with Tony W. Cartledge
2 Timothy 4:6-18
Teachers: Scroll down for teaching materials.
Finish the Race
Have you ever contemplated what it might be like to know that your death is near, but conscious enough to reflect on the life you have lived, the choices you’ve made, the things you have done? How do you think that might go? Would you feel satisfied with the way you have lived toward others and toward God? In a course on “The Ministry of Writing,” I ask students to write their own obituary. The exercise can prove to be both challenging and soul-searching.
As Paul brought the letter of 2 Timothy to a close, he appeared to believe that his days were short. Paul wrote from prison, probably in Rome, knowing that he could be executed at any time. Evidently he hoped to live until winter, since he asked Timothy to bring his outer cloak, but Paul’s instructions to Timothy were clearly colored by reflections on his own life and discipleship.
Finishing the race(vv. 6-8)
“As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come,” Paul said in v. 6. The imagery of a libation reflects a worship service in which drink offerings were poured out on the altar as a sacrifice to God (Num. 15:5, 7, 10; 28:7; Phil. 2:17). Paul may have thought metaphorically of how he had poured out his life in sacrificial service to God, or he may have pictured his own blood being poured out. Prisoners in Rome were sometimes executed by beheading, and an old church tradition claims that Paul died that way.
Paul seemed ready to die — not eager for it, but prepared, aware that he had done what he could do: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (v. 7). As in 1 Tim. 6:12, “fighting the good fight” is not about physical combat, but unswerving effort. The term typically described one’s striving in athletic events such as wrestling or running. While “fight the good fight” has a nice ring, the image of pressing on through a marathon is more appropriate, for Paul added, “I have finished the race.”
Like a good athlete, Paul had prepared himself well, given his very best effort to the contest, and finished strong. Modern athletes, given to coach-induced hyperbole, often speak of “giving 110 percent.” Paul did not claim to have given more than physically possible, but said he had given his all. He had kept the faith, living out the calling of God to him. In Phil. 3:13-14, Paul spoke of straining toward the mark as he sought to follow God’s call. In 2 Timothy, he sensed that the race was nearly over. He had kept the faith and finished well.
In Paul’s day, victorious runners were rewarded with a wreath woven of branches and leaves from a plant sacred to the host city’s patron god. Paul expected to receive a crown, too — not a leafy wreath, but a “crown of righteousness” to be awarded by “the Lord, the righteous judge” (v. 8). Unlike the ancient games in which only the victor received a reward, however (no silver or bronze medals), Paul said the crown of righteousness awaits “all who have longed for his appearing.” The apostle did not have in mind a physical crown, of course, but the unfading prize of eternal life, available to all who trust in Christ.
Needing friends(vv. 9-15)
In v. 9, Paul moved from musing about his coming death to giving practical instructions regarding Timothy’s approaching visit, which he hoped would take place quickly.
What was the urgency? Perhaps Paul simply longed to see Timothy and hoped to see him soon. Perhaps he was anxious for Timothy to arrive before his execution date. More practically, since he also begged Timothy to come before winter (when travel was very limited), he was concerned about delivery of the heavy cloak he had left in Troas: he could expect little heat in a Roman cell.
A more immediate cause was isolation (v. 10). Most of Paul’s friends had either deserted him or left for other ministry assignments. We don’t know what caused Demas to leave. Paul called him a “fellow worker” in Philemon 24, but here accuses him of desertion “because he loved this world.” Perhaps Demas was afraid that he would also be in danger if he remained with Paul. Or, he may have given higher priority to family or business interests in Thessalonica.
Others had also gone, though more likely on ministry-related errands. Crescens, who had gone to Galatia, appears only in this verse. Paul had often mentioned Titus as a companion in ministry (2 Cor. 2:13; 7:6, 13-14; 8:6, 16, 23; 12:18; Gal. 2:1, 3). A letter to Titus, which purports to be from Paul, is one of the Pastoral Epistles. Titus had gone to Dalmatia, a mountainous country on the eastern shore of the Adriatic, part of present-day Croatia. Paul had preached in that region (Rom. 15:9), so Titus may have gone to visit the churches.
