Jesus' Parables for Disciples
13. I Have Fought the Good Fight (2 Timothy 4:6-22)by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898), 'St. Paul' (c. 1874), stained glass, manufactured by William Morris, Ponsonby Church, Cumbria, UK. Larger image.
I find myself coming back to this part of 2 Timothy again and again. It contains Paul's last words to his beloved colleague Timothy. Earlier in both 1 and 2 Timothy, Paul has pretty much abstained from personal references, but now he shares his heart. He is about to die, and you can tell he is reflecting on his life.
Paul has just exhorted Timothy to preach diligently because of the spread of false doctrine and wickedness. Now he tells us the reason for the urgency he feels personally.
"For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure." (2 Timothy 4:6)
This figure of "being poured out like a drink offering"662 comes from the Old Testament:
"The accompanying drink offering is to be a quarter of a hin [about a quart] of fermented drink with each lamb. Pour out the drink offering to the Lord at the sanctuary." (Numbers 28:7)
He says something similar when he writes to the Philippian church during an earlier imprisonment (Philippians 2:17). Being poured out offers the image of being expended to the last drop, ready now for the blood sacrifice to follow.
"... The time has come for my departure."663 (2 Timothy 4:6b)
The word for "departure" means "loosening up," and carries images of breaking up a camp or loosening a ship from its moorings for departure. It is a euphemism of "departure from life, death." Paul senses that the time has come.
Finishing the Race Well (2 Timothy 4:7)
US 2004 postage stamp by Richard Sheaff and Lonnie Busch reminiscent of ancient Greek black-figure vases, such as a terracotta panathenaic amphora (ca. 530 BC) attributed to the Euphiletos painter, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Larger image.
Earlier, he had said to the Ephesian elders:
"However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task (diakonia, "ministry, service") the Lord Jesus has given me -- the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace." (Acts 20:24)
Now he has come to the end of this long and arduous race.
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (2 Timothy 4:7)
Paul uses athletic, not military, metaphors here. "Fought" is originally, "to engage in a contest," then is used generally as, "to fight, struggle."664 The contest referred to is probably a race, so "fight the good fight" would mean "that he ... has been running in the noblest, grandest race of them all -- the ministry of the gospel."665 He has finished666 his racecourse.667
The phrase, "I have kept the faith" (4:7) uses the word tēreō, "to cause a state, condition, or activity to continue, keep, hold, reserve, preserve someone or something," of holding on to something so as not to give it up or lose it.668 He had exhorted Timothy to "guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you" (1:14) intact, uncorrupted, faithfully transmitted from what he had received. Now Paul has completed his portion of the race. To extend the analogy, Paul is passing the baton to Timothy, and, through him, to those Timothy is teaching, "who will be able to teach others also" (2:2, RSV). I think of the stirring exhortation in Hebrews that refers to the stadium filled with observers eagerly watching the outcome:
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." (Hebrews 12:1)
I have often thought that Paul's words, along with the words of Jesus, would make a good epitaph for a Christian man or woman at the end of a life well lived. A report and the response:
The Report: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." (2 Timothy 4:7)
The Response: "Well done, good and faithful servant.... Enter into the joy of your master." (Matthew 25:21, RSV)
Q1. (2 Timothy 4:6-7) What does it mean to have "fought
the good fight" or "run the good race"? What does it take to "finish the
race(course)" God has designed for you? What does it mean to "keep the faith"?
The Crown of Righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8)
Paul's vision is now future, towards heaven which awaits him soon:
"Now there is in store 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 longed for his appearing." (2 Timothy 4:8)
Greek athlete being crowned by Nike. Red figure krater, unknown provenance. Larger image.
The metaphor continues on the athletic theme. The "crown"669 in this image is not a kingly coronet, but the laurel or olive wreath that was placed on the heads of the victors at the ancient Olympic games. The "crown of righteousness" is the crown that consists of righteousness,670 purchased at great cost by the blood of Jesus. Moreover, this crown is "in store" (NIV), "laid up" (KJV), which means, "to reserve as award or recompense, reserve, a common term in honorary documents expressing appreciation for a sense of civic or other communal responsibility."671 The reward of righteousness is being kept aside to be given us on that day.
