Introduction and Background: There was an interesting story this week in the news about a Nigerian man named Harrison Okene.He was a cook aboard a tugboat working for Chevron, and the tugboat sank and descended 100 feet underwater off the coast of Nigeria. The cause of the sinking isn’t known, but Harrison was down in the innermost part of the boat when it sank and all the lights went out. He was actually in the bathroom and the seawater broke through and swept him from that bathroom into another, into the officers’ bathroom, where the water started rising around him. It stopped with an air pocket that stayed in place while the ship descended and settled on the bottom of the ocean. He was entombed in the pitch-blackness in this air pocket for sixty hours. He was literally buried alive. Everyone else on the tugboat perished and Harrison could hear scavenger fish swimming through the boat looking for grisly food, but Harrison was in an interior room that somehow retained an air pocket in the upper part of the chamber. It seems to me the terror would have been indescribable. But Harrison said that he just starting calling on the name of the Lord and reciting verses. Because he was trapped several days he had to sleep, but he would calm himself by reciting verses before he slept. It was the power of those verses and the ability to talk to the Lord that sustained him until he was rescued.
I read that story while studying 2 Timothy, and I saw an immediate resemblance. The apostle Paul wrote this letter while entombed in a cold cell probably in the dungeon of the Mamertine prison in Rome. You can actually visit this site when you go to the Roman forum, near the coliseum and the arch and the ancient ruins. On the day I visited, there were tourists everywhere except at this site, and I had a chance to go into the cell that might have belonged to the apostle Paul and meditate there. Paul was facing death by decapitation, and whenever he heard footsteps echoing down the hallway they might have been coming for him. I would think it’d be easy to have moments of panic; but we don’t get that feeling when we read 2 Timothy, and especially as we come to the conclusion of this letter and to the final recorded paragraph of the Apostle Paul. He wrote to Timothy, who was serving as bishop or overseer of the church in Ephesus. Paul needed him to come quickly, and he sent this letter as a message for him to come. But if Timothy arrived too late, there were some things Paul wanted him to know, so he wrote them in this letter. I think Timothy must have read and re-read this book, over and over until he had memorized it. He had it copies made and spread abroad.
Review: Second Timothy is Paul’s final recorded writing, his last will and testament. It’s not a carefully crafted treatise but an urgent note penned under harsh conditions, a final set of instructions of his jittery disciple, Timothy. It’s marked by over thirty specific instructions and roughly divides into two main sections, plus an introduction and conclusion. It’s purpose: To show us how to minister to Last Days People.
- Introduction (mostly about Timothy): 1:1-5
- 1. Keep Your Morale Strong: 1:6 – 2:13
- 2. Keep Your Message Sound: 2:14 – 4:5
- Conclusion (mostly about Paul): 4:6-22
Scripture: 2 Timothy 4:6-11.
1. How to Look at Life. I don’t know how I would feel if I knew for certain I was going to die in two weeks or in a month. I don’t know how I’d feel if I were trapped in an air pocket or in a cold dungeon. But I would hope I’d feel like Paul did, as reflected in these words. He was determined to stay alive and vital and active and useful until the very end. As I read this section I’m reminded of something that was said about Jesus as a child. Luke 2:52 says Jesus grew in wisdom and in statute, and in favor with God and man. There we have four different aspects of staying healthy. We should grow in wisdom—that is, intellectually. And in stature—that is, physically. And in favor with God—that is spiritually. And in favor with man—that is, socially. That’s maturity—having physical, mental, spiritual, and relational health. And we see all four of these same aspects reflected in this last paragraph of Paul.
A. Stay as healthy as you can physically. Paul was concerned about his body. The winter was coming, and the dungeon was cold. So he asked Timothy to bring his overcoat (v. 13). He didn’t want to suffer one bit more than necessary; and he didn’t want to die of a cold or pneumonia if he could help it. He wanted to care for his physical needs as much as possible. For us that means we should take care of ourselves physically and stay as healthy as we possibly can.
