Thursday, July 26, 2018

Reflections on Finishing well from Paul's Final Remarks in 2 Timothy 4:6-22.

Are you a destination person?  or a journey person? Are you all about getting there: achieving the goal or “the getting there”: all about the process.  

Today marks an end for our journey through both the book of 2 Timothy and the pastoral epistles. We’ve been looking at Paul’s letters to his co-workers, Christian leaders in difficult pastoral situations, to give us insight in what it means to be Christian leaders in our own time and our own place. The passage today gives us keys to evaluate where we are in life and to move on in maturity and ministry in Christ. 

We don’t know if Paul is a destination person or a journey person, Statistics tells us more people are more journey orientated, I personally find going on holiday that one of the best parts for me is the driving there, the open road, window down, wind blowing in my hair (well two out three ain’t bad) and this passage does not help us to answer that because Paul reflects both on the destination and the journey, the goal and the process to evaluate his life.

The context is Paul is in prison in Rome awaiting judgement. He had finished giving Timothy a charge to take up his ministry of preaching the word and doing the work of an evangelist in a world of seasons, he is passing on the baton to Timothy. Paul describes his pending death in two ways. The first is “He is being poured out like a drink offering”. A drink offering in the Old testament accompanied a sacrifice, to make a fragrant offering to God.  Secondly Paul sees his death as a departure. This word comes from the military and means the leaving of a naval vessel of an army unit on the order of its commander. Paul sees all his life under the sovereign control of God. We may not like thinking and speaking about death but its is comforting to know that just as we have put our trust in Christ that from beginning to end and on into eternity is in the trustworthy embrace of God’s plans and hands. 

In verse 8 and 9 Paul moves to assess his life. He uses four metaphors from the field of athletics to look at the journey, the getting there. In chapter 3:14 he started his final charge to Timothy  by presenting his own teaching and life as a model for Timothy, he finishes that charge with his life as an example. Just like we might look to a famous athlete for inspiration for our own sporting endeavours.  

He says I have “fought the good fight”, something he had already told Timothy to do. In the ancient Olympiad, competitors had to commit themselves to a nine-month period of training before they could compete, if they didn’t they wouldn’t win and the games would be of a lower standard. Athletes has to make a promise to fight the good fight keep the rules.  Paul is evaluating his life in terms of integrity. That his life, His actions, reactions and words line up with his beliefs. Throughout the pastorals Paul talks of sound doctrine and godly living going hand in hand. Godly living meant a life that reflected the God you worshipped. He had talked of faith, that invisible vertical relationship with God, having it outworking in love, visible horizontal relationships with other people and he sees that his life is an example of that for Timothy and for us. A key as we evaluate our lives is the idea of integrity. Do our lives and faith and beliefs line up?

“I have finished the course”. The tour de France is on at the moment, and each year the race follows a different course through France, some pieces are the same others are different, to win the race you have to stay on course, no short cuts, no detours or distractions or you may not finish. It’s the tour de France not a detour in France.  Paul looks back on his life and sees that he has been faithful to the mission and purpose he has. He has kept the course God had set him. He looks back to his conversion on the road to Damascus, and sees from there on he has been following Christ and Christ’s commission to be an apostle to the gentiles. He can look further and see that as a continuation of his life as a Jew, as the fulfilment of the hope of Israel. A key to evaluating our lives is meaning and purpose. Staying the course that Christ calls us to follow. 

“ I have kept the faith”. Scholars question whether this means that Paul has held on to the content of the faith, the sound doctrine and apostolic teaching, as opposed to the false teachers, or that he is talking of that invisible relationship with God, made possible in Christ. Either way paul is talking of being faithful: A consistent holding on to and guarding the values at the heart of his life. Are you keeping those central core values and beliefs? Are they sufficient like Pauls were for life? 

“Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness”. Paul can see the champions laurel which was placed on the head of the winner of the race. He can see the gold medal. It’s not that he sees he has made it by his own endeavours. The reward comes from Jesus the righteous judge. Paul is not setting himself up as some super athlete here, setting an unobtainable goal for the rest of us. In Romans Paul talks of righteousness as a gift given to us in Christ, we are made right with God through faith, made complete as he is with Christ. He finishes his evaluation by acknowledging that this reward is for all who long for, or put first, the kingdom of God. We too need to evaluate our journey and see how we are travelling, our integrity, our purpose and our core values are they aligned with Christ’s kingdom.

In verse 16-18 Paul evaluates his life in terms of the destination., instead of looking back at the way he has come he tells Timothy about where he is now. He has had a trial, at least a first hearing before the emperor or in the legal system. It is the last chapter of his life. He evaluates that last destination in terms of Jesus Christ. 

 Paul sees his present situation in light of Christ’s life and death. His friends deserting him at his trial, a reflection of Jesus trial. The imagery of God saving him from the lion’s mouth comes from Psalm 22 which from an early time was associated with Christ’s suffering and death. For Paul life was the Christ life and here he finds himself standing where Christ had stood. Christ had said if they rejected him and persecuted him, they would do the same for us. He had lives with integrity, purpose and faithfulness and even in this ignominious end Paul can see his destination is not in defeat but in Christ. 