Paul is not the only one who will receive this anticipated reward. He says:
"... and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." (2 Timothy 4:8b)
"Longed for" (NIV, NRSV), "loved" (KJV) is agapaō, "love," here with the sense, "to have high esteem for or satisfaction with something, take pleasure in," hence, "long for something."672 The word is used of Demas in verse 10, who "loved this world" so much that he deserted Paul.
I've wondered: Do I really "long for" Christ's appearing or Second Coming? I do want to know him better and serve him with all my heart. Perhaps that's the same idea.
Q2. (2 Timothy 4:8) What does the "crown of
righteousness" represent? To whom is it given? On what basis is it awarded?
Now Paul calls Timothy to come to his side. He misses him.
"9 Do your best to come to me quickly, 10 for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. 12 I sent Tychicus to Ephesus." (2 Timothy 4:9-12)
Have you ever had people leave you? Even when they leave on good terms, it hurts to see them go -- especially when your own world seems to be diminishing.
It was especially hard for Paul to see Demas go. The word translated here and in verse 16 as "deserted" (NIV, NRSV), "forsaken" (KJV) is enkataleipō, "to separate connection with someone or something, forsake, abandon, desert."673 When Paul had been imprisoned in Rome previously, he had referred cheerfully to Demas as his "fellow worker" (Philemon 24, Colossians 4:14). Now Demas has deserted him with others when Paul's execution drew near. Instead of having his hope firmly fixed on the Kingdom of God, Demas had succumbed to the allurements of "this present world" (KJV, NRSV)674 and left for Thessalonica in Macedonia. Nevertheless, Paul is not alone. With him is the One who has said:
"I will never leave you or forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5, NRSV, quoting Deuteronomy 31:6)
Other co-workers had left also -- on missions for the gospel.
"Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia ... I sent Tychicus to Ephesus/" (2 Timothy 4:10, 12)
We know nothing of Crescens (whose name means "growing") than what we read here. Titus, however, has had quite a ministry career. He worked with Paul in Corinth (2 Corinthians 2:13; 7:6, 13-15; 8:8, 16), and travelled to Jerusalem with Paul and Barnabas (Galatians 2:1, 3). Paul wrote him the Letter to Titus with instructions for his ministry in Crete (Titus 1:4), and now he is off to Dalmatia, a Roman province east of the Adriatic sea. To the Corinthian church Paul had commended him as:
"... My partner and fellow worker among you." (2 Corinthians 8:23)
Probably Tychicus (whose name means "fortuitous," i.e. "fortunate") is the one bearing this letter and will take over for Timothy in Ephesus, since he is an experienced colleague in ministry (Acts 20:4; Titus 3:12). Twice Paul extols him to the churches:
"He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord." (Colossians 4:7; cf. Ephesians 6:21)
Of Paul's trusted missionary team, only Luke, "the beloved physician" (Colossians 4:14) and author of The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, remains in Rome with Paul. Yes, there are members of the Roman church that see him, but it's not the same.
Bring Mark with You (2 Timothy 4:11)
Now Paul asks Timothy to find John Mark (Acts 15:37, probably the author of the Gospel by that name).
"Get675 Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry." (4:11)
It's interesting that Paul should call for Mark just after being deserted by Demas, since Mark himself had deserted676 Paul and Barnabas on a their First Missionary Journey (Acts 15:38). But Mark had proved himself faithful to Paul during Paul's first imprisonment in Rome (Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24). Later we find Mark with Peter in Rome (1 Peter 5:13). Praise God! People mature. Paul has found Mark especially "useful"677 in his ministry.
Q3. (2 Timothy 4:9-12) Why is it so difficult when
trusted friends desert us? Why is it so difficult when they move away or die?
Is it better to trust no one? Who remains with Paul besides Luke? (Hint: see
Now more instructions for Timothy:
"When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments." (2 Timothy 4:13)
Carpus (whose name probably means "fruitful") is probably a Christian. The cloak refers to a heavy woolen garment that travelers would wear in cold or rainy weather. No doubt Paul wants to be ready for winter (2 Timothy 4:21). The cloak will feel good to an old man in prison, no longer under house arrest.
The scrolls678 no doubt refer to Paul's books, probably both of papyrus and the more expensive parchments (membrana). Parchment is not tanned, but animal skins stretched, scraped, and dried under tension, creating a stiff white, yellowish or translucent writing surface. What was contained in these books? We' d love to know! Perhaps they included parts of the Old Testament Scriptures.
