Finishing Strong

2 Timothy 4:6-22

August 26, 2023 | Brian Bill

Benjamin Franklin made this phrase popular: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”  Solomon said it like this in Ecclesiastes 7:2: Death is the destiny of every man; the living should take this to heart.”  While death is our destiny (if the Rapture doesn’t come first), most Americans are in denial about death, leaving it to hospitals and funeral homes and not for everyday conversation.

One noted psychologist offers this insight, “People find death a difficult topic to discuss as it usually brings up a lot of feelings: anxiety, fear, awkwardness, sadness.  We tend to pretend, as a culture, that it’s not going to happen.”

In order to keep death at a safe distance, we often use euphemisms for it.  A euphemism is a polite expression for an unpleasant reality, or a “good way to talk about a bad thing.”  One of my favorites is, “This car isn’t used…it’s pre-owned.”

I shared some euphemisms for death at the Men’s BBQ Wednesday night.  Passed away.

  • Bought the farm.
  • Passed over to the other side.
  • Croaked.
  • Kicked the bucket.
  • Met an untimely demise.
  • Pushing up the daisies.
  • Our departure.

Hebrews 9:27 says it clearly, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”

Let’s stand and read 2 Timothy 4:6-22.  

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up 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 loved his appearing.  Do your best to come to me soon. 10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. 12 Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. 

13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. 14 Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. 15 Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. 16 At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! 17 But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 

19 Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. 20 Erastus remained at Corinth, and I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus. 21 Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers. 22 The Lord be with your spirit.  Grace be with you. 

Once, John Wesley was asked to explain the courage of Christians.  His response was short and sweet, “Our people die well.”  I want to suggest in order to die well, we have to finish strong.  Here’s our main idea: Every follower of Christ must fight to finish well.  I see eight ways to finish well from Paul’s example.  

1. Live like you’re dying. 

We see this in verse 6: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.”  Even though Paul was still alive, he knew he was “already” dying.  He was certain that his time on earth was coming to an end.  His martyrdom was so certain, he spoke as if it had already begun.

The phrase “poured out” is sacrificial language and referred to the complete giving of a drink offering.  This is first pictured in Genesis 35:14 when Jacob poured out a drink offering before the Lord as a sacrifice.  More detail is given in Exodus 29:40: “And with the first lamb a tenth measure of fine flour mingled with a fourth of a hin of beaten oil, and a fourth of a hin of wine for a drink offering.”   All of the wine was gradually poured out as an offering, and it was the final act of the entire sacrificial ceremony.  This drink offering was a symbolic way of saying, “I gladly give all that I have to the Lord” and it pictured the gradual ebbing away of Paul’s life.  Paul came back to this theme often, as we see in Philippians 2:17: “Even if I’m about to be poured out as a drink offering.”

 The word “departure” was used in at least four ways.

    • It literally means, “an unloosing” as when a ship pulls up anchor and sails away.
    • It was used in a military sense of taking down the tents after a battle so soldiers could head home.
    • It referred to the taking off the chains of a prisoner so he could be free.
    • It pictured a man who was carrying a staggering burden to which someone would say, “My friend, lay your burden down.  It’s time to rest.”

When a believer dies, the cables that bind us to this life are loosened and we set sail for the shores of Heaven.  Paul called our bodies an earthly tent in 2 Corinthians 5:1. When we die, this earthly tent is taken down and we move into “an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.”  When we arrive in Heaven, we will be released from the shackles of sin and suffering, never to be imprisoned by them again.  On top of all that, our burdens will be lifted because we’ll finally be home.

When Christians die, they’re not really deceased; they’ve simply departed

Paul didn’t view his impending execution as a tragic ending, but as a triumphant new beginning.  In Philippians 1:21, he wrote, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  Paul’s attitude toward the present was one of readiness.  Write this down: When Christians die, they’re not really deceased; they’ve simply departed.

