If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to 2 Timothy chapter 4. We’re going to look at Paul’s last written words to Timothy. Now these aren’t Paul’s last words to Timothy because in this very passage we learn that Timothy is going to see Paul again. But this is the last letter of Paul to his young mentee, Timothy, a man that he views as a son in the Lord and who looks us to him as a father in the faith. And in these words, we do find, as Denny Terry reminded us tonight, Paul in a very difficult situation. And that is an encouraging thing for us to think about as we think about how we finish the Christian life. I mentioned to you this morning, I think in the second service, that one of our ruling elders emeritus had asked me a number of weeks ago, “Ligon, sometime in your last three months of preaching would you address the issue of how Christians ought to finish well, how we ought to finish the Christian life, how we ought to prepare for the end?” And that’s a good question. And that’s a question that our forbearers in the faith always addressed in their preaching – not only how to live but how to die; not only how to go on day by day with the Lord Jesus but how to cross the finish line. And there’s no better place I think to go than to 2 Timothy chapter 4:6-22.
Now in a certain sense, we’re doing a larger application from one of the themes in Hebrews 13:7 this morning because the author of Hebrews in chapter 13 verse 7 is very interested in that same thing – finishing well. But tonight we’re going to look at what Paul has to teach us about living the Christian life faithfully to the very end. So let’s hear God’s Word beginning in verse 6 and before we read, let’s pray and ask for God’s help and blessing.
Our Heavenly Father, we do thank You that at the end of Your day we’re in Your Word together. This is where we want to be. We want to be with You. We want to be with those who trust in You. We want to be with our brothers and sisters in Christ. And we want to be fellowshipping by the help of the Spirit through the work of the Savior with our Heavenly Father along with our brothers and sisters in Christ under Your Word. And that’s where we find ourselves. And we know, O God, that You have appointed this as a means of grace, so make Your Word do the work of Your grace in our hearts to Your praise and glory. We ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.
This is God’s Word. Hear it in 2 Timothy chapter 4 beginning in verse 6:
“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus remained at Corinth, and I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus. Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers.
The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
How do you live the Christian life faithfully to the end? That’s a good question and it’s one that we all ought to think about. How do you finish well? Well I believe that there are lessons in this very passage from the end of Paul’s life that will help us in answering that question. And there are five things in particular that I want you to see in this passage tonight. I want you to see Paul’s realistic expectations about the Christian life. I want you to see Paul’s attitude of constant learning of the Scripture. I want you to see how Paul leaned on Jesus, how he appreciated people, and how he depended on grace. All five of those things. If you’re going to live the Christian life faithfully to the end you’re going to be realistic expecting, constant learning, Jesus leaning, people appreciating, and grace depending. Let’s work through each of those five things together tonight.
First look at verses 6 to 12 and then allow your eyes to peek down at verses 14 and 15. Here is one of the keys to finishing well – realistic expecting. Expecting realistically what you will face in the Christian life. The Christian life is often faced with relational challenges. Just look at what happens to Paul. Paul tells us here he’s about to cross the finish line, he’s fought the good fight, he’s kept the faith, he’s finished the race – do you think everything’s coming up rosy? No. It is hard in Paul’s last days. It’s very hard. He’s deserted by Demas, verse 10. Crescens, Titus, and Tychicus are doing exactly what he wanted them to do in verses 10 and 12 – they’re working. They’re faithfully ministering. But that means they’re not with him and he’s alone. And Paul is lonely. You can pick it up in this passage. He’s been deserted by one worker, three other workers are working hard, doing what they’re supposed to be doing, but they’re not with him and he’s lonely; he misses them. Luke’s there; he’s staying. That’s good. Mark is invited to come, just like Timothy. Twice in the passage Paul asks Timothy to come but he tells him in verse 11, when you come, bring Mark with you. And in verses 14 and 15, Alexander is opposing. Demas deserting, Crescens, Titus and Tychicus working, Luke staying, Mark coming, Alexander opposing.
