September 5, 2013
On a recent trip to Rome my traveling companions and I took time to visit the Mamertine prison, an ancient dungeon that is said to be the place Paul was held just before his execution. If so, then that is also where he wrote the last of his epistles, his second letter to Timothy. Knowing his death was imminent; Paul offered Timothy a poignant summary, a statement that could be Paul’s own epitaph. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim. 4:7) Over the next couple of journal posts I’d like to invite you look at each phrase of this well-known verse.
First he says, “I have fought the good fight.” Paul was not boasting about his record (that would contradict the gospel he preached), nor was he raising the bar for the rest of us. Instead, he was describing the hope of every believer. All of Paul’s circumstances pointed to defeat. He was in prison, about to be beheaded, and despised or ignored by most of the world. In spite of every imaginable hardship (2 Cor. 11:24-27) Paul declares that serving Jesus Christ is the good fight.
At the beginning of the last century, William of Borden lived a privileged life as part of the Borden dairy empire. His high school graduation gift was a trip around the world. While on that year long voyage William could not escape a growing concern for those he encountered, people who had never seen the light of the gospel. Upon returning home he announced to his family that he would be enrolling in a seminary to prepare for a mission endeavor to China. He wrote two words in the cover of his Bible, “No return.” Just before completing his studies, his father passed away and the rest of the family pleaded with him to come home and run the business in order to safeguard their fortune. William graciously tried to explain the urgency he sensed. In the end, his siblings gave him an ultimatum. Either return to help them or be cut off from any inheritance. That day William wrote two more words in his Bible, “No reserves.” After graduation, William made the final preparations and boarded a ship for China. During a brief stop in Egypt, he contracted meningitis and within a few weeks died. He never made it to his destination. When his body was returned home, family member discovered his Bible. He had written two more words in the cover, “No regrets.”
Paul was telling Timothy that regardless of anyone else’s assessment, his struggle and the contest he had been engaged in for the sake of the gospel was the good fight. When he said, “For me to live is Christ”, he was saying there is no other way to live. Fighting the good fight does not involve a particular vocation, but it is the call to every follower of Jesus. How about you? Are you engaged in the only worthwhile contest?