A Race Run Well

For 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 ESV

It is important to maintain the close connection that links verses 5 and 6. Paul calls Timothy to “always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry,” and then adds a strong motivational clause: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.” This was the important “why” behind Paul’s impassioned plea. Essentially, Paul was telling Timothy to take the baton from his hand and finish the last leg of the race. Paul was done. He wasn’t quitting or throwing in the towel, but he knew that his days were numbered. Confined to prison in Rome and awaiting trial before the emperor, Nero, Paul somehow sensed that his ministry was quickly coming to a close. And he greatly desired that Timothy might stand in the gap that his departure would create.

Paul refers to his life as a drink offering being poured out as a sacrifice to God. This description would have resonated with Timothy and reminded him of the drink offerings that were utilized in the Jewish sacrificial system. God had ordained their use in His original instructions to Moses, given during Israel’s journey from Egypt to the land of Canaan.

“Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs a year old day by day regularly. One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight. And with the first lamb a tenth measure of fine flour mingled with a fourth of a hin of beaten oil, and a fourth of a hin of wine for a drink offering. The other lamb you shall offer at twilight, and shall offer with it a grain offering and its drink offering, as in the morning, for a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the Lord.” – Exodus 29:38-41 ESV

There were a variety of different drink offerings but they all shared the same fate. Prior to sacrifice, each lamb or bull was to have ceremonially slaughtered, with the blood being drained from their bodies. Once the animal was burned on the altar, the appropriate drink offering was to be poured out on the altar, “as a food offering, a pleasing aroma to the Lord” (Numbers 15:10 ESV). In a sense, the wine became a symbol of the blood that had been poured out on behalf of the one offering the sacrifice. And as God told Moses elsewhere, “for the life of the body is in its blood. I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you, making you right with the LORD. It is the blood, given in exchange for a life, that makes purification possible” (Leviticus 17:11 NLT).

Jesus picked up on this imagery on the night He shared a final Passover meal with His disciples in the upper room. He poured wine into a cup, then stated: “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20 ESV). He was preparing to spill His blood so that they might have their sins atoned for.

This imagery would not have escaped Timothy’s notice as he read Paul’s words. His dear friend and spiritual father was telling him that he too was being poured out like a drink offering, a pleasing aroma to the Lord.

And to add a further sense of immediacy, Paul uses the Greek word, analysis to describe his pending death.

…the time of my departure has come… – 2 Timothy 4:6 ESV

The imagery conjured up by this word is that of a ship preparing to depart on a journey and having its ropes loosened from their moorings. Paul saw his death as inevitable and unavoidable. But he did not fear or dread death. In fact, he shared with the believers in Corinth his deep longing to be at home with the Lord.

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. – 2 Corinthians 5:6-9 NLT

Paul could face death with confidence because he knew what lie ahead and he was at peace with his efforts on behalf of the kingdom. He had done his job well. He had served faithfully.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. – 2 Timothy 4:7 ESV

Paul wasn’t bragging or boasting. He was simply expressing his confident assertion that his life had been pleasing to God. And while he knew that his death would result in his appearance before Christ, he had no reason to be fearful when facing his Savior once again.

…we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body. – 2 Corinthians 5:10 NLT

Paul was well aware that his death would take place long before the Second Coming of Christ occurred. But he was confident that he would not miss out on a single moment of that great day. He would receive the final reward – the crown of righteousness – that awaits all those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ.

…now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. – 2 Timothy 4:8 NLT

Paul knew that all his efforts on behalf of Christ in this life would be rewarded in the life to come. He believed, as did the apostle John, that his ultimate reward would be a life of sinless righteousness, like that of Christ.

Beloved, we are now children of God, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when Christ appears, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is. – 1 John 3:2 BSB

That future hope is what kept Paul going in the present reality of his imprisonment and pending death. He could face anything because he knew his salvation and ultimate glorification were based on the unfailing love of God.

I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. – Romans 8:38 NLT

So, with that hope in mind, Paul had run his race well. He had kept his eyes focused on the objective and knew that the finish line was in sight.

I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. – Philippians 3:14 NLT

And he wanted Timothy to run his race with the same intensity and intentionality. There would be days when Timothy wanted to give up. He would face potential setbacks and difficulties. His strength would ebb. His motivation would dissipate. But Paul knew from personal experience that the best way to survive the rigors of the race was to keep your eye on the prize.

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way as to take the prize. Everyone who competes in the games trains with strict discipline. They do it for a crown that is perishable, but we do it for a crown that is imperishable. Therefore I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight like I am beating the air. No, I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 BSB

Paul was passing the torch to Timothy. And he wanted his young friend to know that the race was well worth running. There would be an end to the pain and suffering. The weariness and feelings of sheer exhaustion would one day cease. In the meantime, Timothy would have to continue to fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith. But as the author of Hebrews points out, Timothy was not the first and would not be the last to run the race of faith.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. – Hebrews 12:1-3 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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