Juxtaposed as it is next to 2 Timothy 4:1–5, verses 6–8 convey an important motivation for Timothy and every other reader of this epistle. Paul can look forward to his death knowing that he has “fought the good fight,” “ finished the race,” and “kept the faith” (vv. 6–7). Since he has just told Timothy to be consistent in fulfilling his ministry, the implication is that the apostle himself has kept this charge and has fulfilled his own ministry. If Timothy and all other Christians want to have this same view of their lives, then they too must fulfill the ministry God has given them, consistently sharing the gospel and making disciples in those arenas where they have been placed.
That Paul anticipates his death in today’s passage is plain from the language that he uses to describe his predicament. He is being “poured out as a drink offering” (v. 6), which is an allusion to the offerings of wine that had to accompany every sacrifice under the old covenant (Num. 15:1–16). An offering was not complete until the drink offering was given and here Paul is using this terminology to show that his ministry is complete. He has served the Lord faithfully for many years, and now his imprisonment is the last thing that needs to be accomplished to finish his service, just like the drink offering completed the old covenant sacrifice. Paul’s whole train of thought in 2 Timothy 4:6–8 has an air of finality about it. His departure, not from prison but from earthly life, is at hand. He has almost reached the finish line (see Heb. 12:1–2). In short, he knows that he will soon die at the hand of the maniacal Roman emperor, Nero.
Paul faces his impending execution with joy, for he knows a “crown of righteousness” awaits him in the presence of the Lord. He is not talking about being saved by his own good deeds, for Paul knows that only the righteousness of Christ justifies him (Gal. 2:15–16). Yet once a person has been justified by faith alone, he will do good works that God will reward in the life to come, though such works do not earn one a place in the kingdom of heaven (WCF 16). Though they be imperfect, God will nevertheless reward with a crown the good works done by all who have loved Jesus’ appearing (2 Tim. 4:8).
Matthew Henry comments, “It is the character of all the saints that they long for the appearing of Jesus Christ: they love his second appearing at the great day; love it, and long for it.” We quickly grow content with the transient comforts of this life, but a love for Christ’s coming motivates us to do good works that will gain an everlasting reward. May we all long for and work in light of the imminent return of the Savior.