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?
Have you ever felt like God has seemingly forgotten you, even maybe rejected you, possibly disappointed you, felt like God might have fallen asleep on the job and so maybe He needs some rousing..?
You’re not alone. The Psalmist who penned Psalm 44 writes on behalf of God’s people who have faced some unknown national calamity in the face of their enemies. They feel disgraced, alone, helpless and confused…
As believers, as Christ followers, what do we do when our admittedly tiny perspective on life appears to lead to these types of questions and raises these sorts of feelings?
As a Christ follower and as a church leader I personally identify at times with this psalmist and with this psalm because I know how God has moved in mighty power in the past. Mighty acts of intervention and blessing cover the pages of Scripture and fill the pages of church history too.
“Our fathers have told us, what deeds you performed in their days” (Psalm 44:1)
So what’s happening now..? Why does the church not always seem glorious or full of mighty power? “Why is there so much hardship and pain even for Your people God?” And what should we do in such times?
In times like this we are helped when we interpret what we don’t know from what we do know from Scripture. We make a mistake when we seek to redefine what is clear in Scripture because of what is so confusing to us in the moment as we look through the distorted lenses of our experience and or feelings.
We might feel like God has rejected us, left us alone or forgotten us, that maybe God is sleeping on the job of being God & Father but in fact we know that God has made an everlasting covenant with us, He has promised to never leave us, has promised that nothing can remove us from His love…
“I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them.” (Jeremiah 32:40)
“I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5)
“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39)
Just like the Psalmist acknowledged his feelings, expressed them even, we too can be honest with our thoughts, our feelings our questions directed at God. We don’t have to put on some stoic face and pretend we feel differently! And yet our faith is not resting on a foundation of feelings which are so transient and unstable, our faith is founded on truth, on promises made by the God who can not lie, is unchanging, the God who is faithful even when we are unfaithful!
And so like the Psalmist we can conclude praying with total confidence to our Father in heaven saying;
“Rise up; come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love” (Psalm 44:26)
We know, we are the beloved children of Father God, our Redeemer, our Immanuel, our Comforter, Counsellor & Helper and in these rock solid truths we rest even when the circumstances of our lives are anything but restful. We choose to trust not in ourselves, not in our bow or our sword (vs6) or our ability to wield them but choose to trust Father God in the midst of trials, delay or disappointments.