A phrase we often hear speaks of people who “rest on their laurels”. The “laurels” suggest rewards won in past contests. A champion in ancient Olympic games was awarded a wreath made of greenery, such as leaves from the bay laurel tree. In his later years, the athlete might not put forth as much effort, but would be content in glory from the past.
Paul could certainly be regarded as a spiritual champion. But did he know anything about resting on his laurels? A quick reading of his second letter to Timothy will dispel any such notion. Instead of taking it easy in his later years, life got harder.
One indication of Paul’s difficulties comes early in the letter: “Therefore, do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:8, NKJV). Following years of dedicated service to God’s kingdom, how was the aged apostle rewarded? With a prison cell and suffering. Does that seem fair?!
Another mark of Paul’s sufferings was how brethren often abandoned him. In 2 Timothy 1:15 he noted how “all those in Asia have turned away from me”. He referred to Demas, a companion in his missionary journeys, who had “forsaken me” (4:10). Later in that final chapter of Paul’s writings, he stated this sad information: “At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them” (4:16).
Clearly this man did not rest on his laurels. What kept him going through such hard times? What will keep any Christian going when thorns are substituted for laurels?
One truth was always in Paul’s mind: “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me” (2 Timothy 4:17). The most famous statement of this sustaining truth is found in 1:12: “For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep what I have committed to him until that day.”
Paul’s faith was not in “what,” but in “whom.” And so it must be for every child of God who hopes to endure the trials that inevitably come. As Paul learned by experience, so will we: “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).
And about those laurels: They’re coming. Paul affirmed that in 4:8: “Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
Don’t focus on people; they almost always disappoint. Keep your focus on Jesus.
Why our focus must be on the Lord.