Lesson Summary: Using the example of Timothy, students will see that God can use them just the way they are right now to make a difference in the world around them as He empowers them to be His heroes!
Key Take Away: God can use us right now and help us stand firm for Him.
Focal Scriptures: 2 Timothy 2:15; 2 Timothy 1:9-11
How can we have a successful Christian life? In 2 Timothy 4:6-8, we see some of Paul’s very last words. In them he says, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith!” Though he is in prison, awaiting his execution, he has no regrets. He faithfully completed the race that God set before him.
Anybody can start something, but very few can finish. When we look at the narratives of Scripture, many began well but didn’t finish well. Noah was a righteous man who saved himself and his family from the flood; however, the last we hear of him, he was drunk, naked, and being mocked by his son. Moses was supposed to enter the promised land; he had victoriously led Israel out of Egypt. But, he too doesn’t finish as he would have desired. He dies in the wilderness with the unfaithful Israelites.
It is not hard to become a Christian—we are called to believe and follow Christ. But it is hard to faithfully follow him to the end. It is hard to have a successful Christian life. Therefore, because of Paul’s success, he must be studied and modeled. In verse 6, Paul looks at his past with no regrets. In verse 7, he considers his present, and in verse 8, he considers his glorious future. From his Damascus conversion to his second Roman imprisonment and ultimate death, Paul faithfully finished the course before him. He shares this with Timothy to inspire him, and us, to do the same. As we consider Paul’s triumphant words at the end of his life, we learn seven principles about having a successful Christian life.
Big Question: What principles can we learn from 2 Timothy 4:6-8 about having a successful Christian life and finishing well?
To Have a Successful Christian Life, We Must Disciple Others
For I am already being poured out as an offering, and the time for me to depart is at hand.
Observation Question: What does the “For” refer to in 2 Timothy 4:6, and what does it tell us about Paul’s death?
The word “For” points back to 2 Timothy 4:1-5, where Paul calls Timothy to preach the Word. He gives him several reasons to do this: First, Timothy was accountable to God and Christ who were watching and would one day judge him (v. 1). Secondly, Timothy should preach because there was an absence of biblical preaching in the church. Congregations didn’t want sound teaching and, therefore, heaped up teachers who itched their ears (v. 3-4). Finally, as seen in this passage, Timothy should preach the Word because Paul was about to depart. He was already being ‘poured out as an drink offering’ and was about to pass from the scene. Timothy needed to continue Paul’s faithful ministry of teaching God’s Word to the lost and the church.
This is true of every successful Christian life and successful ministry. The successful Christian life is a life of reproducing—making disciples for the kingdom. Often in business, ministry, or nationally, when there is a great leader, the business, ministry, or nation thrives. However, when that leader moves on, commonly that entity ceases to thrive. Success is not short-term; it is long term. Part of true success is preparing an entity to thrive long after the leader has moved on. Good leaders do this and so do spiritually successful Christians.
Christ’s ministry only lasted three years, but when he passed away, his twelve disciples continued his ministry and turned the world upside down. God called Moses to prepare Joshua, and Elijah to prepare Elisha. Paul prepared Timothy. Who are you preparing? Christ calls for every Christian to go and make disciples (Matt 28:18-20). In a sense, ultimate success is seen after a person passes away by the spiritual legacy left behind.
In 1 John 2:12-14, John speaks to spiritual children, young men, and fathers. These are stages of the Christian life—the pathway all of us should follow. Each person should progress to the mother or father stage where they are reproducing in their own image—passing down doctrines and helping people become more Christ-like. Like Paul, they are saying, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). Sadly, most never make it to the mother or father stage. They stay stunted in childhood where they constantly need to be corrected, fed, and cleaned, instead of serving others. In Hebrews 5:12, the author said to the Jewish Christians that they should have been teachers by now, but they needed to be retaught the fundamental doctrines. Sadly, that’s the state of most in the church. They are not ready to lead and teach; they remain in a state of relearning what they have lost.
