I Have Fought ... I Have Finished . . . I Have Kept
R. V. Court, Bristol, England
These are thrilling words coming from the pen of one who was on the edge of eternity, and knowing that soon their truth would be tested. You will recognize them as the words of Paul the apostle in his final letter to his young friend Timothy. The full text of what he wrote was, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith", 2 Tim. 4. 7. Thrilling words! Immediately before writing these words, in verse 6 he had spoken of "the time of my departure is at hand", but this may simply indicate that the verdict had been given against him, that he had been sentenced to death, although he might have had no real knowledge of when he would be executed. Verses 13 and 21 suggest that he recognized the possibility that some time might yet elapse before his execution, as he writes of Timothy coming to him. On the other hand, he realized that it could be as soon as tomorrow.
He speaks of his experience as he first stood before Nero, "no man stood with me, but all men forsook me", v. 16. Was this fear on the part of others? Yet he was not really alone, for "the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me", v. 17, so that Paul might have the privilege, perhaps for the last time, of making known the gospel to his judges.
Now, as he writes, he looks back over his life in which the Lord had shown the world what He could do with one wholly committed to Him. We may rightly think of Paul as a chosen man, therefore somewhat special, but he was still human. He had known periods of fear; see Acts 18. 9-10; 1 Cor. 2. 3. This fear was almost certainly the fear of man, for the Lord had said, "no man shall set on thee to hurt thee", Acts 18. 10. Such an experience was probably linked with the knowledge that the Jews requiring signs and the Greeks seeking wisdom, 1 Cor. 1. 22, would have no time for the message of the gospel which was mere foolishness to them. But, strengthened by God, he "determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified", 1 Cor. 2. 2. Possibly similar experiences had come to him on other occasions. Certainly, he was human!, but those days were now behind him.
Let us emphasize that Paul was no superman; he was but human as we are, and as he made his claim, "I have fought ... I have finished ... I have kept", he was not boasting that he had never failed. Rather, he was rejoicing in God's gracious assistance during the years of his service. The closing days find him standing firm, a fitting climax to such a life.
It is likely that this testimony is made for Timothy's benefit. Paul is declaring to Timothy, who also had a warfare to wage, that what God had done for him He could also do for Timothy. This young, somewhat timid man, although not called to the prominent position of Paul, yet had the battle to fight, the race to run, and the faith to keep. But, surely, these words reach beyond Timothy, down to us in 1987, for the need to remain firm is as urgent today as ever it has been. It is likely that very few of us, as we look back over our years of service, would be bold enough to claim the triumph that the apostle claimed. But why not? If we have to admit more of failure than of success, more of defeat than of victory, could it be the consequences of our failure to recognize and long for the near return of our Lord?
It is encouraging to note that when Paul speaks of "a crown of righteousness" which God had assured him would be his, he makes the positive statement that the same crown awaits others. Yet he did not say, "to them who have fought, to them who have kept on running, and to them who have kept the faith", but simply, "unto all them also that love his appearing", v. 8. Surely, Paul is simply saying that his experience in verse 7 is only possible as we love His appearing. This must have been the motivating power in Paul's life and service. He was looking for, and longing for, that appearing when he would see the Lord, and be with the Lord. So he fought, he ran, and he kept the faith, in the light of it.
Could it be that verse 10 of this chapter is inserted to show what happens when a believer does not "love his appearing"? Demas, mentioned by name, is a man who had worked with the apostle (he is spoken of as a "fellowlabourer" in Philemon 24), and clearly he had been with Paul in Rome. He had probably enjoyed times of fellowship with the apostle, and Paul would have been refreshed by this. But gradually the times of fellowship and prayer lessened, and at last ceased altogether. Very sadly Paul says, "Demas hath forsaken me", v. 10. He does not say this was because of his fear of what might happen to him because he had been a companion of Paul. How grieved he must have been to have to say he "loved this present world". We do not know what form the attraction took; it might have been the prospect of worldly advancement away in Thessalonica, but one thing was sure: Demas did not "love his appearing", the present was all important to him. The remainder of the story of Demas is unknown; let us hope that he was restored. One hopeful feature is that he went to Thessalonica, in which there was a local church vibrant with spiritual life. Paul wrote in his first Epistle to them there, that the gospel had spread from them far and wide, and he made it clear in I. JO that this was because they were waiting for God's Son from heaven. Did someone with this hope contact Demas? Was he restored? We do not know; we are left only with the sad picture of a man who ceased to fight, who gave up the race, and who failed to keep the faith.
May the Lord enable us to "love his appearing", so that before the Judgment Seat of Christ the record may be this: "through looking up, he fought, he finished, he was faithful; a crown is his". Let us "love (long for) his appearing", so that when the time comes, we shall be happy to say, "Father, I am so glad to be at home".