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 Timothy 4:7,8
The Crown of Righteousness
When you think of the great Olympic athletes of our age, maybe you picture Michael Phelps’ dominance in the pool. Or perhaps you imagine the picture of the Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt smiling for the finish line camera as he finished meters ahead of his closest competitor. Olympic winners today receive a gold model, but in the Greco-Roman world of the apostle Paul’s day, they won a crown of olive leaves or laurels.
And one of the most famous Olympians of that era lived about a hundred years before Paul. His name was Leonidas of Rhodes. Evidence suggests that Leonidas was a twelve-time Olympic champion, the greatest runner of the ancient world. In his home city of Rhodes, he had his own statue with the words “He had the speed of a god” inscribed on it.
As Paul neared the end of his life, he used a couple of Olympic metaphors. He had fought the good fight drawing to mind the picture of a boxer lasting all the rounds in the ring. He had finished the race comparing himself to a runner. And what was in store for him? The crown of righteousness. Ancient Olympic crowns of leaves would spoil and fade, but not this crown of righteousness.
Leonidas of Rhodes may have been described as having the speed of a god, but Paul had the righteousness of the one true God. God credited that righteousness to Paul not because of anything he had done but because of the faith Paul had kept in Jesus as his Savior from sin.
Paul already had that righteousness, but when he died, he would be crowned in it, no longer weighed down by his sin but made perfect in Jesus. This crown of righteousness is for all who believe in Jesus as their Savior from sin.
Lord God, thank you for giving me your righteousness through the merits of Jesus Christ. Help me to run the race with my eyes fixed on you as I keep my faith in Jesus. Amen.
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For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure is near.
2 Timothy 4:6
Pour One Out
Do you know what it means to “pour one out”? It is not uncommon for people to pour out all or part of their drink in remembrance of someone. It’s done to memorialize a friend or family member who has passed away. Perhaps you’ve poured out a drink for a family member or friend.
The act of pouring out a drink is not a new concept. God commanded the Israelites to pour out a drink offering twice a day as part of their daily sacrifices. Those daily drink offerings always accompanied another sacrifice, the sacrifice of a lamb.
Near the end of his life, the apostle Paul described himself as being poured out like a drink offering. Paul knew that he would soon be martyred. His reference to the drink offering means that Paul viewed his death as an offering to God. He was willing to sacrifice his life for the preaching of the gospel, the good news of sins forgiven in Jesus.
Like those Old Testament drink offerings, Paul’s life being poured out accompanied another sacrifice, the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus. Paul’s motivation to live his life as a sacrifice didn’t stand alone to impress God, but out of faith and thanksgiving for the sacrifice God had made for him.
On the cross, Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath. That cup was filled with the sins of the world, and Jesus drank it down to the dregs, paying for everyone’s sins. That’s what motivated Paul to pour out his life like a drink offering.
Western culture pours one out to remember someone. Paul poured out his life as a sacrifice to God. It’s not hard to pour out a drink in remembrance of someone; it’s another thing entirely to pour out your life out of thanks for what God has done for you. God doesn’t call all of us to be martyrs like he did Paul. But God does call us to love him with all our heart, mind, and soul. In that way, we pour out our lives to the one who gave his life for us.
Dear Jesus, thank you for giving your life for me. Help me live my life for you. Amen.
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For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
2 Timothy 4:3,4
Give Me Sound Doctrine
Around the year 1900, a man named Clark Stanley captivated audiences. A small stage was built in the town square, and Stanley created a spectacle. His sensationalist show involved using rattlesnakes to create a healing ointment. Stanley claimed his special Snake Oil Liniment was a quick and miraculous cure-all.
People ate it up. The spectacle, combined with the promise of a quick and easy remedy, proved too much to resist. People wanted what Stanley was selling. Even the term “snake oil” appealed to popular imagination since it was associated with exotic and mysterious healing substances.
Clark Stanley called himself the Rattlesnake King, but that’s not how he is remembered. Stanley is the original snake oil salesman known for selling fraudulent and ineffective products. His ointment was found to have very little, if any, snake oil and was primarily mineral oil. It couldn’t cure anything.
But people jeopardized their health and wasted their money because it looked and sounded so good. In the same way, we are tempted to jeopardize our spiritual health when we turn to teachings that look and sound good to us. These teachings might appeal to our desire for physical blessings or our need to make ourselves look good compared to others. Maybe some sort of secret and mysterious teaching makes us feel special.
