2 Timothy: Last Words

Introduction – Famous Last Words

Last week, I got onto Google, and I searched for “last words.”
And I found some things that people said just before they died.
 
Some websites have “famous last words” that are funny jokes:
 
“Yes, the inside of your shotgun is very clean… What does this button do?”
bang! – the last words of a very silly person
“Nice doggy.”
 
And here was my favourite one, maybe from somebody in hospital:
“And now that I’m running my life support equipment through Windows 95, I’ll never have to worry about– beeeeeeeep…”
– the computer crashed, and they died
 
that probably didn’t really happen!
I also found some serious websites with the last words of people who were killed like criminals.
Most of these were true.
It was interesting to see what people were thinking about when they knew they were about to die.
Here are four different groups of people that I noticed:
 
1: some were swearing, angry – maybe they were afraid.
 
2: some were being funny, making jokes.[1]
 
3: some people were thinking about the people they will leave behind: their friends and family.
Maybe saying goodbye to their children.
 
4: some people knew they were dying for something bigger than themselves.
There was a soldier who had been captured and was shot by the enemy.
he said “I am proud to die for my country.”
 
When somebody believes in something so much that they die for it, that can touch our hearts.
 

Paul and Timothy

so why have I been looking at these websites about “last words”?
Today we are going to look at the last words of a man in the Bible called Paul
earlier this year, we read from the book of Acts in the Bible.
Acts tells the story of how Paul traveled around many countries, and many cities, telling people about Jesus
people became Christians, and in the Bible we have a lot of letters that Paul wrote to the new churches
 
today, we are looking at the last letter Paul wrote, 2 Timothy.
 
When he wrote this letter, Paul was in Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, in Italy today.
The time was somewhere around 64 A.D.
the Roman emperor then was called Nero
He was a little bit crazy, and hated Christians.
 
He put many in prison – one was Paul.
Paul was locked up, tied with a chain so he couldn’t run away (1:16, 2:9).
I visited Rome, and I saw the Mamertine prison.
this is maybe where Paul was
it is small and dark – there were no windows or doors, just a hole in the roof.
Probably quite wet and cold.
Not very comfortable.
 
Emperor Nero killed a lot of Christians, and Paul knew he was going to die very soon.
Maybe the next year, a Roman soldier would cut off his head with a sword.
If he was in the United States today, we would say he was on death row.
 
This letter of 2 Timothy is the last thing we have that Paul wrote – it is Paul’s last words.
Remember those four groups of people about to die:
angry, funny, saying goodbye, proud to die for something bigger.
Which is Paul most like?
I don’t think Paul is angry or afraid.
Sometimes Paul uses strong language, but he’s not really being funny
 
Paul is more like the third group:
he is thinking about the people he will leave behind – his spiritual children.
Especially Paul was thinking about his friend Timothy
Timothy was a leader of the early church.
Timothy was a lot younger than Paul – maybe in his 30s like me.
But they were very close.
Have you had a really good friend and you cried when they went away?
Paul remembers how Timothy cried the last time they saw each other and said goodbye (1:4)
 
There in prison, Paul was lonely – nearly everyone has left him (1:15, 4:16)
so he wrote this letter to Timothy and said:
please come and visit me before I die.  (1:4, 4:9)
and please bring my coat, because I’m cold here in prison (4:13)
 
Have you ever been at work, and your boss was away for the day?
So it’s like you are the boss, you have to make the decisions,
there is no one to help or tell you what to do?
– scary!
It was like that for Timothy
once Paul died, Timothy would be in charge, he would have to lead the churches like Paul did
and Timothy was quite shy.  He was afraid, he was not very confident.
 
So Paul wrote this letter to encourage Timothy,
encourage means to give someone strength.
Paul wrote “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”  (1:7).
I am a bit like Timothy – I am often quite fearful and afraid.
So this verse has often helped me!
 
