Of the 100 Bible characters we know significant details about, only one-third finished well.
By Keith Yoder
We all look forward to hearing the affirmation, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”1 What does it take to finish well?
We are hearing more instances of the character failures of leaders, but the dynamic tension between failure and faithfulness is not new. Howard Hendricks, a highly regarded seminary professor, noted, “Of the 2,930 individuals mentioned in the Bible, we only know significant details of 100. Of those 100, only about one-third finished well. Of the two-thirds that did not finish well, most failed in the second half of their lives.”2
The Bible teaches us much about finishing well. There is a sense of fulfillment in the reflection of Paul the Apostle. He writes from prison in Rome as his execution is imminent, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”3 We can see three dimensions of finishing well in Paul’s example.
First, Paul recalls the challenges he faced. While he may not have won every specific battle, he notes that he invested himself well in the cause. His frame of reference was upon what he could control—his effort. He gave his best.
Second, the apostle is aware of the purpose God had for him—and knows that he completed that purpose. Like a race, he ran strong to the finish; he was tenacious in pursing his purpose.
Third, Paul remained committed to honor and defend the simplicity of the gospel of the Kingdom of God. He upheld the truth that was revealed to him. His doctrine was sound. He did not fall into error.
In short, for Paul to finish well meant excellence in effort, tenacity in purpose, and rootedness in truth. Or, in other words: quality, endurance, integrity.
Ten years earlier Paul had written to the church in Rome that he longed to see them, “that I may impart to you some spiritual gift so that you may be established.”4 Impartation takes place while one is actively pouring life into others. By finishing well, he did not do anything to discredit or dishearten those he had served over the years.
Jesus finished well. We observe this from His remarks in relation to His Father who sent Him to conduct the mission to redeem the world! “Before the Feast of Passover meal, Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”5 The “end” is equivalent to “the fullest extent.” In the Swahili translation of this verse, the word picture is, “He loved them to the horizon.”
In His high priestly prayer, Jesus declares that He has glorified His Father on the earth and has “finished the work which You have given Me to do.”6
From His example we see that to finish well is to live in the new commandment He gave to love, as He loved,7 the persons God has entrusted to our sphere of influence. It is to bring glory to God as we do the work God has given us.
In short, Jesus finished well through an intimate relationship with Father God, dedication to a clear purpose, and self-giving love. That is: intimacy, purpose, love. As partakers of the divine nature through our faith in Christ, we are empowered with the capacity to do the same. He is alive within us.8
Moses also finished well as a leader. At the close of his life, he recounted to the children of Israel how God had led them. He gave them instructions (the law) for worship, for governance, and for warfare. He called the people to obedience.9 He imparted to godly leaders who would follow him.
In humility, he embraced the consequences of having disobeyed God’s instruction. As a result, he would not enter the promised land with his people.10 However, when the revelation of Jesus as the Beloved Son of God unfolded on the Mount of Transfiguration, Moses was present as a witness—in the promised land!11
Moses’ example demonstrates a legacy of counsel, continuity in leadership, and redemption of disobedience.
We may observe in these examples that to finish well is to realize integrity in character, remain dedicated to purpose, and reflect faithfulness to truth.
A “Finish Well” Statement
It is helpful for each leader to write his or her own description of what it means to finish well. I have found this to be very helpful. It keeps character, purpose, and truth before me. I crafted by own “finish well” statement that follows.
- Using the referent qualities from Paul and Jesus above, for me to finish well will be seen in these ways.
- Quality of work; endurance in purpose; integrity in representing the Scriptures
- Impartation of what and how I can bless and enrich the capacity of leaders whom I mentor
- Love thoroughly those I serve; lifestyle of ongoing attentiveness to whatever the Lord prompts
- Show and/or speak of the nature of God in and through the work I do
- Reproduce personal strengths in others: wisdom, listening, advocacy for synergetic leadership of men and women
In summary, I will have finished well through integrity: in character, in representing the Scriptures, and in presence-based discernment and leadership. There will be integrity of a fulfilled purpose because I have imparted wisdom, anchored in the oneness of the Trinity, such that there are more men and women leading well together.
So far, the emphasis has been on performing well until completing one’s service. But there is another dimension to finishing well.
The Inward Journey
We need to distinguish between the tasks we perform and the simplicity of being. To finish well also involves a gracious release of what we have been doing.
In finishing well, it is important to reconcile how change relates to our identity. Several questions keep the guardrails on what is, for many, a road with unexpected curves.
- How is God seeing me and relating to me in the “giving up” process?
- What is God touching to bring healing to me from life experiences?
- What does God want to give me to replace the value I found in positional leadership?
- How is God showing me to view:
- My value
- My significance
- My belonging
- My capacity?
The wise leader faces this inward journey with courage and empathy toward him or herself. Exploring the implications of this inward journey can be enhanced with the support of a spiritual director.
Apostle Paul addressed one of his associates with the words, “Say to Archippus, ‘Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.’”12
We “take heed” by looking intently at what God has given us to do. Like Paul and Jesus, we devote ourselves to complete the work God has given us. Over time we continue to take heed as the sphere of influence we have received from the Lord unfolds in new dimensions.
To finish well we choose to fulfill the purpose of God with the character of God in alignment with the truth of God. Doing so is both an outward expression of influence and an inward journey of identity.
About Keith E. Yoder
Keith’s mission is to help others clarify their personal identity and empower them to fulfill their role in God’s Kingdom. He is the founder of Teaching the Word Ministries, a service to leaders in Christian ministries, congregations, and the marketplace. Keith holds a doctorate of education in educational leadership from the University of Pennsylvania. He serves as a spiritual advisor of DOVE International.
1. Matthew 25:21
2. Biblical Financial Study (Knoxville, TN: Crown Financial Ministries, 2005), 166.
3. II Timothy 2:7
4. Romans 1:12
5. John 13:1
6. John 17:4
7. John 15:12
8. II Peter 1:1-4
9. Deuteronomy (whole book)
10. Numbers 20:8-12
11. Matthew 17:1-3
12. Colossians 4:17 NASB