2. Give all you have while you’re still alive. 

We see this in verse 7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”  The words fought, finished, and kept are all actions which involve exertion.  One pastor friend says it like this: “If you’re not dead, you’re not done.”  

  • Live a disciplined life.  The word “fought” means to “contend or wrestle for victory.”  A fight implies a struggle against opposition.  Like a determined wrestler, Paul had been in the ring fighting valiantly for many years, facing trouble, persecution, afflictions, beatings, and imprisonment.  When Dietrich Bonhoeffer was asked why he took a public stand against Hitler, he remarked, “If Jesus returns tomorrow, then tomorrow I’ll rest from my labor.  But today I have work to do.  I must continue the struggle until it’s finished.”
  • Live a directional life.  To “finish” means Paul followed through and accomplished what was ahead of him.  Many years earlier, Paul stated his purpose in Acts 20:24: “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”   As he looked back on his life, he could say confidently that he finished his race because he kept his eyes locked on the finish line.  One pastor defines discipleship as “a long obedience in the same direction.” 
  • He lived a doctrinal life.  Paul didn’t compromise but instead kept the faith with conviction.  The word “kept” has the idea of guarding doctrine.  As we’ve been learning in this series, doctrine matters.  Paul said something similar to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:14: “By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” 

High in the Alps is a monument to honor a faithful guide who died while climbing a peak to rescue a tourist.  Inscribed on the stone are these words: “He died climbing.”  May that be said of each of us.

When Paul looked at his attitude in his present situation, he knew he was ready.  

When he assessed his past, he knew he had been as faithful as he could have been.

Every follower of Christ must fight to finish well.  

3. Focus on future glory. 

We see Paul’s focus on the future in verse 8: “Henceforth there is laid up 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 loved his appearing.”  The word “henceforth” can be translated as “finally.”  Because of the finished work of Christ and our faith in Him as the final sacrifice for sin, a “crown of righteousness” is awaiting us.  Crowns were given to the winners at the Greek Olympic Games.

Notice this crown of “righteousness” is not rewarded to us because of our work but is “awarded” to us a free, underserved, and guaranteed gift from the righteous judge.  As believers, we are declared righteous at conversion, and will enter our final righteous state in Heaven.  Nero may have declared Paul guilty but there will soon come a magnificent reversal of Nero’s verdict when the righteous Judge will award Paul the crown of righteousness.

Paul says he loves the “appearing” of Christ.  Another translation uses the phrase, “all who long for His appearing.”   Do you long for His appearing?  We get so caught up in this world that we forget we’re living here in order to prepare for life there.  

4. Be proactive and don’t procrastinate. 

Because Paul knew his death was near, in verse 9 he makes an urgent appeal to Timothy: “Do your best to come to me soon.”  Paul needed companionship, so he wanted Timothy to do all he could to come.  The word “soon” means, “speedily, quickly, and directly.”  He’s saying something like this, “Hurry up and get here.” We understand more about the reason for urgency in verse 21: “Do your best to come before winter.”  Boats didn’t travel in the winter months so there was a small window of time for Timothy to make the trip.  

We must realize there are windows of opportunity all around us every day.  If we don’t practice immediate obedience, they will close, and we’ll miss the opportunity and the blessing.  Don’t put off tomorrow what God wants you to do today.  Proverbs 19:24 contains a funny word picture, only it’s not very funny: “The sluggard buries his hand in the dish and will not even bring it back to his mouth.”  One of the recurring refrains I told our daughters when they were growing up was this: “If you don’t do it now, you’ll never do it.”  While this was often met with rolling eyes, they’ve incorporated this sense of urgency into their lives.

Every follower of Christ must fight to finish well.

5. Pour into people even if they turn on you. 

Have you ever thought about how much Paul loved people?  In this chapter alone, he lists 16 people by name.  In the final three letters he wrote, he named 34 people.  In the last chapter of Romans alone, he listed 29 people, even though he had never been to Rome when he wrote the letter!  Maybe he was Facebook friends with them.