Paul was also like the fourth group of “last words”.
He knew that he was dying for something bigger than himself
like that soldier, he was proud to die for Jesus.
Paul didn’t really care if he died, as long as the good news about Jesus would carry on
so in this letter he tells Timothy:
Don’t be afraid or ashamed.
Just keep on telling people the message about Jesus.[2]
 
Let’s read now, some of what Paul wrote to Timothy.
Imagine Paul sitting there in the dark prison, trying to keep warm.
Maybe watching the rats running around.
Writing to his friend.
2 Timothy 2:1-9.                       
 
Timothy, my dear son, be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus. 2 You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.
 
 3 Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4 Soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them. 5 And athletes cannot win the prize unless they follow the rules. 6 And hardworking farmers should be the first to enjoy the fruit of their labor. 7 Think about what I am saying. The Lord will help you understand all these things.
 
 8 Always remember that Jesus Christ, a descendant of King David, was raised from the dead. This is the Good News I preach. 9 And because I preach this Good News, I am suffering and have been chained like a criminal. But the word of God cannot be chained.
 
Those first verses are really the message of this letter
Paul encourages Timothy
he says, “be strong” – strong in Christ Jesus
Remember what I taught you about Jesus
Pass these things on to other Christians, who can teach even more people
 
and then, maybe Paul looked back over his life.
And he says, here’s three pictures of what the Christian life is like.
Being a Christian is like being a soldier in a fight.
or a runner in a race.
or a hard-working farmer in the field.
Let’s have a look at these three pictures now.
 

The Fight

Paul is like an old soldier, sitting in the prison and thinking about all the battles he has fought
look here on my arm – here is the scar from a bullet – that was close!
 
Paul says, here on my back you can see the scars from when I was whipped.
here are bruises from the times people attacked me and punched me and threw stones at me
 
Yes Timothy, the Christian life is a battle.
It is not comfortable or easy.
Good soldiers have to endure suffering (2:3).
Endurance is when we have to do something that is difficult and hard and painful.
We don’t like it, we want to run away, we want to give up.
But we keep on going.
Timothy, says Paul, you must keep on going, and endure suffering like I have.
 
Then Paul says, “soldiers don’t get tied up in the affairs of civilian life.”  (2:4).
Civilian life means everyday, normal life.
There are lots of ways we can spend our free time.
We can go to the movies, or play sport, or talk to our friends.
These are not bad things to do.
But the Christian has to remember, that there is a war on.
A war, a battle, between good and evil, between light and darkness.
There are people and things that hate the message about Jesus and fight against it (3:1-8, 12).
Christians are called to be soldiers of Jesus in this fight.
 
So Paul is saying, don’t get distracted.
Don’t get tangled or tied up.
Don’t be like a sheep with its wool tangled in thorns, so it cannot move.
Or like a bad soldier who tryies to draw his sword, but it gets tangled up in his clothes
Timothy, don’t waste your time and energy in things that don’t really matter.
 
a month or so ago, we heard about the armour of God in another letter of Paul.
He told us to put on God’s armour, like the belt of truth, the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation (Ephesians 6:10-70).[3]
 
With this armour from God, Christians can win the fight.
But soldiers don’t just want to win for themselves,
they also want to “please the officer who enlisted them” (2:4)
this means the army officer who said, “yes, you can join the army and be a soldier.”
Good soldiers always obey the orders of their commander, so he will be happy with them.
For the Christian soldier like Paul, the biggest aim in life, his goal, his purpose, is to please God.
 

The Race

Paul’s second picture for the Christian life is running a race, like in the Olympic Games.[4]
 
Has anybody here run a marathon – 42 km?
I have run two half marathons.
I had to do a lot of training to get fit.
Some days I felt tired, I couldn’t really be bothered.
I looked outside- it looks cold, maybe it will rain.
And I’ve got so much work to do.
maybe I just won’t go today…
But I had to make myself put on my running shoes and shorts and shirt and go outside and run.
 
