What would your final words be?
Imagine you were a CEO of a startup company, a leading figure of a research project or a key member in your field of expertise, and you knew what you were writing would be your final words to your successor. That scenario isn’t too dissimilar to Paul’s life as he was writing 2 Timothy around 64-67 AD. He finds himself in prison, awaiting a certain fate of death, with very few people around him. After a lifetime of church planting, preaching and raising leaders, Paul knows his final efforts will be to encourage his spiritual son in the faith.
It’s helpful to visualise the situation Paul is writing in, as it provides some clarity in an otherwise confusing section of scripture. At first glance, chapter 2 seems a whirlwind of different themes that Paul is mixing together. He’s discussing leadership, holiness, perseverance and false teachers in a manner so unlike the structured theological masterpieces of Romans or Ephesians. However, with an understanding of Paul’s context, we as the readers, are given a glimpse of Paul’s overall reflections of ministry, as well as his final words of encouragements to us.
Within this book of Paul’s final words, there consists an encouragement for Timothy to persevere in faithful ministry.
If anyone would know the challenges that Timothy will face, it would be the Apostle Paul. He was sitting in a jail cell, waiting for his promotion into the grandstands of Heaven. He was the guy who was kidnapped and stoned to an inch of his life (Acts 21). The man who survived a shipwreck, only to be bitten by a viper (Acts 27 & 28). Paul was the guy who wrote and boasted in his various sufferings (2 Corinthians 11:23-28), so that God would be praised. Paul knows exactly what he is encouraging Timothy into when he says “share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus”.
Many of us today do not live with a readiness, a willingness, to embrace and fight through the challenges that will come as we try to live for Jesus. Maybe this is because we so easily forget that we live in a spiritual warzone. When Paul says “share in suffering”, what he is communicating is that there is a share of suffering that every believer should brace themselves for. If we live as we ought to, transformed and compelled by the gospel, then we should expect trials, opposition, temptations and sufferings to face us. Sin won’t go down without a fight. The devil is still prowling around. Cultural ideologies such as individualism, sinful temptations of materialism and political tactics of division have already taken out the sincere faith of many believers.
One of the questions that we all need to face up to as a matter of urgency is this: Are you ready for the inevitability of suffering? The hardest rugby tackles are the ones you don’t see coming. They are the ones that cause injuries. Paul’s words are a caring and compassionate plea to Timothy and to us; that we would be prepared for wartime living.
Our perseverance comes from remembering and trusting in Jesus’ work in our lives. “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead…” This section runs parallel to the first chapter of the book, and it reminds us that our perseverance does not come from ourselves. We are meant to trust and rely in our savior’s ongoing work in our lives. Our perseverance is inseparable from the resurrection of Jesus, to His victory and the certainty of our success in the mission field. This is also why Paul says, “therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect”, because there are people who have been elected (chosen) by God, and Paul knows that their conversion is an absolute certainty. The truth that God is electing, preserving and empowering us will produce endurance inside of us.
Finally, our perseverance produces faithfulness and glorifies God. This is where Paul ties in our holiness with our faithful perseverance. To be ‘preserved’ is not just to make it to the end of our lives without sin taking us out. To be preserved is a call to fight for holiness in our lives. “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed.” As we are preserved by God to continually endure through our sufferings, it is a testament of the faithfulness that God is working in our lives and displaying to the people around us. We should “flee” from sin and “pursue” a transformed pure heart. Then we too will be able to say, along with Paul in 2 Timothy 4:7, that we have “fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
SOME QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
- What kinds of challenges should we expect as we live for God in the world today?
- Why do you think Paul’s using his final words to encourage us to keep persevering?
- What do you need to flee from in your life to preserve your faithful holiness?
- What do you need to pursue more in your life to preserve your faithful holiness?