Interestingly, Paul invested in people knowing some would fail him or bail on him.  Facing certain death, Paul still thought about others.  To us, this is just a list of names, but Paul and Timothy knew each individual well. 

  • Demas.  The first name he mentioned was Demas, who according to verse 10, was “in love with this present world.”  This literally means, “the now age.”  Because he lived only for his pleasure, Demas deserted Paul and went to Las Vegas, also known as Thessalonica.  In Philemon 24, Paul called him “a fellow worker.”  Listen.  If you love the world, you’ll eventually leave your first love.
  • Crescens.  He was a faithful co-laborer who was serving in Galatia.
  • Titus.  Titus was a faithful friend who was fulfilling a ministry assignment in Dalmatia (Yugoslavia) after serving as pastor on the island of Crete.
  • Luke.  In verse 11, Paul mentions, “Luke alone is with me.”  In Colossians 4:14, we see Luke was a faithful companion and was loved by Paul: “Luke the beloved physician greets you…”
  • Mark.  On the night before Jesus was crucified, Mark 14:51-52 gives us an autobiographical comment: “And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body.  And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.”  While Peter ended up denying Jesus, Mark ditched Him.  

Years later, Paul and his cousin Barnabas took Mark on a short-term mission’s trip.  When things got messy, Mark folded and ended up going back home.  This caused some conflict on the flight deck between Paul and Barnabas.  Barnabas gave him a second chance, but Paul was not willing to do so.  Later on, however, Paul chilled out and saw that God loves to redeem and restore those who fold on Him.  Check out this amazing statement from Paul in 2 Timothy 4:11: “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.”

Aren’t you glad that our past failures don’t disqualify us from following Christ?

Mark fled and he folded but because of God’s faithfulness, he got back up and followed Christ.  I find it interesting that Mark bailed, and Peter failed and yet both got back on mission.  Aren’t you glad that our past failures don’t disqualify us from following Christ?

  • Tychicus.  In verse 12, Paul said he “sent” him to Ephesus so Timothy could come for a visit.  Tychicus was with Paul during his first imprisonment (Ephesians 6:21-22) and had been entrusted with carrying letters to several churches.  
  • Carpus.  He opened his home to Paul when he was in Troas and took care of his possessions.
  • Alexander.  In verses 14-15, Paul warned Timothy about this guy: “Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds.  Beware of him yourself; for he strongly opposed our message.”  Paul had no tolerance for false teachers or for those who were in league with Satan.  In 1 Timothy 1:20, he wrote: “Among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.”
  • Prisca and Aquila.  The name “Prisca” is short for Priscilla.  This power couple stands out because they leveraged their marriage for ministry.  In Romans 16:3, Paul refers to them as “fellow workers in Christ Jesus.”
  • Onesiphorus.  According to 2 Timothy 1:16, Paul said about him, “he often refreshed me.”
  • Erastus.  In verse 20, we read Erastus “remained at Corinth,” where he served as city treasurer (Romans 16:23).
  • Trophimus.  We don’t know much about Trophimus but according to verse 20, because he was ill, he was left at Miletus.  While some teach that God wants everyone to be wealthy and healthy, he’s a good example of someone who was not healed.  I like what Charles Spurgeon writes: “It is the will of God that some good men should be in ill health.”
  • Eubulus and Pudens.  We don’t know anything about these guys.
  • Linus.  Tradition tells us he became the first bishop of Rome.  
  • Claudia.  She was known as a woman of faith.

Some of Paul’s friends were faithful.  Others bailed on him.  Some opposed him.  Others were simply unavailable.  And some were restored.  

There’s a risk in relationships, isn’t there?  C.S. Lewis said:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal.  Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements.  Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, and airless, it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.  To love is to be vulnerable.”

Option one: Protect your heart and it will become hardened.

Option two: Love others and end up being hurt.

Every follower of Christ must fight to finish well.   

6. Prioritize your possessions. 

According to verse 13, not only did people matter to Paul, so did a few of his possessions: “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.”

