What Do You Want to Do Before You Die?

I’m sure everyone here has heard of a last will and testament; they’re a large part of our culture. In my sorority in college, the departing seniors would have a ceremony specifically for the giving of our last will and testaments. The things given were anything from a necklace to a desk to a kind note, but it wasn’t really about what the young girls were bequeathed—it was the fact that the older girls, who would soon be leaving this college forever, were passing the torch onto them. In a few short weeks the older girls would be walking across the stage to a new chapter of their life, and the duty was to the underclassmen to step up and become leaders of the sorority and hold up everything it stands for.

This is the sentiment that Paul leaves us with when he is writing to Timothy, who he has left behind as his stand-in while he is imprisoned in Rome. He has suffered greatly for the name of Christ: his money, his scholarship, his time, the vigor of his body, the acuteness of his mind, the devotion of his heart. Only life itself was left to offer, and he knew his time was coming soon.[1] What would be the greatest wisdom you would impart on a young person following in your footsteps if you knew you were to die tomorrow? Here is what Paul wrote, turn to 2 Timothy 1.

(1)In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: (2)Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

He immediately comes out and says that this is a matter of Jesus Christ, whom we will have to answer to in the end. He lays all of the immediacy out in the open; Timothy (and us) must listen to and heed his urging.[3] Just as Paul opens his letters with “May God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord give you grace, mercy, and peace,”[4] he is explaining now his authority and his urgency. We are always in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, but we must be aware that one day He will judge us. This judgment imagery is further evidenced in his use of the word “charge.” Some translations say “urge,” but the word in the Greek is epiphaneia, used as a manifest intervention of a god, but more importantly as an ascension of an emperor to the throne.[5] This does not mean that we are not saved, but He will judge our faithfulness to the Kingdom and furthering His work. We do not know when He will appear, but when He does we need to have fruit to show Him.

This brings us to the first point: God has given us all we need to succeed in His plan.

Luckily, Paul points out the greatest lesson he has learned, and what we are expected to do as followers of Christ: “preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” These instructions, reiterations of the teachings of Jesus, will mean the difference between life with Christ or a spiritual death and eternal separation from Him.[6] First, Christians are to “preach the word.” This should be expected, but the imploring to do this both “in and out of season” requires persistence that is not usually anticipated. Second, believers are to correct, rebuke and encourage one another as well as new believers, thus making disciples of Christ. Believers are expected to convict others, making them first aware of their sin, rebuke them, causing them to want to change their sinful existence, and exhort them, to make them aware that change is possible. A rebuke should always be followed with an exhortation for fear that they will lose the hope of salvation.[7] Finally, these must all be done with great patience, because there will be a time “when people will not put up with sound doctrine.”

(3)For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (4)They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.[8]

The greatest threat to Christianity in the first century was that it could be shuffled to the side with all of the other philosophies that were out there at the time. It was not uncommon for teachers to go from city to city in the ancient world teaching their own views of philosophy and attracting converts. It was a time of great confusion as to what was the truth. The Sophists were a special group who traveled from city to city teaching anything for a fee.[9] Whatever one wanted to hear, if they paid the Sophists enough they would receive a philosophical teaching that would allow it.[10]

This brings us to the second point: Our greatest weakness is ourselves.

Humans are fallen, no matter how much we would like to believe differently. It is human nature to wish to be told that one is good, but it is said in Romans 3:23 that no one is good, we all fall short of the glory of God. The difference between Christianity and false religions is that we know we are fallen, but God has granted us salvation anyway. Sound doctrine will always provide Truth, but that does not mean that all will want to hear it—but this should never cause us to stop preaching the gospel. The gospel means “good news” for a reason: even if we do not want to hear it, it’s the truth.

This is most evident by the speed at which Christianity spread throughout the known world. Within 100 years it had spread from a small Roman province to India, North Africa and the farthest reaches of the Empire. Now, for the first time in a millennia the spread of Christianity, in the areas where it once held powerful ground, has been recessed by other philosophies. In the past century, while there have been great advancements in third world countries, here in America and especially in Western Europe alternative philosophies have been pushing out Christianity as the dominant theology. It is at times like these that we must ensure that we preach the Truth, sound doctrine, such that no one can find reason to doubt our faith.

This warning against those with “itching ears” is as much against other philosophies as it is against corruption of our own. We must constantly be in the Word, learning His truth, because it is so easy for us to pervert His Words with our misunderstandings.

Thus brings us to our greatest strength:

(5)But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

“But you,” implies simply that we are different. We are called to be those that bring the news, not those who fall for the latest trend. We are called to keep our heads in all situations. Alternative texts translate this as staying of “sober-mind.” This means more than abstaining from alcohol; it means to avoid all things that may reflect badly upon the gospel, including anger, lustful thoughts, and anything that takes our eyes off of Christ.

Second, we are going to endure hardship—it is the mark of Christ. Let’s take a second and flip to Romans chapter 12.[12] Starting in verse 1, Paul declares, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.”

