2 Timothy 4:6-18 - The Everlasting Crown
Short-sightedness, also known as myopia, is a common physical ailment which causes distant objects to appear blurred while close objects can be seen clearly.
There are probably plenty of us gathered here who suffer this problem. When we find ourselves in such a situation we are blessed to live in a world of modern medicine and technology. We can wander on down to our local optometrist to get a stylish pair of frames that will enable us to take in the world in all its glory and full depth perception.
A bit harder in the ancient world I imagine.
Today once again we are looking at Paul’s second letter to Timothy and in today’s passage Paul is encouraging Timothy and us not to be myopic in our faith.
Paul encourages us to lift our eyes to the horizon and see beyond to the goal which God is calling us toward.
So, let’s take a look at 2 Timothy chapter 4 together…
Paul’s context “as for me”
In verse 6 Paul makes clear the situation that he finds himself in. He is in Prison in Rome facing his immanent death at the hands of the Roman emperor Nero, famous for harassing and persecuting the Christian community.
Paul uses some vivid images. He uses the language of sacrifice – his life is like a drink offering being poured out on the altar. He has given it all.
He also talks about his “departure” – the language conjuring up an image of a boat slipping loose from its moorings. Paul is about to put out to sea on another great adventure. It’s clear that Paul isn’t distraught about his death but rather accepting and is keen to make sure that Timothy is ready to pick up the slack.
In another letter to the Philippians, Paul expresses a similar sentiment saying:
“For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.” (Phil 1:21-24)
So, Paul prepares Timothy for his departing and then shares three powerful expressions of his ministry. In verse seven he says: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
Expressions of Paul’s ministry
Paul uses here a favourite image for ministry – he uses athletic imagery to talk about what Christian life and ministry is like.
“Fought the good fight” – Paul highlights the sheer effort and strength required in his ministry.
“I have finished the race” – Paul looks back on his ministry with a sense of satisfaction here. The race is another athletic image of endurance.
“I have kept the faith” – Paul has been faithful with the message that God has given to him. Ever since Jesus appeared to him on the Damascus road, Paul has sought to serve Jesus wholeheartedly and share the good news. Paul has instructed Timothy to guard the treasure of the Gospel – that is to keep the faith, just has he has done.
These three pictures all show the work and the sacrifice and the faithfulness of Paul’s ministry.
Of course, he hasn’t been doing this aimlessly.
In verse 8 he says: “From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day…
Paul articulates the goal towards which he has been fighting and running.
Elsewhere, in a letter to the Corinthians (chapter 9) he says:
“24 Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. 25 Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. 26 So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; 27 but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.”
The prize that Paul talks about in 2 Timothy is the crown.
The crown is again an athletic image. Garlands would be given out at ancient games to the winners.
Paul’s crown is one of righteousness. This is the reward for his faithfulness.
Paul is likely referring to the righteousness given through faith in Jesus Christ. Through faith in Jesus Christ we are made righteous. That is, we are set right with God. Our sin and our brokenness is dealt with and healed.
This righteousness is a gift of faith in Christ.
Paul goes on to say that this crown is not only for him but also “to all who have longed for his appearing.”
To say this crown is a reward isn’t to say we might earn it all on our own merits but rather that it is the inheritance of a faithful Christian life.
John Stott puts it well saying:
“The crown of righteousness is awarded to all those who ‘have set their hearts on his coming appearance’ (neb), not because this is a meritorious attitude to adopt but because it is a sure evidence of justification. The unbeliever, being unjustified, dreads the coming of Christ (if he believes in it or thinks about it at all). Being unready for it, he will shrink in shame from Christ at his coming. The believer, on the other hand, having been justified, looks forward to Christ’s coming and has set his heart upon it. Being ready for it, he will have boldness when Christ appears (1 Jn. 2:28). Only those who have entered by faith into the benefit of Christ’s first coming are eagerly awaiting his second (cf. Heb. 9:28).”
Would we say that we early await the coming of Jesus? Each time we gather for worship we affirm that Jesus will come again and he will judge the living and the dead.
I don’t know about you but sometimes I can be short sighted? Sometimes I can get so focused on what is going on now that I forget that the goal ahead of us is God’s kingdom come in all its fullness in which God will set all things to right, in which God will bring justice.
Those who have faith in Christ will be rewarded a crown of righteousness.
Let me be clear about what Paul isn’t saying. He isn’t saying: “Have faith in Christ so that you might obtain a reward, a crown of righteousness.”