 Paul knows Christ’s presence with him in that situation as well, Paul’s destination is with Christ. Both as he faces his final suffering but also trusting that Christ will bring him safely to his heavenly Kingdom. If psalm 22, which Jesus quoted on the opening line of on the cross “my god my god why have you forsaken me”, was on Paul’s mind as he wrote this, the fact that it is a psalm that finishes with a great affirmation of God salvation was also on Paul’s mind.

Paul sees that his destination is through Christ as well. That through Christ he has come to completing his mission of sharing the gospel to all gentile nations. Here was Paul able to proclaim the gospel in this trial, at the very centre and core of the gentile world, the very cosmopolitan nature of his audience at court may have made him realise that the message would go out to all peoples. In his news about his co-workers we also see that the gospel was going out to more and more places. He sees that Christ has allowed him to complete his mission. Through Christ he could trust that God would lead his safely through the last chapter as well to his heavenly kingdom.  

Paul finishes this section with a doxology, to Him, Christ, be glory for ever and ever amen. For Paul the destination is seen in bringing God glory. As we evaluate our lives we ask the question is that our focus, our desire. The destination not that we get the Glory but our lives will point people to Christ.

There is a third way to evaluate our lives, to put it in a very kiwi way that is ‘te tangata, te tangata, te tangata… it’s people, people, people. Leonard Sweet puts it like this 

“The real meaning of life is not a journey question or an arrival question. It’s a relationship question. Your journey and your destination are both important, but neither is possible without an answer to this prior question: who do you have with you?”

Paul’s final instructions to Timothy are full of information about and greetings from and for other people. Paul’s life and ours can be evaluated in people. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised by that as Paul in the pastorals talks again and again of faith that is worked out in love.

 Pauls list includes people whom he has invested time into and seen them grow and develop into ministry and maturity. His son in the Lord Timothy, who he wants to see once more. While Paul had said they all deserted him, Paul had sent out a lot of those people to further the gospel Titus whom we know a lot about and Erastus and Trophimus who we don’t and Crescens who is only mentioned in scripture here. Luke who stayed with Paul, and may have written this letter for Paul. Tychichus whom Paul sent to Ephesus, possibly with this letter and to be Timothy’s replacement.

Paul is aware that he had not succeeded with all people. He warns Timothy about Alexander the metalworker, who had done Paul great harm. Paul does not seem to bear a grudge here but as he has come to this stage in his life has simply left that in God’s hands. Always with the hope that there will be opportunity for grace. Demas, seems to have left Paul and gone home, because he loved this world more than the kingdom of God. But Paul does not write him off,  he probably has hope he will return. Paul asks Timothy to bring Mark to him, because he useful for his ministry, in Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas had gone their separate ways because Barnabas wanted to Take john mark with them and Paul didn’t think he was up to it as he had left them when the going got rough before. Now he is reconciled with Mark and there is hope for Demas.

 Paul also mentions people who have ministered to and with him. Pricilla and Aquilla, tent makers and fellow apostles who Paul had spent time with. The household of Onesiphorus is mentioned and at the beginning of the letter Paul had talked of  Onesiphorus refreshing his soul, and not being ashamed of Paul’s chains, but coming and finding him in Rome and ministering to him. The fact that his household only is mentioned may mean he had died. Paul asks Timothy to get his cloak, his warm outer garment, scrolls and parchment’s he had left with Carpas at Troas. Scholar wonder what was on the scroll and parchments, but they all agree to Paul’s being given hospitality by Carpas. While Paul’s mentor Barnabas is not mentioned in this passage the fact that Mark is shows he is still benefiting from Barnabas’ ministry. Paul finishes with the people he is simply enjoying fellowship with now, those in leadership like Eubulus, Prudens, Linus and Claudia and all the brothers and sisters.

As we evaluate our lives the riches part is in the relationships we have forged. Of people who have ministered to us and invested into our lives and the people we have invested into and seen grow and develop to take our place.

Are you a destination person or a journey person. Is it about the arriving or the getting there… I suspect that like Paul  its not either or, rather its  “both and” right and wrapped in the rich tapestry of people who Christ has bought into your life. Paul finishes with what could simply be seen as a formality, skipped over like the “yours sincerely” at the end of a form letter. But in the journey and the destination and the relationship here is the hope and promise and the thing that makes the journey possible. “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you all”. The abiding presence and undeserved favour of God shown in Christ’s life death and resurrection, in us and with us by the presence of the Holy spirit, to lead and to guide, the hope for the future, that it is with Christ. As we evaluate and walk through our lives this is what makes the journey possible, that empowers the finishing well the integrity, purpose and faithfulness, that allows us to trust it will be bought to fulfilment in Christ, and is behind the people ministering to us and whom we minister to.

Are you a destination or journey person… in the getting there, the arriving and the relationships along the way the grace of God be with you individually, and with us all as God’s people.

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