The time of my departure has come... 2 Timothy 4:6
A few days ago I stood at the graveside of a man of 87 years, a Christian whom I had known since childhood. He was a humble, godly man with a good testimony at work, at home and in the church. He died from carcinoma of the prostate, with bone secondaries. A few days before he died he said to a Christian nurse in the Nursing Home where he was: `I'm on the home straight of the last lap to the finishing post, and it's a winning post!' he was not himself a man who took an interest in horse-racing, but anyone who has lived all his life in Australia knows something about it, and it is no wonder that he used this illustration as he drew near to the end of his life.
I do not imagine that the apostle Paul often frequented the athletic contests which were such a feature of Hellenic life. But as he lived all his life in a society in which they were part of the general culture, it is not surprising that he used illustrations taken from athletics. We find this in what was almost certainly his last letter, the one we know as 2nd Timothy. Paul was facing death: not death from illness, but death by execution. He uses a variety of pictures in 2 Timothy 4:6-8. The first is that of the drink-offering, poured out on the altar: the second is that of the ship at the wharf, about to set out to sea. Then follow two metaphors from athletics: `I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race'. The first picture is that of the wrestler, the second that of the runner. The next clause gives us the meaning of these two expressions: `I have kept the faith'. Then comes the picture of the final ceremony of the games, when the stephanos or garland of victory was placed on the head of the victors. Paul looks forward to the time when the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to him that crown, and not to him only, but to all those who have loved his appearing. My old friend, whose funeral I recently attended, will surely share in that reward.
As we run the race of life, and fight the warfare of life, it is good, from time to time, to think about how it will end. There are many things in a doctor's life which can distract the mind from the goal in view, and many who have fallen by the wayside in the race. Let us beware.
Lord, help me to run the race of life, looking to you,
the Author and Finisher of faith, so that when the closing
days of life come, I can look forward to death with the
calm assurance that I have found the good fight, run the
race, and kept the faith, in your strength.
Further reading: 2 Tim 4:1-8.