To have a successful Christian life, we must disciple others. Who are you investing in? Who will continue your ministry after you depart?
Application Question: Who is your Paul—the person or persons who invest the most in your spiritual life? Who is your Timothy—the person or persons God has called you to train?
To Have a Successful Christian Life, We Must Live Sacrificially
For I am already being poured out as an offering, and the time for me to depart is at hand.
The drink offering was the final stage of an offering to the Lord. In Numbers 15:1-10, the Jews were commanded to first give a burnt offering, then a grain offering, and finally a drink offering to the Lord.1 Paul viewed his life as a continual sacrifice. In Romans 12:2, he commanded the Romans to offer themselves as living sacrifices unto God. For Paul, his death was the last stage of a life of sacrifice for the Lord and others. In fact, “time” in verse 6, does not refer to chronological time (chronos) but to seasons or epochs (kairos).2 Paul may have lived for months after he writes these words. In fact, he asks for Timothy to bring him a jacket and books, while he waited (v. 9-22). Whereas in Paul’s first Roman imprisonment, he expected to be released (Phil 1:19, 25), in his last imprisonment, possibly through Spirit-given wisdom, he knew this was the final stage of his sacrifice. In fact, some think the pouring out like a drink offering was symbolic of the type of death Paul would suffer. Because he was a Roman citizen, he couldn’t be crucified. He would have his head chopped off, as tradition says occurred.3 Paul literally would be poured out as a sacrifice before the Lord.
The successful Christian life is a life of sacrifice; Christ said any one who came after him must take up his cross (Luke 14:27). The cross marks the life of a successful Christian in various ways.
Application Question: How can we live a life of sacrifice?
1. To live a life of sacrifice, we must live a life of worship.
In the Old Testament, sacrifice was one of the ways people worshiped God. By comparing his life with OT offerings, Paul implied that his life (and his death) were a continual worship to the Lord. It must be the same for us. First Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” Our eating, drinking, and everything else must be done for the glory of God.
We do this by giving God thanks in everything and seeking to honor him through it. When Job suffered by losing his wealth and family members, he cried out, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. May the name of the Lord be blessed!” (Job 1:21). Sadly, many only worship God when times are good, but when times are bad, they get mad at God or turn their backs on him. A sacrificial life is a life of worship, at all times and in all things.
Is your life a worship offering to the Lord?
2. To live a life of sacrifice, we must willingly pay the cost.
In Philippians 3:7-8, Paul said:
But these assets I have come to regard as liabilities because of Christ. More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things—indeed, I regard them as dung!—that I may gain Christ,
When Paul mentioned assets and liabilities, he used accounting terminology. In following God, everything that he previously considered an asset, he now considered a liability to know Christ more. No doubt, Paul lost family and friends, his esteemed career as a top Pharisee, and health, as he was often beaten and left hungry. However, everything he lost was worth it to know Christ. He was willing to pay the cost.
Part of the theology of the OT sacrifices was that people had to always give their best—their best lamb or crop. God wouldn’t accept anything that wasn’t the best. In Malachi 1, God rebukes the Israelites because they brought him the blind and lame instead of their best. Many Christians do the same—there is no cost to their devotion. If it means getting up early to read the Word, go to church, or serve the church, they want nothing of it. There is no cost. They give God their scraps; work, family, friends, and hobbies get much better than God. And no doubt, their offerings are often rejected. God rejected Cain’s offering because he gave only some of his crop. He received Abel’s because he gave the fat-portions of his sacrifice—the best part (Gen 4).
The successful Christian life is marked by sacrificial worship. How is God calling you to sacrifice to serve him and others?
Application Question: What are some common costs to following Christ? Are there any ways you feel God is calling you to give him your best and not your scraps?
To Have a Successful Christian Life, We Must Properly View Death and Eternity
For I am already being poured out as an offering, and the time for me to depart is at hand.
