6As for me, I am already being poured out on the altar, and the time of my death has come upon me. 7I have completed the great race. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith. 8The crown of righteousness is now waiting for me, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me in that day, and not to me only, but to all who love (and value) his appearing. — 2 Timothy 4:6-8
It’s easy to read this passage with sadness, and a sense of melancholy. Paul has worked tirelessly and suffered as he worked for Jesus. He has helped so many people. Yet here he is almost alone at the end of his life waiting for the end that is coming soon. He has remained faithful to the end, finished what God called him to do, and now he awaits the crown. It’s easy to skip past that last point. While there is sorrow, there is also joy.
Those who know me may be surprised to know that I used to run fairly long distances. I never ran a marathon, but I would run between 10 and 20 miles in a week, sometimes 3 ½ miles, frequently 5, and even up to 10 miles on rare occasions. Now it will surprise nobody to know that I was never very fast. No speed records were in any danger. But what I could do was finish the course that I had set out for myself. There would be a time during any run that I might feel like turning back. I was too tired. Perhaps I should make today one of my 3 ½ mile days rather than the longer distance I had planned. In order to keep going I would give myself a certain distance to complete before I decided. Another half mile, I’d think, and then I’ll make the call.
As long as I resisted that temptation, things would settle in, and soon I would get into that groove where I was just running along and the particular distance didn’t matter so much. Toward the end I would need some particular will power again. Then I would tell myself that it would be silly to end a five mile run at 4.8 or 4.9 miles. If I intended five miles, I should complete it. Especially if it was one of those rare days, and I was going for 10 miles, I would be very anxious to truly complete every inch of those ten miles, and to make sure that my speed could still be distinguished from a walk!
There was joy and satisfaction in coming to the end of that course. Doing a little bit of running has helped me understand Paul here. Certainly there is sorrow in this passage that so few have stood by him. Yet at the same time there is that “final stretch” energy and joy that says, “I’m practically there.” Paul loved Christ’s appearing. He was anxious for it.
We all have a race of this life, and sometimes it seems long and difficult. But there are two things that can move us forward, and get us to the joy of finishing the race. First is the appearing of Jesus Christ our Savior. That is the final goal, and it is a joyful one. Second, we can remember to look for those moments of joy when we have completed a significant part of the race. “Lord, help me to keep looking up and keep moving forward until I complete my work of the day.” It may be days, weeks, or months at a time, or it may be minutes sometimes.
But in each case there is a goal that you can reach, and there is a reward that you can earn, and there is a Savior who will be right with you.
13Temptation has not grabbed you, except the common human kind. But God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted above what you are able, but will make with the temptation a way out, so that you will be able to endure it. — 1 Corinthians 10:13
If you’re feeling that joy of the successful runner today, share it with someone else. Let them know who is with them in their race. If you’re having trouble yourself, look up and ask.