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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God’s Glory In Clay Jars.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. – 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 ESV

Paul was not afraid to admit that he was human. He was far from perfect. In fact, later on in this same letter, he will write, “I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10 NLT). But this did not mean that Paul saw himself as flawed or somehow faulty when it came to his ministry for Christ. This was an important distinction that Paul felt compelled to make, because the value and integrity of his ministry was constantly under attack.
Paul is out to defend his ministry, not himself. As far as he was concerned, this was not about him. It was about the glory of God as revealed in the face of Christ and made accessible by the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God. He was simply a conduit through whom God communicated His message of reconciliation to the lost. He claims, “we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4:5 NLT). Just like the rest of the believers in Corinth, Paul’s life had been transformed by the gospel.

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. – 2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT

And ever since his conversion experience, he had seen it as his Christ-commissioned responsibility to take that same gospel message to the ends of the earth. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6 ESV). 

The amazing thing to Paul was that God had chosen to place His glory in a “clay jar” like himself. He viewed himself as common and unimpressive, as without value and unworthy of being a receptacle for the very Spirit of God. He humbly admits, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7 ESV). God had chosen to place His glory into less-than-perfect vessels. And not only that, Paul saw himself as sharing in the very sufferings of Christ as he bore the light of God’s message of redemption to the world. Just as Jesus suffered and died in order to make possible the redemption of mankind, so Paul and his fellow apostles were suffering for the sake of the gospel. “Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies” (2 Corinthians 4:10 NLT).

Paul explains to the Corinthians, “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 NLT). In spite of all the problems, persecutions, rejections and roadblocks they faced in their daily ministries, the apostles supernaturally sustained by God. He protected and provided for them. This does not mean they were somehow immune to trouble. Paul knew what it was like to go hungry and do without the essentials of life. In fact, he wrote the believers in Philippi, thanking them for their willingness to help him, but confessing, “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:11-13 NLT). Paul knew what it was like to experience all kinds of deprivations and indignities for the sake of the gospel. On one occasion, he had even been stoned and left for dead (Acts 14:19-20). And yet, God had sustained and revived Him. Just days later, Paul and Barnabas would continue their missionary journey, sharing the gospel and encouraging believers. “They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22 NLT).

Paul knew what it was like to suffer. He was familiar with pain and persecution. But he had a unique attitude toward his life and ministry.

Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you. – 2 Corinthians 4:11-12 NLT

Paul would later write to his young mentor, Timothy, “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). He would write to the believers in Philippi, “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all” (Philippians 2:17 ESV).

Paul was not perfect, but he was perfectly content in knowing that he was being used by God. He was a clay jar containing the glory of God and carrying the life-transforming message of the gospel to the ends of the earth. Paul had no problem admitting his own weaknesses. He even referred to himself as the chief of all sinners. But it was this indisputable realization that made his ministry all that more amazing. It led him to say, “This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:7 NLT). The thousands of changed lives Paul had left in his ministry wake were not the result of his powers of persuasion or oratory skills, but because of the glory of God that had taken up residence within him in the form of the Holy Spirit. That is why Paul could be content with sufferings of all kinds in his ministry for Christ. It is why he could boldly claim, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13 ESV).