Let me just consider three things that Paul is facing here. First, he’s facing desertion. A faithful worker has bailed out. He has shown himself to be unfaithful. He has deserted Paul, he has deserted the cause, he has left the field of ministry, and he’s gone back to Thessalonica – Demas. Here’s Paul at the end of his life and he’s experienced betrayal from a fellow servant. Then there’s opposition. Can you imagine it? Paul the apostle facing opposition? Yes, he did. So much so from Alexander that he has to warn Timothy about it. “Watch out, Timothy, for Alexander the coppersmith. He’s trouble. He opposed our message strongly. You be on guard against him as well.” Paul facing opposition. I remember when I was reading through the biography of Jonathan Edwards and was agog that the congregation in Northampton turned out the greatest pastor-theologian in the history of the American colonies. Can you imagine that congregation on the last day? “You fired Jonathan Edwards! You idiots! What were you thinking!” The apostle Paul faced opposition.
But there’s a happy story in here too. It’s a story of Mark. You remember from Acts 15 and 16 that when Paul and his team went out to take the Gospel to the Gentiles Mark turned back. Mark apparently wasn’t fully on board with going to the Gentiles with the Gospel and he abandoned that mission. Paul was none too happy about that and there was a rift for a season. But apparently, Mark has come to his senses. He’s seen the error of his ways. He’s repented of his wrongdoing and now Paul is ready for Mark to be restored to his company. “Bring Mark with you.” Yes, you can be deserted and betrayed in the Christian life by Christian friends and they can never ever come back, like Demas. On the other hand, some Christian friends may let you down and still one day be restored to be good Christian friends. But in all this we see something of the relational heartache that the apostle Paul was ministering in to the very last days of his life. So you have to be realistic in your expectations if you’re going to finish well. If you think things are going to get easier you’re going to be disappointed. For Paul, they were hard right until his nose was across the finish line. We need to be realistic expecting.
Second, we need to be constant learning. The Christian life is fueled by the truth. Take a look at verse 13. It’s a fascinating passage. “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.” Now we don’t know what those books are, we don’t know what those parchments are, but doesn’t your imagination run wild when you read that statement in this passage? Just think about it my friends. When Timothy brings Mark, you are going to have Mark, Paul, and Luke in the same place along with books and parchments. Now just think about it. You’ve got half of the Gospel writers, Mark and Luke, you’ve got the authors of over half of the New Testament, Luke and Paul, in the same place with books and parchments. Now don’t start a new denomination over this! But just think about that for a minute! Don’t you want to know what was going on there? That’s on my list to ask Paul when I get to heaven. What was going on there? Maybe something very, very important for our receiving the books of the New Testament.
But whatever those books and parchments were, whether those were scrolls of Isaiah, there is almost absolute certainty that Scripture was involved. Now think about this. This is the apostle Paul. He wrote half of the New Testament. And at the end of his life, he still wants to be reading the books and the parchments. That’s amazing. And what does it teach us? It teaches us that we should never stop studying God’s Word. We should never stop learning from God’s Word. A close walk with God leads the true Christian to want to know the Bible more, precisely because she, because he wants to know God better. Have you ever heard C. H. Spurgeon comment on 2 Timothy chapter 4 verse 13, “bring the books”? Have you ever heard it? How many of you have ever read C. H. Spurgeon – you’ve never read C. H. Spurgeon’s comment on this? Okay, I’m going to give you an excerpt. And Boopie, no charge for this. This is going to be the greatest advertisement for the bookstore in history. Here it comes. This is Spurgeon:
“We do not know what the books were about and we can only form some guess as to what the parchments were. Paul had a few books, perhaps wrapped up in that cloak, and Timothy was to be careful to bring them. Even an apostle must read. How rebuked we are by the apostle! He is inspired, and yet he wants books. He has been preaching at least for thirty years, and yet he wants books. He has seen the Lord, and yet he wants books. He has had a wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books. He has been caught up into the third heavens and has heard things which it is unlawful for a man to utter, and yet he wants books. He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books. The apostle says to Timothy, and so he says to every creature, ‘Give thyself unto reading.’ Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will of all light literature but study as much as possible sound, theological works, especially the Puritan writers and expositions of Scripture. We are quite persuaded that the very best way for you to be spending your leisure is either to be reading or praying. You may get much instruction from books which afterwards you may use as a true weapon in your Lord and Master’s service. Paul cries, ‘Bring the books!’ Join the cry!”