One cannot live a successful Christian life without a proper view of death and eternity. This is important because how you view the end affects how you live daily. If a person has no heavenly hope, they will undoubtedly live for this world. Consider what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:32: “…If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” He essentially says, “If there is no resurrection, let’s live for pleasure here on earth.” Our view of death and eternity affects how we live today, whether we realize it or not. If heaven and eternity are not better than this current existence, we’ll live for now, instead of for the future.
We can discern Paul’s view of death and eternity from the word “depart” in verse 6. It literally means “uploosing.”4 It is a very vivid word picture that says something about how we should view death and eternity.
Interpretation Question: What images does the Greek word for “depart” invoke? What does this say about how we should view eternity?
- Depart was used of unloosing a ship. For Paul, life was like being anchored to the shore, but death was like sailing into a great adventure. If we enjoy this present life, how much more will we enjoy eternity?
- Depart was used of taking up one’s tent. In 2 Corinthians 5:1-8, Paul compares the body to a tent and the eternal body to a permanent abode. In this present life, we dwell in frail bodies that age and encounter sickness and infirmity. But in eternity, our glorified bodies will never get sick, age, or die. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul compares the present body to a seed and the eternal body to a tree. That’s the difference in the glory between the present and eternal body. Death means the reception of our eternal home.
- Depart was used of unyoking cattle. For Paul, life was sweat and labor for God. But death meant rest. Revelation 14:13 says, “Write this: ‘Blessed are the dead, those who die in the Lord from this moment on!’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘so they can rest from their hard work, because their deeds will follow them.’” Eternity will be heavenly rest. This doesn’t mean that we won’t work, because we will—we will use our gifts to rule with and serve the Lord. However, that work will be eternal joy and rest.
- Depart was used of setting a prisoner free. Though Paul was about to be executed in prison, he didn’t see it as punishment but a release into eternity. Here on earth, he was a prisoner, but in eternity, he would be free. On earth, he was hindered from full fellowship with God and others and also from holiness, but in eternity, he was free to truly worship and know God, to know others, and to walk without sin. To die was to be released.
- Depart was used of a solution to a problem. For Paul, this present life was a problem. He struggled with the effects of sin—his own and others. But to die was the solution. It meant to be set free from sin and to be like God.
Paul used the same word in Philippians 1:23, when facing the possibility of death or continuing to live during his first imprisonment. He said, “I feel torn between the two, because I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.” This is the problem with many Christians, which keeps them from living a successful Christian life: to them eternity and heaven is not far better than the present life. Therefore, they live for wealth, promotion, and earthly security, and give up spiritual opportunities. Some in seeking to gain the world, ultimately forfeit their souls. Others, instead of being great in the kingdom of God, will be least in the kingdom (Matt 5:19)—they will lose all opportunity for spiritual reward. If eternity is not far better for them, they will never be able to say like Paul “living is Christ and dying is gain” (Phil 1:21)—it is better by far.
Kent Hughes said this about departing to be with Christ:
Those who have departed to be with Christ are far better off. Though you have lived seventy-five years, it is better to be with Christ. Though you are the richest man in town, life in Heaven with Christ is far better. Though you are brilliant, it is far better. If you have lived only five years, it is better to be above with Christ. Though you have the greatest gifts for ministry, it is far better. The “far better” dominated Paul’s thoughts, as it should ours. Here was a man who looked imminent death in the face and saw the stars.5
Is departing far better? If not, one won’t live a successful Christian life. Instead of dying triumphantly like Paul, a person will die with many regrets: they should have evangelized, served God more, discipled others, gone on missions, trained their family, etc. At death, they will be full of regrets. How do you view death and eternity? Your view of the end always affects how you live today.
Application Question: Which word picture of death and eternity stood out most to you and why?
To Have a Successful Christian Life, We Must Constantly Battle
I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith!
