“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” II Timothy 4:1-5
Chapter four of II Timothy contains the very last words recorded of the Apostle Paul’s. Within weeks, perhaps within days, he was to die a martyr’s death. One cannot help but sense the pathos and be moved as they are read. One also cannot help but sense the urgency and passion of his appeal to Timothy, the young man who, among others, will carry on Paul’s ministry. Paul’s message is simple: “I have finished the race” he says, but you are still running. There will come a day when your race is over, when you stand “in the presence of God and of Christ who is to judge the living and the dead”, and “at his appearing and kingdom”, but that day is not yet. Until then, do not stop, do not slow down, do not be diverted, but run with that day in mind.
When our children were at home and in school, every semester I delivered to them what they called “The Speech”. As the end of the semester grew near I warned them not to let up or slow down. “In a race,” I would say, “You don’t stop or slow down near the end, nor do you just run up to the finish line. No, you run your hardest near the end and then you run hard right through the goal! Don’t stop! Run through the goal! This is Paul’s “Run Through The Goal” speech to Timothy. Timothy has been given a specific ministry and he is to fulfill it urgently “in season and out of season” until that day.
Of course Timothy’s specific ministry, his race, may be somewhat different than yours or mine. His was the role of a pastor: He was to preach, convince, rebuke, and teach. Yours probably is different. Nevertheless, whatever your ministry is, it is the God given ministry you have been asked to perform. For all of us, in one way or another, it is always a ministry of witness and service, though the specific forms of witness and service vary widely. Moreover, for all of us it is a ministry that is to be lived and done to the end, urgently “in season and out of season”.
Just this past weekend the Catholic Church canonized Mother Teresa of Calcutta, now St Teresa of Calcutta. Her ministry was the ministry of little things: no great things, but many little acts of love performed especially for the poorest of the poor for love of them and Jesus. No one doubts she ran her race with perseverance right through the finish line. I mention her because her ministry may be much more akin to ours than is Timothy’s. All of us are called to this little way of love and service no matter what else we may be asked to do. A hundred times a day we have the opportunity to give a smile, to lend a hand, to praise, to thank, to visit, to help. Often we have the opportunity to say a good word about Jesus. And we have these opportunities to the very end. Paul wants Timothy to make sure he takes them and he wants us to as well.
None of us knows where the finish line is for us, but we know that we are to run right through the tape wherever it is. N.T. Wright captures the spirit of this passage well:
“Paul lived his life with the clock ticking in the background and he wants Timothy to do the same. Jesus is already enthroned as king of the world and one day we shall see his royal appearing, the time when the whole world shall be held to account. We don’t know – we never know – how close to the final day we have come. But we are summoned to live each day, each year, as people ready to give account.” (Wright, The Pastoral Letters, p124).
So, to quote Paul from another context, “Whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God” and do it right through the finish line!
Paul could say with confidence as he approached that line at full speed, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, 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.” So, hopefully, could each of us. Therefore, do not stop, do not slow down (though age and infirmity may change the nature of your run), and do not be diverted.
Run through the finish line and there receive the victor’s crown and hear the most joyous words ever spoken, “Well done, good and faithful servant,”