In long-distance running, even when your legs are sore, you’re out of breath, you feel so tired,
you just have to keep on going.
That’s what the Christian life is like – endurance.[5]
 
Athletes who compete in the Olympic Games work even harder.
They go to the gym every day – doing weights and training.
They are very careful what they eat – no junk food.
And, Paul says here, athletes have to keep the rules.
Imagine you are running around a racetrack.
You can’t just say, it’s too hard, I’ll take a shortcut.
Or else you will be out of the race.
 
Why do athletes work so hard?
Because they want to win!
They want to get the prize. 
They want to stand there, hear their national anthem and have a gold medal hanging around their neck.
In Paul’s time, the winner got a crown – a wreath of leafs on their head.[6]
The Greek word is stephanos – it gives us the name Stephen.
 
In another letter, Paul says it is good to be physically fit, and to win a crown of leaves, or a gold medal today.
But it is more important to be spiritually fit.
And it’s better to win the race of life.
A crown of leaves won’t last.  People will forget your gold medal, or you might lose it.
But the crown from God will last for ever.[7]
 
One of the main ways that God trains us to be spiritually fit and strong is through the Bible.
Earlier on, Paul called it the sword of the spirit (Ephesians 6:17)
Paul writes to Timothy:
All of the Bible comes from God, and is useful for teaching us, showing us what is wrong in our lives, correcting us and training us to do what is right.
God uses the Bible to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
 
Once Paul has died, Timothy won’t be able to ask him what to do,
but he will still have the Bible to give him God’s instructions.
That’s why it’s so important that we read the Bible and study it and do what it says.
 

The Farm

Paul’s third picture of the Christian life is being a farmer.[8]
Like a soldier or a runner, again it is hard work – it takes endurance.
Farmers get up early every morning and go out to work in the fields.
 
but I think there is another important thing about farming.
The farmer works hard, but also has to wait (James 5:7)
 
We can dig the ground, plant the seeds, pull up the weeds
but only God can make the sun shine, and the rain fall.
Only God can make the seeds actually grow into a plant (1 Corinthians 3:6-9)
 
this is the idea of grace.
It may be Paul’s favourite word.[9]
Grace means God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
Grace means God gives us good things that we do not deserve
 
God saved us and called us to live a holy life.
He did this, not because of anything we have done, not because we deserved it,
but because that was his plan … to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 1:9
 
this is the good news of the Christian message
sometimes hard things happen in life that are too big for me
there seems no way I can fight the enemy.
I am afraid, I am a bad soldier.
Sometimes, I am too tired to run, I fall over, maybe all I can do is crawl.
 
But if I trust God, it doesn’t really matter that much
because when I can’t fight, God fights for me.
When I cannot run any more myself, God picks me up and runs with me.
That is God’s grace
That is the freedom of the Christian life.
It doesn’t all depend on me being good enough, or fighting well enough or running hard enough.
 

Martial Arts and Movies

A Chinese friend told me that the verses about fighting as a soldier and training as an athlete use Chinese words from martial arts.
So the Christian life is like karate, or kung fu, or ju-jitsu, or tae kwon do!
A bit like those Shao Lin fighting Buddhist monks.
– at the Chinese Lantern Festival.
Martial arts like these combine Paul’s picture of the soldier and the athlete.
Endurance, training, respect and obey your teacher.
And, by God’s grace, we can become “spiritual black belts”.
 
This reminded me of some famous movies in the 1980s.
– hopefully that doesn’t mean I’m too old!
Who saw “The Karate Kid” (1984)? 
 
In The Karate Kid, there is a teenager guy Daniel, who is beaten up by some bad guys.
But then he meets an old Japanese man Mr Miyagi.
He is a master at karate, and teaches him his skills. 
Maybe a little bit like the old black belt master Paul training his young friend Timothy.
 
Who saw some of the Star Wars movies?
Remember that funny little guy Yoda?
He’s a Jedi master of the force. 
He is old and tired, and passes on his training to a young hero called Luke Skywalker.
then Yoda himself dies – a sad moment in the movie.
I guess Luke felt a bit like Timothy did about Paul.
His teacher and friend was gone.
Now, it was up to him to carry on the good fight.  Scary stuff.
 
