BELIEVE TO THE END
2 Timothy 4:6 et seq
I love this quote:
"My life's calling remains the same: I exist to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ. Pray that I will spend and be spent for this till I can speak and write no more."
This quote is from John Piper, looking at what he will do in ministry in the last stage of life.
In our Scripture passage, the apostle Paul looked at the very end of his life as well. Yet he was further along than Piper. He was in jail. He faced execution. He sensed the nearness of his death. Here is what he said about it in 2 Timothy 4:6-8 (ESV):
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store 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 longed for his appearing.
Paul said the time for his departure was near. Isn't that a great way to put it? It is not a picture of gloom and doom. Rather it is a picture of moving on to something else. He saw moving on as a good thing because it meant he would complete his suffering and go to Jesus.
He was likely tired. He had suffered greatly. All of the beatings, imprisonments, deprivations, travel and hardship had taken their physical toll. His body was spent.
His emotions may have been spent, too. He suffered persecution from his own people, the Jews. His friends abandoned him at this trials. He suffered loneliness when he sent his friends and disciples away to minister, depriving himself of their company.
He had to be tired of prison. Roman prisons were not like ours today. He may have just been put in a large hole in the ground with others. It would be wet and cold. Nothing makes you more ready to move on than having discomfort or pain in this life.
So, Paul thought of death as a departure. Prison was like an uncomfortable waiting room in a bus station. Execution was the mode of transportation. His destination was Christ's fellowship in heaven. He would see his Master and receive his reward.
Remember his words to the Philippians? He knew he had more ministry to do, but was ready to go. In Philippians 1:21-23 he said:
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.
Paul did not fear death. He looked forward to it as the means to be with Christ.
The process had already begun. In verse 6, Paul said he was already being poured out like a drink offering. The Old Testament drink offering was an offering of wine brought with the burnt offering or grain offering. The priest poured it out on the altar as an offering, a sacrifice to God. Paul thought of his execution not only as a departure, but as an offering to God, a sacrifice of himself for the glory of God.
Notice here that Paul used the passive tense. He said he was being poured out. I think he means that God was doing the pouring. It was the Lord’s will to use his death to the Lord’s glory. Remember Jesus’ words to Ananias about Paul’s calling. In Acts 9:16, he said “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Jesus called Paul to suffer. He preordained his suffering. And Jesus did it for the sake of his name. This is the same as saying “for his glory”. Jesus intended to gain glory, to be glorified, in Paul’s suffering and, ultimately, in the death of Paul.
One reason Paul looked forward to being with Christ is that he knew he had faithfully completed the task God assigned to him. He “kept the faith”. Paul used two sports analogies to illustrate his point: (1) he finished the race and (2) fought the fight. He was at the end of his course.
In verse 7, Paul said he had kept the faith. He believed Jesus and he stayed faithful to him. The test of salvation is continued faithfulness. People do not lose their salvation. Rather, people who are not saved, whether or not they hang out in a church, often leave, especially if the gospel is regularly preached. We are often surprised by this. 1 John 2:19 says “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”
The Bible gives us this fact many times. Here are a few.
1. Matthew 10:21-22. Jesus said believers will be hated, "But the one who endures to the end will be saved."
2. Colossians 1:21-23. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard ...
3. Hebrews 3:13-14. Exhort one another every day as long as it is called 'today', that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have shared in Christ if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.
4. Revelation 2:10. "Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life."
Paul said he measured success in his life by whether or not he had kept “the faith”. So, what does it mean to keep the faith? If we were to measure our lives this morning by this standard, as Paul did, how would we do it? How would we know we kept the faith?
Keeping the faith means we believe what Jesus said (and what his apostles taught about what he said) and we demonstrate that by our confession and our practice. In other words, we demonstrate keeping the faith by what we say and what we do.
First, this means we believe Jesus died to obtain the Father’s forgiveness for our sins. Jesus said, "The Son of Man came… to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). Paul wrote “…while we were still sinners Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” (Romans 5:8-9).
Second, we believe that we have eternal life. Jesus said, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).
And when I say we believe these things, I mean we have confidence in Jesus to do these things, not just that we know the Bible says these things.
Third, we believe Jesus works for us and in us as we live for him. Jesus said, "My grace is sufficient for you; my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 112:9) Paul wrote “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ”. (Philippians 1:6) He also wrote “it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure”. (Philippians 2:13)
We believe Jesus can do these things, wants to do these things and has the power to do these things.
We confess all these things if we believe. By confess I mean we say we believe them. We believe Jesus said them and that he will do them and we say that to ourselves and to others.
But we not only confess these things, we live them out. I am still struck by the simple clear word of my pastor a few weeks ago when he said if our belief does not change the way we act, we do not really believe no matter what we say.
Many people say they believe what Jesus said, but they act as though they do not. Here is a quick example. Jesus said the Father would not only give eternal life to believers, he would provide for their earthly needs. Many of you know this quote by memory. Jesus said “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)
“These things” in this passage include clothing, food and drink, the necessities of life. He assured us the Father knows we need these things. He made us, he knows we need food, water, clothing and shelter.
Jesus’ point was that the Father wants us to pursue as the most important thing the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness. If we do that, Jesus said the Father would provide the necessities of life.
We say we believe that. But what do we do? We spend all our time getting the necessities of life, plus some luxuries. We spend little or no time pursuing the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
We say we trust God to provide, but we stay awake at night and lose sleep over whether we will get what we need. Or we live in panic and fear. Or we will not take a job God presents us because we do not trust him to provide enough for us through that job.
I am not saying this is always easy. I think it gets easier the more you do it. I do not think Paul said it was easy. In fact, he used the metaphor of a fight or a race. Both of those are struggles. Both require endurance.
I would love to say I had run a marathon. I would love to have the medal and a picture of myself at the finish line wearing it. But I do not get the medal if I do not finish the race. I can run 20 miles and quit. Everyone will say “nice try”. But I do not want to hear “nice try”. I want to hear “welcome to eternal life. Well done”.
Your biggest obstacle to finishing well is your self, your self -loving, sin-loving, world-loving self. You must submit it to Jesus over and over and ask him to change it into a righteousness seeking selfless spirit. You pursue it by faith. Jesus provides it by grace.
Yes, you will be opposed by the world. When you love Christ’s kingdom more than the world, you become the world’s enemy. Jesus said “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” Luke 21:17
In the alternative, the world seduces you by appealing to your sinful self. In verse 9, Paul wrote that Demas abandoned him because he was in love with this present world.
You will be opposed by the devil. He is not that keen on your transformation. 1 Peter 5:8: “Your adversary the devil prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
But, your old self is the first big ugly giant that must be slain.
Paul said he ran the whole race. He finished. He was faithful. He believed Jesus for eternal life, but also for the ability to get him through this life intact. He was able to proclaim that Jesus was faithful through it all. He said “But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. “And because he had, there was a crown of righteousness laid up for him. (8) The crown here is eternal life. His faithfulness to the end was proof of his salvation and the result was eternal life.
So, this task of believing Jesus and trusting him and his word lasts until the end of your life. There is no retirement except death. If you are faithful until the end, you get a crown of righteousness on “that Day”, the day of Christ’s coming and judgment. (8)