Paul’s Triumphant Testimony
2 Timothy 4:6–8
Are you prepared to die? The last words a person utters or writes when death is imminent are usually of great importance to family and friends. They reveal the individual’s soul. This fact was especially true of the apostle Paul.
Apart from Luke, the beloved physician, Paul had no one to comfort him when he penned the concluding section of his final epistle. Languishing in Rome’s Mamertine dungeon, falsely accused of sedition and condemned to death, Paul endured abuse from guards who considered him an enemy of Rome. Many believed his miseries proved God had forsaken him. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Despite his circumstances, Paul voiced no regret or complaint; nor did he fear death. In fact, he told the Philippians, “For I am hard-pressed, . . . having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you” (Phil. 1:23–24). Paul looked forward to what awaited him in heaven.
Knowing his time on Earth was short, he urged Timothy, his son in the faith, to come to him quickly for he was ready to pass the baton of ministry to him, along with a challenge and words of encouragement.
In 2 Timothy 4:6–8, Paul spoke of three things: his readiness to die, his faithfulness in serving the Lord, and the reward that awaited him in heaven.
Paul knew his days were numbered: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand” (v. 6).
The word departure (Greek, analuo) means “to unloose.” In the first century, it often referred to death. It also was used of sailors pulling up anchor and departing for a new port and of an army striking its tents and moving to a different location. Peter, also in a Roman prison, talked about his death as taking down his tent (2 Pet. 1:13–15).
The word offering (Greek, spendomai) speaks of the libation or drink offering the Israelites were instructed to offer the Lord with a burnt offering (Num. 15:5, 7). The drink offering was either poured on the sacrifice or beside it. As the liquid vaporized, it ascended, symbolizing the sacrifice was meant for God. Paul spoke of his life being poured out as a drink offering, a reference to his sacrificial ministry (Phil. 2:17). He knew he probably would be beheaded, not crucified like his Savior, because he was a Roman citizen.
Knowing the end of his life was near, Paul reviewed his calling, conversion, and conflicts in the ministry. From his conversion on the Damascus Road, he knew he was a chosen vessel to bear Christ’s name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel and that he would suffer for the Lord throughout his ministry (Acts 9:15–16).
Although an apostle to the Gentiles, Paul preached the gospel to everyone—Jews and non-Jews. Later, he revealed all the suffering he endured to preach Christ (2 Cor. 11:22–33).
Looking back over his life, he wrote, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).
I have fought the good fight. This statement alludes to a Greek athlete engaged in an Olympic wrestling match. The word fight (Greek, agon) has the same root as the English word agonize. It pictures a wrestler striving to win, putting all his strength and effort into obtaining the prize.
The contest was “good” (Greek, kalos), meaning Paul considered his struggle noble and the cause worthy. The word can be applied to Paul’s relentless struggle against Satan, sin, evil men, and the spiritual wickedness that surrounded him daily. He contended with Jewish opposition, false teachers (whom he called savage wolves) who had infiltrated the church, diabolical beliefs, Gnosticism, and pagan philosophers in Athens and Corinth. He faced fights and fears within and without as he penned his epistles.
He summed up his struggles when he wrote, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).
I have finished the race (2 Tim. 4:7). This is an analogy to a Greek athlete competing in the Marathon at the Olympic games. Never taking their eyes off the goal in the distance, such athletes ran vigorously, determined to obtain the prize. Afterward, they had the satisfaction of knowing they kept all the rules and completed the grueling race.
Earlier, Paul explained what was required to win the crown: A contestant needed to be “temperate in all things” (1 Cor. 9:25), exercising self-control and self-denial if he expected to be in condition to win.
Paul gave his entire life in preparation—training and performing what God called him to do. He knew the objectives and did not waste time on things that did not matter, unlike a shadow boxer who beats at the air with no opponent before him (v. 26).
Paul disciplined himself, bringing his impulses under subjection so that he would not become disqualified (v. 27). Like a Marathon runner, he looked back with satisfaction, knowing he successfully completed the course the Lord had laid out for him at the time of his salvation.
I have kept the faith (2 Tim. 4:7). Paul was not referring to his personal faith but, rather, to the gospel message and ministry the Lord had entrusted to him. He “kept,” or guarded, the gospel against perversions. Not one time did he transgress the revelation he received from God and penned in his epistles.
Like a wrestler, he “fought the good fight” and won. Like a runner, he “finished the race,” keeping all the rules and getting the prize. Like a soldier, he “kept the faith,” the gospel entrusted to him. Now he was ready to give an account before the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Paul was not a spectator. He was a faithful participant in the Lord’s service. Prizes never go to people on the sidelines or on the bench. They go to those who run—those who strive to glorify God (2:3–6).
Paul used his personal testimony in chapter 4 to challenge Timothy and encourage him to manifest the same commitment. When he used the pronoun I before each statement in verse 7, he was not bragging. He was not proud, egotistical, or boastful about his achievements. In fact, the opposite was true. In deep humility, he thanked God, who brought him victoriously through the multitude of struggles he had to endure.
With service for the Lord behind him and death before him, Paul looked forward to the reward he expected to receive at the Judgment Seat of Christ: “Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing” (v. 8).
The phrase crown of righteousness refers to the reward Paul expected from Christ, the “righteous Judge.” He knew it was safely stored in heaven, waiting for him. He will receive his reward “on that Day,” when all believers stand at the Judgment Seat of Christ to have their works judged (1 Cor. 3:10–15).
Christ, the righteous Judge who makes no mistakes, will reward everyone who strived to bring honor and glory to God and “to all who have loved His appearing.” It will be a time when all believers are rewarded for how they served Christ and were faithful to Him.
This promise is for everyone who has been born again, loves the Lord, and longs to see Jesus (1 Jn. 3:2–3). Jesus Christ will appear in the clouds to Rapture the church to heaven (1 Cor. 15:51–54; 1 Th. 4:16–17). Then believers will experience ultimate conformity to His likeness.
The apostle summed up how we should live: “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do; do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
Are you prepared to die, as was Paul? If not, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate your priorities. Only what’s done for Christ will last.