DUNCAN/Finishing the race

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Please turn with me in your Bibles to 2 Timothy 4:5-8. In this great passage, Paul is continuing his final words of exhortation to his son in the Lord, Timothy. And in his words to Timothy, Paul shows us four things in particular in this passage. First, in verse 5, Paul gives Timothy an exhortation in order to form his aims in ministry. Secondly, in verse 6, Paul explains both his and Timothy’s situation in order to motivate Timothy to follow his example. Thirdly, in verse 7, Paul gives a threefold assessment of his ministry. Finally, in verse 8, Paul sets forth what has been his confident expectation in all of his Christian life and ministry. And the reason for this is because Paul wants Timothy to draw strength and encouragement from the same hope that he has. So with these things in mind, let us look at these four truths together. 

I. Our Aims in Christian Ministry.

In verse 5, Paul gives Timothy a four-part exhortation in order to form Timothy’s aims in Christian ministry. First Paul says, “Be sober.” He is saying, “Timothy, be calm. Be steady. Don’t be intoxicated by the sensational claims of false teachers.” Paul is warning Timothy about the sensational claims from false teachers because such thinking distracts the Christian from the ordinary things that God has called us to do in our day to day life, and it makes us feel like those things are unimportant. However, in this passage, Paul encourages steady, un-sensational, and faithful commitment to the Lord. Next, Paul says, “Endure hardship.” He doesn’t want Timothy to be surprised by hardship in ministry. Then, he says, “Do the work of an evangelist.” In this verse, Paul is saying, “Timothy, you need to engage in the labor of gospel preaching.” Paul is reminding us here that every Christian has the responsibility of being a herald of the truth of the living God.  Finally, Paul says, “Fulfill your ministry.” In other words, Paul is saying, “Do all of the things that you are called to do by God.” Paul is reminding us in this verse that we are to aim to share the gospel faithfully and serve God fully.      

II. Christians Always Minister in a Transitional Age.

In verse 6, Paul describes his situation, and he also describes Timothy’s situation. Paul tells us that Timothy lived between two comings and a going. The first coming that Paul talks about is the coming of a time when people won’t listen to the gospel. The second coming that he talks about is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Thus, every Christian lives in a day and age where those two comings are realities. But there is also a going in this passage. Paul says, “I am being poured out as a drink offering.” In this statement, Paul is referring to his being executed for the faith. Paul thought of his whole life as a living sacrifice. For example, he writes in Romans 12:1, “I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God to present your bodies, your whole selves as a living sacrifice.” In Numbers 15, when the lamb was sacrificed, the last thing that happened in the sacrificial offering was the pouring out of about a gallon of wine, right next to the altar. And Paul is saying to Timothy, “I’m being poured out like that very final part of the sacrificial ceremony for the sake of the gospel.” There is going to be a time when Timothy is going to have to minister without Paul. And this reminds us that there is no generation of Christians that can afford to rest upon the laurels of the faithfulness of the generations that go before them. So Paul tells Timothy and us that the faithful generation that has blessed us and supported us are not going to be with us forever. Therefore, we need to be preparing a generation under us that will love, praise, and worship the name of the Lord in this transitional age.  

III. A Threefold Assessment of Christian Ministry. 

In verse 7, Paul gives a threefold assessment of his service. A lot of people would have looked at Paul and said, “You have wasted your life.” And the Apostle Paul would have responded, “Oh, no. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith.” First, Paul says that he has been engaged in this good fight against the world, and the flesh, and the devil. Then, he says that he has been running the race. It’s the picture of a long-distance run, and in that race he has had one holy passion. He has had his eye on crossing the finish line, and the prize of the glory of God through the salvation of sinners. Finally, Paul says, “I have kept the faith.” In the ancient games, those who participated in the games had to vow that they would play by the rules. So here, Paul is saying, “I have defended and proclaimed the true gospel in loyalty. I continued to live in trust of the promises of God.” Paul knows that the world is going to tell Timothy that his labors are in vain. So Paul says to Timothy, “Living life like I have lived it is not a wasted life. Timothy, you need to aspire to fight the good fight, finish the course, and keep the faith.”

IV. Christian Life and Ministry is Focused on a Singular Future Hope. 

In verse 8, Paul sets before Timothy his expectation. Paul is fixing Timothy’s eyes on the one hope that we have in this life. Firstly, Paul’s discussion of  his confident expectation that the Lord is going to reward his life of faithful ministry is not in any way a contradiction of the glorious and biblical doctrine of salvation by grace alone. God will reward His faithful servants, but these rewards are all of God’s grace. Secondly, Paul endures what he endures in this life because his hope is on something that’s more important.  Paul longs for a day when he will not only stand before the Lord fully forgiven; he longs for that day when sin will have been totally eradicated from him, when its presence and power is gone. Paul longs for the day when he stands before God because of his faith-union with Jesus Christ not only in the imputed righteousness of Christ, but cleansed of sin forever never again having to struggle with sin and temptation, fully restored to the image of God. Paul also longs for what he calls “the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ,” and he says everyone who has “loved His appearing” will receive that crown of righteousness from the Lord Jesus. And so Paul is calling Timothy and us to focus our eyes on this future hope. May the Lord God, by His Holy Spirit, apply His Word to our hearts so that we respond in wonder, love, and praise, and in faith and obedience to Him. 

The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at jhyde@rts.edu.


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