2 Timothy 4:6–8, 16–18

God at Our Side

Laura Miguélez Quay

Linebrook Church

October 23, 2016

 

This morning is our final one considering 2 Timothy. Though the entire letter has been a final letter from Paul to his spiritual son, Timothy, in this closing chapter of this final letter we continue to see Paul sharing his heart with his beloved son.

As he sits in prison, awaiting his execution as one who has been condemned to death for the “crime” of preaching that Jesus Christ is the only way to the Father and that he has died and risen that we might receive eternal life, Paul looks back at the life he has lived and he looks forward to the life that is yet to come. Referring to his current imprisonment, he tells Timothy in verse 6, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near.”

Paul, that pious Jew who was circumcised on the eighth day per Jewish law;

Who was descended from the same tribe as King Saul, the tribe of Benjamin;

Paul, that Hebrew of Hebrews who by law was a Pharisee who had once zealously persecuted Christ’s church and considered himself faultless before the law,

Paul, a Jew par excellence if ever there was one, gave up all of these credentials, considering them loss for the surpassing gain and worth of knowing Jesus his Lord—for whose sake Paul lost all things that he might be found in Christ and his righteousness rather than his own.[1] It is this very Paul whom we now see at the end of his earthly sojourn of faith and it’s clear that in his mind, losing all and gaining Christ has all been worth it, even as he is facing death, the final enemy Christ came to destroy.[2]

And drawing from his deep understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament, he tells Timothy how he is “already being poured out like a drink offering.” In Old Testament times a “drink offering” of wine was poured out in the sanctuary as an offering to God.[3] It was a libation, a sacrifice to God that was to be offered when the Israelites arrived in the land of promise. After the Lord had defeated the enemies of his people and given them a restful dwelling in the land, he would then accept the wine of libations.[4] So Paul, in likening his life to a drink offering that was being poured out, is indicating that his life has been lived as a living sacrifice to God in Christ[5] and that he himself will soon enter his final rest as he goes before Christ’s presence.

In viewing his life in this manner, Paul is following in the steps of his Lord and Savior. At the Last Supper, Luke tells us “In the same way, after the supper [Jesus] took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’”[6] As Jesus gave his blood, poured out his life, for all who would turn to, know, love, and follow him, now Paul, who had given his life to following his Savior and Lord, was being poured out like a drink offering. This construction—being poured out—is known as a “divine passive.” In other words if you ask who is pouring out Paul’s life like a drink offering, the answer is “God.” Paul knew that his life was not his own but that he belonged to Christ. Paul knew—and accepted—and embraced the fact that his life had been purchased by God in Christ on the cross and was his to do with as he willed. And in his last days on earth, as God is pouring out Paul’s life as a drink offering, a final sacrifice, he knows that the time of his departure from earth, not prison, is near. He knows that in the not too distant future, he will see his Savior face to face.

Reflecting upon his life Paul concludes in verse 7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Being a disciple of Jesus Christ isn’t for the faint of heart. As we’ve noted before, to follow Jesus requires energy and effort for the life of faith is a fight, it’s a struggle, albeit a good one well worth the undertaking. And as Paul awaits his own death, he is confident that he has fought this good fight of faith. He has finished the race. He has persevered to the end. As Paul says, he has kept the faith. He has maintained his trust in Christ at all times. Through thick and thin, God in Christ has been at his side. As he states in Philippians 4,[7] “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” To be a follower of Jesus Christ requires trust in God as we fight the good fight, stamina to persevere as we seek to finish the race, and a confident hope in the resurrection as we keep the faith. And in now referring to his life as—a drink offering, a departure, and a good fight—Paul is letting his spiritual son know that he knows that his days on earth will soon be over. He is letting Timothy know that—using Jesus’ words—having a prepared a room for him, Jesus will soon be returning to bring Paul home that he might remain with him forevermore.[8]