Let’s finish now by reading from chapter 4 – almost the last words of Paul’s last letter:
2 Timothy 4:6-8
 
As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing.
 
Paul has given his life for Jesus, poured it out as an offering to God.[10] 
Fighting, training, running, farming, suffering for Jesus – it has been hard
but it’s worth it!
He has come to the finishing line of the race,
now God will give him the crown, the gold medal.
He has fought hard to please Jesus, and soon Jesus will say to him,
“well done, my good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21-23)
 
Paul is about to die, but he’s not afraid.[11]
he knows that Jesus has defeated death (1:10).
Jesus was killed on the cross, but he came back to life (2:8)
Paul knows that if we die with Jesus, we will also live with him (2:11)
 
The last few weeks I’ve been reading 2 Timothy and thinking about Paul’s last words.
I’ve found it encouraging, and also challenging – it makes me think about my life.
When he was about to die, Paul said
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have been faithful to Jesus.”
When I am at the end of my life, will I be able to say that too?
It’s a good question to ask ourselves.
I hope I will be able to say Paul’s last words for myself.
and I hope you will all be able to say them too.
 
Let us throw off everything that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily tangles and trips us up. Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus. 
Hebrews 12:1-2
 

Questions – “Last Words”

Who is like Paul to you – an older friend, who helps you?
What’s the most important thing they taught you?
 
How did Paul describe the Christian life?
What was Paul’s goal – what prize or “crown” did he want to win?
 
What is your aim in life?
Are you fighting for it, training and running hard like Paul?
 
What were Paul’s “last words”?  What was he thinking at the end of his life?
What do you want your “last words” to be? 
What will you leave behind, and where will you go, when you die?


[1] A man called James French was killed in the electric chair about 1966.  There were newspaper reporters there, so his last words were: “Hey, fellas! How about this for a headline for tomorrow’s paper? ‘French Fries’!”
[2] One commentary saw in 2 Timothy a fourfold charge: chapter 1-guard the gospel (1:14); chapter 2 -suffer for the gospel; chapter 3-continue in the gospel (3:14); chapter 4-proclaim the gospel (4:1-2).
[3] Paul often uses the picture of the Christian as a soldier. See also 2 Corinthians 6:7-weapons of righteousness in the right hand and the left; 2 Corinthians 10:4-God’s mighty weapons to knock down strongholds; Colossians 4:12-Epaphras wrestling in prayer.
[4] See also 1 Corinthians 9:4-27-running to win the prize, disciplining himself like an athlete so he won’t be disqualified; Galatians 5:7-you were running a good race; Philippians 3:14-forgetting what is behind, straining to what is ahead, pressing on towards the goal to win the prize; Acts 20:24-Paul tells the Ephesian elders his life is of no value to him, if only he may finish his course/race.
[5] Paul’s word for an athlete trying as hard as they can is the same as our word “agony”-something that hurts a lot.
[6] If you are a student at university, a little bit like getting the cap at your graduation after long years of study.
[7] 1 Corinthians 9:25; 1 Timothy 4:8.  see also James 1:12-those who persevere will win the crown of life that God promised to those who love him; 1 Peter 5:4-the crown of glory that never fades; Revelation 2:10-be faithful to death and receive the crown of life.
[8] See also Galatians 6:7-9-reap what you sow; 1 Corinthians 9:7-12, 15:37-38.
[9] Paul starts and ends most of his letters with the word “grace”.  2 Timothy 1:2; 4:22.
[10] Apparently, in a Chinese temple you sometimes pour out drink as an offering to the ancestors.  See Exodus 29:38-42; Leviticus 23:13; Numbers 15:5, 28:7; Philippians 2:17.
[11] the Greek word for “departure” is analusis, which could be used for unyoking an animal from a cart or plough; casting off the ropes for a ship to set sail; a soldier pulling up the stakes and guy ropes of his tent, ready to march forth; the chains of a prisoner being released.  The verb is in Philippians 1:23 – to depart and be with Christ.

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