“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 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 Tim. 4:6-8)
Although there are in the chronology of Scripture further writings of the Apostle Paul, these are actually the last words penned before his death in Rome. The year was 67AD and the Apostle was confined to a prison cell. As he awaited his imminent execution, he took pen in hand and a parchment that had been brought to him, and he wrote a final letter to his young protégée by the name of Timothy.
He talked about the church, the Lord Jesus, and how to carry on the work of the ministry. He took a momentary glimpse forward into his future, where there was a crown of righteousness laid up for him. Then one last time he cast a look over his shoulder and reviewed his life. In examining his life, Paul doesn’t go all the way back to his birthplace of Tarsus, but only to his place of re-birth on the Damascus Road. Paul realized that everything prior to that just did not matter.
Tradition teaches us that physically speaking Paul was diminutive in stature, possibly less than five feet tall. He was frail and physically limited. But in the faith, he was a mighty giant: a crusader, a wise master-builder, a visionary, a man who shook an entire continent with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
In speaking of the accomplishments of the Paul, we must not forget that over half the books of the NT were penned by him. Paul is someone whom we can become fascinated with. So, what was he like, the one who wrote half of the NT? The man that brought the Gospel to an entire continent, the one who without much dispute is the greatest servant of Christ who ever lived, and certainly without any debate the most influential?
What was Paul’s secret?
I don’t believe the things we typically equate with greatness made Paul great: talent, intellect, good looks, wealth, fame, etc. These are not the qualities that made Paul particularly special. I believe Paul’s secret to success is rather simple: He absolutely refused to give up. There was no quitting in the Apostle Paul. He realized that with God if you don’t quit you can’t lose!
Though people reviled him, Paul didn’t quit. People literally threw rocks at him, but he never gave up. He was thrown in prison many times, yet never gave in. Let the ships sink and let the snakes bite, this man wasn’t hindered. He was relentless in his mission. The secret of the Apostle Paul is that he absolutely refused to quit! Paul lived by a personal motto: “One thing I do, forgetting those things behind… I press on.”
Along the way Paul had many opportunities to give up. He got saved on the Damascus Road and went into the city blind. God healed him and he was filled with the Holy Spirit. He started preaching the Gospel. The governor of the city ordered that he be put to death and he had to flee the city. He couldn’t leave through the city gates because the guards were watching for him. He had to be placed in a basket and lowered down in the middle of the night over the city wall.
Paul is accustomed to red carpet treatment, being dignified, and getting special attention as a leader. Now, he has to get in a basket to leave town, not very honorable. He use to walk right up to governors and be given special treatment and now he’s being lowered down in a basket. That would’ve been a good time to quit, right from the start. But Paul didn’t quit; he pressed on.
Paul left Damascus and came to Jerusalem, the place of the great mother church. When he got there nobody believed that he was even saved. The other Apostles thought he was pretending. Paul could have been offended at that. He was being treated poorly. That would’ve been a good opportunity to quit, but he didn’t, he just kept on going.
How about when he was at Miletus preaching and a mob picked up stones and began hurling rocks at him until he was unconscious. They drug him outside the city and left him for dead. Those traveling with him stood around him wondering if he was alive. Then all of the sudden he stood up on his feet and went right back into the city and kept preaching.
What can the Devil do with a man or woman like Paul? You beat them, leave them for dead, try to kill them every way possible, and they get back up and keep on going. Paul had many opportunities to quit that he just plain missed.
Then we read verse 16 and it’s enough to bring a tear to your eye: “At my first defense not one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.” At Paul’s trial in Rome nobody stood with him. The man who had brought the Gospel to the Gentiles had to go to trial before Caesar alone; no one even associated with him. Then in verse 17 Paul says: “But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed…”
Paul passed up every opportunity to quit. He said, “I’ll just go a little further.” And when he got to the end of his life he was able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
The culture we live in is becoming progressively like that of the Apostle Paul. There is a great deal of hostility toward the Christian faith and it’s only growing. In the days ahead standing firm on the foundation laid before us will become more and more difficult. I remind you, Jesus never said it would be easy, but he did say it would be worth it.
As you go down the road of life you too will have many exit opportunities. You can give up at any time. You can get off at one of many exits. I plead with you today in the tradition of the Apostle Paul: Don’t Quit! Stay the course. Remain faithful. Only those who finish the race obtain the prize. And never forget, with God, if you don’t quit you can’t lose.