October 23, 2016
Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost
- First reading and Psalm
- Second reading
2 Timothy 4:6-8 | New International Version (NIV)
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store 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 longed for his appearing.
2 Timothy 4:16-18
At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
This week we come to the end of Paul’s second letter to Timothy. These are some of Paul’s last words that we have, because this letter was written very near the end of his life. Since Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, he has been serving his Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. Paul has endured much suffering. In 2 Corinthians 11:16 and forward, Paul lays out just of the portion of the things that he has suffered for the cause of Christ. Paul has been faithful to the cause of Christ. Enduring suffering, pouring out his life to others. We know that Paul considered Timothy to be his son in the faith. Imagine the amount of mentoring that went on there. Paul poured his life into the churches that he planted – and worried about their spiritual health.
Paul is reminding us – who serve in the body of Christ – to pour out our lives sacrificially. This Sunday marks our three month anniversary of being at McCrae Brook. The following week our District Superintendent came and installed us. One of the things that I remember was his admonition to pour our lives sacrificially into the people here. Not only did he tell us to pour into the people, but that the congregation reciprocate. It’s only been three months, but I think that we have done that well.
Paul knows that he has spent his life in service to his Savior. He knows that he has been faithful despite the challenges. I think of this in my own life – and it is a constant reminder. Lord willing there are many more years left to be faithful to my Savior. It should come as no surprise that one of my favorite verses is also from Paul.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:12-14
Paul reminds us to press on toward the goal for which Christ has called us. Each one of us has been called by God to do something in service for the King. As Paul nears the end of the race, he is looking back.
That is not normally something runners do – they keep their eyes on the prize – that is the finish line. But perhaps – at this moment in Paul’s life – he realizes that he has already crossed the finish line – that for all practical purposes – the work that God has called him to do is finished. Perhaps that is why now, instead of looking toward the prize – the finish line, he is looking back.
I love the fact that Paul is not looking back wistfully – not begrudgingly – not in the way that says, “I wish I would have done better.” No, Paul says that I have poured out my life – I have done everything possible to “work out my salvation with fear and trembling” – I have been a faithful soldier for the Lord – I have finished the race – I have kept the faith. I have poured out my life to the best of my God given ability and I am done.
After just a moment of looking back, then Paul looks ahead – Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day. Paul knows that it won’t be long now before he will be in the presence of the Father. As he recounts his faithful service to God, he is reminded of the prize. He is reminded why he pressed on toward the goal – the crown of righteousness. This is much like the wreath that was awarded to runners in ancient times for finishing the race.
One of the fun things about running a longer race, is the medal that you receive for finishing. While I have enjoyed my finishers metals for half-marathons, the finisher’s medal for the Richmond Marathon has much more meaning. I know that I trained hard – that I was faithful to the training. While not everything went the way I had hoped, I still finished the race. I fought the good fight, and as I crossed the finish line, I was given the prizes for my effort. I remember thinking, “how am I going to drive back to Staunton?” I was spent. I had just poured four hours and twenty minutes of running out. I was done. I think this is how Paul felt. But he reminds us who fight the good fight, who finish the race that there is a reward for all our work – to all who are faithful to His work – to all who long for the appearance of Christ.
In his final words, Paul reminds us once again that we are not in this race alone. We have God at our side. We can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. The battle is strong – the battle is not ours – the battle is the Lord’s. We are called to be faithful to take the message of Christ to those who don’t know Him – even in the face of opposition – and yet in that opposition – we know that God will be with us. God has been with his people throughout the ages and He will continue to be with us.
So fight the good fight – finish the race – and receive the prize – pour your life out for God.