And because Paul has kept the faith, he knows what lies ahead, verse 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.” During this time, crowns were placed on the victor’s head in ancient Greek games as a reward for winning an athletic race. Paul is building upon this common understanding but applying it to the ultimate reward God will give those who are his. Paul likes athletic metaphors. He uses this one in a similar way in I Corinthians 9 when he states: “24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” Brothers and sisters, Paul knows—and so should we—that in the end, it will all have been worth it. This crown of righteousness will last forever because it comes from our eternal Savior, “the Lord, the righteous Judge.” To speak of a crown of righteousness is a way of indicating that the eternal life promised to those who follow Christ during our earthly lives will indeed be ours when we join him in heaven. God in Christ has promised and procured us for himself by means of his own life on the cross. And he has poured out his eternal life upon us by giving us his eternal Holy Spirit. Though Jesus calls us to persevere as we follow him, he is also the means of that persevering and the only means of our being righteous. For the wondrous exchange that took place on the cross was his taking upon himself all the loss and giving us all the gain; his taking upon himself all our sin and disobedience and replacing this with, and granting us, his righteousness and obedience. And for accepting his sacrifice on our behalf, we will one day be rewarded with an unmerited and imperishable crown. Amazing grace, indeed! Brothers and sisters, let us ever remember that Christ is a righteous Judge who will bring to completion the work he has begun in those who are his. Note that all who have given their lives over to Christ will receive a crown for the crown is a sign that we belong to him. Again, as Paul says at the end of verse 8 not only he will be awarded with a crown “but also…all who have longed for his appearing” will be awarded a crown from our righteous Judge. To him be all the glory.

In the beginning of verse 9 Paul expresses his longing to see Timothy again—“Do your best to come to me quickly,” he tells his son—and then he goes on to remark on the many who have abandoned him noting that “only Luke” is with him (11). In verse 16 he picks up on this theme stating, “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me.” This first defense would have been his preliminary hearing before Caesar during his second imprisonment.[9] Paul was completely isolated in this moment of great need. Yet note the utter and complete lack of bitterness in him as he goes on to say, “May it not be held against them.” How can Paul not be bitter at this widespread abandonment? How can he not be bitter at having be left alone during the time of his first defense? The key lies in what he says in verse 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.” Though Paul is probably referring to how the Lord stood at his side during his preliminary trial,[10] providing him the strength he needed to proclaim the Gospel of Christ’s love to the Gentiles and all who were present, this verse could also serve as a summary of Paul’s life after he met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. Paul, that one-time persecutor of Christ and his church, has managed to keep his focus throughout his many trials. As he literally went from spiritual and physical blindness to spiritual and physical sight so he understands that all who are spiritually blind have but one hope for regaining spiritual sight—by turning to Jesus Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life, the only way to the Father;[11] by turning to Jesus Christ who is the resurrection and the life in whom any who believe will live even though, even when, they die.[12]

Paul is willing to endure any and all hardship that others might come to know and embrace Jesus as the Christ, Jesus as the promised Messiah; that others might come to know and embrace Jesus the beloved Son whom our heavenly Father sent to earth and received back to heaven that we might believe, receive, and follow him. Keeping this bigger picture before him is what enables Paul to pray that the Lord not hold his being abandoned and deserted by others against them. Again, remember that Paul himself did far worse than abandon believers. When he was still known as Saul, he had been active in persecuting, imprisoning, and putting to death those who were followers of Jesus. When he was still persecuting Christ and his church, he even consented to the death of Stephen.[13] Yet according to Luke, Stephen’s own final words as he was being stoned, were first: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And “Then he fell on his knees and cried out, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’” And “When he had said this, he fell asleep.”[14] And yet this practice of extending forgiveness to those who persecute—or abandon—or harm us in other ways began not with Stephen, but with Jesus Christ himself who, as he suffered on the cross awaiting his own death, prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”[15] May we ever be aware of the forgiveness God has given us and similarly pray for—and extend—forgiveness to those around us.

Now Paul’s testimony to Timothy in this final chapter of 2 Timothy is one of the reasons I chose our closing hymn this morning because in it the author, J. Wilbur Chapman, includes this line: “friends may fail me, foes assail me, he, my Savior, makes me whole.” Paul has experienced the spectrum of these experiences. Friends, or more to the point, family in the Lord, have failed him. Foes both human and spiritual have assailed him throughout his ministry, throughout the time he has served Christ’s church and proclaimed the risen Christ. Listen to Paul’s own testimony concerning his walk of faith in 2 Corinthians 11 as he challenges those who are following false apostles—Paul has known the challenging of false doctrine and teaching of right doctrine to which he has admonished Timothy throughout these two letters. In 2 Corinthians Paul states:

24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.