Whatever it might be, if it turns us away from the truth of sound doctrine, then it is dangerous to our souls. Here is the sound doctrine that we need to hear again and again. I am a sinner for whom Jesus died. My relationship with God is repaired through Jesus, and I can do nothing to acquire this grace apart from receiving it freely as a gift from Jesus.
This is the sound doctrine to which we hold. May God keep it before us all the days of our lives.
Dear Jesus, forgive me the times I’ve tried itching my ears with anything other than your truth. Keep me in your truth. Amen.
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Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.
2 Timothy 4:2
Give Us Skilled Preachers
Imagine a skilled blacksmith working in his shop. He meticulously prepares the metal, heats it in the fire, and hammers it into shape. He takes great care and attention to detail, ensuring the final product is strong, durable, and fit for its purpose.
Preachers of the Word of God act similarly to that blacksmith. They are entrusted with the task of using the gospel to transform hearts. They need to prepare themselves, just as the blacksmith prepares the metal. This involves immersing themselves in God’s Word, spending time in prayer, and asking the Holy Spirit to guide their work.
The blacksmith’s work is not confined to a single season. He is ready to work, whether it’s a scorching summer day or a bitterly cold winter night. Similarly, preachers of the Word must be prepared to preach the Word in season and out of season. There will be times when the message is well-received, and other times when it may be met with resistance or indifference. But just as the blacksmith doesn’t stop working because of unfavorable conditions, they must remain faithful and continue proclaiming God’s truth.
The blacksmith not only shapes the metal but also corrects and refines it. He may need to remove impurities, apply pressure, or make adjustments to ensure the final product is perfect. Preachers are called to correct and rebuke when necessary. This requires love and patience. But it is important to have someone in your life who is not afraid of these hard conversations. Someone who loves you enough that they are willing to be disliked if it means correction according to God’s Word.
Just as important as rebuking and correcting is encouragement, similar to how a blacksmith polishes and brings out the beauty of the finished piece.
The blacksmith’s work demands patience and careful instruction. He doesn’t rush the process but takes his time to ensure every strike is precise. Similarly, patience is important in spiritual instruction. Spiritual growth takes time, and preachers must be patient, guiding people with care and offering them the nourishment of God’s Word.
Dear Jesus, provide preachers who love you and love your people, who faithfully share the good news of sins forgiven in you. Amen.
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[Jesus said] “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
Keep Us Steadfast
On June 25, 1530, Lutheran reformers presented the Augsburg Confession to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. This confession was a bold declaration of Lutheran beliefs in the face of opposition and persecution. The Lutherans who signed it knew they would face severe consequences for their confession of faith, yet they chose to stand firm in their convictions.
Just as Jesus warned his disciples that family members would betray one another, the Lutheran reformers experienced firsthand the painful reality of division within families. Many faced rejection, disapproval, and even abandonment from their loved ones because of their commitment to the gospel. Despite these hardships, they remained steadfast, holding to the truth they found in the Bible.
The Lutheran reformers teach us the importance of standing firm in our beliefs, even when it comes at a cost. Our loyalty to Christ needs to surpass any earthly ties, even familial bonds. This does not mean we disregard or disrespect our families, but rather that we prioritize our allegiance to Christ above all else.
Just as the Lutheran reformers faced persecution for their faith, we may encounter similar challenges. Our commitment to Christ may result in tension or even separation within our families. However, we can find strength and encouragement in knowing that we are not alone. The same God who sustained the reformers is with us today, guiding us and granting us the endurance we need.
Dear Lord, thank You for the example of endurance displayed by the Lutheran reformers and their commitment to the gospel. Help me to remain steadfast in my faith, even in the face of opposition or betrayal. Grant me the strength to prioritize our allegiance to you above all else and to endure in my journey with you. Amen.
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[Jesus said] “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”
Followers of Jesus
These words of Jesus do not sound like a very good recruitment speech inviting people to follow him. But Jesus does not want his followers to be under any delusions. The truth is that being a Christian in the real world is difficult. When we walk with Jesus, there will be people who will avoid us, or challenge us, or scoff at us, or even oppose us. As hard as it is to stand up for our faith, Jesus encourages us to stand firm—to keep our focus on him and all he has done to rescue us from the curse of sin and the power of eternal death.
