Many people look at death as a dark hole into which people stumble when they breathe their last mortal breath. But for the Christian death can be the moment of final victory.
Studies in 2 Timothy 4:6-18
Second Timothy is the last letter that Paul ever wrote. He was in a damp underground prison, dug out under a government building in the city of Rome. Paul was jailed for preaching Christ and the resurrection. Nero was the Roman Emperor; he was the Saddam Hussein of New Testament times. Nero was a vicious ruler who would go to any extreme to eliminate his enemies.
Paul knew that unless God would intervene in some unusual way, his death was just around the corner. He fully expected the Roman soldiers to come at any time and lead him off to the place of execution. However, because Paul’s hope was centered in Jesus Christ, he was not floundering in despair. He writes about the last months of his life in 2 Timothy 4.
In this section of 2 Timothy 4, we are given a great testimony concerning a Christian’s victory in the face of impending death. As Paul reflected over his past life and peered on into the future, there were three observations:
a) His present condition (verse 6)
“For I am now ready to be offered [already being poured out as a drink offering], and the time of my departure is at hand.”
Paul was so sure that death was coming very soon, that he could say, “The time of my departure is at hand.” The Greek word translated “departure” means “a loosening of anchor” or “a cutting of the ropes.” The word is from the language of mariners. When a ship loosens anchor or unties the ropes in one port, automatically it implies setting sail for another port.
Paul realized that death was near. He says, “I am about to loosen anchor here in this life, and set sail for the shores of eternity.” It’s not that the end is coming! It’s just that his departure is coming. It was simply that he was setting sail from one place so that he could enter the port at another place. Paul was ready to go. He had no regrets. He slipped away graciously. Physical death was not the end as far as Paul was concerned.
Many people look at death as a dark hole into which people stumble when they breathe their last mortal breath. But it is not so for the Christian. Death is a moment of victory! In 2 Corinthians 5:8 the Apostle Paul says that God’s people will be pleased “to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” The “earthly house” (2 Corinthians 5:1) in which we live (the body) becomes fragile and weak; it breaks down eventually; it is laid away into the earth. But for the believer in Christ there is provided a better house—one that is eternal and will last forever.
b) His past experience (verse 7)
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”
The Christian life is a battleground. It is a war against unbelief, false teachers, half-hearted Christianity, and dealing with the desires of the flesh. The hymn-writer says: “My soul be on thy guard, Ten thousand foes arise; The hosts of sin are pressing hard to draw thee from the skies.” Paul had stood before Felix and Agrippa, and in the presence of other officials of Rome—and had not given even an inch. He stood firmly for Christ crucified, buried, and risen again from the dead. And so now, when his life is fading away, he can say, “I have fought a good fight.” Paul’s dedication to fighting evil and standing against unrighteousness should be a challenge to us—to fight the battles of life courageously.
Paul not only fought a good fight; he also says, “I have finished my course.” The race of life was just about over for the aged Apostle. Many years before, when he was just a young man, Paul had used the same phrase. He said, I’m not moved by the difficulties of life, but I hope to finish (the) race with joy. Then (Acts 20:24) he was a young man—and much of Paul’s race still lay before him. Now (in 2 Timothy 4) he is standing at the finish line—looking back over the route. It is easy to begin the Christian race, but what really counts is to persevere to the end!
It is important to note that Paul did not boast about having won the race; he simply said, “I have finished the race.” For Paul, the race of life is about over! Paul’s final statement (verse 7) as he contemplates death is this: “I have kept the faith.” Paul had carefully guarded the body of doctrines which lie at the heart of the Christian faith. It would have been easy to compromise—just a little bit at a time—but Paul did not do that. Paul kept the faith. He proclaimed truth in its purity and he sought to live by it.
c) His future crown (verse 8)
“Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day, and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”
Serving Christ has rewards not just here in this life, but also in eternity. In ancient athletic contests, the victor was crowned with a wreath of leaves. The wreath soon withered and dried, but for the Christian, there’ll be a crown that never shrivels up. We don’t know exactly what the crown will be like, but we know that when we see Jesus—all the sacrifices and all the labor here will be rewarded. And the words “and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” assure us that the same reward Paul anticipated, awaits all who run the Christian race successfully.
It is sad that many do not have hope in death. One movie star, when asked about her thoughts as she was getting older, said, “I confess that I think about death every day. It must be our punishment,” she says, “and we deserve it—but it’s the decomposition that gets me.” She said, “You spend your whole life looking after your body, and then in the end you rot away like that.”
