KEEPING the FAITH until the END is ALL that MATTERS: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:6-8)
Apostle Paul’s second letter to his spiritual son Timothy is believed to be the last letter that he wrote before he became a martyr before the Roman Emperor Nero. The above scriptural passage is believed to be Paul’s valedictory address that summaries his entire faith journey and his earnest expectation for the future. Paul had given up almost everything for the sake of the gospel, which included his freedom (he was currently locked up in a Roman prison, 1:8), his possessions (he did not have his cloak, books and parchments, v. 13), his family (he chose to remain single for the sake of the gospel, 1 Cor. 7:7-8), the churches he had established (he would never be able to visit them again), and his future (he was sentenced to die shortly, v. 6).
In the end, it cost Apostle Paul everything that he had except his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but this was all he needed until the very end. This is how Paul justifies his faith journey: “For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (1:12). He had indeed taken to heart the very words of Jesus: “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).
When Paul wrote the above words to Timothy, he believed that he would die very soon (v. 6). His life was presently being “poured out” as a sacrifice to God like the daily drink offerings in Judaism (see Exo. 29:40; Num. 15:1–10; 28:11–31), and soon there would be nothing left. Paul’s death was a sacrifice poured out before God and, as such, enabled him to share the sufferings of Christ. This is what Paul wrote to the Philippine believers: “Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all” (Phil. 2:17). In the words of Hiebert about Apostle Paul: “His whole life has been presented to God as a living sacrifice; now his death, comparable to the pouring out of the wine as the last act of the sacrificial ceremony, will complete the sacrifice.”
In fact, Paul was getting ready to depart this earth, as a traveler leaves one country for another. He had faithfully run the race set before him (Heb. 12:1), which was his gospel ministry. As a spiritual athlete, Paul had struggled in spreading the gospel in his known world, had endured the sufferings for Christ, had disciplined himself to showcase himself as an example, and finally had emerged victorious by persevering, being vigilant, and keeping his faith (1 Cor. 9:24-27). He now looked forward to finally seeing His Lord Jesus and receiving his just reward (“the crown of righteousness”) that was reserved for him (Matt. 5:10–12).
The most significant thing to note was that Apostle Paul had kept his faith in the Lord Jesus until the very end! This means not only that Paul himself had continued to believe in and obey the whole doctrine of the Christian faith, but also that, as a steward, he had guarded the doctrine which had been committed to him and had passed it on to others in its original purity (2:2). Whether Paul regarded his life as a battle, a race, or a test of the truth of the gospel, he had achieved victory. His past had been completed with its many duties; his present was secure in faith; and his future promised a great reward for him, which he would receive at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Paul thus understood the eternal potential of a lifetime of faithful service to Christ!
When we are faithful in our walk with the Lord and in our service for Him as we keep the faith, we too can face death courageously like Apostle Paul who was content with his record of service (v. 7), and confident of his reception by his Lord (v. 8). God wants us to finish our work/ministry faithfully by persevering in our service for the Lord Jesus Christ and keeping the faith until the end. After all, keeping the faith until the end is all that matters!