Paul saw the Christian life as a spiritual struggle; he said he had “competed well,” or it can also be translated “fought the good fight.” The Greek word for “fight” is related to the Greek noun “agon.” It’s the source of our English word “agonizing” and “agony.” The word was commonly used for athletic contests like wrestling or a race.6 They involved great effort and energy. When Paul looked at his Christian life, he saw a continual war that he had engaged in since the day of his salvation.
Interpretation Question: What are aspects of the spiritual war that all Christians are engaged in?
1. This spiritual war includes fighting against our flesh.
First Peter 2:11 says, “to keep away from fleshly desires that do battle against the soul.” Believers are in a constant fight against their lust, anger, pride, and even spiritual apathy. They have to fight to read God’s Word and pray because their flesh doesn’t desire the things of God. They have to fight against their desire to sin, as their unredeemed nature loves it. In Galatians 5, Paul said that our flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit lusts against the flesh, so that we don’t do what we want (v. 17-18). In Romans 7, Paul said that the things that he wanted to do, he didn’t, and the things that he wouldn’t do, he did. This is the battle of every successful Christian. Success doesn’t mean that they wholly conquer these sins, though they will gain a measure of victory. It means that even when they fall, they won’t stay down. They keep fighting. Proverbs 24:16 says the righteous fall down seven times and get back up. That was Paul’s life; over the course of it, he didn’t give in and quit. He continued to fight against his flesh in order to be holy. And this is what successful Christians do, they continue to fight; whereas, worldly Christians don’t fight—they are led by their flesh and enjoy it.
Are you fighting against your flesh or being led by it?
2. This spiritual war includes fighting against the world.
Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The world is a system run by the devil that seeks to press everybody into the same mold. It teaches us what is beautiful, successful, acceptable, and moral. It is a system apart from God and meant to draw people further away from him and his will. The believer fights to transform his thinking about what is beautiful, successful, acceptable, and moral. The successful Christian is always testing his thoughts, what he reads, watches, and listens to against Scripture in order to not look like the world, but like God.
Are you fighting against the world and its system or being conformed to it?
3. This spiritual war includes fighting against demons and principalities.
Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.” The evil one and his demons seek to tempt, distract, persecute, and destroy Christians. They do this primarily through utilizing our flesh and the world. Job lost his family, fortune, wealth, health, and peace, and it was all rooted in spiritual warfare. This was the same fight Paul was engaged in. In 2 Corinthians 2:11, he said, “so that we may not be exploited by Satan (for we are not ignorant of his schemes).” Paul was keenly aware of his enemy, and we must be as well, lest he outwit us.
Are you aware of the enemy’s schemes? Do you know he has assigned demons to destroy you? Are you fighting by putting on God’s armor—a righteous life—and walking in his power through an abiding relationship with him (Eph 6:11-12)? James 4:7 says, “So submit to God. But resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
When Paul looked at his life, he saw a continual fight. He fought against his flesh, the world, and Satan. William Hendriksen shares this about Paul’s fight:
It had been a fight against Satan; against the principalities and powers, the world rulers of this darkness in the heaven lies; against Jewish and pagan vice and violence; against Judaism among the Galatians; against fanaticism among the Thessalonians; against contention, fornication, and litigation among the Corinthians; against incipient Gnosticism among the Ephesians and Colossians; against fightings without and fears within; and last but not least, against the law of sin and death operating within his own heart.7
This is a noble fight that we must engage in until we go to heaven or Christ returns. On the cross, the war was won, but the battles must be fought until the end. At the end of your life, will you be able to say, “I have fought and struggled for Christ and his kingdom!”
Application Question: In what way(s) do you feel especially engaged in this war or attacked from it?
To Have a Successful Christian Life, We Must Endure to the End
I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith!