That’s Spurgeon on 2 Timothy 4 verse 13. Constant learning. Realistic expecting. Constant learning. Now, Jesus leaning. The Christian life is lived on Jesus’ promise that He will never leave us or forsake us, and that, my friends, is essential for finishing well. We said just last week that there will come a time in all of our lives when Jesus is all we have and that time comes for Paul in this passage. If you’ll look especially at verse 16 this is one of the saddest verses in the whole of the New Testament. “At my first defense no one came to stand by me.” Now this is what Paul has been living for since his arrest in Jerusalem. You remember the very logic of his appeal to Caesar was so that he would have to be taken to the highest court in the Empire and give testimony in the very shadow of Nero’s palace to the Supreme Court. He had been living for a moment when he could give witness to Jesus Christ, he could testify to the Gospel to the very highest ranking judiciary figures in the whole of the Roman Empire, and when that day came, nobody stood by him. When we get to heaven, unless there were Gentiles in that room that were converted through Paul’s ministry that day, there will not be a single other Christian in glory who will be able to tell us what went on, because Paul was alone. The only person in heaven who will be able to testify if Jesus because Paul says, “Jesus stood by me.”
Humanly speaking he was completely alone, just like his Master who was deserted by all His disciples. And in that moment, what Paul does is he leans on Jesus and he tells Timothy, “Timothy, I was completely alone. No one stood by me.” And Paul, interestingly, did you catch the phrase at the end of verse 16? “May it not be charged against them!” As Paul is abandoned by all of his Christian colleagues and friends in his great moment of testimony, he echoes the words of Jesus at the cross, “Father, forgive them,” and he echoes somebody else’s words – Stephen’s words. Stephen, at whose martyrdom he was holding the cloak as people stoned Stephen to death, and Stephen echoed the words of Jesus, “Father, forgive them,” now Paul’s going to have his chance to say, “May this not be held against them!” All he had to lean on was Jesus and Jesus was enough. You want to finish the Christian life you have to have realistic expectations, you have to constantly bury your nose and your heart in Scripture, and you have to lean on Jesus. We need to be Jesus leaning.
Fourth, we need to be people appreciating. The Christian life is lived in the company of friends and we should be thankful for them. Do you notice how often Paul’s letters are filled with greetings to and from Christian friends? Paul clearly loved people! And he clearly, by the way, had healthy relationships with women. He’s often accused of being a misogynist but it is very clear that Paul had healthy, respectful relationships with women. They’re mentioned in this passage. He mentions Prisca. Luke always calls her Priscilla, the diminutive. Paul uses the more formal term. It may well indicate the level of respect he had for her. “Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus, Trophimus, Pudens, Eubulus, Linus, Claudia, the brethren.” Paul evidently loved people. He lived in the company of Christian friends; he’s always giving greetings to congregations from friends and from friends to congregations. His life was lived in the company of fellow Christians. You won’t finish the Christian life well if you separate yourself from the company of believers, especially the local body of Christ in the congregation. God did not make us to go it alone. We need one another. Paul fully appreciated that.
Fifth and finally, Paul is grace depending and we need to be grace depending. The Christian life is lived in total dependence on the Lord’s presence and grace. At the very end of this letter, Paul pronounces a two-sided benediction. “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.” And Paul’s words are not just a nicety. They’re not just a formal way to wrap up a Greco-Roman epistle. This benediction is exactly what Timothy needs. What does Timothy need? He needs the Lord’s presence. Just like Paul needed the Lord’s presence when nobody else was present with him, “but the Lord stood by me,” Timothy needs the Lord’s presence. So what does Paul say to him? “The Lord be with your spirit.” And then he concludes, “Grace be with you.” Paul knows that Timothy needs the grace of God. “Grace has led me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” These are Paul’s last written words to Timothy and it’s a word to us about how to finish well – dependent upon God’s grace. You want to finish the Christian life well? Learn the lessons from the end of Paul’s life. Be realistic in your expecting, constant in your learning, leaning on Jesus, appreciating your brothers and sisters in Christ, and depending entirely for your perseverance on God’s presence and grace.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Word and we ask that You would bring us safely home, by Your grace, in Jesus’ name, amen.
Would you stand for God’s blessing? Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, until the daybreak and the shadows flee away. Amen.