Our Love is Our Engine
“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 4:7-8
May all of us aspire to be able to make this confession with Paul during our last moments in this life. May we be able to look back over the stumbling and pain and confusion and joys of our time under the Fall and be enabled to say from the heart that we have endured to the end. Of course, our endurance is ultimately a matter of God Himself keeping us faithful and guarding us from stumbling (Jude 24-25). Every night we go to bed a Christian and every morning we wake up loving Christ is a sheer gift of sustaining grace from our sovereign Lord… but in this passage Paul is looking at his life through the legitimate lens of human responsibility and saying, with weighty gladness, “I’ve made it.”
The question I’d like to ask for my own sake and for yours is, “how?” What was the inner working of Paul’s heart that enabled him to endure through so much opposition and come to the end of his life a weary, wounded, yet faithful soul? Let’s quickly walk through these propositions and see if we can find out.
Endurance Yields Glory
“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…”
Endurance leads to glory. We see this primarily in our Lord Himself who endured the infinite condescension of the incarnation, a life lived under the weight of Adam’s Curse, and ultimately a death under the hammer of God’s wrath, and yet came through the torments into unparalleled glory (Phil.2:9-11). In the book of Revelation we see that the same thing is true of Christ’s followers. Jesus promises that His people who “conquer” (in the context, this word basically means, “endure faithfully through hardship to the end “) will be greatly honored, including being enthroned with Christ Himself (Rev.3:21). So, when Paul says that “henceforth” there is a crown of righteousness laid up for him, he is merely affirming a universal truth – the grace-dependent endurance of God’s people in the face of hardships will result in glory (And God teaches us this same lesson in nature…pressure creates diamonds, fire refines gold, hammer blows forge metal into something useful, storms leave bright skies and rainbows in their wake, etc.)
The Righteous, Wounded Judge
“…which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day”
Here Paul is envisioning the last Great Day of the Lord…the Day (which, by the way, is coming with absolute certainty….as surely as gravity is holding you down as you read this, even more sure is the coming of this Day), the Day when every human being who has ever existed will stand before the risen Christ and be judged in righteousness.
In this verse, Paul reminds us that he is an “ultimate” thinker; may we be as well! What I mean by being an “ultimate” thinker is that his mind always goes to the furthest it can, it always considers what is “ultimate.” So here, as Paul nears death, he is thinking about the Day of Judgment….he is fixing his mind on the eternal, and this gives him a clearer perspective of the temporal.
Now, one thing needs to be addressed before we move on: How is it that the Lord, the Righteous Judge, will award the crown of righteousness to the man who approved of Stephan’s murder and persecuted Christ Himself? In these verses, Paul teaches us what a gospel-believing heart looks like. Paul knows that he is the “chief of sinners” (1 Tim.1:15), and yet he also knows that “the Lord, the righteous judge” is the very same one who loved him and gave Himself up for him (Gal.2:20).
The Righteous Judge before whom all of us will stand holds the gavel of our destiny in a wounded hand. And for the Christian, the sight of those wounds is our only hope – this is the One who loved us and died for us and lives forever as our righteousness! This is how Paul could look ahead to the last Day with confidence….Paul knew that the Righteous Judge laid down His life for him, and that because of that, in righteousness, he would be awarded to crown of righteousness.
Our Love is Our Engine
“… and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
Here, at last, is the key proposition. Paul says that because he has endured faithfully in Christ, he will be awarded the crown of righteousness….but he is not the only one. The same crown will be given to “all who have loved [Christ/the Lord’s] appearing.” Paul uses “loving Christ’s appearing” as a summary for the life of faithful endurance that he has led and for which he is receiving the crown….the implication, then, is that the root underneath fighting the good fight, finishing the race, and keeping the faith is love for the return of Jesus Christ.
And bear in mind that a love for Christ’s return is not primarily a love for the end of pain or suffering or sin, it is not primarily a love for paradise on earth….it is primarily a love for the person of Jesus Christ Himself. We long for His return because His return means that we are with HIM. That is the point. Paul is saying that the engine beneath the hood of a faithful life is love for Jesus Christ that makes His presence the most cherished and sought after reality in life. How do we “qualify” for the crown of righteousness? How do we live a life of faithful endurance even in the face of hardships? We love Jesus Christ such that His presence is the treasure and longing of our lives (Ps.27:4).
And, just to hammer this point home, in verse 10 Paul mentions that Demas, “in love with this present world,” has deserted him. Demas is the “anti-Paul” in this passage. Demas was in love with the present world, he was in love with the things the world loved, he was enamored with the transient, and the result was that he fell away from the faith…..our love is our life’s engine, and it will either drive us heavenward or hellward…May we not be Demases.
Instead, may we be people who love Jesus Christ and long for His appearing, and may this love drive us – not into detached seclusion – but into a life of out-pouring love. May we fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith, knowing that our Righteous Judge has made us righteous by His blood, and longing for the day when our eyes will meet His.