No doubt Paul assumes that Timothy will travel to Rome by going through Troas -- then overland through Macedonia along the Egnatian Way (a road built by the Romans in the second century BC), then by ship across the Adriatic Sea to Brundisium (now Brindisi), and on to Rome.
Watch Out for Alexander the Metalworker (2 Timothy 4:14-15)
But why did Paul leave his cloak and books in Troas? Very likely it was because he was arrested nearby, perhaps in Miletus (4:20) or Troas itself. Which brings us to an enemy he warns Timothy against who may have been behind the arrest.
"14 Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. 15 You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message." (2 Timothy 4:14-15)
Probably this is the same Alexander whom Paul had excommunicated when he was still in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:20).679 He had been a strong opponent680 and hurt Paul badly. He can hurt you, too, Timothy, says Paul, so be careful!681
Paul's "First Defense" (2 Timothy 4:16-18)
Operating on the theory of a second Roman imprisonment as outlined in the Introduction, we believe that Paul was initially brought to Rome, stayed there under house arrest for about two years (Acts 28:30-31), and was then released. His second imprisonment seems much worse. He is in jail rather than under house arrest, and at the preliminary hearing, hopes of an acquittal have faded.
"16 At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. 17 But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion's mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen." (2 Timothy 4:16-18)
According to Fee, Paul's "first defense"682 refers to "the Roman juridical practice of a prima actio, a preliminary hearing before the emperor or a magistrate, roughly comparable in purpose to a grand jury hearing. This would then be followed by the actual trial."683
But those he expected to appear as witness on his behalf684 failed to come. No one wanted to be associated with a person who was seen as an enemy of the state, likely to be executed. At his first trial, Paul expected acquittal and release (Philippians 1:25), but not now. "Everyone deserted685 me" (4:16), Paul says. And like his Lord on the cross (Luke 23:34; cf. Acts 7:60), he prays: "May it not be held against them" (4:16b).686 But with God's help he had a chance to give his testimony at the hearing:
Though, for the most part, Christianity was spreading among the poor, through Paul those in high places -- probably in this case before magistrates close to the emperor Nero himself -- heard the gospel, fulfilling what Jesus had spoken to Ananias at Paul's conversion.
"This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel." (Acts 9:15)
From our standpoint, the best outcome would have been acquittal and release. But from God's point of view, the message is fully proclaimed and death is just an entrance into God's presence in a fuller way (2 Corinthians 5:6; Philippians 1:22-23).
The Lord's Deliverance (2 Timothy 4:17b-18)
This is how Paul views it, too.
"17 But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength ... and I was delivered from the lion's mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack689 and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen." (2 Timothy 4:17-18)
The phrase "delivered from the lion's mouth" is metaphorical. Roman citizens were executed by decapitation by the sword, not fed to the lions. Probably he is thinking of the themes of suffering and deliverance in Psalm 22.
"Rescue me from the mouth of the
save me from the horns of the wild oxen." (Psalm 22:21)
If he is to be "rescued from every evil attack" (4:18a), doesn't that mean that he won't be martyred? No. Recall Jesus' teaching about persecution and death:
"They will lay hands on you and persecute you.... You will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them ... and they will put some of you to death. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life." (Luke 21:12-19)
Though men may attack us and even kill us, they cannot pluck us out of the Father's hand (John 10:27-28). They cannot cause us any lasting harm. They are powerless to prevent our final deliverance.
"The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom." (2 Timothy 4:18a)
Paul uses two words in verse 18 to describe this eternal salvation that are largely synonymous here:
"Rescue" (NIV, NRSV), "deliver" (KJV) is rhyomai, "to rescue from danger, save, rescue, deliver, preserve."690
"Bring safely" (NIV), "save" (NRSV), "preserve" (KJV) is sōzō, "save," here, "bring Messianic salvation, bring to salvation."691 This is the more common word in the New Testament to refer to eternal salvation.
After having declared God's great salvation that he is looking forward to, Paul can't help but offer a spontaneous doxology:
"To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen." (2 Timothy 4:18b)
We may face death by martyrdom or by natural means. But our hope is the same: That he will bring us safely to his heavenly kingdom. And for that we offer God praise and glory forever!
Personal Comments (2 Timothy 4:19-21)
We've concluded the theological portion of the letter. Now Paul finishes with some personal comments about co-workers.
