2 Timothy 4:6-8
Keeping the Faith
These three short verses are some of the most personal and moving the Apostle Paul ever wrote, and I imagine Timothy shed not a few tears when he read them. Paul had been in prison several times and once before in Rome, but he knew that this time was different. Nero was on the throne and matters were not faring well for Christians. This was the man who blamed the fire in Rome on the Christians. The Roman historian, Tacitus, described some of the “exquisite tortures” to which the madman subjected our forebears in the faith (Annals). On every other occasion, the Lord had delivered him; but this time, the Lord would deliver him in a different and final way. Well-attested tradition tells us Paul was beheaded under Nero.
Paul writes, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.” Apparently, he was experiencing some sort of torture even in the prison as he wrote, such that he compared himself to a “drink offering” which one finds in the Old Testament and even pagan literature. The image speaks to the frailty of the body and the fear one feels due to that frailty. But Paul is undaunted. And why is this? Because he could say with confidence: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” In other words, he fulfilled the mission to which he was called by the Lord. This is not a statement of arrogance; Paul admitted that it was the Lord who worked through him to accomplish His will (1 Corinthians 15:9-10). Still, here at the end of his life, Paul could say, “I hung in there to the end.” And please note, when Paul says that he has kept the faith, he does not mean “faith” as some empty shell that one might fill with his own meaning as people do today; no, Paul meant that faith given him through his rebirth, that faith which has content and proclaims Christ as Lord and all that goes along with that—that faith.
And because of God’s grace, carrying him through his many trials in the fulfilling of that commission, he sees way off a reward, a “crown of righteousness,” laid up for him, and not him only, but for “all who have loved his appearing.” We do not all have the same calling, but we are all called to persevere in the calling we have and to fulfill it. And our incentive in this calling is the appearance of our Lord—that he appeared long ago as our Sacrifice and shall again on the clouds of glory as our King. He is the One who will make us able to say on our deathbeds, “I finished the race and kept of the faith.” This is the testimony we will want to bear so that when the Day comes, we will not be ashamed. Then we shall cry—for joy!