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 opportunity arises, are intentional about community, go from Sunday to Sunday, small group to small group, quiet time to quiet time, gospel conversation to gospel conversation, 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. How blessed a man who has blessed assurance, who can say what Paul did when he came to the end of his life.
Consider the three glances that J.C. Ryle (1816–1900) observed from this text: the downward, the backward, and the forward.
Downward to the Grave
Writing to his beloved son in the faith, Timothy, the apostle tells him “the time of my departure has come.” 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 which so terrifies so many of the richest, wisest, and most beautiful on earth — and does not shrink back.
Instead, he eagerly embraces death. He has waited for it with anticipation — for some time, in fact. 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). He did not fear the departing because he had precious assurance of his arriving. He knew who he had come to believe, and he knew where death — now bridled by his Master — would take him.
Backward to Service for Christ
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.” Paul likens his life to a soldier that has completed his commission, a runner that has passed through the finish line, a steward that has kept what was entrusted to him. He looks back at his life without regrets, because, even though he spent a good portion of his life 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 Toward 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.” He was just a handful of breathes away from forever with his Lord. And this, based not on his own working, his own doing, his own effort, but he received a crown of righteousness from his God. Though once a strict adherent to the law, he would not trust in his righteousness, but longed for perfect righteousness that came from Jesus Christ.
He envisioned a courtroom. Standing 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 for the Lord, and forward to an eternal crown and boundless future.
Our blessed assurance, our great confidence, is not that we lived a spectacular life on earth, but that Jesus did. By his life, his death, his resurrection, we have joy awaiting. And with Paul, with one another in the Lord, we sing,
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