"19 Greet692 Priscilla and Aquila and the household of Onesiphorus. 20 Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus. 21 Do your best to get here before winter. Eubulus greets you, and so do Pudens, Linus, Claudia and all the brothers." (2 Timothy 4:19-21)
Of course, Priscilla (Prisca) and Aquila had a long history with Paul. Paul worked for them as a tentmaker in Corinth (Acts 18:2-3) and ministered with them in Ephesus (Acts 18:18, 26; 1 Corinthians 16:19). Later they went to Rome (Romans 16:2-3) and have now returned to Ephesus. He calls them "my fellow workers in Christ Jesus ... [who] risked their lives for me" (Romans 16:3-4). Since Priscilla's name usually appears first, she probably had the more prominent ministry of the couple.
Onesiphorus had searched for Paul in Rome: "he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains" (2 Timothy 1:16). Since Paul speaks of "the household of Onesiphorus," probably he has since died.
Erastus (whose name means "beloved," from eraō, "to love) is a co-worker mentioned only here.
Trophimus (whose name means "nutritive," from trephō, "to feed, nourish") was from the church at Ephesus (Acts 20:4; 21:29), but Paul had left him ill in Miletus, a city just a few miles south of Ephesus. "Sick" (NIV, KJV), "ill" (NRSV) is astheneō, "be weak," here, "to suffer a debilitating illness, be sick."693 One of the sad truths is that even those with the gift of healing -- including St. Paul -- can't heal everyone all the time. Here on earth healing is only temporary. The final healing is the resurrection of the dead when Christ returns (1 Corinthians 15:51-53; 1 Thessalonians 4:15-16).
The final four mentioned are probably Christian leaders from the Roman church who are known to Timothy. Only Linus is known to history:
Eubulus (whose name means "of good counsel" or "good-will").
Pudens (whose name means "modest" in Latin).
Linus (the name of three sons of Apollo in Greek mythology) is mentioned once in Scripture. But according to Irenaeus, St. Linus was the second bishop of Rome (ca. 67--78 or 80 AD), succeeding St. Peter.694
Claudia (derived from Latin claudus, meaning "lame, crippled") was a common name in Rome, since gens Claudia was a prominent Roman family.
"Do your best to get here before winter." (4:21a)
Paul's final plea urges Timothy to make haste. "Do your best" (NIV, NRSV), "do diligence" (KJV) is spoudazō, "hurry," here, "to be especially conscientious in discharging an obligation, be zealous/eager, take pains, make every effort, be conscientious."695
Travel became more difficult in winter. Because of storms, the Mediterranean was closed to shipping between November and March and ships would winter over in safe harbors (Acts 27:9-12). If Timothy was to get to Rome, he would have to leave quickly or he would lose the opportunity forever to assist Paul in the last days before his execution in approximately 65 AD. Did Timothy go? Did he find John Mark, collect Paul's books, find his cloak, and come to Rome in time? We don't know.696 Doing what we need to do without delay is one of the marks of a person with his priorities in order.
Q4. (2 Timothy 4:21a) Why is it important to Paul for
Timothy to come before winter? What happens if Timothy delays? Do you think
Timothy dropped everything and came to Paul's side? Would you, if you were
The Lord Be with Your Spirit (2 Timothy 4:22)
Paul ends as he began, with grace.
"The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you." (2 Timothy 4:22)
Several of Paul's epistles end: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit" (Galatians 6:18; Philemon 25; Philippians 4:23). Grace is what has sustained the Apostle Paul in this difficult time and grace will be needed for Timothy's journey to join him in Rome.
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But at the end Paul, also includes a word to the larger church, which may be reading this letter, since the final "you" is plural, as they say in the American South: "Grace be with y' all." I receive that! Amen!
Lord, thank you so much for your faithfulness to us in the difficult times. Help each of us to run with perseverance the race that you set before us and to finish that race well with your help. Help us to keep the faith and the teaching that you have entrusted to us and pass it on faithfully to those in the next generation who can teach others also. We know you will be with us to the end. We know that your grace is sufficient. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store 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 longed for his appearing." (2 Timothy 4:7-8, NIV)
"The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen." (2 Timothy 4:18, NIV)
 "Poured out like a drink offering/libration" (NIV, NRSV), "be offered" (KJV) is spendō, "offer a libation/drink-offering, be offered up" (BDAG 937).
 Analysis, BDAG 67; Fee, p. 289.
 Agōnizomai (from which we get our word, "agonize"), BDAG 17. "Fight" is agōn, "a struggle against opposition, struggle, fight" (BDAG 17)
 Fee, p. 289.
