Recently I spent a number of weeks studying 2 Timothy in anticipation of teaching an overview of the book to an equipping class at our church. Being very familiar with this letter from Paul after many, many readings and after much meditation, I was pleasantly surprised to find several passages that caught my attention and made me dig a little deeper. I will devote several blogs to these studies and meditations.
“I have fought the good fight; I have finished the couerse; I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7
Here we have what could be an appropriate epitaph for Paul, a summary of his life and ministry. In this blog I want to focus on the phrase, “I have finished the course.” Paul is getting ready to enter eternity, to lay aside his earthly tent and to go home to be with the Lord forever. In this process of preparing to leave earth for heaven, he assesses what he accomplished and how well he ran. In his evaluation and reflection, he declares that he has finished the race.
Now what does Paul mean by this expression and what exactly does he have in mind? What has distinguished his life from that of anyone else who has come to the place of dying? Don’t we all eventually finish our races and then enter eternity? What is significant about Paul and his departure?
If what Paul means by “I finished the course” is simply that he has arrived at the graveside (so to speak) and now it is time for him to die, then there would have been no significance to his statement at. We all eventually reach the end and cross the finish, so why does Paul express a satisfaction in a life lived to the full and lived to the end?
Paul means much more by this expression, “I have finished the course” than simply saying he has crossed the finish line like everyone else. Paul is talking about a life of accomplishment in the most important of all earthly endeavors. the spread of the gospel. His efforts have “resulted in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed . . . so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum he has fully preached the gospel of Christ.” (Romans 15:18-19) A huge swath of humanity has heard and responded to the gospel of salvation because of Paul’s life. He has labored “so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24) The Lord Jesus Himself has given Paul his assignment and as a steward of the gospel, Paul had labored with all his might to be faithful to that divine calling. Now the finish line is in sight. Soon his labors will cease and heaven will be his reward. Soon all opportunity for fruitful labor (Phil. 1:22) will be past and he will know his Savior’s rest.
So by “I have finished the course,” Paul means “I have completed the course the Lord laid out for me and all my work is done. I have accomplished what the Lord gave me to do. My duties are all fully discharged and my assignments are all turned in. I can already hear the Master saying to me, ‘Well done!’ “
The first application from this passage is that Paul gives us an example of how to finish well. Paul is not content with an earthly retirement and a few years of leisure before entering eternity. Rather Paul is determined to press toward the prize with all his might as long as he has breath and to breast the tape at full speed. Surely every believer should be seeking to be useful until their final breath and should run hard until the end.
I believe the second application here is that, since we do not know when our last breath will come, we should always be striving to finish our work, to accomplish our assignment and to be ready to go home. Do not waste time, but use your time to be more useful to the Kingdom and to Christ and seek to make a greater and greater impact for the Lord, so that, regardless of when you are called home, you will leave a thirty-fold, sixty-fold, hundred-fold fruit for those who follow.
Then you can joyously say with Paul, “I have finished the course.”
SDG rmb 1/23/2018