“Better is the end of a thing than its beginning.” (Eccles. 7:8)
A group of people in California decided there should be a great ceremony to celebrate the driving of the first spike for the building of the transcontinental railroad. A host of dignitaries was invited to gather at the place where the first rail was to be laid. One of those invited was Collis Huntington, perhaps the railroad’s most important West Coast backer in California. But he declined, saying:
If you want to jubilate [celebrate] over driving the first spike, go ahead and do it. I don’t. Those mountains over there look too ugly . . . We may fail, and if we do, I want to have as few people know it as we can . . . Anybody can drive the first spike, but there are many months of labor and unrest between the first and last spike. 1
In today’s reading we have the Apostle Paul jubilating in the end of his faith journey. The final spike is about to be driven. He has endured persecution, hardships, imprisonment, and suffering—harm from those who opposed him, desertion from those who labored alongside of him. Now from a prison cell he writes his final letter to Timothy, his beloved son in the faith, exhorting and encouraging him to persevere in the faith and in his ministry and to finish well.
He reminds Timothy of the first spikes driven long ago in their lives—Paul’s on a road to Damascus, Timothy’s as a youth. (See Chapter 1:8-11.) But in Chapter 4 Paul celebrates the final spike:
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 to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Tim 4:6-8)
But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (2 Tim 4:17-18)
“For some time,” writes Gordon MacDonald, “I have contended that the contemporary concept of Christian conversion is far too small. It emphasizes the driving of the first spike—a choice to entrust life to Jesus—but tends to ignore the last one—what Jesus calls us to be and to do. And while there is room for gladness when everything begins, the real focus should be on the big picture—where this is all going, how one is growing, what it means to finish well.” 2
I turned sixty last summer and I tell myself, “I’m good with that.” Yet I realize I’m entering the final portion of life. Should God be gracious maybe another ten, twenty, thirty years? “My times are in his hands.” The challenge is how will I live in the time that remains and the challenges that come with growing older.
Finishing the race, fighting the good fight, and keeping the faith. I glean from Paul’s letter to Timothy that the “Holy Scriptures” are vital. “But as for you, continue in what you have learned . . . you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:14-15). It’s the Holy Scriptures that teach, rebuke, correct, and train in righteousness so that one “may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us,” says Paul in Romans 15:4, “so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” The Apostle Peter writes the same message (see 1 Pet. 2:2; 2 Pet. 1:4,19). Even Moses in Deuteronomy 8:3 says, “… to teach you that man does not live by bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
“Life cannot be lived in a vacuum,” writes William Still. “It stands to reason that those who have ‘lost’ their faith seek something else . . . When we shut our Bibles, we cease to enjoy our God.” 3
I love how Paul tells Timothy, when he comes, to bring “my scrolls, especially the parchments” (2 Tim. 4:13). At the end of his life Paul is not folding up like a two-dollar suitcase in prison. He’s reading, he’s writing, and he’s ministering.
” Even when I am old and gray do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come.” (Ps. 71:18)
1. Stephen Ambrose, Nothing Like It in the World. Referenced by Gordon MacDonald in A Resilient Life.
2. Gordon MacDonald, A Resilient Life.
3. William Still, Through the Year With William Still: A Book of Daily Bible Readings.
4. Scripture cited is NIV.