Paul said he had sent Tychicus — who probably delivered the letter — to Ephesus, perhaps to take Timothy’s place: 1 Tim. 1:3 says that Paul had urged him to remain in Ephesus to confront false teachers and uphold the true gospel (v. 12). Luke, a constant companion known from Acts, Col. 4:14, and Phil. 24, seems to have been the only friend Paul had left (v. 11).
Paul’s request that Timothy bring Mark with him is a bit surprising, because Mark and Paul had become estranged after Mark failed to finish Paul’s first missionary journey (Acts 13:13, 15:36-41). They must have been reconciled, for Paul added “he is helpful to me in my ministry.”
Paul also asked for material goods. We have previously mentioned the cloak, a winter garment he had left behind in Troas. Paul particularly asked for “my books, especially the parchments” (v. 13).
The word translated as “books” (KJV, ESV, NASB, NRSV) or “scrolls” (NIV, NJB) is biblion, the Greek root of the English word “bibliography” and “Bible.” The word was commonly used to describe scrolls made from long sheets of parchment or papyrus that were rolled up for storage. Perhaps Paul had copies of the Pentateuch or other Old Testament writings.
Paul expressed special interest in his “parchments.” Parchment was made of specially prepared animal skin, and was more durable than papyrus. We don’t know if all of the scrolls and parchments contained writing, or if Paul was in need of additional supplies for his ministry of writing letters to churches and individuals. The latter was something he could do even while imprisoned, but not without supplies.
As he urged Timothy to make preparations for his coming journey, Paul reminded him to be on guard against a particular opponent of the gospel, a coppersmith named Alexander who Paul said “did me a great deal of harm” (v. 14). We don’t know any specifics about Alexander’s identity or offense (see “The Hardest Question” online for more).
In 1 Tim. 1:20, Paul had spoken of Hymenaeus and Alexander as two men who had deserted the faith, and whom Paul had “handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.” We can only speculate whether this was the Alexander who caused Paul such harm, but Timothy would have known him, and Paul wanted the young minister to be on guard.
Trusting in God(vv. 16-18)
Perhaps the thought of Alexander’s opposition caused Paul to remember the opening stages of an earlier trial, when no one came to his defense. “Everyone deserted me,” he said (v. 16a). This may refer to the events of Acts 23-24, when Paul was arrested in Jerusalem by temple authorities and quickly escorted to the governor’s palace in Caesarea Maritima to stand trial before Felix.
In either case, we have no information about who might have deserted Paul. Whether it was then or another time, Paul spoke with grace: “may it not be held against them” (v. 16b). As Jesus asked forgiveness for those who crucified him, not knowing what they were doing, so Paul asked God to forgive those who had deserted him in his hour of need.
Though human friends had left him, Paul said, “the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength” (v. 17a). God strengthened Paul, not only that he might endure personally, but that he might continue proclaiming the gospel message and encouraging others in their ministries, so that “all the Gentiles might hear it.”
What does Paul mean by “And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth”? (v. 17b). It may suggest that he was released from prison, at least for a time. Whether Paul had in mind the threat of being fed to the lions in the Coliseum, or was using the phrase as a metaphor, he had escaped some sort of danger.
Even so, his life had again come under threat. Paul did not expect God to save him from every earthly danger, but he did trust God for ultimate deliverance. “The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will save me for his heavenly kingdom,” he said (v. 18). Even if Paul should fall to the executioner’s sword, he believed God would be standing by to usher him safely to an eternal home. Perhaps it was a reminder of eternity that led Paul to offer the benediction “To him be glory for ever and ever, Amen.”
Adult Teaching Resources
Download the PDF for October 23, 2016 teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide, Digging Deeper, and Hardest Question pages.
Read Scripture online: 2 Timothy 4:6-18
“How do you want to be remembered?” It’s a question that comes up when some big event is about to happen. You can hear it in the locker room before a big game. You can hear it before someone is about to give a speech. The question is used to inspire people during big moments in life. But we should also remember this question in our everyday lives as well. We remember people not only in the big moments but in the everyday moments as well. You will have more everyday moments with your children than you do big moments. How you interact and react to your children during these times will set the tone for when the big moments come. How do you want to be remembered in the big and the everyday moments?
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“You’re a Great Dog” from Marley & Me via www.youtube.com
Read Scripture online: 2 Timothy 4:6-18
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