Paul said he had “finished the race.” Obviously, this race wasn’t a sprint but a marathon. For Paul, it took over thirty years to run it—from the time of his Damascus conversion to his death in Rome. The word “race” can also be translated “race course.”8 Paul had a specific path to run. On the day that Christ saved Paul, the Lord told him about some of the obstacles he would face. He would experience many persecutions while reaching the Gentiles for Christ (Acts 9).
All of us have our own race. Hebrews 12:1 says, “run with endurance the race set out for us.” Some have windy races; some have straight ones; some have hilly races with great highs and lows in life. Some have short races and others have long races: the apostle John lived to an old age while the other apostles died earlier than him. Whatever our race, we must endure it to the end and not quit. We all know Christians that were at one-time faithful to God, but now have turned away, quit following him, or are at least temporarily living in rebellion. How can we faithfully finish the race?
Application Question: How can we faithfully win the race according to Hebrews 12:1-3?
Hebrews 12:1-3 provides some secrets about faithfully finishing our race. It says:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Think of him who endured such opposition against himself by sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give up.
1. To faithfully finish our race, we must take encouragement from other godly saints.
By using “Therefore”, the author of Hebrews points the Jewish Christians, who were being tempted to give up on the faith and return to Judaism, to Chapter 11, where Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, and other heroes of the faith are referenced. By looking at their brief biographies, the Jewish Christians would gain hope to continue. Likewise, we must drink deeply from the stories of biblical heroes so that we can faithfully run our race. However, we must not only look at biblical heroes, but faithful Christians around us (cf. Phil 3:17). Their examples will help us run our race to the end.
2. To faithfully finish our race, we must get rid of all hindrances.
The author of Hebrews says, “we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely” (v. 1). “Every weight” is separated and distinguished from “sin”—meaning that they’re two different things. “Every weight” could be things that are not bad in themselves and even good things that keep us from being faithful to our Lord. It could include entertainment, career, hobbies, and relationships that instead of helping us grow, slow us down or distract us. We must be brutal with getting rid of all hindrances, including sin that easily entangles us.
3. To faithfully finish our race, we must focus on Christ.
The author of Hebrews calls for the Jewish Christians to fix their eyes on Jesus so that they would not grow weary and lose heart (v. 2-3). Often in my race, I feel like quitting. Sometimes I wonder how I will make it to the end and complete the ministry God has given me. Ministry is hard and very discouraging at times. When I feel that way, I often notice that I have taken my eyes off Christ and that I’m focusing on the storms of ministry instead of the One who called me to it—Jesus. That is the primary secret to persevering in our varied races. We must remember that Christ chose our race—he is the pioneer (or author) of our faith, and he is the perfecter of our faith—he will help us endure to the end. We must focus on him, lest we lose heart.
Have you lost heart? Do you feel like giving up? Put your eyes back on your Savior by worshiping and spending time with him—he will carry you through.
Application Question: Have you experienced times where you felt like giving up on the faith or the ministry God called you to? How do you keep your spiritual equilibrium so you can continue the race?
To Have a Successful Christian Life, We Must Faithfully Steward God’s Word
I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith!
Interpretation Question: What does the fact that Paul “kept the faith” mean?
At the end of Paul’s life, he saw himself as a faithful steward of the faith. In the original Greek, there is an article before “faith,” just as there is in the English. This indicates that “faith” is probably not referring to “trust in God” but the doctrines of “the faith.” The phrase “have kept” is one word in the Greek; it means “watching over, heeding, or preserving.”9 This was one of Paul’s primary focuses, as seen throughout his writings. Consider the following passages:
One should think about us this way—as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Now what is sought in stewards is that one be found faithful.
Protect that good thing entrusted to you, through the Holy Spirit who lives within us.
O Timothy, protect what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the profane chatter and absurdities of so-called “knowledge.”
Paul did just that; his letters are full of correcting false doctrine. His narrative shows him passing the Word of God on to others who would then guard it. He was a faithful steward of God’s Word, and we must be as well.
Application Question: How can believers keep the faith that has been entrusted to them?