25 Three times I was beaten with rods,

once I was pelted with stones,

three times I was shipwrecked,

I spent a night and a day in the open sea,

26 I have been constantly on the move.

I have been in danger from rivers,

in danger from bandits,

in danger from my fellow Jews,

in danger from Gentiles;

in danger in the city,

in danger in the country,

in danger at sea;

and in danger from false believers. 27 

I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep;

I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food;

I have been cold and naked.

28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? 30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying.”

Again, yet despite all that Paul has undergone, all of his suffering has been worth it for Paul. In the midst of these many trials, he’s experienced the Lord’s providential care noting at the end of verse 17 in 2 Timothy how he “was delivered from the lion’s mouth.” This is a statement of how Paul was rescued from danger, even as Daniel was delivered from the lion’s den,[16] especially, and most recently, in the temporary reprieve he had received at his preliminary hearing.[17]

And dear Paul, who is suffering in prison, longing for his spiritual son, Timothy, and awaiting his own death ends this part of his letter by proclaiming: “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.” Note that he doesn’t say “the Lord will rescue me from every evil attack—period.” Clearly the Lord hasn’t rescued him from every evil attack as indicated by Paul’s list of evil attacks in 2nd Corinthians. But the little conjunction “and” is filled with a world of meaning: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom.” Paul is making crystal clear here that our earthly lives are not our final end. Evil people may harm us. Friends may desert us. We may make poor decisions. The prowling lion, the devil, may accuse and seek to devour us. But nothing can keep us from our final home in heaven with King Jesus and from his welcoming us into his kingdom. Nothing can keep us from his eternal love.

Brothers and sisters, Paul’s final words in this closing chapter in 2 Timothy should encourage us as we remember that God is ever at our side. He has been so in the past—he is present with us now—he’ll be at our side we se see and join him in heaven. Knowing God in Christ doesn’t mean we’ll be spared suffering in this life; it doesn’t mean we’ll be spared the effects of the Fall; it doesn’t mean we’ll never experience hurt or pain.

The difference between someone who is a follower of Christ and someone who isn’t is that we who know and love and follow Jesus Christ don’t have to go through this life alone for he is ever at our side. We may not see him. We may not feel him. But we can believe him for he has sealed us with his Holy Spirit and now indwells us. We can be confident that he will never leave us or forsake us. We can be assured that he has conquered even our final enemy, death, and that he, our righteous Judge, will return for us to welcome and embrace us when we join him in his kingdom in heaven.

Despite any evil attacks we may experience, we, like Paul, can rest in the knowledge that our loving Savior and Lord, Christ Jesus, will bring us safely into his heavenly kingdom as well. Friends may fail us—foes assail us—he, our Savior, will one day make us whole. And so let us give him glory not only now—not only this morning—but for ever—and ever—and ever again. And all of God’s people said “Amen!”

 

[1] Philippians 3:4b–9: If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.

[2] I Corinthians 15:25–26: 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

[3] Numbers 15: 5, 7, 10; With each lamb for the burnt offering or the sacrifice, prepare a quarter of a hin of wine as a drink offering…. and a third of a hin of wine as a drink offering. Offer it as an aroma pleasing to the Lord…..10 and also bring half a hin of wine as a drink offering. This will be a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord; 28:7: The accompanying drink offering is to be a quarter of a hin of fermented drink with each lamb. Pour out the drink offering to the Lord at the sanctuary.

[4] < http://www.biblicalhorizons.com/biblical-horizons/no-25-the-theology-of-the-drink-offering/> “Drinking wine is a sabbatical activity; it is a sign and a means of rest and celebration. Specifically, the libation is a sabbatical offering, particularly as described in Leviticus 23.” Leviticus 23:9–10, 13b, 15, 18, The Lord said to Moses, 10 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you and you reap its harvest, bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain you harvest….13band its drink offering of a quarter of a hin[about a quart or liter] of wine….15 From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks…. 18bThey will be a burnt offering to the Lord, together with their grain offerings and drink offerings—a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord.

[5] Paul also refers to himself as a drink offering in Philippians 2:17–18: 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

[6] Luke 22:20.

[7] Philippians 4:12–13.

[8] John 14:1–3: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

[9] Crossway Study Bible.

[10] Crossway Study Bible.

[11] John 14:6.

[12] John 11:25.

[13] Acts 8:1: And Saul approved of their killing him.

[14] Acts 7:59–60.

[15] Luke 23:34.

[16] Daniel 6.

[17] Reformation Study Bible.

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