Summary: I have finished the course, declares Paul to Timothy. You run your course as I have run mine. This applies not only to Timothy, but to every one of us.
A GARLAND OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
Against a background of false teachers, and hypocritical hearers who will not endure sound teaching, Paul exhorted Timothy to urgently preach the word (2 Timothy 4:2). The young minister was to do this both when it seemed comfortable and seasonable (to the preacher) to do so, and when it seemed incredibly difficult (as when Paul made his “first defence” before Nero with no-one to stand by him, 2 Timothy 4:16). Timothy was to watch, to endure, to do the work of an evangelist, to make full proof of his ministry (2 Timothy 4:5).
“For,” says Paul - an important little word not to be missed - you are to do this because I am now ready to be “poured out” (2 Timothy 4:6). You do your work, because I am drawing to the close of mine. My life has indeed been poured out, and is being poured out as a libation to the Lord - but there will come a time, and that right soon, when I will have nothing left to give.
It is like the drink-offering which King David made to the LORD - every last drop was poured out upon the ground, and that without fail (2 Samuel 23:16).
“And,” says the Apostle, “the time of my departure is at hand” (2 Timothy 4:6). The word for “departure” here is not the same as that used by Jesus in His conversation with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration. There Jesus’ departure, decease, or death that He was to accomplish at Jerusalem was spoken of as an ‘exodus’ (Luke 9:31).
Here Paul speaks of his “release” (2 Timothy 4:6). The old soldier is about to break camp. The Apostle is about to be loosed from his earthly chain, and his little ship is about to set sail for another shore.
Paul could say, confidently and honestly, that what he had earlier instructed his protégé to do (1 Timothy 6:12), he had not shrunk from himself. He had “fought the good fight” with all his might (2 Timothy 4:7). Timothy had been encouraged to make his stand for the Apostolic faith, the ‘good deposit’ - and the old Apostle had set the example before him.
Throughout his ministry and service, the Apostle Paul did not consider himself to have ‘arrived’ (as we might say), but was constantly casting the past into oblivion and stretching forward to whatever lay in store in the future. He was pursuing the mark, dashing for the goal-line, running towards the tape at the end of the race. He was pursuing the prize - ever onward, ever upward - the heavenly reward of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus ((Philippians 3:13-14).
Even now as the old soldier drew towards the end of his course, he caught a glimpse of the laurel wreath, the garland with which he was to be crowned. It was a crown of justice and righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8). Before this the “mouth of the lion was closed” (2 Timothy 4:17): whether this represents Nero, the counsel for the prosecution, or some other human opponent - or perhaps even the devil himself (1 Peter 5:8).
Meantime, Paul was able to find in his heart a spirit of forgiveness (2 Timothy 4:16). Like Jesus before him (Luke 23:34). And like Stephen, for whose execution a lifetime ago a young Saul of Tarsus (= Paul, in his pre-conversion days) had watched the coats of those who had stoned the fledgling church’s first martyr (Acts 7:57-60).