Hearing Paul in 2 Timothy 4
“Once upon a time” often alerts us to the unreal. I recall my grandmother reading to me from books of fiction that seemed very real at the time. I was on the side of the “The Three Little Pigs” or “Goldie Locks.” The life and times of the apostle Paul, might seem to some like fiction, but this is not so!
We first meet this man when he was known as Saul of Tarsus. For a refresher let me suggest reading Acts chapter 7: 51–8:3. This is the last part of Stephen’s defence which ended with his death by stoning! These verses also introduce us to a new person. His name is Saul and he appears to be supervising this merciless killing. Note “(the killers) laid their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.”
Continue to read Acts 8:1–3, then see the descriptive account in Acts 9:1–9.
Saul persecuted Christians, both men and women, to the death. Yet even this strong-willed and evil man was changed from hater to lover; from killer to saver; from Jew by faith to Christian by faith! Amazing!
As an apostle of the Lord Jesus, Paul would go on and write thirteen letters of our New Testament. He traveled more miles, went to more places and found himself in many more kinds of dangers that all the other fine followers of Jesus Christ.
The last letter that the Apostle Paul would write is our focus in this series of articles. This article is all about II Tim chapter 4. To establish the setting, let us briefly consider a few excepts from the first three chapters.
Paul, the godly old solider that he was, wrote his last letter to Timothy who had worked with him in missions and was still relatively young. The letter includes a summary of Paul’s work, along with his hardships and victories (II Tim 1:15-18). He reminds Timothy of “the sincere faith” of his grandmother and mother and then expresses confidence that such faith lives on in Timothy as well.” – II Timothy 1: 5.
So, this letter is about living by faith in God. It urges Timothy us not ever to be ashamed of the testimony of His son Jesus, or even of Paul in his imprisonment but to join him “in suffering for the gospel according the power of God.”– II Timothy 1:8.
Chapters 2 and 3 warn of apostasy and set out a clear contrast between ‘evil men’ and those like Timothy who serve the lord faithfully. Please read II Timothy 3:14–17.
Chapter 4 returns to Timothy’s mandate as a preacher – with the encouragement to “preach the word” at all times and in every circumstance. Timothy had a lot to learn from Paul and we are reminded of his imprisonment in verse 6. He does this not to complaining or cultivate sympathy. Nor does he question the fairness of God. Instead, he understands his place in the spread of the gospel in a sacrificial sense.
He says, “I am already be poured out as a drink offering and the time of my departure has come” 4:6
The drink-offering refers to the Old Testament practice of pouring a libation either upon or beside the altar as an acceptable part of sacrificial worship (Numbers 15:1–10; 28:1–8). It was not to practiced until after the people of Israel entered Canaan and God had given them rest. Unlike the sacrifices of Lev 1-7 which set out how Israel was to approach God, the drink offering represented the joy of God at the completion of a work that he had set out to do. Thus, once Israel was given rest in the land of promise, the drink offering began to be offered. God celebrated the blessings that he was able to bestow upon his people in the land of promise – which is what the drink offering represented.
This is how Paul saw his life and ministry. The work that the Lord Jesus Christ had been accomplishing through the apostle Paul was almost complete. Certain that his death was immanent and confident that he had finished his course and kept the faith, Paul knew that there was joy in heaven. A life of sacrificial service to our Lord Jesus Christ completes the joy of our God in a way that was only ever hinted at in the drink offering.
It takes faith to believe what Paul believed and to serve as he did. It is fair then to ask, are we able and willing to do the same? God has made us able, the real question is, are we willing?
The eighth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Romans 8 really picks me up and puts me back on track. It is a great parallel reading to II Tim 4.
At the end of his life, Paul was able to write: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” – II Timothy 4:7. Paul had fought well and God had given him victory in Christ Jesus (II Corinthians 11:23–33).
Paul was more than ready to go and be with the Lord. We should not pity him but seek to be like him. One day we will all see Jesus “face to face!” and I am certain that Paul will still be saying: “I’ve been Saved by grace!”
For this reason, Paul could say with confidence:
“…in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day…” – II Timothy 4:8.
While saved by Grace, Paul still knew the value of remaining faithful until the end. He lived to preach the good news of Jesus Christ until it was time for his Lord to take him home.
What about us?
Am I and are you a person of faith? Are we able to see the things that are visible only to those who live by faith? That would include the reward that Paul spoke of which is offered to us all – for Paul wrote:
“and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” – 2 Timothy 4:8.
God may not call us home the way that he did the apostle Paul. But he will receive us all the same if as Paul did we remain faithful unto death. There is no higher calling than this , than having died with Christ in baptism to then walk with our Lord in newness of life, until we are found here no more.