The time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up 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 loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6–8)
Many, even within the church, have the haunting suspicion that they are wasting their lives. Although they serve when the opportunities arise, are intentional about community, and go from Sunday to Sunday, small group to small group, quiet time to quiet time, gospel conversation to gospel conversation with liveliness, they wonder in the silent moment, Is this how the road to glory really feels? Should there be more?
Oh, for more — to have what Paul had.
To know — and without shadows of doubt — that our labor for the Lord is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). To be persuaded with him that the life lived for Christ is the only one eternity won’t regret. The blessed man is the man who rightfully has blessed assurance, who can say what Paul did when he came to the end of his life:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness.
J.C. Ryle, commenting on this passage, observed that Paul’s blessed assurance came with three glances: the glance downward, the glance backward, and the glance forward.
Downward to the Grave
Writing to Timothy, his beloved son in the faith, the apostle tells him, “The time of my departure has come” (2 Timothy 4:6). His death is near. This may be the last time Timothy will hear from Paul. He will soon set off from the shores of this life. He will be poured out as a drink offering to his Lord. He will be martyred. He looks down at the grave — the sight that terrifies so many of the richest, wisest, and mightiest on earth — and does not shrink back.
Instead, he extends his hand to death. He has waited for where it would lead him with anticipation. He imparted to the Philippian church that he was hard pressed between his desire to stay on this earth for their benefit, or to set sail and be with Christ — for that was far better (Philippians 1:23). Now he did not fear the departing because he had precious assurance of where he was arriving. He knew whom he had come to believe (2 Timothy 1:12), and he knew to which country death — now bridled by his Master — would take him.
Backward to Service
How priceless to give such a report in our final days: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). Paul likens his life to a soldier who has completed his commission, a runner who has passed through the finish line, a steward who has kept what was entrusted to him.
He looks back without crippling regrets because, even though he spent a good portion of his life as an enemy of Christ, Jesus saved him, cleansed him, and enabled him to fulfill the commission assigned to him. He committed his work, his life, and his soul to a faithful Savior — and Jesus’s grace to him was not in vain.
Forward to Christ
Paul knew that only his heartbeat kept him from his crown. “Henceforth there is laid up 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 loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8). He was just a handful of breaths away from forever with his Lord. He would soon receive a crown of righteousness from his God, based not on his own working, his own doing, or his own effort. Though once a strict adherent to the law, Paul would not trust in his own righteousness, but rather long for the perfect righteousness that comes from Jesus Christ.
He envisioned a courtroom. Before the perfect judge, he stood crowned in Christ’s perfection — without spot, wrinkle, or regret. He now loves that appearing of Jesus when he confronted him on the road to Damascus, and he longs to see his Lord’s beauty as he lives before him in his eternal kingdom.
Paul looked unflinchingly down at the grave, backward on his service and faith, and forward to an eternal crown and everlasting future with his Lord. Our blessed assurance, our great confidence, is not ultimately that we have lived a remarkable life on earth, but that Jesus did. By his life, his death, his resurrection, we have joy awaiting. And with Paul and our brothers and sisters in the Lord, we sing as we wait,
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine;
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.