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I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith
2 Timothy 4:7-8
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future 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 Timothy 4:7-8 NASB1995
For all who love reading the epistles of Paul, his second letter to Timothy is bittersweet. Paul knows that he is about to be martyred in Rome, and it shows — it’s probably one of the most personal epistles in the New Testament.
Timothy was one of the early Christian evangelists in Ephesus. He had met Paul on the latter’s second missionary trip and, along with Silas, became Paul’s traveling companion and missionary partner. During the years of traveling on foot and by ship bringing the gospel to the population around the Mediterranean Sea, they became close friends who had experienced both the joy of bringing others to Christ and the agonies of rough travel and hostile adversaries.
The letter has several purposes; first, to encourage Timothy to continue his work as an evangelist (Paul asks him to not have a “spirit of timidity” and not be “ashamed to testify about our Lord”), and second, asking Timothy to try to come to Rome as quickly as possible and bring Mark with him. Wouldn’t you want to see one or more of your closest friends for the last time before dying?
In reality, Timothy and Mark probably weren’t going to arrive before Paul’s death, and he knew this. In these two verses, Paul shows that he is aware of his impending martyrdom and displays his total acceptance of his fate. Elsewhere in the New Testament, Paul uses the analogies of running a race or being an athlete to describe the grueling work and eternal rewards of living a life in Christ. Here, he’s telling Timothy that he’s “fought the good fight” and “finished the course”, and that he’s now walking up to the winner’s podium, waiting to receive his crown of righteousness (living for eternity in the presence of God) from the Lord as a reward.
Paul is certain that he will receive his reward! Now, this isn’t a royal crown of gold that is encrusted with precious jewels. He’s talking about the stephanos (στέφανος), the victor’s crown that was usually a garland of olive or ivy leaves placed upon the head in recognition of competing fairly and winning a victory.
A mock stephanos made of wire and plastic, image from amazon.co.uk
The name describing the victor’s crown was probably a sad reminder to Paul of his past before his encounter with the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus, when he was persecuting followers of Jesus rather than evangelizing. He had supervised the execution of the first martyr — Stephen (also stephanos) — and then eagerly began to kill many members of the early Christian church.
Paul is certain without a doubt that he will be rewarded by the Lord who forgives him for those past sins! He also knows that he’s not the only human who will be rewarded, that “all who have loved His appearing” will join in the victory celebration. British theologian Adam Clarke beautifully summarized these verses, saying:
“This is most probably the last letter the apostle ever wrote and it is impossible to see him in a more advantageous point of view than he now appears, standing on the verge of eternity, full of God, and strongly anticipating an eternity of glory.”1
How about you and me? Can we honestly say that we have “fought the good fight, …finished the course, and kept the faith”? While we may not be facing imminent death by beheading, it’s always a good to take account of our lives and faith as if we might die at any moment. Having the confidence of Paul to know that you will be awarded your crown of life by the Lord is indicative of a life well-lived for God.
Heaven On Wheels Daily Prayer:
Father in Heaven, help me to fight the good fight, finish the course, and keep the faith so I will be awarded the crown of righteousness by the Lord. May I be a steadfast warrior in your army of faith, and rock solid in the trust I have in You. I pray that my love for You, Jesus and the Holy Spirit grows stronger each day, and that I may be in your presence for eternity. In the name of Jesus I pray, AMEN.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org.
Clarke, Adam "Clarke's Commentary: The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments with a Commentary and Critical Notes" Volume 6 (Romans-Revelation) (New York: Eaton and Mains, 1832)