 "Finished" is teleō, "to complete an activity or process, bring to an end, finish, complete" (BDAG 997, 1).
 "Race" (NIV, NRSV), "course" (KJV) is dromos, "movement on a path from one point to another, course" (BDAG 261, 1). We get our English words "dromedary" and "hippodrome" from this word, hippos, "horse" + dromos, "race course."
 Tēreō, BDAG 1002, 2c.
 Stephanos, BDAG 493.
 Dikaiosynē, "the quality or characteristic of upright behavior, uprightness, righteousness," here, "the crown of uprightness (with which the upright are adorned), a common theme in honorary inscriptions recognizing distinguished public service (BDAG 248, 3a).
 Apokeimai, "' be put away, stored up" (BDAG 113, 2).
 Agapaō, (BDAG 6, 2).
 Enkataleipō, BDAG 273, 2, from en-, "in" some place or condition + kata, "behind" + leipō, "leave" (Enkataleipō, Thayer).
 "Present world" (KJV, NRSV), "world" (NIV) consists of two words: nyn, "present, now" and aiōn, "a segment of time as a particular unit of history, age" (BDAG 33, 2a).
 "Get" (NIV) or "take" (KJV) should probably be "take along as a traveling companion" (Analambanō, BDAG 67, 4).
 Aphistēmi, " BDAG 158, 2a.
 "Helpful" (NIV), "useful" (NRSV), "profitable" (KJV) is euchrēstos, "pertaining to being helpful or beneficial, useful, serviceable" (BDAG 417).
 "Scrolls" (NIV), "books" (NRSV), "parchments" (KJV) is biblion, "long written composition (either of a total work or of parts of a work), scroll, book" (BDAG 176, 2).
 Perhaps Alexander had informed on him, since "did" (endeiknymi, "show, point out") in verse 14 was often used in the legal sense of "inform against" (Fee, p. 296).
 "Opposed" (NIV, NRSV), "withstood" (KJV) is anthistēmi, "be in opposition to, set oneself against, oppose" (BDAD 80, 1b).
 "On your guard" (NIV), "beware" (NRSV), "be ware" (KJV) is phylassō, "to be on one's guard against, look out for, avoid" (BDAG 1068, 3).
 "Defense" (NIV, NRSV), "answer" (KJV) is apologia (from which we get our word "apologetics"), a legal term, "the act of making a defense, defense" (BDAG 117, a).
 Fee, p. 296.
 "Support" (NIV, NRSV), "stood with me" (KJV) is symparaginomai, "come to the aid of" (BDAG 958, 2).
 "Deserted" (NIV, NRSV), "forsook" (KJV) is enkataleipō, which we saw in 4:10 above.
 "Held against" (NIV), "counted against" (NRSV), "laid to their charge" (KJV) is logizomai, "count, take into account something" (BDAG 597, 1a). Contrast this with Paul's attitude towards Alexander the metalworker: "The Lord will repay him for what he has done" (4:14).
 "Stood at my side" (NIV), "stood by/with me" (NRSV, KJV) is peristanō, "come to the aid of, help, stand by someone" (BDAG 778, 2aγ), from para-, "near, beside" + histēmi, "cause or make to stand."
 "Gave strength (NIV, NRSV), "strengthened" (KJV) is endynamoō, "to cause one to be able to function or do something, strengthen" (BDAG 333, 1).
 "Attack" (NIV, NRSV), "work" (KJV) is ergon, "work, deed, action"
 Rhyomai, BDAG 980. We saw this in 3:11.
 Sōzō, BDAG 982, 2aα. The word is also found in 1 Timothy 1:15; 2:4, 15; 4:16; 2 Timothy 1:9; and Titus 3:5.
 "Greet" (NIV, NRSV), "salute" (KJV) is aspazomai, "greet, welcome" ... "greetings to (someone) or remember me to (someone)" (BDAG 144, 1a).
 Astheneō, BDAG 142, 1.
 Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.3.
 Spoudazō, BDAG 929, 3. We saw this word previously in 2 Timothy 2:15.
 You can find online a famous sermon on the text "Come Before Winter," preached each October for 37 years beginning in 1915 by Dr. Clarence McCartney, pastor of Arch Street Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia and later of First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh. The sermon revolves around three questions: (1) Why come before winter? (2) Did Timothy go? (3) Would you have gone?
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