IV. PAUL, THE PATTERN
In verses 6 and 7 Paul testifies concerning himself: “For I am already being poured out, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” In verse 6 Paul indicates that he was already being poured out as a drink offering. The drink offering was additional to the basic offerings revealed in Leviticus 1 through 7 (Num. 15:1-10; 28:7-10). The basic offerings were types of various aspects of Christ. The drink offering was a type of Christ as enjoyed by His offerer, an enjoyment that filled him with Christ as the heavenly wine and even made him wine to God. The Apostle Paul became such a drink offering by so enjoying Christ that he could be poured out by the actual shedding of his blood. To be poured out here means to shed one’s blood. “Already being poured out” indicates that the process of being offered as a drink offering had begun.
Paul could say that the time of his departure was at hand. This refers to his departure from the world to be with the Lord (Phil. 1:23) through martyrdom. Paul was imprisoned in Rome twice. The first imprisonment, about A.D. 62-64, was due to the Jews’ accusation (Acts 28:17-20). During that time he wrote the Epistles to Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Philemon. After his release (which he expected in Philippians 1:25; 2:24; and Philemon 22) from the first imprisonment, he must have visited Ephesus and Macedonia (1 Tim. 1:3), where he probably wrote the first Epistle to Timothy. Then he visited Crete (Titus 1:5); Nicopolis (Titus 3:12), where he wrote the Epistle to Titus; Troas; and Miletus (2 Tim. 4:13, 20), where he probably wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews. Due to Caesar Nero’s sudden persecution, Paul was imprisoned a second time, about A.D. 65. At that time he wrote the second Epistle to Timothy while expecting his imminent martyrdom for his Master.
In verse 7 Paul mentions three items: fighting the good fight, finishing the course, and keeping the faith. A proper Christian life is threefold. It involves fighting the good fight against Satan and his kingdom of darkness for the interests of God’s kingdom (1 Tim. 6:12), running the course for the carrying out of God’s economy according to His eternal purpose (Heb. 12:1), and keeping the faith for participation in the divine riches in God’s dispensation (Gal. 3:22). In this Paul set up an adequate pattern for us.
Paul began to run the course of the heavenly race after he was taken possession of by the Lord, and he continually ran (1 Cor. 9:24-26; Phil. 3:12-14) that he might finish it (Acts 20:24). Now at the end he triumphantly proclaimed, “I have finished the course.” For this he will receive from the Lord a reward—the crown of righteousness (v. 8).
Paul could testify that he had kept the faith. This means that he kept God’s New Testament economy. To keep the faith is to keep the entire New Testament economy of God— the faith concerning Christ as the embodiment of God and the mystery of God and the church as the Body of Christ and the mystery of Christ.
V. THE REWARD—THE INCENTIVE
Verse 8 says, “Henceforth, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me in that day; and not only to me, but also to all those who have loved His appearing.” The crown is a symbol of glory given as a prize, in addition to the Lord’s salvation, to the triumphant runner of the race (1 Cor. 9:25). This prize is neither of grace nor by faith as salvation is (Eph. 2:5, 8-9), but of righteousness through works (Matt. 16:27; Rev. 22:12; 2 Cor. 5:10). Such a reward will be awarded the believers not according to the grace of the Lord, but according to His righteousness. Hence, it is the crown of righteousness. The One who awards it is the Lord as the righteous Judge, not as the merciful God or the gracious Redeemer. Paul was assured that such a prize was reserved, laid up, for him and would be awarded to him at the day of the Lord’s second appearing.
Paul says that such an award will be given to all who love the Lord’s appearing. The Lord’s appearing, His coming back, is a warning, an encouragement, and an incentive to us. We should love it and look forward to it with earnest expectation and joy. By it, the apostle charged Timothy to fulfill his ministry (vv. 1-2, 5).
The crown of righteousness of which Paul was assured is the incentive to the inoculator. If we are faithful to the healthy word of the truth and if we are faithful inoculators to dispense the ingredients of the divine inoculation into Christians today that they may return to the full knowledge of the truth, this reward will be given to us at the time of the Lord’s appearing. This means that if we are faithful to the Lord’s ministry, we shall receive the crown of righteousness as our reward.
There is a great deal of talk among Christians today concerning the Lord’s second coming. But not many believers realize that when the Lord Jesus comes back, He will not come as the merciful God or as the gracious Savior, but as the righteous Judge. Christians should be warned and encouraged to prepare themselves to stand before this Judge. I hope that many among us will take up the burden in this dark age to bring such a solemn charge to the Lord’s people. We all need to receive this charge before God and before the Lord Jesus, the One who will judge the living and the dead. We must declare the fact that when the Lord comes back, He will be the Judge of all, both believers and unbelievers. According to Matthew 25, all of the Lord’s servants will have to give an account to Him. The Lord will either say, “Well done, good and faithful slave” (v. 21), or, “Evil and slothful slave” (v. 26). In His righteousness the Lord will decide whether or not we receive a reward.
Because the Lord’s coming and His kingdom are solemn matters, Paul gave a serious charge to Timothy in 4:1-8. We should not think that the Lord’s appearing will merely be a time of rapture and excitement. It will also be a time of great solemnity for every believer in Christ. This was the reason Paul charged Timothy by the Lord’s appearing and His kingdom. May we all give heed to this solemn warning.
(Life-Study of 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon, Chapter 19, by Witness Lee)