It is not always easy to be a follower of Jesus, but we are constantly supported by our Savior’s sure promise that when our lives are over, he will take us to be with him in heaven, where our life will be free of all opposition and challenges to our faith. Now by faith in Jesus, we can confidently look forward to the heavenly home where we will join all those who “have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. . . . And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:14,17).
Jesus, you said, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10). Lead me by your saving word on my way through life, uplifting me with your promise of waiting glory. Amen.
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Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
What a heart Jesus had for people in their suffering! He didn’t ignore them. He stopped and stooped to heal people and free many from severe suffering and debilitating handicaps of physical illness and disease.
But Jesus was more than a miracle worker. His compassion for people went further than sympathy for their physical condition. As he went through all the towns and villages, he taught the people and preached the good news of the kingdom. Jesus compassionately reached out to their souls that were held captive by sin. Jesus saw them as prisoners of Satan and under the death sentence of hell. Without him, they were hopeless and helpless.
Jesus proclaimed to them the good news that he had come to free them from the kingdom of the devil. He had come according to his heavenly Father’s will and planned to take their place under their death sentence. Jesus came to crush Satan’s power and break open the prison cell of death and hell.
Jesus’ deepest desire is for people to believe in him and have the blessing of salvation—that they not be separated from him but have eternal life with him. With Jesus’ glorious resurrection from the dead, he gives hope and joy to all who believe in him as their Savior from sin. That’s why he continues to have the good news of salvation preached and taught by his workers in the world today. He wants everyone to know his love and have life in his name.
Prayer: (Christian Worship – A Lutheran Hymnal: 358)
How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer’s ear!
It soothes our sorrows, heals our wounds, and drives away all fear.
It makes the wounded spirit whole and calms the heart’s unrest;
‘Tis manna to the hungry soul and to the weary, rest. Amen.
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Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?
1 Corinthians 4:6,7
The Bible teaches that we all have different gifts from God. No two people are exactly alike. That means we will be surrounded by people who are better at some things than we are. And then there will be some things where we excel compared to others. Frankly, that’s what makes the world go round. If we were all equally gifted at the same things, we wouldn’t be able to serve one another with our gifts, and the world would be a very boring place!
That was also true when it came to Paul and his fellow apostles. Paul had a suite of gifts and abilities that were unique to him. And that was true of the other preachers in Paul’s day, including a man named Apollos.
But some Christians in the city of Corinth preferred Apollos over Paul, for whatever reason. Yet Paul wasn’t going to let that bother him because all the gifts he and Apollos had were on loan from God. God had gifted them both; he deserved the credit.
And what was true for Paul and Apollos is also true for us. Paul asked, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” It is easy to believe I am better than those around me. What a tragic sin this is. Not only is it unloving toward the people around me, but it takes credit for the gifts God has given. But when I remember that every ability I have comes from God, I realize I have no reason to boast. Thank God that, through Jesus, he forgives my arrogance and is able to instill an attitude of humble service in my heart so that I can serve him and those around me.
Jesus, help me to be your humble servant by humbly serving others. Amen.
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Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.
1 Corinthians 4:5
Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover
First impressions can mean a lot. That’s why Christian congregations should carefully consider how guests are welcomed. Are they met with friendly, comfortable greetings, or do they simply have a service folder jammed into their hands? Do they have to navigate an awkward gauntlet of strangers in a narrow entryway, or are they given some space to become comfortable in their new surroundings? Congregations will want to do all they can to welcome their guests.
At the same time, it is also true that first impressions are often inaccurate. Perhaps the person handing the guest a service folder wasn’t feeling well that morning; normally he’s the friendliest of fellows. Or perhaps the guest happened to step into the church when the entryway had suddenly become congested. It was a tight squeeze, but it only lasted a few seconds. It would be unfortunate if a guest judged the book by its cover.
It is especially unfortunate when people unfairly judge the motives of those around them. The apostle Paul warns us in today’s Bible reading not to judge other people’s motives; since we cannot read their hearts. In other words, be careful not to judge a book by its cover.
But the day will come, Paul promises, when Jesus “will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart.” Rather than judge the motives of others, we do well to assess the motives of our own hearts. Where those motives are not God-pleasing, we can confess them to Jesus and know that those sins, too, were paid for when he went to the cross. His love and forgiveness will motivate us to be generous in the way we think of others and less likely to judge books by their covers.
Dear Jesus, keep me from judging others unfairly. Amen.
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