For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and 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.
Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus remained at Corinth, and I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus. Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers.
The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.
I often feel encouraged by the realisation that we can achieve the same reward as the apostle Paul, what he calls the “crown of righteousness”. Paul felt he could claim this reward because of three things.
First, Paul had “fought the good fight”. This reminds us that, despite what we may prefer, living the Christian life can be a big struggle and very difficult at times. Paul does not give us an unrealistic vision of what it means to live as a Christian. Instead, Paul anchors us in the reality that sometimes it is a genuine struggle for us — a struggle with the World, the flesh, and the Devil. But Paul shows us that it is also a struggle we can win as we are in Christ!
Second, Paul had “finished the race”. Living as a Christian is a bit like running a marathon. It takes a lot of perseverance and endurance. But the marathon that each Christian runs is unique to that Christian. We each have our own race to run. We each have our own course to run on. What matters is not how fast we run or how long it takes us but that we actually finish the race before us. Empowered by the Spirit of God, every Christian can certainly finish their race.
Third, Paul had “kept the faith”. All Christians have a responsibility to know and maintain the truth of God’s Word and the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ. But “keeping” the faith means even more than this. It means that we must zealously guard and protect that which God has revealed to us in his son Jesus Christ, embracing it fully in faith. We are called to keep the faith as it has been handed down to us from generation to generation throughout the history of the Church of Jesus Christ.
As we pursue this “crown of righteousness”, Paul’s closing words give us some further insights. His struggle with Demas reminds us that many people will abandon us, falling in love with the things of the world. His longing for Mark and Luke reminds us that we cannot live the Christian life alone. We always need friends and companions on the journey with us. The warning about Alexander reminds us that many might work to harm us or hinder us as we seek to live for Jesus. This is not a sign of failure, but rather an indicator of our effectiveness. Paul’s instructions also remind us that we need our books and “parchments” (dare I say “Internet”?). He praise of God also encourages us that sometimes people will desert us, but that no matter what the Lord will stand by us, sustain us and rescue us.
May we all run our races with the confidence that the Lord will deliver us from every evil deed and bring us safely into his heavenly kingdom.
Loving Father, you have called us to yourself through your son, Jesus Christ, giving us each a race to run and a faith to keep. We pray that you might protect and preserve us, sustaining us in this marathon, until like Paul we might claim a crown of righteousness. Give us the courage we need to face our struggles and the grace we need to endure. May our lives be lived for the glory of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, until that day when either our race is finished and the crown is won or Jesus himself returns to bring us into your heavenly kingdom. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
The Rev’d Rodney Wood is the Minister of the City Temple in London.