(7) I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (8) 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, NIV
We thank you, Father in heaven, that you concern yourself with us and that you bind us to yourself through all your deeds and all your help. We thank you for showing us a way of hope, a way that becomes always clearer, always firmer under our feet. On this way we can defy every evil of this world and time, knowing for sure that everything will come out right and we will all be brought to the great, eternal goal, even though we have to deny ourselves and go through much suffering. Your kingdom must come to the glory of your name, so that all people may live on a higher plane and follow you, the only true help and true life. Amen.
The context of the words of 2 Timothy 4:7–8, NIV
Second Timothy 4:1–8 contains Paul's last ministry instructions to Timothy. Paul knows that he will not survive his current imprisonment. So, he clearly and boldly charges Timothy—commands him—to hold to the faith he has seen and lived. He can do this knowing that Paul has faithfully served God, expecting the heavenly rewards given to all of God's followers. The poignant tone of this passage is made even more bittersweet by the long friendship these two men have shared.
Paul introduces himself, then recaps Timothy's path to becoming a minister. He reminds Timothy of how his family brought him up in the faith, and then how Timothy served faithfully with Paul in the past. Paul then focuses on two primary ideas. First, that Timothy's background in the faith should give him the courage to stand fast against hard times. Second, that Timothy should use that courage to defend the truth of the gospel message. Paul will use these points and examples as the foundation for the rest of his letter.
Meaning of the words
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith"
As Paul looked toward his coming death, he also looked back and gave three positive statements about his ministry. First, he declared confidence in his own efforts for the sake of Christ. In 1 Timothy 6:12, Paul had commanded Timothy to likewise, "fight the good fight of the faith."
Second, Paul stated that he has completed the mission he was given by God. Elsewhere Paul spoke of the Christian faith as a race, saying, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it" (1 Corinthians 9:24). In Hebrews 12:1, the author also noted, "let us run with endurance the race that is set before us."
Third, Paul writes that he has specifically held to the truth. Paul did not keep some ambiguous faith in God, but "the" faith, a specific belief in Jesus as the resurrected Messiah. The New Testament often spoke of belief in Jesus as "the faith" (Acts 6:7; 13:8; 14:22; 16:5). Paul commanded the Corinthian Christians to "stand firm in the faith" (1 Corinthians 16:13), something he practiced in his own life. "The faith" has also been referred to several times in this letter (2 Timothy 1:13; 3:8).
"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"
Because of Paul's faithfulness to Christ, he can confidently expect heavenly rewards. Salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8–9), yet eternal rewards are based on one's faithful service to Christ. This is the only place in the New Testament referring to this specific type of crown. Other crowns include the imperishable crown (1 Corinthians 9:24–25), crown of rejoicing (1 Thessalonians), crown of life (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10) and crown of glory (1 Peter 5:4). This crown of righteousness would come from the "righteous judge" (also Psalm 7:11).
Paul expects to obtain this crown on "that Day," a reference which is often debated by interpreters. Some believe this would be when Paul died and stood before the Lord, while others interpret this as a future time such as the end-times "Day of the Lord." Given the context of this passage, it seems more likely to be a reference to when Paul dies. Of much encouragement to Christians is the fact that Paul adds that the crown of righteousness is for him and also "all who have loved his appearing." Any faithful believer has the potential to receive this particular crown.