A Long Obedience

“As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.”  (2 Timothy 4:6-7 NLT)

John Stonestreet wrote in a recent edition of BreakPoint: “There’s something unusual and inspiring about a life lived faithfully to the very end. It’s what we want for ourselves but so rarely see. Of course, really the only way to end well is to live well. This is what has been called ‘a long obedience.’”

That’s what I want, and I suspect, you want as well. But what might “a long obedience” look like for us?

Every obedient life has at least three things in common. A starting point, a conscientious and intentional path to follow, and a faithful conclusion. It’s impossible to end well if you don’t at some point determine to start well. What does that mean?

It’s not unusual when I’m asking someone about their faith journey to have them say something like: “Well, I’ve followed Jesus my whole life. I grew up attending church. I went to a Christian school, etc.” And when I hear that it frightens me a bit. How so? Growing up in a Christian environment, having godly parents, going to a Christ-centered church and/or attending a Christian School, doesn’t always equate with walking faithfully with Jesus. Living in a Christian environment and holding all the right beliefs isn’t what makes us right with God. I can work in my garage my whole life, but never become an automobile.

We don’t become a believer by osmosis. We become a believer by an act of our will. Loving, serving, and following Jesus is a decision we make at the beginning of our relationship, and it builds as we continually reaffirm our commitment and desire to walk faithfully in that relationship every second of our journey. There’s no coasting or resting on our proverbial “laurels.” Because I served faithfully when I was younger, doesn’t give me the right or option to sit back and do nothing as I age.

Paul told his young protégé, Timothy: “As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God.” The expression “poured out” is used in reference to someone who suffers a violent death, and their blood is poured out for the Lord. It’s a picture of a life lived purposefully and intentionally for Jesus to the very end. Paul understood the time of his death was imminent, and as he reflects on his life, he uses two analogies that should help us better understand how we should live.

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He speaks of having fought the good fight. The term he uses here is the word from which comes our word “agony.” And the picture he paints is the stadium or arena where the participants would fight to the death. It reminds us of two very important things we should consider as we live our lives. First, we have an audience.

Hebrews 12 speaks of the great cloud of witnesses to our fight of faith. Additionally, there are those in our spheres of influence who are watching our lives, some of whom are not yet Jesus followers. But our most important witness is our Father who cheers us on as we battle the forces of evil for His honor and fame. The second thing is, our life’s battle is to the death. As long as our bodies have life, we have purpose.

The second analogy Paul uses is a race. He said: “I have finished the race.” Other translations use the term “I have finished the course.” Life isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. And the picture here is one who has given their all. They cross the finish line and collapse. They’re spent, exhausted, with nothing left to give. And the resounding echo in Paul’s mind is: “I have remained faithful.”

Do you know how to remain faithful for a lifetime? One breath, one battle, one obstacle, one decision, one temptation, one defeat, one prayer, one victory at a time. The only moment we have in which to remain faithful is this moment. Use it wisely. Love without reservation. Live as though whatever you’re doing is the last thing you’ll ever do before falling into the arms of Jesus as you cross your finish line. That’s a long obedience.

Blessings, Ed 😊

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