Seward United Methodist Church
Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Where Do We Put Our Confidence?

2 Timothy 4:6-18

 These are the last words of Paul.  Or, I should say, the last words we have recorded.  I’m sure he said something after this.  But as he wrote to Timothy the second time, he knew he was going to die soon.  

 At the end of the Book of Acts, we find Paul imprisoned in Rome.  But he was released from that imprisonment and continued to minister for about 3-5 years.  Then he was arrested again, somewhere around 66 AD, at the time of persecution of Christians in Rome by Emperor Nero.  You know the whole thing about “Nero fiddled while Rome burned?”  I don’t know if he fiddled or not, but he did blame the Great Fire of Rome on Christians and put many of them to death for it, including Peter and Paul.  

 Second Timothy is the last letter Paul wrote during that second imprisonment.  Here at the end of the letter, as was typical of him, he gets very personal.  We can hear his loneliness in prison.  We can hear his bitter disappointment in some people.  We can hear his pride in others.  We can see his dependence on the help of others.  We can understand his physical depravation.  And we can see his longing for treasured personal objects.  

 He starts out in verse 9, saying to Timothy, “Come as soon as you can.” At the beginning of this letter, he called Timothy his “dear son.”  Timothy wasn’t his biological son.  But he may have been Paul’s “son in the faith,” meaning that Paul may have been the one who brought Timothy to faith.  Or it may mean that he is Paul’s “surrogate son.”  Paul had no children of his own, and in the ancient world, it was considered especially important for a son to visit when a man’s death was near.  Among other things, the son was responsible for the burial of his father’s body.  Perhaps Paul has this in mind.  Certainly, he longed for the company of a trusted companion.

 One of his companions had proven himself untrustworthy.  Demas had deserted Paul and gone to Thessalonica.  Why?  Because he loved the things of this world too much.  Maybe this is Paul’s way of saying he was afraid to suffer persecution or death, so he ran away.  

 “Crescens has gone to Galatia and Titus to Dalmatia.”  They aren’t deserters.  Rather, they have been sent away on the work of the Kingdom.  If Timothy is coming to Rome from Ephesus, the last place we know he was, then he would most likely pass

through Troas, Thessalonica, and Dalmatia.  So Paul is letting him know about their mutual companions he will meet on the way, for good or ill. 

 “Luke is with me.”  Luke was, of course, the author of Acts and the Gospel of Luke, and a long-time companion of Paul.  He was also a medical doctor, which may be part of the reason he spent so much time with Paul.  Paul wrote of a “thorn in the flesh,” possibly meaning a chronic illness or injury.  

 “Bring Mark.”  Now this is a surprise of sorts.  Mark was from Jerusalem.  His mother was an early leader in the Church, and it’s likely that Mark was a follower of Jesus during his earthly life.  When Paul and Barnabas went on the First Missionary Journey, they took Mark with them.  But Mark became afraid or homesick or something and went home early.  When Paul and Barnabas were going again, Barnabas wanted to give Mark, who was his cousin, a second chance.  Paul refused, and their partnership ended over the disagreement. But now Paul considers that Mark has more than redeemed himself.  He is “helpful.”  While Demas ended up being a disappointment, Mark proved useful.  It’s hard for us to know what will become of people.  Some will disappoint us and others will surprise us.

 “I sent Tychicus to Ephesus.”  Tychicus may have been the one who carried this letter from Paul to Timothy.

 “When you come, bring my cloak, books, and parchments.”  The cloak, of course, would serve a practical function in a cold, damp prison cell.  The books and parchments were most likely Scripture.  These were not just practical, but also highly valued.  

 “Watch out for Alexander.”  Alexander, who may be the same person Paul warned about in 1 Timothy 1, is apparently the one who betrayed Paul to the Roman authorities.  “The Lord will judge him.”  Certainly Paul was bitter, but he trusted that God’s justice would ultimately prevail.  

 I can’t help but feel like these verses are a commentary on humanity.  Some people will disappoint us.  Others will make us proud.  And some will just plain hurt us.  And if we put our trust in human beings, we will end up disappointed in some way.  

 “The first time I was brought before the judge…”  This would be the “preliminary hearing” at which the charges were established, not the actual trial.  “…no one was with

me.  All had abandoned me.  But the Lord stood with me.”  Only God is always reliable.  People will disappoint us, but God will not ultimately disappoint us.  

 “He gave me strength.”  In prison, Paul experienced weakness, not just physical weakness from cold and hunger, but also spiritual weakness from disappointment and loneliness.  It is only when we know our own weakness that we are truly able to receive strength from God.  

 “He saved me from the mouth of the lion.”  Perhaps this is a reference to the way in which many Christians were put to death under Nero:  They were fed to the lions in the Coliseum.  

 Paul knows his death is a certainty at this point, so why would he talk about being delivered?  Because he is not talking about his physical life or an earthly deliverance.  God’s final salvation will not be experienced in this world or this life.  God’s salvation is being brought safely into his heavenly Kingdom.  If we’re hoping for something else, then again, we will be disappointed.  

 An interesting feature of verses 16-18 is how many references and parallels there are to Psalm 22.  Psalm 22 is a prophetic Psalm that foretells Jesus’ death and resurrection.  So Paul sees his life, and his death, and his eternal life, being a parallel to that of Jesus.  The same is true for all of us:  Our lives and deaths and our eternities are united with Christ.  

 People may disappoint us, but with confidence in God, we can face anything, even death with assurance that the end of the story is eternal life in Christ.  Paul was prepared for that.  

 He begins these verses by saying, “My life is poured as an offering to God.”  This was a reference to a custom of “drink offerings” that were common in ancient Israel as well as other ancient Near East societies.  A cup of wine would be poured out on the altar as an expression of gratitude to God.  The image was used to refer to martyrdom, dying for one’s faith.  Paul used the same image in Philippians chapter 2.

 Then Paul goes back to a familiar image:  Athletic competition.  “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”  All three of these are part of the athletic image.  In the Olympic Games, athletes began by taking an oath that they

had trained as hard as they could for a certain amount of time and that they would not cheat to win.  

 “And now the prize awaits, the crown of righteousness.”  This completes the athletic image.  The only prize Olympic athletes received was a wreath of laurels that would only last a few days.  Our crown of righteousness lasts for eternity.  “And the prize is not just for me but for all who are looking forward to his glorious return.”  

 How do we see death?  I think Paul tells us how we should view it as people of faith in this passage.  In verse 6, he says, in Greek, “The time of my ANALUSIS is near.”  The word ANALUSIS is normally used for one of four things in the Greek language.  

 First, it was used to refer to removing shackles or bonds and setting a prisoner free.  Death is release from the bonds of sin, weakness, and decay in this world.

 Second, it was used to refer to unyoking an animal after it had finished plowing.  Death is the end of our earthly labor and the beginning of our eternal rest.

 Third, it was used for taking down a tent.  Death is moving on from this world, in which we are resident aliens, to our eternal home.

 And finally, it was used to refer to loosening the ropes that held a ship in port.  Death is the final journey.  

 To be sure, death isn’t easy.  We’re always going to wrestle with the uncertainty and questions about death.  But with confidence in God, we can face death without fear because we have God’s assurance about our eternal salvation.  

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