I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
2 Timothy 4:7 (NIV)
For Paul, who languished in a Roman dungeon and put the finishing touches on his letter to Timothy, the proverbial handwriting was on the wall. Emporer Nero was a couple of years into his rather successful pogrom to blame followers of Jesus for the Great Fire of Rome and exterminate as many of them as he could as gruesomly as he could. There would be no pardon for Paul this time.
For roughly thirty years Paul, who had begun as a persecutor of Jesus followers himself, had been arguably the greatest champion of Jesus’ message. The twelve disciples, Jesus’ twelve closest followers, initially stuck close to home and spent much of their time sharing Jesus’ message with their fellow Jews. It was Paul who became the unlikely game changer by focusing his efforts on carrying Jesus’ message of salvation with non-Jewish Gentiles far away from Jerusalem. The road had not been easy. In his letter to Jesus’ followers in the city of Corinth, Paul briefly related just how harrowing his own road had been:
I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.
In today’s chapter, we hear a very different tone. Paul knows that he is in the homestretch of his Earthly journey. He can see the finish line. He is not giving into despair. In fact, his tone is confident. He is not giving up and limping home. In fact, he is still dishing out orders for Timothy to bring his scrolls and parchments so he can continue to work until the end. But, Paul is reflective. He looks back at his life and confidently makes three strong statements:
I have fought the good fight.
I have finished the race.
I have kept the faith.
No one knows, for the most part, exactly when their own earthly journey will end. Lord willing, I am still only at the half-way point of my own journey (even though I realize this morning that I have followed Jesus about as long as Paul had when he was martyred). It will take me twice as long to accomplish less than a ten thousandth of what Paul did. A humbling thought.
Nevertheless, today I am encouraged and motivated by Paul’s words. I have a long way to go, but when that day comes that I sense the finish line approaching I hope that my heart will confidently whisper Paul’s words to Timothy: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.