Saturday, December 27, 2008

A life well lived

"For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and 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" (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

As Paul closes his letter to Timothy, he draws upon rich Old Testament imagery as he reflects upon the fact that he will soon be martyred for Christ. The phrase "I am already being poured out as a drink offering" is a reference to the Old Testament sacrificial system where wine was poured in the altar (Num. 15:5, 7, 10; 28:7) presented daily (Ex. 29:40), on the Sabbath (Num. 28:9), and on feast-days (28:14). In Numbers 6:16-17, we see the drink offering as part of the peace and grain offerings which were voluntary acts of worship, expressing one's gratitude to God for His goodness and for the fellowship that the worshipper enjoyed with God after having dealt with sin through the sin offering or trespass offering and committing himself completely to God through the burnt offering.

In the Jewish worship prior to the destruction of the temple, the worshipper would lay his hand on the sacrificial lamb he had brought to the tabernacle or temple, confessing his sins. He would witness the lamb slain, and the blood sprinkled over and around the altar. Then he would see the animal skinned and its body cut in pieces, placed on the altar and consumed in the fire of God's wrath. In response to this atoning sacrifice, by which he was assured of his acceptance with the Lord (Lev. 1), he then would offer a grain offering (Lev. 2) as symbolic of his whole devotion to the reconciled God who had atoned for his sins. Then, in the drink offering he would lift up a cup of wine and pour it out over the ashes of the lamb and the grain, to express his hearty concurrence with all that he had seen and offered, as he witnessed, by faith, what had transacted between the Lord and him - his heart poured out in gratitude to God's glory of all mercy, love and forgiveness.

It is this joyous sense that we find in Paul as he finishes his life. God has used him to proclaim the message of reconciliation between God and man, made possible by the sacrificial death of His Son. He has lived out his life as an act of sacrifice before God of commitment in response to that sacrificial death and now, at the end of his life, Paul sees his martyrdom as the drink offering being poured out as a final act of worship. Then, like the worshipper at the tabernacle/temple, he would depart. His service of worship will have concluded well.

To come to the end of one's life knowing that you have accomplished the task that God had called you to do is one that all of God's servants should strive towards. To know that you have lived your life as a sacrifice to God, giving life to others in the process; surely this is the kind of life that will receive the rewards of heaven. What a contrast to the all-too-common sentiment expressed by many at the end of their lives; "If only I had had more time. If only I had done more for God. If only my life could have counted for more. If only I could do live my life again, I would do it differently. If only…."

This is not Paul's sentiment, however, as he switches metaphors in verse 7 to that of a fight and a race. He says that he has fought a good fight and finished the race. He has "kept the faith." He is now ready to receive his reward, a crown of righteousness (verse 8); one given not because of his own righteousness because of his total reliance on the finished work of Christ on the cross for him. As Paul looks ahead to his "homecoming" he knows that it is God who has delivered him and it will be God who will bring him safely to his destination (4:17-18). Therefore, to God goes all of the glory (4:19). And that is the key to a well lived.


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