Never could the young Pharisee Saul have imagined how or where his course here on earth would end! Back then, he wanted to conquer the world and achieve great success among the prominent in society. Now, at the end of his journey, he was completely content to be “poured out” as a sacrifice. The long journey, with all its struggles, worries, tribulations, and dangers had come to an end.
How often had this man of God longed for this moment! In the midst of tremendous trials, discouragement, and the huge, sometimes overwhelming responsibilities placed on him, he often longed to be released from all of it and be at home with Jesus. His riveting words are known to us: “For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you” (Philippians 1:23-24). Paul had the unwavering conviction that: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). With this knowledge, he longed from his prison cell to be rid of and free from everything and to be at home with Jesus.
Fought the Good Fight
Paul’s battle was not an easy one! He was hated and persecuted. “I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fasting often, in cold and nakedness— besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:23-28).
Added to that were the attacks of Satan. How the powers of hell raged against this holy warrior! “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure” (2 Corinthians 12:7).
Perhaps we might say: “No thanks, I don’t want a difficult battle like that!” Paul certainly didn’t want such a difficult one either, but for the sake of Christ, he was willing to fight a good battle. The immense plight of those around him and a world full of lost souls urged him on. Yet, this battle was brimming with joy! This beleaguered Christian encouraged other children of God, from the misery of his prison cell, to be filled with joy! Why? Because Jesus was with him, strengthening and encouraging him and giving him joy!
If Paul were able to retrace his steps, would he run a different race? Never! He would choose the same path, except that he would consecrate his life to the Lord Jesus much earlier. Why? He had “fought a good fight.” This battle had eternal worth and an eternal reward. It was the only battle worth fighting. How wonderful if we can look back at the end of our life and say: “I have fought a good fight!”
Kept the Faith
Satan especially attacks the faith of many children of God. He either tries to negate the entire plan of salvation and make it inconceivable for some, or he tries to convince them that they no longer have salvation. Through bad feelings, presumption of failure, not living up to expectations, loneliness, dark thoughts, and many other emotions, Satan tries to jeopardize the faith of God’s children. It is likely that such thoughts also entered Paul’s mind as he sat in prison. However, he was always able to focus on the Lord and to orientate himself in His Word. He simply made the decision: I will keep the faith!
Keeping the faith also means that it is important to keep the correct faith. Even at that time, there were dangerous deviations from the true faith that was entrusted to believers. Jesus had warned them: “Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many” (Matthew 24:11). Paul also wrote to Timothy: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). He also commands Timothy in verse 16: “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.” With great effort, Paul strove to keep the true faith. Obviously, he examined himself to make sure that he wouldn’t somehow stray from the correct path. And now, at the end of his life’s journey, he could testify before God and man: “I have kept the faith.” In other words, “I remained faithful.” May God grant that we also may give this testimony at the end of our life!
A Crown is Waiting
The last section of the Apostle Paul’s testimony refers to the pinnacle of the journey: the crown of victory. Paul was not trying to imply that he had earned this crown with his exemplary fight! No, he was actually directing his readers to the Savior – Jesus, who has promised that crown to every victor. “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10b). Paul did not even consider himself worthy to be called an apostle, but the indescribable gift of God’s grace rewards faithful service and a life lived for God with a crown. Surely we will also remove our own crown someday and lay it at the feet of the Lamb of God!
It is a crown of righteousness. It is not self-righteousness nor an earned righteousness, but the righteousness that only comes from God. “The blood of Jesus and His righteousness is my adornment!” Those who have been made righteous by God and have served Him in holiness and honor till the end of their life will eternally glorify God, crowned with righteousness.
The Finished Race
Imagine Paul being there in eternity with his Savior. Do you think he regrets having suffered for his Lord or having sacrificed so much? No! On the contrary, he will be so glad and thankful that he was able to do all this for Him. So let us now take Paul as our example and use our remaining time wisely, living for the Lord and for eternity. With God’s help, power, and grace, we want to fight the good fight. Let us not be influenced by the trends of this time and allow ourselves to be tossed by new winds of doctrine. We too want to keep the faith. And together with Paul, let us decide: “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).
The crown of righteousness awaits you; the Lord has it ready for you! Let us successfully finish the race so that we can rejoice in all eternity with our Lord, with Paul, and with all the saints!