Rounding Third and Heading for Home
2 Timothy 4:7
As I mulled over what to write about a pastor who is entering the winter of his ministry, it occurred to me that I ought to somehow look the future rather than the past. Then, as I chewed on that possibility, another question surfaced: Just what would I wish for him? Or how might I best pray for him?
That in turn led me to Paul, the great apostle. As he neared the end of both his life and ministry, he made some remarkable statements, one of which is recorded in 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”
As you may know, when Paul penned these words, he was in a Roman prison. He knew that, “…the time of my departure has come” (v 6). Execution was just around the corner. The flame of his ministry would soon flicker out.
Now, I am not necessarily addressing a pastor who is on the verge of dying or who has announced his retirement. But, let’s be honest. Neither the guy is not getting any younger. He is rounding third and heading for home. We don’t know how long before he crosses home plate, but it will happen.
Regardless of when that may be, my hope is that at the end of his ministry he and all pastors, would be able to confidently declare that he has finished well. And that others would enthusiastically voice their agreement.
This begs another question. Just what does finishing well look like? In other words, what do we hope for in the later years of ministry? A closer look at Paul’s statement may give us insights into this question. Listen to his admonition to young Timothy, his loyal assistant and representative who was just beginning his ministry:
NAU 2 Timothy 4:1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. 5 But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith;
What might finishing well look like? (8 suggestions)
Finishing well may mean that, over the course of life, a pastor patterns his ministry after the clear admonitions of Scripture. Paul has done what he urged Timothy to do in vs 1-5 (9 imperatives - 5 in v 2 and 4 in v 5). I won’t yield to the temptation to examine these items closely. Suffice it to say that Paul did the nuts and bolts of church ministry, whether small or large; easy or difficult; enjoyable or painful. He was an example and model to Timothy.
Finishing well may mean that a pastor understands that he lives and ministers under the awful stare of God himself (1b). So, at the end of the day, Paul figured out that it doesn’t matter if people don’t want to hear what you have to say (vs 3-4). We can’t finish well unless we come to grips with this reality. And Paul did.
Finishing well may mean that a pastor evidences a commitment to the centrality of preaching the Word (v 2). Paul’s ministry was Word centered and Word driven. This is one piece with Paul’s declaration at the conclusion of his ministry in the churches surrounding Ephesus recorded in ESV Acts 20:27, “ for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God”.
Paul uses three graphic figures to describe his life and ministry. Each phrase of v 7 begins with the figure and is followed by a past tense verb (perfect). Goes something like this:
the good fight I have fought
the course I have finished
the faith I have kept
So, here are additional hallmarks of finishing well:
Finishing well is marked by humility. The word order here may be instructive. He doesn’t begin with ”I have”…. Paul is not arrogantly applauding his achievement like some defensive tackle celebrating a sack of the quarterback! He is merely saying that he gave it his best shot or he “left it on the floor.” Later in v 17 he makes it clear that he is utterly dependent on God.
Finishing well normally means that there will be some ongoing results even after you are done. These are perfect verbs indicating that life or ministry may be over, but some results are still present. Wow!
Finishing well always requires hard work. The common denominator of these three figures is the idea of “struggle”. I think the figure “fight” probably generally refers to an athletic contest, perhaps a wrestling match during which the contestant sweats and strains. In fact the word (both noun and verb) sounds like the English “agonize” (ἀγῶνα). Paul’s ministry was not a cake walk.
Finishing well always requires persistent endurance. The figure (δρόμον) “course” or “race”(ESV, NIV) coupled with the verb to complete or come to the end of the laid out course ( τελέω), probably also refers to a footrace such as our long distance running. It is easy to start with a flourish. But it is taxing to keep going in midcourse when all seems futile. And it is especially difficult to push over the finish line strong after an exhausting effort. Take David as a positive example. He started out with great valor (think Goliath). He stumbled badly in mid course (think Bathsheba). He ended by leaving a grand legacy (think Solomon). The Bible’s evaluation of David - “a man after God’s heart.” Perfection not required.
Finishing well assumes a life long loyalty to the Lord.
Keeping the faith could mean defending the objective Christian truths as Paul does urge Timothy to do in 2 Tim 1:14. However, better is the simple notion that Paul is grateful that he has persevered to the end. He has kept (τηρέω can mean observed or paid attention to) the faith in the sense that he has remained loyal to Christ.
Well, we could scour other scriptures and discover additional hallmarks of finishing well in ministry (I Pet 5:2; Her 13:7; Acts 20; et al). But, I think these few will keep us occupied for the time being.
In fact, I think one of the most thoughtful gifts we can give pastors who are entering the winter of ministry is prayer. Pray that he would finish well. Pray that at the end of his journey, whenever that may be, he would hear the words “well done” from the Chief Shepherd Himself.
Posted on Mon, February 11, 2019
by Joe Flatt filed under