DUNCAN/How faithfulness looks at the end

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Please turn with me in your Bibles to 2 Timothy 4:6-22. These are Paul’s last written words to Timothy, a man that Paul viewed as a son in the Lord. In this passage, we find Paul in a difficult situation as he is imprisoned and awaiting his sentence of execution. Yet, that is an encouraging thing for us to think about as we seek to live the Christian life faithfully to the end. I want us to look at five things in particular from Paul’s words in these verses. First, we see Paul’s realistic expectations about the Christian life. Secondly, we observe Paul’s attitude of constant learning of the Scripture. Thirdly, we see how Paul leaned on Jesus. Fourthly, we observe how Paul appreciated people. Fifthly and finally, we see how Paul depended on God’s grace. 

I. Realistic Expecting.

First, in verses 6-12 and 14-15, we see that one of the keys to finishing well is having realistic expectations about what you will face in the Christian life. Let us consider three things that Paul is facing here in this passage. First, he’s facing desertion in verse 10. A faithful worker named Demas has bailed out, and he has gone back to Thessalonica. Here is Paul at the end of his life and he’s experienced betrayal from a fellow servant. Then there is opposition. So much so from Alexander that he has to warn Timothy about it. Paul says, “Watch out, Timothy, for Alexander the coppersmith.  He’s trouble.” But there is a happy story in here too. In Acts 15 and 16, we learn that Paul and his missionary team went out to take the Gospel to the Gentiles and Mark abandoned that mission. But apparently, Mark has come to his senses. He has repented of his wrongdoing and now Paul is ready for Mark to be restored to his company. Specifically, Paul says, “Pick up Mark and bring him with you.” You can be deserted and betrayed in the Christian life by Christian friends and they can never come back to you like Demas. On the other hand, some Christian friends may let you down and still one day be restored to be good Christian friends. In all this we see something of the relational heartache that the apostle Paul was experiencing in the very last days of his life. So we have to be realistic in our expectations if we are going to finish the Christian life well.   

II. Constant Learning. 

Secondly, we need to be constantly learning. In verse 13, Paul says, “When you come, bring the cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments.”  Now we don’t know what those books are, and we don’t know what those parchments are, but there is almost absolute certainty that Scripture was involved.  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 a true Christian wants to know God better.  

III. Jesus Leaning. 

Thirdly, we have to be 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 the Christian life well. Verse 16 is one of the saddest verses in the whole of the New Testament. Specifically, Paul says, “At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them.” Paul had been living for a moment when he could give witness to Jesus Christ and 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. 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 says, “Timothy, I was completely alone.” But did you catch the phrase at the end of verse 16?  Paul says, “May it not be counted 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 when He said, “Father, forgive them.” All Paul had to lean on was Jesus and Jesus was enough. We have to have realistic expectations in the Christian life. We have to constantly bury our noses and our hearts in Scripture. And we have to lean on Jesus.  

IV. People Appreciating.

Fourthly, we need to be people appreciating. The Christian life is lived in the company of friends, and we should be thankful for them.  Have you noticed how often Paul’s letters are filled with greetings to and from Christian friends?  Paul clearly loved people.  And he clearly had healthy relationships with women. Paul is often accused of being a misogynist, but it is clear that Paul had healthy, respectful relationships with women. For example, he mentions Prisca. Luke always calls her Priscilla, the diminutive. However, Paul uses the more formal term. It may well indicate the level of respect he had for her. Paul’s life was lived in the company of Christian friends. He was always giving greetings to congregations from friends and from friends to congregations. We will not finish the Christian life well if we separate ourselves 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, and Paul fully appreciated that truth.

V. Grace Depending.

Fifth and finally, Paul was grace depending, and we need to be grace depending too. 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. He says, “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.”  And Paul’s words are not just a nicety.  This benediction is exactly what Timothy needs. Just like Paul needed the Lord’s presence when nobody else was present with him, Timothy needs the Lord’s presence. Then Paul concludes, “Grace be with you.”  Paul knows that Timothy needs the grace of God.  These are Paul’s last written words to Timothy and it’s a word to us about how to finish well. If we want to finish the Christian life well, then we must learn these vital lessons from the end of Paul’s life.  We must be realistic in our expecting, constant in our learning, leaning on Jesus, appreciating our brothers and sisters in Christ, and depending entirely for our perseverance on God’s presence and grace.

The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is Chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary. He can be reached at 601-923-1600 or by email at jhyde@rts.edu.


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