How do you want to be remembered? What do you hope people will say about you after you are gone? How will the people who knew you best summarize 40 or 50 or 60 or 70 or 80 years of living?
Here is Paul’s answer to that question. Writing from a Roman jail, with the certain knowledge that he would soon be dead, he looked back at his journey with Christ, and then he looked forward to what would happen after he died. Then he wrote his own epitaph: “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up 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 loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6–8).
After an exhaustive study of the men and women of the Bible, Howard Hendricks of Dallas Theological Seminary concluded that there are approximately 100 detailed biographies in the Bible. He notes that approximately two-thirds of those men and women ended poorly. Either they turned to immorality or they drifted away from the faith or they ended their life in a backslidden condition. The Apostle Paul was not among them. He finished well.
Out there somewhere is a finish line for each of us—maybe ten years or 20 years or 30 years away. But whether sooner or later, it is bound to come because “it is appointed for man to die once” (Hebrews 9:27). I have an appointment with death. I don’t know when or where or how, but it’s in God’s book in Heaven. That’s one appointment I won’t miss and can’t postpone.
As Paul approached his own death, he drew some conclusions about his own life and what would happen next. Based on his words, I would like us to think about three questions together.
What kind of departure will you have?
When Paul says he is being poured out like a drink offering, he is referring to an Old Testament ritual that accompanied certain sacrifices. The Law mandated that when a worshiper brought an offering, part of it was consumed upon the altar and part was given to the priest for his own use. When the offering was consumed by fire, the worshiper would sometimes pour a “drink offering” of wine upon the burning sacrifice. All the wine was to be poured out. None was to be given to the priest. As the wine hit the burning coals, it evaporated and a sweet smell rose from the altar. Keep in mind that wine was a symbol of joy in the Old Testament. The drink offering was a symbolic way of saying, “I gladly give all that I have to the Lord. This sacrifice that I offer is given as a symbol of my wholehearted commitment to God. Nothing is held back. All that I have, I gladly give to my God.”
Was Paul afraid to die? Not at all. He viewed his death as simply going home to be with the Lord. What kind of departure will you have? Do you have that same confidence about your own death? You can face death with that buoyant faith if you will do what Paul did—offer your life as a “living sacrifice” to the Lord with nothing held back.
What kind of legacy will you leave?
Finishing well doesn’t happen by accident. Paul lived a disciplined life. “I have fought the good fight.” Think of the words Paul used to describe his own life: trouble, distress, tribulation, trials, hardships (see 2 Corinthians 6:4–5). Whatever else you can say about Paul, you can’t say he had an easy life. He never stopped fighting for Jesus until the day he died.
Paul also lived a directional life. “I have finished the race.” Paul followed the course the Lord Jesus set out for him the day He saved him on the road to Damascus. Ever since that day, Paul had been following the Lord, doing whatever the Lord had for him to do.
Paul lived a doctrinal life. “I have kept the faith.” This simply means he refused to compromise the truth. When other people fell away, Paul preached the Word. When the world was against him, Paul paid no attention. When it would have been easy to trim his message to save his own life, Paul proclaimed the whole counsel of God. He did not back down, he did not compromise, and he would not preach what people wanted to hear. He kept the faith.
Because Paul knew that nothing could touch him that did not come from the hand of God, he never gave in to discouragement. He truly believed that everything that happened to him was for his good and for God’s glory. Therefore, he kept on going for God to the very end. Even the chains of a Roman jail could not destroy his faith or shatter his confidence in God.
What kind of reward will you receive?
“Henceforth there is laid up 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 loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).
Here we see Paul’s faith shining so brightly that the darkness of the Roman prison cell seems to disappear. By faith he sees beyond his own beheading. The pain of that moment is now past and the suffering of this life is left far behind. By faith he sees a day when he will receive his reward from the Lord.
This is what is ahead for you and me if we will faithfully serve Jesus Christ in this life. Be encouraged, child of God. The Lord is not so unjust as to forget your suffering for Him. He sees all that you go through. He knows all about your struggles. He sees how hard the fight is, how you are sometimes tempted to quit, and how you keep on going when others around you throw in the towel. He sees and He knows, and in a coming day the Lord Himself will reward us if we are faithful to Him now.
So the word of the Lord is this: Keep on fighting. Keep on running. Keep on believing!
—Ray Pritchard, condensed