What the movie star was forgetting—is that human beings are more than “a body.” Barring the return of Christ, the death-angel will be calling all of us sooner than we think. When that moment comes, God’s people can look back over life without regrets. They will appeal to the atonement purchased by Jesus. When sinners stand before God to give an account for their life—and He unfolds the record of their sinful past—they will be speechless before Him. When the moment of death comes, we should have nothing to do but simply to die.
The Apostle Paul understood the great importance of friends. The Epistle closes with some rich lessons as Paul addresses some of his friends.
“Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me” (verse 9).
Timothy was a special friend. Paul had visited Timothy’s home town of Lystra already on his first missionary journey. The converts at Lystra included Timothy and his mother and his grandmother. Now, a number of years have come and gone, and Paul was in a damp underground prison in Rome, bereft of many of his friends. He was cut off from the churches he had helped to establish. He missed the fellowship of his former traveling companions. And so Paul urges Timothy to come and be with him in prison. In verse 21, he urges Timothy to come before winter sets in.
Verse 9 shows how important it is to have Christian fellowship. None of us is so super-spiritual that he or she can get along without Christian friends. When we see the zeal of our fellow Christians, and share in their trials, and rejoice in their joys—it gives us new courage to serve the Lord. It is almost impossible to be a “lone-ranger Christian.”
“For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia” (verse 10).
Most of Paul’s former co-workers had left and gone elsewhere. Some followed after the enticements of the world; others were serving God in new places of ministry.
Demas was a man whose name has gone down in shame. Demas had labored with Paul for a while (Colossians 4:14), but now worldly allurements and a love of ease had caused him to forsake Paul. We can almost sense the sadness in the Apostle’s heart as he wrote these words about Demas—Demas has forsaken me! In Philemon 24 Demas was a “fellow laborer”—a co-worker with Paul. In Colossians 4:14 it is just “Demas,” but still with Paul. In 2 Timothy 4 it is “Demas hath forsaken me”—gone from Paul’s presence. It seems like there was a step-by-step history of spiritual degeneration. Somewhere along the pathway of life, Demas made a change. Perhaps it was a desire to get things (materialism); or a longing to indulge in worldly thrills (pleasures); or a desire to be like most other people (popularity). Satan usually doesn’t ask us to become shamefully wicked all at once; Satan lures his victims one step at a time, and then finally leads them farther away from God.
Crescens is a name that does not appear at any other place in the Bible. Crescens is one of the many persons in the Scriptures who are practically unknown. It is likely that he did not have many outstanding gifts. He was an ordinary person—yet he played a major part in the cause of Christ. The major part of God’s work is carried on by common, ordinary, almost unknown people. The Bible says that “not many wise after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called” (1 Corinthians 1:26). God uses men like the Apostle Paul, Martin Luther, Menno Simons, and Alexander Mack—but He uses more persons like Peter’s brother Andrew—quiet persons, people who hardly ever speak publicly, yet are faithful disciples of Jesus.
Think for a bit about some persons who are nameless in the Scriptures. There were the shepherds who watched their flocks; the Good Samaritan in the parable Jesus told; the maid who informed her mistress about Elisha; the lad who brought the five loaves and two fish to Jesus; the town clerk who quieted the angry mob and saved Paul’s life; and the youth who told the centurion about a plot against the life of Paul. Many people in the church today may not be nameless, but they feel they are insignificant in the work of the Lord. However, they can phone their friends and invite them to a special service. They can send letters to those who are in the midst of deep trials. Such persons are of great value in the kingdom of God.
The name Titus refers to a co-worker who was a man of decision and backbone. Titus was an energetic and vigorous man; when Paul had a tough assignment, he chose Titus to deal with it. Paul sent Titus to Corinth, a church divided by a spirit of faction (2 Corinthians 8). He sent Titus to the church at Crete, an island nation inhabited by a crude and barbarous people (Titus 1). And Titus was sent to Dalmatia (Yugoslavia), a mountainous country east of the Adriatic Sea (2 Timothy 4). Titus had a strong mind and a tough fiber; this enabled him to face difficult situations.
“Only Luke is with me. Take Mark and bring him with thee, for he is profitable to me for the ministry. And Tychicus have I sent to Ephesus” (verses 11-12).
Luke is one of the lovely characters of the New Testament. During Paul’s final imprisonment in Rome, Luke the doctor scarcely ever left his side. Luke was not a “fair-weather friend.” Luke stood by the aged Apostle even in the hour of testing. Paul’s loneliness was relieved by the presence of one of his most faithful friends.
