In the last chapter of the last letter Paul penned, the apostle made an obvious reference to his impending death: “the time of my departure is close” (2 Tim. 4:6). He neared the finish line with the satisfaction he had run the race well and would finish well: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (v. 7).
What does it take to finish well? These three ideas are evident in this week’s Scripture passage: ongoing investment in the lives of others; a clear sense of purpose, and an eternal perspective. If you want to finish well …
1. Stay people focused.
Paul began his final chapter with the phrase, “I solemnly charge you” (2 Tim. 4:1). That’s a theme in his two letters to Timothy: “I am giving you this instruction” (1 Tim. 1:18); “I solemnly charge you” (1 Tim. 5:21); “I charge you” (1 Tim. 6:13).
Reading Paul’s letters to Timothy, you sense the special relationship he had with his “true son in the faith” (1 Tim. 1:2). From the earliest stages of their relationship (Acts 16:1), Paul poured his life into Timothy’s. Over a period of perhaps twenty years, he mentored him. He continued pouring into Timothy up to the very end. Paul’s last recorded wish was for Timothy to “make every effort to come” to him (2 Tim. 4:21)
In ministry, in families, and in life in general, relationships take priority over “to do” lists. Believers who finish well make ongoing investments in the lives of the people around them.
2. Stay mission focused.
The content of Paul’s “charge” (4:1) to Timothy comes in the form of five imperatives in verse 2 and four more in verse 5. First on the list and foundational to all the others is “preach the word.” The term “word” (4:1) is, in the Pastorals, often a reference to the gospel. (See 2 Tim. 2:9; Titus 1:3; 2:5.) Paul exhorted Timothy to keep his message and ministry centered on the gospel.
Unto the end of his life Paul remained mission focused. An example is his description of his impending death using Old Testament sacrificial language (v. 6). Drink offerings often accompanied burnt offerings (Ex. 29:40-41). After sacrificing a lamb or a ram, the priest poured wine at the base of the altar. This offering was given to God as an act of worship, symbolizing the dedication of the worshiper.
For Paul, the drink offering symbolized the pouring out of his life for the mission to which God had appointed him. He saw himself as freely laying down his life for the sake of the gospel. In effect Paul was saying, “Caesar’s going to kill me. I’m freely giving my life as a sacrifice to Jesus.”
Some commentators point out that Paul may have been using this image of sacrifice to refer to the type of death he expected. Because Roman citizens could not be crucified, he knew he likely would be beheaded, literally pouring out his own blood for the sake of the gospel.
Believers who finish well are gospel people; they make the gospel of Jesus Christ central to everything they do.
3. Stay eternity focused.
Paul charged Timothy “before God and Christ Jesus, who is going to judge the living and the dead.” It was “because of his appearing and his kingdom” (4:1) that the imperatives of faithful service (vv. 2,5) carried such urgency.
The knowledge that we will stand before God and that He will recognize and reward faithful service is an incentive to finish well. “We make it our aim to be pleasing to him. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:9-10). Eternity is the reason Paul was willing to endure the hardships of ministry, because he knew the eternal destinies of lost people hung in the balance. (See 2 Tim. 2:10).
Knowing death was near, Paul anticipated a glorious reward: “There is reserved for me the crown of righteousness.” Paul knew also that Jesus was the One who would present this crown to him (4:8).
The believer who finishes well lives and dies with the confident anticipation of passing from this life into the presence and arms of Jesus.
Do you want to finish well? Keep on investing in the lives of other people; maintain a clear sense of your gospel-driven purpose, and live with eternity in mind.
Mike Livingstone works at Lifeway Christian Resources as content editor for Explore the Bible materials.