Finally, we are to do the work of an evangelist. According to Barna, 95% of Christians have never led someone to Christ.[13] Ninety-five percent. It would seem that we’re not particularly good at spreading the good news. We are ordered throughout Scripture to lead others to the Lord. Isaiah 53:6 says, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” Jesus said in Matthew 9:37 that “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” Evangelism is not merely something we can choose to partake in, it is a direct order. We are compelled to tell our friends about the Lord. We are to do our best to reach out to everyone, from our neighbors to strangers, our family to the homeless man on the corner. It is our duty no matter how hard we may think it is. We do this for the ultimate reward, not just for us but for them as well.

(6)For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time of my departure is near. (7)I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

The idea of a drink offering is somewhat lost on our culture. The Greek word used is spendesthai, literally meaning “to pour out as a libation to the gods.” Every Roman meal ended in a sacrifice to the gods in the form of spilling a bit of wine.[15] Just as a drink offering was the capstone to a meal, so was it the finishing touch to a life of sacrifice by Paul.[16] By considering himself as a sacrifice, his martyrdom would pay homage to God and would be valuable to the salvation of souls.[17]  It’s interesting how this has been somewhat adopted in hip-hop culture as a symbolic act at the end of a toast in celebration to friends who could not be with them.

Adding to this symbolism is the familiar example of running the race of life for Christ.”I have fought the good fight,” had connotations of gladiators who entered into the arena. Only two outcomes for the coliseum were possible: winning or death. Such is the life of Christ, we are either with Him, granted life, or eternal separation from Him, death. Furthermore, he says he has “finished the race,” meaning that it is a life to be modeled. There is only one purpose in a race: to finish first. Think about your life with Christ as a race; the beginning is as far from Christ as possible. You invite Him into your life, and He calls you to come with Him, and like a gunshot the race has started. You run closer and closer to Him, trying to become like Him through your life and actions, until you can get as close as possible. So long as you are running, so long as you are trying to be close to Him you are in His arms; you are saved by His blood, and He will never turn His back on you. It is not possible to become Christ, but if we are still yearning to be with Him when He calls us home, we finish the race.

These are two themes that are seen elsewhere in Paul’s writings.[18] In 1 Corinthians 9:25-26 Paul says, “All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in my step. I am not just shadowboxing.” Other verses to look at for encouragement in this race are 1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 2:5 and Philippians 2:16 and 3:13-14.[19]

 

Finally our last point: The promise of God is enough to sustain us; the decision is ours.

(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.

God has promised us an eternal life with Him, so long as we keep the faith. By nature His promises are always kept, so the decision is ours whether to follow Him. Often, we look at the “greats” in the Bible—great evangelists like Paul, great teachers like Timothy, great leaders like David—but that does not give us reason not to do the things that are ordered of us by God. Here, Paul is reiterating that the “crown of righteousness” is available to “all who have longed for his appearing.”

Conclusion

This letter, written at the very end of his life, was Paul’s last will and testament to his life of service. Likewise he is looking toward what is to come. In this end, he is encouraging the believers that if they follow his instructions, the further instructions of Christ, that the “crown of righteousness” will be awarded to them as he expects it to be awarded to him. Central to this is Paul’s statement that the “time for my departure is near” had specific meaning to the first century audience. The word for “departure” used in verse six is analusis, which had connotations more than merely a departure from a place. It was used to describe the unyoking of an animal from a cart or plough, loosening bonds of chains, loosening the ropes of a tent and loosening the mooring ropes of a ship. As William Barclay wrote,

“For the Christian, death is laying down the burden in order to rest; it is laying aside the shackles in order to be free; it is striking camp in order to take up residence in the heavenly places; it is casting off the ropes which bind us to this world in order to set sail on the voyage which ends in the presence of God”[21]

Death is not the end, it is a return to Christ, and in Paul’s parting words to Timothy and those whom he was leading he wanted to reassure them that even without him they had God, and someday they would return to Him as well.

So then, today, are you running the race as Paul instructed? If Jesus were to come back tomorrow would you be proud to show Him what you have accomplished? Are you ready to take the next step? Let’s pray.


[1] Barclay, William. The Letters to Timothy, Titus and Philemon, Revised Edition. Philadelphia: Westminster Press (1975): 209

[3] Gundry, Robert H. Commentary on the New Testament. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers (2010): 857

[4] 2 Timothy 1:1

[5] Barclay 203

[7] Barclay 205

[9] Barclay 207

[10] Gundry 857

[13] “American Faith is Diverse, as Shown Among Five Faith-Based Segments” The Barna Group (January 29, 2002) http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/5-barna-update/66-american-faith-is-diverse-as-shown-among-five-faith-based-segments?q=shared+faith

[15] Barclay 209

[16] Gundry 857

[17] The Jerome Biblical Commentary. Ed. Raymond E Brown, S.S., Joseph A Fitzmyer, S.J., and Roland E Murphy, O.Carm. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc (1968): 359

[19] The Oxford Bible Commentary. Ed. John Barton and John Muddiman. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2001): 1230

 
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