The Last Fight
On the ruins of a theater in Ephesus there is a memorial to an athlete of the 2nd century A.D. which reads: "He fought three fights, and twice was crowned." Watch out for that last step! You see, those "athletes" fought to the death. A man's last fight was always fatal. So, the crown meant only that one changed opponents; and sooner or later the last would slay him.
What a difference in this crown, and that of the apostle Paul: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day…" (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
Paul did more than fight "unto death" — he fought unto life, eternal. If his fight of faith cost him his earthly life, it only meant he was now free to claim the crown that counted most (Revelation 2:10, 2 Cor. 5:6ff.). How different from those who die without hope.
Paul sought an enduring victory — one that could not be taken from him. He exhorted Timothy, "Lay hold on eternal life…" (1 Timothy 6:12). This called for training, perseverance, and above all, self control (1 Corinthians9:24-27). The athlete trained his body only to prolong the day when it would fail him; but Paul trained his that it might the better serve the Lord, and thus serve his eternal purposes.
We are all engaged in some sort of battle, and in a very real sense it is "unto death." The fatalist, the fool, resigns himself to shortchange. Though he fights 3,000 times, he can expect but 2,999 temporal crowns, not one of which he can take with him beyond that last fight. The futility of it all is enough to make a man throw in the towel.
The Faith gives purpose to life. The Christian fights, hard and often. But he has submitted himself to God's will, "strives lawfully" (2 Timothy 2:5), and his fight is never in vain. Jesus Christ has provided for him a crown, and not for him only, "but unto all them also that love his appearing."