2 TIMOTHY 4:6—18
July 25-27, 2009
8th Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor Tim Smith
2 TIMOTHY 4:6—186 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store 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 longed for his appearing.
9 Do your best to come to me quickly, 10 for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. 12 I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.
14 Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. 15 You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.
16 At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. 17 But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (NIV)
These are some of the final words of Paul’s last letter. He knows he is about to die because of his faith—he compares his situation to a drink offering being poured out as was done against the side of a stone altar. The cup was tipped, and the drink was already running out. The time left for Paul was very short. He also uses a sailing term, which in English is “the time has come for my departure,” although I think you would understand if I said, “the time has come for me to untie the mooring ropes,” or “the time has come for me to cast off.”
Paul describes his life and his ministry in three parallel phrases: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” As we read these words and ponder them, we also hear Paul giving Timothy a series of updates about people they both knew and were concerned about, some encouragements, some very human requests from Paul, and an update on the status of his trial.
In the updates on people in his life, Paul tells us why he is alone. First of all, he sent many of his companions away to take care of ministries throughout the world. He could have kept them with him for companionship, but there was still work to do for the sake of the gospel, so Paul sent men like Tychicus and Crescens and his favorite trouble-shooter, Titus, off to take care of congregations that needed leadership. But there were others who had deserted Paul, and so when Paul gives an update on his trial, he says that everyone has deserted him—but he doesn’t want that held against anyone. In fact, it puts into Paul’s mind another man who had once deserted him, Mark the Evangelist, who had turned away from a mission trip with Paul and Barnabas, and was the cause for Paul and Barnabas parting company.
Now Paul wants Mark to come to him and is careful to say that Mark is “useful” to him—perhaps Paul is aware that what he is writing will be accepted as Scripture, just as a dozen or so other letters by Paul were being circulated already throughout the churches as a part of God’s holy word. Just as Jesus reinstated Peter as an Apostle before his ascension into heaven, Paul wanted to reinstate Mark formally so that the churches would not reject Mark’s preaching or Mark’s Gospel.
Paul’s example for us here is to repair a reputation when we have been involved in some way with the way that reputation is perceived. And the easiest way to look at this is to ask yourself, “How would you want to be treated if you were Mark?” Imagine being known as the guy who deserted Paul. Did Mark get looks? Whispers? A pointed finger? The only person who could fix that reputation was Paul himself, and that’s what he did—and that’s what we should do, when the moment comes to help someone restore their name.
In the second half of our text, Paul talks about fighting the good fight in his trial. From a strictly human perspective, the trial had not seemed to go well. Paul was going to lose his life. But Paul had not gone to Rome to preserve his life. He had gone to Rome to proclaim the Gospel—and so if we can keep that in mind we will see that Paul had accomplished what he had set out to do.
In the game of chess, there is a point where a piece is more valuable if it accomplishes a certain move and is then sacrificed than if it is just held back and goes unused. Paul had done everything he could to carry the gospel out to the world, and especially to the Gentile world. And if the time had come for his life to end, then Paul could rejoice that he had remained faithful to God’s word and to God’s command—as Paul says, “I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith.”
And Paul tells us that he didn’t stand trial alone: the Lord was with him. Paul even goes so far as to remind us of the prophet Daniel in a similar trial when he says “I was delivered from the lion’s mouth.”
Now I have a question: When, while talking about his trial, Paul also talks about the harm done to him by Alexander the metalworker (I suppose today we’d call him Alexander Smith), does Paul mean to say that this Alexander harmed Paul during his trial, with evidence or opposition or slander or false testimony? We can’t say for certain.
But when Paul talks about this man “doing him a great deal of harm” and then “opposing the message,” we need to ask ourselves. Do we find ourselves opposing the gospel of Jesus in some way in our lives? Or should you ask yourself an easier question: “Does what you say and what you do match up with what you believe about Jesus?”
And it’s an unexpected shot, isn’t it, to think that something you do, could undermine the movement of God’s word in the world. But let’s keep it out of the realm of the hypothetical. Let’s not play “let’s pretend” at all. Let’s assume, no, let’s recognize for a moment that every single one of us has, in the last month, the last week—sooner?— gotten in the way of the Gospel, or actually opposed the Gospel in some way. I was at a baseball game once where a fan reached out as a player was about to make a catch and the fan robbed the player of the ball and ruined the play—think of the times when we might have done that with God’s plan, by belittling or contradicting or otherwise getting in the way?
And now each of us can ask, must ask ourselves, objectively: “What did I do? How did I rebel against God?” Because with each of us, it’s not a case of “whether” we did this, it’s a case of “when,” and “how often.” And what was it that got in the way—greed or fear? Or something else?
Now, our lives are filled up especially with three things: First, things God wants us to do; our labor, work, taking care of our families, loving each other, and most of all our devotion to God, worship, meditation, prayer, and taking part in the sacraments. Second, there are our sins, which corrupt all of those things and damage our relationship with God like a disease. Thirdly, there are those other things that God does not forbid, and which he does not command, either, and which therefore can go either way—they can be good or sinful, depending on the condition of our heart and the motivation we have for doing those things. Let’s set all of those things aside for a moment: the dinner menu, the plans for TV watching, decisions about where to go on vacation or what clothes to buy before school starts. Let’s put all of that into a box for the moment. Now, let’s set the things God wants us to do, and put them in one column in our minds, and everything that’s left over is sin. Our sinful knee-jerk reactions to things people say just because they’re of a different political stripe. They way we like to divert attention away from ourselves when we are accused of a sin by comparing ourselves with worse sinners. You can always find a worse sinner. But what God wants us to do is to carry all of our sins and confess them; lay them at the foot of the cross and say, “I can’t fix this. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
And God has picked up the steaming filth of our sins and he has removed it from our bodies, from our minds, from our heavenly account, and he has replaced our sins with Jesus’ own righteousness. Jesus “fought the good fight” in our place, and he won for us, for all time.
When we go out into the world of people, people with questions, people with pain, people with trouble, people facing death; people facing poverty; people who live in fear—we have the message of hope that doesn’t depend on a stimulus package. It doesn’t depend on the success of an economic theory. It depends on the faithfulness of God himself, and it’s a done deal. How you live from this moment forward is life in the forgiveness of sins. From today, you can say with an ancient Christian author that “the Lord is my traveling companion on the path of righteousness…because great faith and love dwell within you” (Barn. 1:4). Fight the Good Fight. Jesus has already won it. And the peace…