Mark was a young man who had joined Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey (Acts 12:25;13:5), but Mark turned back and left the older Paul and Barnabas to scale the rugged mountain passes alone (Acts 13:13). Then later, Barnabas wanted to take Mark along on a second missionary journey—but Paul objected, because he wanted a co-worker who was not a quitter. But now Mark had made a change for the better. Paul was convinced of Mark’s sincerity, and he requested that Mark come and minister with him from the prison. Sometimes when a young man is rebuked for his failure, he shows a spirit of resentment—but Mark resolved to make a man out of himself yet! He re-established himself in the good graces of Paul, and God chose him to write the second book of the New Testament. If we blunder somewhere along the pathway of life, we need to confess our sins, learn the lessons that our failures can teach us, and then start over again.
Tychicus was a person with good qualities. In Colossians 4:7, Tychicus is called “a beloved brother” and “a faithful minister.” As a beloved brother he was a considerate, warm, and friendly man. As a faithful minister he was not easily swayed by every wind of doctrine that he encountered. Those two characteristics are a remarkable combination of qualities. Some are faithful but not very kind. Others are kind, but are not doctrinally strong and faithful. Tychicus had both qualities. He was clear and faithful in doctrinal matters; he was also charitable in his attitude toward others.
Paul says in essence, “Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come—and the books, especially the parchments” (verse 13 NKJV).
Roman prisons were not heated in winter. They were dungeons dug out under government buildings. Paul knew he would be cold, and so he urged Timothy to bring the coat. It is not unspiritual to give proper attention to our own physical needs. Paul’s request for “parchments” (copies of the Scriptures), and other “books,” indicates that he read more than the Scriptures themselves. Those who scorn the reading of good books are not following the example of the New Testament Apostles.
Again, Paul says in essence, “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works. You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words” (verses 14-15 NKJV).
Alexander was a metal-worker who probably made images to the goddess Diana—and because the Gospel interfered with his idol-making business, he had caused Paul some extreme trouble in the past. We don’t know precisely what the “much harm” was which he had done to Paul, but the Greek word translated “did” carries with it the concept of “informing.” Alexander was likely the informant responsible for Paul’s second arrest. He may have attempted to expose Paul in an unfavorable light before the Roman authorities. The sentence at the end of verse 14 is not an evil wish on the part of the Apostle; Paul is letting judgment in the hands of God—to Whom judgment belongs.
“At my first answer no man stood with me, but all forsook me . . . [but] the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear. And I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion” (verses 16-17).
The word “answer” refers to the early stage of Paul’s trial. It was Paul’s speech of self-defense. No one spoke in Paul’s behalf. It was dangerous to do so. Christianity was an illegal religion; it would have involved risking one’s life to come to his aid. Yet Paul knew that he was not alone. The Lord empowered him to present his own case before the judge. The Lord gave him the words.
The “mouth of the lion” (verse 17) symbolizes extreme danger, but it is especially used as a reference to Nero (the Roman Emperor). Greek writers spoke of Nero as “the lion” because of his cruel nature, and Paul was thankful that he was delivered from Nero.
The first part of the trial seemed to go well, yet by unanimous tradition Nero soon condemned Paul and put him to death. Can you picture Paul before Nero? Nero lived in a palace containing a statue of himself that stood 120 feet tall. He fished with hooks of gold; his horses were shod with silver; he never wore the same garment twice. Nero divorced his first wife; twelve days later he married again; within 24 hours he kicked his second wife to death. Nero covered the early Christians with pitch and turned them into torches to light the streets of the city at night.
I’d like to know what Paul said in his answer (his defense) to that beastly man. Anyhow, what he said was straight enough to get him beheaded shortly thereafter. Historians say that Paul and Nero likely died within six weeks of each other. The one died like a fool; the other died like a saint. Do you think they both went to the same place? If there is no Hell, then our God is not a just God.
“And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom. To whom be glory forever and ever. Amen!” (verse 18).
Paul trusted God and believed that he would be brought safely into the eternal kingdom. And as we look forward to days ahead—may the same hope that Paul possessed, be an incentive for us to persevere until the Lord returns, or until the death angel calls us into the presence of the Lord at the end of life’s journey.
Paul closes the letter with greetings for Priscilla and Aquila and Onesiphorus. He mentions Erastus and Trophimus. He also names Eubulus and Pudens and Linus and Claudia—and then prays that God’s grace and kindness will be with Timothy.
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