November 18, 2013
Locked in a Roman dungeon and certain that a violent death awaited him, the Apostle Paul wrote his final letter to Timothy, his beloved son in the faith. After admonishing Timothy to stand firm and prepare himself for impostors and deceivers within the church, Paul summed up his own life in these words, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7
The second phrase of Paul’s summary, “I have finished the race” should be a great encouragement to all of us! For Paul, the finish line was in sight. It was a marker to cross, death’s doorway into eternal joy. There is no sound of defeat in Paul’s voice, but rather a note of joyful expectation. There was a crown of righteousness waiting for him, not simply the reward for faithfulness, but the promised perfection of conscience, mind and character that is ours only through Jesus Christ.
Paul uses the personal pronoun “I” in speaking of his own finish, yet from the rest of his writings it is clear that he spent his life and energy to ensure that his brothers and sisters would finish the race as well. (Colossians 2:1-4) After all, Paul knew that the Christian life he called a “race” is not primarily an individual contest, but rather is something we run as a family. He told the believers in Philippi, “Let each of you look not only to his own interest, but also to the interests of others.” (Phil. 2:4)
In June of 2012 Meghan Vogel became the 1600-meter state champion and the first girl from West Liberty-Salem High School in Salem, Ohio to win a track title in 20 years. After her victory and exhausted from the exertion Meghan still had to run the 3200 meter race. What people remember that day about Meghan is not her win, but her heart. As she rounded the final turn of her second race and headed down the straightaway, one of her rivals collapsed in front of her, just 20 meters from the finish line. Without thinking, Meghan stopped, knelt and pulled Arden McMath to her feet, carrying her toward the finish. In an act of selflessness, Meghan paused just before the line and holding Arden in front of her, let her cross the finish line first.
Notice that Paul talks about finishing the race, not about how long it takes or even the condition of the runner at the finish line. For each of us finishing the race is really about grace. Whether it is a long and arduous contest or a very short run, such as that last minute confession made by the dying thief crucified next to our Lord, God has determined to bring to completion the work He began. At the end you will find that He has carried you every step and brought you safely home.