by Dick Buckingham
by Dick Buckingham
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” II Timothy 4:7
Nearly everyone agrees that II Timothy was Paul’s last epistle before his martyrdom and entrance into the presence of the Lord. In all the other letters, he expresses hope and confidence that he will be released and will be able to continue his service to the Lord. But this letter takes on an entirely different tone. While still teaching and encouraging his young charge, he has come to grips with the reality that he may indeed be home with the Lord soon. He had endured years of hardship, imprisonment, and frustration. This of course came after years of traveling, preaching, and seeing the mighty hand of God at work in the lives of many people throughout Asia Minor and Eastern Europe.
Three things that Paul proclaims to Timothy at this point in his life: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” These were not words of pride that Paul spoke about his accomplishments, but rather further instruction to this young pastor. Here is the example of the way a life is finished well by the grace of God.
I have fought the good fight. Here Paul surveys his past and sees there was value in what he had done. Those who are true believers understand Paul’s allusion to the Christian life that he walked as a “fight.” It is a battle daily, not only with those whom from the outside seek to challenge and topple a Christ-follower, but the battle within as well. Our frail human nature naturally wants to take the easy road, the simplest path, the one with the least resistance. We want our effort to be as little as possible and our results still great. Our sin nature also wages war against us seeking to trip us at every turn and discourage us with its failures. Often are we tempted to give up, pack it in, let someone else carry the banner the rest of the way. But the Apostle knew the value of fighting on. It was “good.” The value of that for which he labored and fought was worth it. Sometimes we grow weary of the fight day after day. We gaze toward our future and see nothing but more battles, more foes to face, and we falter. The good thing is that we only have to fight today’s battles, not tomorrow’s or next year’s, just today’s. Paul put one foot in front of the other each day and fought the good fight. In reality, the only way to experience defeat is to stop fighting. How are you doing in today’s battle?
I have finished the race. This may seem obvious that one will finish the race, but it is not always a given. Runners pull up lame, some even give up before finishing the race due to no chance of winning. Nothing inspires us more than to watch someone who had no hope of winning the race see it through to the end. History is rife with stories of athletes who fight through injury and disappointment only to end the race last. But they finished. Paul urges Timothy to make sure he finishes the race. Finishing the race requires commitment, perseverance, and courage. These are qualities that one builds over a lifetime of finishes. The way we finish each day, each week, each month, each year, each job, each task, each responsibility builds within us the characteristics we need to complete our lives well. It is why each year, about this time, I begin to urge and encourage our students to finish the school year strong. We all grow a little weary during a school year and the temptation to pull up and coast to the end affects student and teacher alike. However, there is something of great value in not only finishing, but finishing well. Are you finishing strong?
I have kept the faith. Having lived through the 60’s and 70’s, I can’t help read this and not think of the common parting greeting of the youth of those decades, “Keep the faith, baby!” The faith they and Paul referred to was decidedly not the same. Paul encourages Timothy by his example to maintain his convictions and commitments to the truths that God has revealed. Time and time again we see pressure from society to move away from the basic moral stance given to us in the Word and many in the church compromise and give in. To hold firm would mean we are libel to be out of step with our neighbors and we may face malice as a result. It takes great courage to stay the course and not be swayed. We see this happening too often in our society today where the culture begins to object to the clear teaching of scripture and soon many in the church follow. Few, it seems, are those who stand steadfast. And yet it is a great virtue to be able to say, like Paul, “I have kept the faith.” I wonder how many who are reading this today could honestly say that they have not compromised in their commitment to the truth revealed by God. Can you?
I pray that when I draw near to the end of my life on this earth, I will be able to honestly say these things like Paul, not as a testament of my own accomplishments, but of the grace and mercy of God to me on display for others who may come behind me from which to draw courage. I challenge you to make this your goal as well.