  • The cloak.  In those days the arresting soldiers could claim the garments of the one they arrested, so it’s likely that Paul gave his few possessions to a guy named Carpus for safekeeping.  The cloak was like a weighted blanket with a hole cut out for the head.  It might have looked like The Snuggie or a poncho.
  • The books.  Often translated as “rolls, scrolls, or volumes,” these books could have been various scrolls from the Hebrew Old Testament or maybe even some of his own writings.  According to Luke 4:17, this is what Jesus read from: “And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him.  He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written.”
  • The parchments.  These were made from animal skins and were used for writing.  I wonder if Paul was planning to write more letters to churches.

As I was reflecting on this, it seems like there’s been a loss of men reading books and writing letters in our culture.  Homes used to have a study area or a library and now we see the rise of “Man Caves.”  Paul was in a “martyr’s cave” and didn’t want a large screen TV.  Instead, he wanted to warm his body with his cloak and warm his soul with his books.

By the way, we see Paul’s needs here.  He was lonely, so he needed friends around him.  His body was cold, so he needed warm clothing.  His spirit was thirsty, so he needed Scripture.

7. Rely on the Lord for His strength. 

I often hear widows and widowers express how alone they feel.  Perhaps you’re single and you struggle with this as well.  Or, as you navigate some health challenges you find yourself feeling isolated as thoughts about your death fly through your mind.  Listen to how Paul described his situation in verses 16-18: “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me.  May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.  So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.  To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”  Remember, when you feel alone, you are not alone.

Even though others didn’t stand with him, Paul asked that “it not be charged against them.”  He learned from the Lord who said in Luke 23:34, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Stephen, the first martyr, said something similar in Acts 7:60: “And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’”

The Lord was with Paul so he could fully proclaim the gospel to Gentiles in that court setting.  He was rescued from the “lion’s mouth,” which could be a reference to Nero, or to Satan, or to literal lions.  The Lord rescued him and will bring him safely into the kingdom shortly.  For that, Paul gives him “glory forever and ever.”

He experienced what Corrie ten Boom knew to be true, “You may never know that JESUS is all you need, until JESUS is all you have.” 

8. Share a blessing with everyone you come across. 

Check out Paul’s last recorded words before he was martyred: “The Lord be with your spirit.  Grace be with you.”  In the first phrase, the word “your” is singular, meaning he’s focused on Timothy.  In the second phrase, the word “you” is plural, which means this letter is for everyone, including us.  Grace was the key word in Paul’s ministry.  He opened and closed his letters with it.

Here’s an application.  Whether you are talking to an individual or to a group of people, give a blessing.  Share about the Lord’s presence and talk about the Lord’s pleasure. 

I’m told there’s a tombstone in Indiana etched with these words:

Pause, Stranger, when you pass me by,

As you are now, so once was I.

As I am now, so you will be,

So, prepare for death and follow me.

An unknown passerby scratched this reply:

To follow you I’m not content,

Until I know which way you went.

Which way will you go when you die?  

Listen to the words of Jesus found in John 11:25-26: “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.  Do you believe this?”

Action Steps

  1. Repent, believe, and receive Christ before it’s too late.  Trust Jesus as your Savior and Lord right now.
  2. If you’re a Christian, you cannot coast.  Lots of people flame out because they stop taking their faith walk seriously.  You won’t coast into Christlikeness because spiritual growth is intentional, not automatic.  Fight the fight.  Finish the race.  Keep the faith.
  3. Obey what God is calling you to do today.  Is there a person you need to call?  Is there a decision you need to make?  Is there someone sick who is whispering, “Please come before winter?”
  4. Get to know people on a deeper level.  Work at remembering names.  Don’t disconnect.  
  5. Find a support group. 

As we wrap up this series called, “Standing Firm,” please stand and receive this combined benediction from verse 22 and verse 18: “The Lord be with your spirit.  Grace be with you…to Him be the glory forever and ever.  Amen.”

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?