1. Believers keep the faith by treasuring it.
Job 23:12 says, “I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my allotted portion.” The reason most Christians don’t read, study, or teach the Word of God is simply because they don’t treasure it. They treasure other things over the Word of God—entertainment, social media, education, work, friends, etc. If we are going to guard something, we must first treasure it.
John MacArthur shares a powerful story which demonstrates our need to treasure God’s Word:
A beautiful and touching story is told of a young French girl who had been born blind. After she learned to read by touch, a friend gave her a Braille copy of Mark’s gospel. She read it so much that her fingers became calloused and insensitive. In an effort to regain her feeling, she cut the skin from the ends of her fingers. Tragically, however, her callouses were replaced by permanent and even more insensitive scars. She sobbingly gave the book a good-bye kiss, saying, “Farewell, farewell, sweet word of my heavenly Father.” In doing so, she discovered that her lips were even more sensitive than her fingers had been, and she spent the rest of her life reading her great treasure with her lips. Would that every Christian had such an appetite for the Word of God!10
Do you treasure God’s Word?
2. Believers keep the faith by believing it.
This should go without saying, but many Christians don’t believe the Word (cf. John 3:32-33). They don’t believe what it says about creation, gender-roles, abortion, homosexuality, or a host of other topics. If we don’t believe the Word, then we can’t guard it.
3. Believers keep the faith by obeying it.
As mentioned, the word “kept” can mean to heed or obey. If we don’t obey the Word, we push people away from what we profess. We scatter instead of gathering people to Christ (Lk 11:23). Are you obeying God’s Word?
4. Believers keep the faith by studying it.
If we don’t know what it teaches, it cannot be guarded. In the KJV, 2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Study to show thyself approved…” God approves those who study and meditate on his Word. He blesses them and makes them like trees which bear fruit in season and prosper in everything (Psalm 1:2-3).
Do you faithfully study God’s Word?
5. Believers keep the faith by passing it on to others.
Second Timothy 2:2 says, “And entrust what you heard me say in the presence of many others as witnesses to faithful people who will be competent to teach others as well.” In this passage, we see four generations of Christians: Paul, Timothy, reliable people, and others. The faith is always just one generation away from being lost. If we don’t teach it to others, then we are not guarding the faith; in fact, we contribute to it being lost.
Are you passing God’s Word on to others?
6. Believers keep the faith by contending for it against false teaching.
Jude 1:3 says, “Dear friends, although I have been eager to write to you about our common salvation, I now feel compelled instead to write to encourage you to contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” Satan has attacked and twisted God’s Word since the beginning in the Garden of Eden, and he still seeks to do so. He denies the inerrancy of Scripture—teaching others that it is full of errors and not to be trusted. He teaches that faith alone cannot save someone—they need baptism, giving, or other good works.
Believers guard the truth by confronting the lies of Satan and delivering others from them. Paul declared that anyone who proclaimed another gospel was accursed (Gal 1:8). He did not compromise like so many today who guard nothing, as they declare tolerance or unity—opening the door for the enemy.
Are you keeping the Word of God? In order to have a successful Christian life, we must faithfully steward God’s Word and pass it on, untainted, to the next generation.
Application Question: In which way do you feel God is challenging you most to keep the faith?
To Have a Successful Christian Life, We Must Seek God’s Approval
Finally the crown of righteousness is reserved for me. The Lord, the righteous Judge, will award it to me in that day—and not to me only, but also to all who have set their affection on his appearing.
Interpretation Question: What is Paul referring to when he says he will receive “the crown of righteousness”?
Paul anticipates being rewarded by God with a crown of righteousness. There is some controversy over this crown because grammatically, it can be taken as genitive of source—meaning that the crown is received as a reward for Paul’s righteousness—or as a genitive of apposition—meaning that righteousness itself is the crown that Paul would receive.11 Both are linguistically correct. In the first interpretation, only some believers will receive this crown—those who have lived especially righteous lives. In the second view, everyone will receive this crown since the crown is righteousness. When we were saved, Christ gave us his righteousness, and when we get to heaven, he will crown us with complete righteousness. We will no longer struggle with sin.
