By Matt Henslee
Amid this season of COVID-19, at Mayhill Baptist, we’ve been making our way through 2 Timothy, a journey we started in January.
This past Sunday, we landed on 2 Timothy 4:6-8 for a drive-in service complete with a baptism, wind rivaling that of Acts 2:2, and yet another sunburn because I continue to forget to wear sunscreen.
Paul’s Perspective in Trying Times
Nevertheless, something struck me as I was making my way through verses 7 and 8, in particular. Take a look:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. There is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me, but to all those who have loved his appearing.
In the context here, Paul is languishing in a cold, dark cell in Rome. His death is imminent, his friends have departed, and his enemies are ripping apart his work throughout Ephesus.
And yet, Paul doesn’t spill much ink on his present circumstances (2 Timothy 4:6), he immediately sends our eyes to his past (2 Timothy 4:7) before sending them to his future (2 Timothy 4:8) fast enough to give us whiplash.
Paul’s Perspective for Pastors
As I was preaching this sermon (to an iPhone-turned-sideways on a music stand sitting on top of our Lord’s Supper table about six feet in front of my pulpit in an empty sanctuary) for those unable to come to our drive-in, his perspective brought conviction on this pastor.
Paul’s past had some incredible highs and a seemingly incalculable list of lows. He’d been beaten, battered, shipwrecked, deserted by friends, and much more.
And what does he have to show for all of his faithfulness in proclaiming the Gospel? An empty cell and a death sentence.
However, it’s from that cell he pens these soaring thoughts on his past and future as he sees the Lord’s gracious hand over it all.
He says, “I fought the good fight, I finished the race,” and no one can deny that. Everything God put in front of him, by God’s grace, he did it.
Paul’s Example for Everyone
It’s worth thinking specifically about that: Paul fought his fight; he ran his race.
In other words, in God’s infinite wisdom, has given each of us a course unique to all of us.
You don’t run my course. I don’t run your course. We don’t run Paul’s course. We run the course God laid out for us from before there was time.
Some courses may be relatively straight, while others have more twists and turns than a roller coaster. Some courses seem to a never-ending climb uphill, while others are as flat as the plains of Texas.
Amid them all, they seem long—yet they’re often over before we know it.
Our current situation might be similar, but what brought us to and what’ll greet us after COVID-19 will be remarkably dissimilar.
The key before this season is the key in this season and will be the key after this season: Keep the faith.
Paul’s Promise is our Promise
And while our courses will be different, our finish line is the same, which we see in verse 8:
There is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me, but to all those who have loved his appearing.
Paul fought his fight. He ran his race. I fight my fight. I run my race. You fight your fight. You run your race.
And as we keep the faith now and through the end, there’s a crown of righteousness waiting on us after we breathe our last.
There’s no way to know precisely where we’re at on the course God has marked out for us, but what a victory we’ll have to declare, “I’ve finished!”
What satisfaction there’ll be to declare, “I’ve kept the faith.”
The words of 2 Timothy 4:6-8 no doubt lit a fire under Timothy, and they lit a fire under me.
My prayer that this simple word of encouragement will help you stay on your course, to stay in your fight, and to keep the faith in these uncertain times.
MATT HENSLEE (@mhenslee) is managing editor of Lifeway Pastors and coauthor of the book Replanting Rural Churches. He is the husband of Rebecca, father of four princesses, pastor of Mayhill Baptist Church in Mayhill, New Mexico, and a D.Min student at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.