Rather the crown is the result of a faithful serving of Christ.
Charles Spurgeon once told a story, of a king a farmer and a noblemen:
“Once upon a time there was a king who ruled over everything in a land. One day there was a gardener who grew an enormous carrot. He took it to his king and said, “My lord, this is the greatest carrot I’ve ever grown or ever will grow; therefore, I want to present it to you as a token of my love and respect for you.”
The king was touched and discerned the man’s heart, so as he turned to go, the king said, “Wait! You are clearly a good steward of the earth. I want to give a plot of land to you freely as a gift, so you can garden it all.” The gardener was amazed and delighted and went home rejoicing.
But there was a nobleman at the king’s court who overheard all this, and he said, “My! If that is what you get for a carrot, what if you gave the king something better?” The next day the nobleman came before the king, and he was leading a handsome black stallion. He bowed low and said, “My lord, I breed horses, and this is the greatest horse I’ve ever bred or ever will; therefore, I want to present it to you as a token of my love and respect for you.” But the king discerned his heart and said, “Thank you,” and took the horse and simply dismissed him.
The nobleman was perplexed, so the king said, “Let me explain. That gardener was giving me the carrot, but you were giving yourself the horse.”
This story wonderfully highlights the subtle difference between serving God for reward and being rewarded for faithfulness.
It is the difference between what Timothy Keller calls a “morally restrained heart” and a “supernaturally changed heart.” A morally restrained heart does the right thing to reap rewards, a supernaturally changed heart does the right thing because it brings glory to God.
Paul’s life is an illustration of a life lived for God’s glory, a life changed by the good news of Jesus and for this Paul will inherit a crown of righteousness.
In verse 9 onwards Paul move in to some more practical instructions and he talks about the team of people who share in his work as well as those who have given up on him and the work.
Paul’s team and deserters: “In love with the present world” – Demas and our contemporary challenge of seeing beyond the “now”
Paul in verse 10 mentions Demas, who he says is “in love with the present world.”
What a phrase that is.
He says that because of this he has deserted Paul and left.
What is this all about?
When we hear about “the world” used negatively this isn’t the Bible saying that this world and all that is in it is bad or of no worth. Some Christians throughout history have had a version of the good news which doesn’t look very good at all – a kind of miserable life hating, world shunning disinterest in beauty, pleasure, goodness. The message being “don’t enjoy yourself too much in case Jesus notices.”
The world here isn’t referring to what we might think. It is rather often used in Scripture to contrast worldviews. The present age or the world is often contrasted with the age to come.
Christians are called to live with hope for what God will one day do.
John Calvin says: “Wherever faith is strong, it does not allow our heart to sleep in this world but lifts us up to hope in the final resurrection.”
Christians are called to shun worldly trappings of honour or status or having it all now, whatever it may be.
Christians are called to live with eyes on the horizon not gazing down at their feet.
We might, like Demas, be temtped to live for comfort. We might be tempted to store up barns with treasure for ourselves in this life or live for our own reputations, building our own empires but here we are reminded once more that this is short-sighted.
To live only for now is to sell ourselves short.
Yet this is the catch cry of much of our contemporary culture and it is easy for Christians to get caught up in it too.
Will we keep our eyes on the crown? Paul’s example of Demas warns us of all that make take our eyes off the prize.
In verse 17 and 18, before giving final greetings Paul finishes his letter by mentioning once again the place he finds himself in.
He says “I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom.”
What an extraordinary thing from someone to write as they sit on death-row.
What might Paul mean here?
If he had only the world in view what he says seems mad.
But it is clear that Paul has his eyes lifted up to the horizon, here is a man who is certainly not spiritually myopic.
What Paul is saying is that the Lord vindicates – while Nero may judge now, the true judge and king is Jesus. God saves and judges. Because of this Paul can confidently say that the Lord will rescue him.
Many of our brothers and sisters arouind the world face persecution like this. This week it is suffering church action week. Along with the Barnabus Fund, as a church we are encouraged to pray for persectued Christians all around the world.
For more - see here: https://barnabasfund.org/nz
May we take courage from their persistence and faith and like Paul may we keep our eyes on the prize, may we fight the good fight and run the race. Amen.
 1, 2, Timothy and Titus by John Calvin, series editors Alister McGrath and J I Packer (Crossway Books: Wheaton Illinois, 1998).