At 7 P.M. on October 20, 1968, a few thousand spectators remained in the Mexico City Olympic Stadium. It was cool and dark. The last of the marathon runners, each exhausted, were being carried off to first-aid stations. More than an hour earlier, Mamo Wolde of Ethiopia — looking as fresh as when he started the race — crossed the finish line, the winner of the 26-mile, 385-yard event.
As the remaining spectators prepared to leave, those sitting near the marathon gates suddenly heard the sound of sirens and police whistles. All eyes turned to the gate. A lone figure wearing the colors of Tanzania entered the stadium. His name was John Stephen Akhwari. He was the last man to finish the marathon. His leg bloodied and bandaged, severely injured in a fall, he grimaced with each step. He hobbled around the 400-meter track.
The spectators rose and applauded him as if he were the winner. After crossing the finish line, Akhwari slowly walked off the field without turning to the cheering crowd.
In view of his injury and having no chance of winning a medal, someone asked him why he had not quit. He replied, “My country did not send me 7,000 miles to start the race. They sent me 7,000 miles to finish it.”
If a foot race is worth finishing well (and it is, cf. 1 Cor. 9:24ff; 1 Tim. 4:7), the spiritual life is even more worthy of our perseverance. But the questions arise, “what does it mean to finish well spiritually?” “How can we measure if we have finished well?” Three answers appear in 2 Timothy 4:7, and the surrounding verses: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”
To finish well means that the spiritual battle with Satan and his minions and temptations and false ideologies is fought with diligent constancy to the end of life. I have fought the good fight. Paul maintained the battle against sin and the battle for truth and faithfulness to the end. Demas may have been enticed by worldly desires (v. 10) and Alexander may have delighted to attack Paul’s ministry (v. 14), but finishing well means continuing to pursue God’s purposes to the end of life. The one who finishes well recognizes that as long as he has breath on earth, he is not finished. He realizes he has not “arrived” until Christ takes him into heaven and glorifies him.
To finish well means nothing is left “undone.” I have finished the course. Others may have compromised the message they preached, but not Paul (vv. 1-4). Others may have been tempted to change their message to accommodate the fickle ears of their listeners, but not Paul (v. 3). The ministry which God has purposed for us has been accomplished. Not every book can be read. I can’t witness to every unbeliever. You can’t solve every problem. But we can accomplish every thing God has called us to do. God never gives a task for which He does not also equip us and give us the necessary time to accomplish it. When circumstances are hard, endure the hardship and persist in carrying out the duties of your ministry (v. 5).
To finish well means to maintain faithfulness to the body of truth that constitutes our salvation. I have kept the faith. It means consistently both believing and living out the doctrines of our faith. It means guarding the precious truth of salvation by grace alone in Christ alone through faith alone. Remember the One who will judge your life (vv. 1, 8). Maintain faithfulness to Him and His Word.
Of all the races worth running, the one (and only one) that will bring lasting, eternal reward, is the spiritual race. And here is the goal: Keep your guard against Satan’s temptations and influence; Keep serving and ministering; Keep the faith.
Keep your eyes firmly focused on the goal that Christ has given you (1 Cor. 9:26-27; Heb. 12:1b-2a).