Paul’s Last Words

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. –Jesus of Nazareth

PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)

“Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”

SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
Psalm 66:1-11
2 Timothy 2:8-19
Luke 17:11-19

PRAYER FOCUS: Paul’s Last Words

If you knew you were about to die, what would you say to those you loved?

Certainly you would tell them you loved them. But what else would you say? If you had time to write a letter, what sort of written legacy would you want to leave behind?

The book of 2nd Timothy is such a letter. The Apostle Paul had been arrested for a second time and taken to Rome under the rule of Emperor Nero. Unlike his first arrest, when he was confined to the house of a wealthy friend and kept in relative comfort, this time Paul had been cast into a cold, dark dungeon. He was kept in chains. He was alone. And he knew he was going to die.

Paul’s last known epistle was written to his young protégé in ministry and evangelism. It is packed full of instructions and admonitions that you would expect from a teacher to his student. It is also full of love and encouragement, from a father to his son. He encourages Timothy to be strengthened by grace, and not to be ashamed of him because he is in chains. He encourages Timothy to endure hardship as a good soldier, and not to be afraid of suffering for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

But we get to the heart of Paul’s message in Chapter Two. Of all the lessons Paul has taught Timothy, of all the words in all the times in all their travels, Paul settles on five main points. As we walk through these, please remember that Paul knew these were the last words—and perhaps the most important—he would ever write to his beloved student and son.

1. Always remember that Jesus Christ, a descendant of King David, was raised from the dead (v.8).

Timothy, never let Jesus Christ be far from your mind. Remember Jesus, the one you serve, and the one for whom you suffer. He is alive and he will reign forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. No matter what they do to you, do not be afraid.

2. Because I preach this Good News, I am suffering and have been chained like a criminal. But the word of God cannot be chained (v.9).

I am suffering. I am in chains. I’m being treated like a criminal—not as one who is honorable or noble. Timothy, this can happen to you. Even if you are bound in chains, remember the Word of God can never be bound. It is only advanced by our suffering.

3. So I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen (v. 10).

I speak this to you in confidence: God has chosen you to follow Jesus as I have done. Victory is certain. My sufferings have not been in vain, nor will yours be. Endure it and you will be the instrument of their salvation.

4. This is a trustworthy saying: “If we die with him, we will also live with him. If we endure hardship, we will reign with him. If we deny him, he will deny us. If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is” (vv. 11-13).

You can trust God’s grace. Build your life and ministry on it. It is sufficient for all your needs. He will always be faithful to you.

5. Remind everyone about these things, and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them. Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth. Avoid worthless, foolish talk that only leads to more godless behavior. This kind of talk spreads like cancer. God’s truth stands firm like a foundation stone with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and “All who belong to the Lord must turn away from evil” (vv. 14-17, 19).

Timothy, my son, ministry is messy. Sometimes people will not want to receive the truth, but you give it to them anyway. And don’t let anyone twist the truth! False teachers are like cancer—cut them out without apology. The Lord has set his seal upon his children; see that they turn away from evil.

Paul goes on to prophesy about the Last Days (chap. 3), then charges Timothy “to keep your head in all situations…do the work of an evangelist, discharge the duties of your ministry” (2 Tim 4:5). He asks Timothy to “come quickly,” and to “bring my cloak,” knowing they will probably not arrive in time. Paul closes with a hopeful farewell, written as much to the church as to Timothy:

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 (2 Tim 4:7-8).

In this week’s Lectionary Prayer, we pray that God’s grace will precede us and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works. As Paul taught Timothy, you, too, can expect resistance. As Paul taught Timothy, endure it. Remember Paul’s last words.

It’s Monday Morning. Press on confidently and courageously in your good works, dear Christian, always towards the prize that awaits you at the finish line. And may our gracious, loving Father-God bless you every step of the way.

[TMP Note: the above is partially adapted from a sermon by John Piper, “He Cannot Deny Himself” (www.desiringgod.org)]

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