B. Stay as healthy as you can mentally. Paul was also concerned about reading, asking for the scrolls and especially the parchments. We really don’t know the contents of these, but it could have been an early copy of one of the Gospels or the book of James, or copies of Old Testament books. In essence, Paul was asking for his library. We need to keep reading and studying every day—both the Bible and other books. Ruth Bell Graham told me once, “Use the Bible for home base, but read, read, read.” She suggested I read one old book for every new one. Right now I have several folders on my Kindle. The first one is “Now Reading.” The second is “To Be Read.” One of the best things about vacation is being able to do more reading. Over the next couple of weeks, I’m planning to keep pressing through my Churchill biography and also Merrill Tenney’s old textbook on the Gospel of John, which I’ve not read for years. I’ve always tried to think ahead to the books I should be reading and get them lined up. It’s all right to occasionally play a video game or watch a movie, but nothing can replace old-fashioned reading and study.
C. Stay as healthy as you can socially. Paul also mentioned a lot of people in this last paragraph, and he had opinions about all of them. Let’s look at them:
- Demas – because he loved this world has deserted me.
- Crecens has gone to Galatia. Paul had apparently sent him on a mission there.
- Titus was Paul’s troubleshooter, who had been sent to Dalmatia, which is the area of the Balkans, up above Greece.
- Luke is with me.
- Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. This is the young man Paul had given up on in Acts 15.
- Tychicus had been sent to Ephesus, probably to relieve Timothy so he, Timothy, could leave the work to join Paul in Rome.
- Alexander the metalworker – this may be the same man as is mentioned in 1 Timothy 1:20.
- And then we have a set of greetings in verse 19-22. In all, including Timothy, I counted eighteen people referred to in this final paragraph of Paul’s life.
D. Stay as healthy as you can spiritually. Perhaps the most wonderful verse in this passage is 2 Timothy 4:17: “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.” When Paul was escorted to the defendant’s booth in the Roman courtroom, it was too oppressive and tense and dangerous for any of his associates to join him. But he had a clear awareness of the actual presence of the Lord standing with him and giving him strength and turning the spectacle into an arena for evangelism. That’s how Paul chose to live his life, even in his last weeks or months—by staying as alive and healthy and vital as he could, physically, mentally, spiritually, and relationally.
2. How to Look at Death. That’s how Paul looked at life, but we also get a sense of how he looked at death. In this one paragraph, he employed eight different ways to describe dying—and all of them are positive.
A. Being Poured Out. First, he said he was being poured out like a drink offering (v. 6). In Jewish ritual, they would take wine and pour it out in the sanctuary as a sacrifice to God (Numbers 28:7).
B. Departing (v. 6). This was the word used of a boat that set sail. Katrina and I took a cruise once, as many of you have done. We went up the gangplank, and then the moorings were loosed and the boat pushed away from the dock and started out to sea. It was tremendously exciting. We were leaving one place and going to another. I think Paul had a similar sense of anticipation.
C. Fighting the Good Fight (v. 7). I’ve never been a fan of boxing, but I know that when the round is over they ring a bell and the winner is crowned. Paul said, “I’ve been in the ring a long time, but the bell is about to chime. I’ve fought the good fight.”
D. Finishing the Race (v. 7).
E. Keeping the Faith (v. 7). He means here that the same faith that has sustained him through life is sustaining him at death. The things he believed through the years are sound enough and wonderful enough to sustain him in his final days.
F. Awaiting the Crown (v. 8). Several different crowns are mentioned in Scripture as rewards for the believer, but this one is promised to those who are looking forward to seeing Jesus, who look into the sky and long for His coming, who know that the best think about dying is seeing the Lord face-to-face.
G. Rescued (v. 18). Paul says the Lord will rescue him from every evil attack. He’s like a man who is surrounded. On every side the enemy is advancing and there’s nowhere to run. But his rescue is imminent. This is the way he views death—as a rescue.
H. Brought Safely to the Heavenly Kingdom (v. 18). Having been rescued from the threat below, the Lord will bring Him safely to the heavenly kingdom. That’s the way he describes heaven—it is a kingdom, a heavenly kingdom.
Conclusion: So here in this paragraph, we have some good preparation for us should we learn we are dying, or should we learn we are not. Living or dying, we belong to the Lord, and there’s no need to fear for He knows how to rescue us from every evil attack to transport us safely into His heavenly kingdom.