Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
This morning our attention has been drawn to two significant events in the life of any church, a baby dedication and the observance of All Saints Sunday. We have celebrated with two families as they introduced their babies and dedicated them to the Lord. We have also remembered church members who passed away since this time last year and offered their families our continuing love and support.
The Bible says much about both life events, birth and death. Repeatedly, it emphasizes the importance of starting right and finishing strong.
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not turn from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)
“It would be better for someone to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” (Luke 17:2)
It was said of Jesus when he was twelve years old, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:52)
Carrie Beth and her many volunteers do a good job helping our children get off to a good start. I am grateful for all who work with our children to help them ‘grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man’.
As important as it is to start right on our earthly journey, it is equally important to finish strong by staying focused on, engaged in and faithful to our divine mission. Nowhere is this better seen than today’s text. Let’s examine it to see what advice Paul has for us.
To whom is Paul writing? It was a young man named Timothy who was born in Lystra, a city in Asia Minor. Paul became acquainted with Timothy, his mother, Eunice, and grandmother, Lois, on one of his missionary journeys. Paul endeared himself to this family and stayed with them whenever it was feasible.
Paul was so impressed with Timothy he took him under wing and became his mentor. Timothy traveled with Paul and became a valuable co-worker.
Writing to the Philippians, Paul shared this assessment of Timothy, “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news of you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father, he has served with me in the work of the gospel.” (Philippians 2:19-22)
Why did Paul feel the need to pen this letter at this time? He was in prison in Rome facing an imminent death. The Roman emperor, Nero, had already publicly declared his intention to kill Paul.
Slaughtering Christians was not uncommon during Nero’s thirteen year reign. It has been reported Nero needed someone to blame for his misdeeds, and he used Christians as scapegoats. It appears Paul’s death, the most prominent Christian leader at that time, would buy Nero goodwill among those upset with him for his brutal and vicious behavior.
You can sense the urgency in Paul’s opening words of our text. “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.” (2 Timothy 4:6) Paul lived each day as if it was his last. Writing this letter was something he wanted to accomplish before his voice was silenced.
In our text, what did Paul want Timothy to know? I believe he wanted Timothy to know he was at peace with his fate. It appears to me there were several reasons he felt this way.
To begin, Paul believed his life would not end at the grave. He was confident Nero would not have the final word in his life; God would, and that word would be a good one. A crown of righteousness was awaiting him on the other side of Nero’s death decree.
I am intrigued by Paul’s use of the word ‘departure’ in our text. “The time has come for my departure,” he wrote. (2 Timothy 4:16)
Departure is the word for unyoking an animal from a cart or a plough so it can rest. It is the word for loosening the ropes of a tent so a camper can continue his or her journey. It is the word for releasing ropes from a harbor so a ship can set sail. It is the word for taking the chains off a slave so he or she can go free.
Departure is a word filled with movement and anticipation. Surely, you see why Paul chose this word to describe his death. To Paul, death was a move from a full life on earth to a fuller life with God in heaven. Believing this enabled Paul to die in peace.
Furthermore, Paul wanted Timothy to know he was finishing strong, and this gave him a great sense of satisfaction. He fought a good fight, finished his race and kept the faith.
He did not grow weary in well-doing. In spite of the resistance and threats he faced, he did not lose heart, he did not succumb to fear, he did not give in to temptation, he did not compromise his convictions and he did not quit the race. He never lost confidence in God or quit believing God’s way of living was best. He refused to trade his faith in God for something safer and more appealing.
Paul was going to finish his race as he began it, eager to do the best he could as long as he could. No wonder he was going to die in peace.
There was one other thing Paul wanted Timothy to know. The good work he began would continue because he believed Timothy could handle the challenges and responsibilities that would come his way. He was proud to be passing the baton to Timothy, his son in the ministry.
This is why in this letter to Timothy, Paul stressed the importance of taking his faith seriously at all times and in all places. He was to embody the teachings of Jesus wherever he went and in every encounter with others. There were no exceptions.
In addition, Paul charged Timothy to teach and preach the gospel in its entirety. He was to share the good news of God’s unconditional love and amazing grace while challenging those under his teaching to embrace the ethic of love Jesus modeled.
“So live your life that when it comes time to die, that’s all you have to do,” a wise person wrote. Based upon our text, I am confident this describes Paul’s final hours.
I believe all of us can die in peace when our time comes, just as Paul did. How? Follow Paul’s example.
Put your faith in a loving and powerful God who will have the final word in your life and then embrace the faith of Jesus as you live each day among family and friends. If you do, you will not be disappointed. Awaiting you will also be a ‘crown of righteousness’ similar to the one Paul referred to in our text.
Be a good role model throughout your entire life. Don’t waver. Don’t lose heart. Don’t succumb to fear. Don’t give in to temptation. Don’t lose confidence in God. Don’t quit the race.
Each day, live out your faith before others as Jesus did. Be honest, trustworthy, reliable, dependable, compassionate, kind, respectful, generous and humble. Be a courageous advocate for those beaten and bruised by the harshness of life.
Demand a seat at the table where decisions are made for all who wish to be there to express their grievances, ideas and opinions. Expose hypocrisy and corruption by the powerful as you work with others to correct their misdeeds.
Pass your faith along to the younger generation coming behind you. Teach them what they need to know to start right. Show them what it means and what it takes to finish strong.
Paul certainly taught us through his words and by his example that love is not measured by what we start but what we finish. May this be our legacy, too.