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Finishing the Race - 2 Timothy 4

Time, Time, Time

We are creatures in time, creatures of time, for God has made us so. It is no surprise that time figures in so much of our conversation ("how are you going?", "if you have the time...", "I haven't a moment to lose!", etc.) Paul, the mighty missionary apostle is no different, using the word time or phrases that speak of time at least 14 times in the 22 verses of this last part of his letter to Timothy, his young colleague and pastor-in-training.

Unlike some religious philosophies time in the Bible's world-view is not our enemy, but rather a servant to be used wisely. It is, I hope, useful to look at these last words of Paul to Timothy using various "times" to hang our thoughts on.

Keep in mind too that this is a letter to a friend, not a polished essay, nor a theological textbook. Perhaps even more like a conversation with a friend - it can jump around and be repetitive. God's true truth, but brought to us via the loose structure of an old man's letter to his younger friend.

Gospel Time, verses 1 & 2

It is always Gospel Time, and has been so since the fall of man in Genesis chapter 3, right through the Bible till the last chapter of Revelation. Man has fallen into sin and misery, but God has unilaterally planned and provided a perfect Rescuer. Jesus Christ the Righteous is good news, astonishingly good news, almost unbelievably good news.

Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a great pastor and preacher of the last century, was once asked "How often do you preach the gospel?!". He answered "Every Sunday night". What the questioner really meant was "How often to do you make a public appeal for people to walk to the front and 'receive Christ'?" which is quite a different thing. Lloyd-Jones preached every Sunday evening with an eye to those who were not yet believers in Jesus, but that did not stop him from ranging all through the Bible, for he believed that all of it points to Jesus. And he believed it was the work of God's Holy Spirit to convince people that Jesus was the divine, the only, the merciful, Saviour, and to draw them to Him.

It is always Gospel Time, while this age of the world lasts, and we should never lose heart about preaching all of God's Word, whether it be from John's Gospel chapter 3 verse 16, or from Genesis 3:16, or Leviticus 3:16, or even Proverbs 3:16, or anywhere else. That is how the resurrected Jesus taught and comforted his sorrowful disciples on the Emmaus road, in Luke 24 "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself."

For this reason Paul urges Timothy to keep on preaching God's Word. When it is easy and when it is hard. When people are keen to hear, and when they are not. All of God's Word, in due proportion, for "all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful..." Chapter 3 verse 16.

Bad Times, verses 3 & 4 (Times and Ears)

"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. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths."

Every radio and TV shock-jock knows that the way to build a crowd of followers and to get top ratings is to tell people what they want to hear. Tell them that politicians are all crooked, and could fix everything if they did not have their snouts in the trough. Tell them that they can be rich without effort. Tell them that Australia's problems are always someone else's fault. They'll flock to you.

It is the same when it comes to teaching "religion". Heaps of itching ears gather to themselves heaps of teachers with scratching fingers. Paul told Timothy to expect such times, and we should expect them too, for fallen human nature has not changed. As an example today, there is the very widespread teaching called the "prosperity gospel". God wants you to be wealthy, healthy and happy, and if you are not then its your fault. You obviously don't have enough faith! FALSE! - what about Paul's poverty, Paul's sufferings; was he weak in faith? Such false teaching is at best based on a shallow approach to Scripture, and at its worst, based on greed. Such teaching is a torment to those who suffer, and suffering is something we are all promised in this life.

We need to get our timing right. Yes, God has promised us rich blessings, and that every tear will be wiped away, but NOT YET. Not in this age, but in the next. (Revelation 21:1-4)

The only remedy is what Paul gives us in verse "Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage with great patience and careful instruction."

My Times, verses 6 to 8

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

Paul is not writing about abstract truths, but about real life. He would have known well the place in the Psalms where it says "My times are in your hand" (Ps 31:15).

Paul tells us about his past, present and future:-

present
"I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near." In the Jewish sacrifices, a drink offering was poured out in the ground. It could not be retrieved again, it had reached its end. Paul's departure was his imminent death, according to tradition, at the hands of the Romans.
past
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith." "What! Perfectly?" No, for Paul called himself the "chief of sinners". But he knew his perfect Saviour, Jesus the Mighty One, full of grace and truth.
future
"Now there is in store for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award me on that day" His own righteousness? No, but on that day, wrapped in the arms of Jesus, he would at last be made perfect, dressed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ the Righteous.

Perhaps you are thinking "O, but Paul was a mighty Apostle; I could never live and die like this.". Read the last part of verse 8, "and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing." Or "loved his appearing" as some translations put it. Have you loved His first appearing as the infant Jesus and the Saviour Jesus? Do you long for Him to return and restore all things, to be at last your visible Saviour, Lord, Friend, King, and the Lover of your soul? Then it is enough. God does not ask you to be Paul, just yourself, doing what you can, and trusting in Him.

Be thankful for every blessing, but be ready to let them go when the time for your departure comes.

Fight your fight of faith, and run your race, no matter how small it seems to others. Do it with humble faith.

Look forward in faith to the time when all good things will be yours, showered from the hands of Jesus the King.

Now Time, verse 9 to 22

You might be thinking from what Paul has just said that he means to give up now. "It's over for me!" He expects to die any day now. He says he has done the work that Jesus gave him to do. Why not just sit and wait?

That is not Paul's way, and it is not meant to be our way. "Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes." (Matthew 24:45-46 ESV)

While we have any breath, there is still something worth doing. Even if a terminal illness has given you a sentence of death, remember that your life is in your Master's safe-keeping. You can still be patient. You can still be kind and gentle to those who care for or visit you. You can give thanks for the good things you have received through life, and for the better things He has promised to give you, and that soon, very soon. How do you know that you will not "entertain angels unawares."? (Hebrews 13:2 ESV)

Here we see Paul doing just this.

Let me die the death of the righteous!

No, it was not Paul who said this, though no doubt he knew this passage from the Old Testament well. In the Book of Numbers, chapter 23, we meet Balaam, the greedy and reluctant prophet hired by King Balak to curse Israel. Though Balaam wanted the cash, God did not permit him to curse, but instead made blessings come from his mouth, ending with "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like theirs!" (Numbers 23:10 NIV)

Balaam wants the gold

Nothing we read of Balaam makes us think he really valued the "death of the righteous", but Paul did. What about you?

There is no earthly reason why you should care to "die the death of the righteous", but there is every heavenly reason why you should!

"Now there is in store for me a crown of righteousness" v8

"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." Psalm 116:15


New International Version (NIV) 2 Timothy 4

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. 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. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. 6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 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. 9 Do your best to come to me quickly, 10 for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. 12 I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments. 14 Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. 15 You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message. 16 At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. 17 But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion's mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen. 19 Greet Priscilla and Aquila and the household of Onesiphorus. 20 Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus. 21 Do your best to get here before winter. Eubulus greets you, and so do Pudens, Linus, Claudia and all the brothers and sisters. 22 The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you all. (NIV)


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This page http://tardus.net/finishingTheRace.html published: 15 December 2012

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