As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry. For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. 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.
II Timothy 4:5-8 (Epistle from Sunday before Theophany)
This Sunday’s Epistle lesson is one of my favorite Scripture passages. In fact, II Timothy 4:7 is the verse I hope to have put on my headstone. Saint Paul weaves a few pieces of advice into this short reading. He reminds Timothy (and by extension, us) that we should “be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” As we are about to leave one year and enter another, these are sage pieces of advice for all of us. God doesn’t expect us to be spectacular, but He does expect us to be steady, in the sense of being consistent. Every life is going to have some kind of suffering. Every disappointment brings us a little suffering. One challenge to life is to remain consistent even in times of suffering.
Saint Paul continues that we are to do the work of an evangelist. That means that we each are called to spread the Good News of the Gospel of Christ in some way. We do this by fulfilling our ministry. The word for ministry in Greek is “diakonia.” Each of us is equipped to offer a different “diakonia” or “service.” Each of us is equipped to spread the Gospel in some way. I do (I try to do it) it as a priest. Others are called to do it as teachers, as parents, as spouses, as friends, as architects, as coaches, etc. Each of us has a way to make the world better, to express love for others, to help make a difference in someone’s life. We all have that ability.
At the end of life, we are all going to face the Lord. We will answer to Him what we did with what He gave us. We will have to answer for how we maintained our Christianity in times of difficulty. To “fight the good fight” means to stay consistent and disciplined in the faith, even in times of adversity.
When I think of finishing the race, I think of marathon runners. Most people who run marathons are not elite runners. They are people who want the challenge of finishing a marathon. Elite runners run to win. But most runners just want to finish. They compete really against themselves. So, when I think of the “race”, I call it “my race.” I don’t run against others in my race. I run against myself, against adversity. My goal is not to win, or to compete against others, but to finish with dignity and integrity and faith. I’m running “my race” as a priest. You are running yours in a unique way as well. God expects us to finish our respective races.
To keep the faith is easier said than done. It’s more than just “checking the box” by going to church ones whole life. It’s to keep the life of Christian love and charity going at all times. It’s to keep both the discipline of obedience to the commandments but doing it with love and with hope.
The greatest prize we work for in our lives is “the crown of righteousness”. (v. 8) When we stand before “the Lord, the righteous judge” (v. 8) it is with the hope that He will award us this crown.
The crowns will be given out to “all who have loved His appearing,” (v. 8) meaning to all those who have fought the good fight, who have finished the race, and who have kept the faith, anticipating with hope and joy, the appearing of the Lord. To do the work of an evangelist, going back up to verse 5, means that we not only hope for the crown for ourselves, but for those around us. Therefore we are to work in our respective ministries and in our respective races, to share His message so that all will anticipate loving “His appearing.” (v. 8)
As we enter a New Year, evaluate yourself with these three questions: Are you fighting a good fight—are you staying steadfast in times of challenge? Are you running a good race—are you making progress in your Christian walk? Are you keeping the faith—do you find yourself getting more joyful and hopeful about being a Christian? Then set some goals for how you can do better with each.
Jordan River once turned back when Elisha struck its stream with his mantle in the wake of Elias’s ascent; and the water was parted to the one side and to the others. And thus the fluid stream became a dry way for him, a symbol and truly a type of Baptism, by which we now pass over the streaming passage of the present life. And Christ appeared at the Jordan River to sanctify the water. (Apolytikion of the Forefeast of Theophany, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Continue to fight a good fight, run YOUR race, and keep the faith!