this all up this morning? And I want to suggest that one way is by recognizing that the Christian life is not just about starting off well. The Christian life is also about finishing well.
Don’t we love to hear testimonies about people beginning their Christian life—of coming to Jesus, especially in dramatic ways? But if we understand that the Christian life is a fight and a race, then we should understand that coming to Jesus is just the start, and that finishing is just as important as how we began.
So think of Paul’s story. Yes, we should cheer as we read about him coming to Jesus on the Damascus road. That’s amazing. But we should cheer just as loud and hard as we see him there in that dank prison, not giving up, staying faithful to the end. The end of the race is just as important as the beginning. Hebrews 3:14 says, “For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” Christianity is about finishing well.
So what does this mean for those who are at the beginning of their race, or perhaps in the middle somewhere? It means that faithfulness should be a priority. Finishing well should be a priority for us.
I just read this week about another pastor who fell into moral failure with a woman half his age. And I’ll bet, as he was getting into that sinful relationship with her, that he wasn’t thinking about the finish line very much. He wasn’t thinking, “how is this going to affect how I finish my course?” He was just thinking about the moment, and nothing more.
If finishing well is a goal for us, than that’s going to affect our perspective and our priorities. It’s also going to affect how we pace ourselves.
This is an important point. If we think about the Christian life as a race, we should think about it more as a marathon than a sprint. In other words, it is wise to pace ourselves. We can’t do everything all at once. We can’t go at top speed permanently. We have limits and we need to find a pace that is healthy for us.
But let’s not forget that the reason we pace ourselves is not because we’re in love with this present world and we want to hang on to it as much as we can. No, it’s because we know that the point of our life is to love and serve Jesus and others, and we’re in this for a long-haul fight and a long-haul race. And any little bit that we do to pace ourselves or take care of ourselves is only so that we can keep fighting and running for as long and as effectively as we can.
So, when it comes to younger Christians, and those in the middle, set your sights on the finish line. Learn from Paul the secret of faithfulness and run to win.
Now what does this passage have to say to those who are getting to the end of their course, whether that’s through age or sickness? Those who know that their last few laps are before them and that the finish line is coming up?
I think there’s two major lies that our culture often tells us about people in this stage of life. To us who are younger, the lie we’re led to believe is that older people don’t really matter anymore and can just be ignored and dismissed. And the lie often told to those who are older is that once you hit 55 or 60 you’ve put your time in, and now you’re allowed to be selfish and lazy with the last 2-3 decades of your life.
And today’s passage just blows up those ideas entirely.
The last few laps of a runner’s race are the most exciting. That’s when you’re getting close to your goal! They are also the most difficult, when it gets harder and harder to keep going. And they are also the most important, because without them, nothing else matters.
And so for us who are younger, we need to care for and encourage and cheer on those who, through age or sickness, are looking at the final stretch of their race.
And to those who are in that final stretch, please hear Paul’s words and understand that your race isn’t over until it’s over. You might not be able to do all that you once were able to do, your capacity may be limited, but please don’t stop running. Don’t stop fighting. Don’t just sit on the sidelines. Don’t be satisfied with retirement—press on for the crown of righteousness. We who are younger need you to pray for us, to invest in us, to pass on the baton to us. We need you to stay in the game as long as you can. We need you to stay faithful to the end.
And when someone crosses that finish line, yes, we’ll grieve. Yes, we’ll be sad. But there will also be a celebration that they made it. I remember reading one Roman politician commenting about early Christian funerals, and how they celebrated their fallen brothers and sisters as if they were athletes who had just completed their course. And he hit the nail on the head. That is what had happened.
So church, wherever we are, let’s help each other fight the good fight and run the race and keep the faith, looking to Jesus and loving His return, all the way to His return or our own finish line, whichever comes sooner.
And as we do that let’s not forget that we can’t do this by ourselves.
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).