What are supports for these two views?
1. In support of the first view, proponents argue that the word used for “crown” is not a royal crown but a victor’s crown (stephanos). It was a wreath given to victors of athletic contests or battles.12 Not everybody received this crown—only the winners did. In addition, Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:24 to “but only one receives the prize? So run to win.”—referring to an imperishable crown. It seems that this imperishable crown was something earned. This doesn’t seem to fit with the view that everybody receives this crown because of Christ’s completed work, with no effort of our own.
Throughout Scripture the reality of rewards is constantly emphasized. In Matthew 6:19, Christ called his disciples to store up riches in heaven and not on earth. Earlier in chapter 6, he warns them not to do righteous deeds like giving, praying, and fasting with the wrong motives because they would lose their rewards. Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 3, Paul talks about how on the day of Christ’s judgment every believer’s works will be judged—some will receive reward and others loss of reward. In fact, in Matthew 5:19, Christ says those who obey God’s laws and teach others will be called great in the kingdom of heaven; while those who disobey God’s laws and teach others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.
Reward is the culmination of the righteous life; it is God’s approval on a believer’s life where God says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Whether the crown of righteousness is a reward for a righteous life or not, Scripture teaches that believers will be rewarded for their good works and others will experience loss of reward. Salvation is a free gift, but rewards will be given to believers based on how they live—the crown of righteousness may be one of those rewards.
2. In support of the second view, proponents argue that because Paul says that “all who have set their affection on his appearing” will receive this crown, it seems to refer to all believers, for they all long for Christ’s appearing. In opposition with this view, it could be argued that not all believers will long for Christ’s appearing in the same way, if at all. Since Scripture calls some Christians worldly, as Paul did with the Corinthians (1 Cor 3:1), and also says that some will experience loss of reward—getting into heaven as though escaping through fire (1 Cor 3:15)—it seems clear that those who live worldly lives will not long for Christ’s coming, as they should. Because they are not walking with God, they may even fear it, even as disobedient children fear the return of their parents.
Either way, Paul, no doubt, took comfort from the fact that though he would be condemned by the evil dignitaries in Rome, he would be rightly judged by Christ. The “day” of Christ’s righteous judgment was a constant focus of Paul’s. In 2 Corinthians 5:9-10, he said:
So then whether we are alive or away, we make it our ambition to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be paid back according to what he has done while in the body, whether good or evil.
This ultimate judgment of the Lord should always be on our mind. “Will my actions please God? Will my thoughts and words honor my Lord?” No doubt, since Paul’s heart desire was to please God and be honored by him, God’s Spirit miraculously affirmed that reality in Paul’s heart. As he awaited execution, he knew God would ultimately reward him. Let us live lives that God will ultimately reward—lives where we’ll hear, “Well done, well done, my good and faithful servant!” And like the twenty-four elders in Revelation 4, we will cast our crowns and rewards before the Lord, for all our honors are a result of his saving and sanctifying grace (v. 10).
Application Question: Which view do you lean towards and why? Do spiritual rewards motivate you? Why or why not?
How can we have a successful Christian life? Paul’s triumphant declaration at the end of his life gives us principles about how to finish our individual races well.
- To Have a Successful Christian Life, We Must Disciple Others
- To Have a Successful Christian Life, We Must Live Sacrificially
- To Have a Successful Christian Life, We Must Properly View Death and Eternity
- To Have a Successful Christian Life, We Must Constantly Battle
- To Have a Successful Christian Life, We Must Endure to the End
- To Have a Successful Christian Life, We Must Faithfully Steward God’s Word
- To Have a Successful Christian Life, We Must Seek God’s Approval