People who study human behaviour discovered a long time ago how important it is to be relational. Without interaction with other humans, we die. It’s literally fatal. We need community.
- In the Kop, in the pub, at the bowling green.
- Walking groups, craft societies, record collectors and jigsaw enthusiasts – we gather together in community.
We then praise those things that we come together over. Because, at heart, we’re designed to gather together to worship. And not to worship things, but to worship our Creator.
Here, at the end of 2 Timothy, we see how that need for friendships and people affected even the apostle Paul.
You need help!
Not (necessarily) psychiatric help, but if the apostle Paul needed other people then so do you. As you read through 2 Timothy 4:9-22, there a plenty of names. To Paul, they were real people he knew.
Paul was in prison in Rome and obviously feeling isolated. He lists quite a few who had left him:
- Demas was a real disappointment. He deserted Paul “because he loves the things of this life.”
- Crescens went to Galatia and Titus to Dalmatia – probably on mission, establishing new churches.
- Paul sent Tychicus to Ephesus, the town where Timothy was based as a pastor.
- Erastus is in Corinth (v20), and Trophimus was left sick in Miletus.
Paul was grateful that Luke, at least, was still with him. (That’s the Luke who wrote Luke’s gospel and Acts.)
Is Paul a one-man-band? A solo-missionary? No, he always conducted himself as part of a missionary / ministry team. So he felt the loss of his co-workers keenly.
So the final verses begin with an appeal to Timothy: “please come as soon as you can.” This might explain why Tychicus was sent to Ephesus – both to carry this letter to Timothy and then to take over from him in the church, so that Timothy could go to Rome.
There’s a lovely mention of Mark: “Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me in my ministry.” It’s lovely because Mark had earlier been a dead loss! In Acts 13, Mark had gone with Paul and Barnabas on a missionary journey, but he abandoned them half way round. Later, Barnabas wanted to take him on another missionary trip but Paul said no. They had a massive falling out and ended up going in different directions.
But Paul wrote to Corinth, “Love keeps no record of wrongs.” For Paul to ask specifically for Mark to come to him is prime example of someone not only saying they forgive, but displaying it in how they behave towards that person.
Long-term long-distance friendships
In v19, Paul says “give my greetings to…” and then passes on greetings from others in v21.
There are long-term, long-distance, warm friendships here. Paul knew what it was to be relational and to maintain those relationships.
- You need help. None of us is an island.
- You need others praying for you. You must be praying for others (and knowing them well enough to know what to pray for).
- Pray for elders here. We have deacons, and I’m the only elder. The NT model is to have a plurality of elders; pray the Lord would send or grow them here.
What’s also clear from passages like this is the degree of partnership that took place between churches – not just at the church leader level, but throughout the churches. The Wirral Gospel Partnership is a biblical idea, not an optional extra that you don’t need to bother with.
And just as these friendships are personal, attacks are too. So Paul has to warn Timothy about Alexander the coppersmith (in v14-15). If our thoughts about church and being a Christian are only in our heads, and not affecting our relationships, we’re not being biblical.
So: Work at your friendships. And not just with other Christians. You’re made to be in community with others. Lockdown was hard.
You need help; be relational. Spend time with others (e.g. eat with them).
Because others need you too.
Take care of your soul
In the Bible, you won’t find clear definitions of body, soul and spirit. But very often, the word translated “soul” actually means your whole self – your physical body, and the spiritual “you”.
That matters because you need to see yourself as a “whole” – not only physical nor only spiritual.
There’s a lovely coming together of this in 2 Timothy 4:13.
Paul is an old man in prison. Winter is coming (v21). He asks for a particular coat to be brought. He knows he needs to care for his body as much as anything else.
I heard a woman on the radio a few years ago saying something similar:
- She had a terminal brain tumour; she had weeks/months left.
- She’d ignored headaches and just taken pain killers, expecting to shake it off and get better.
- When the interviewer asked her if she’d live her life differently given the chance, she said that she wished she’d listened to her body more.
- She said we think of ourselves as minds, as thinkers, transported in a body. But our body is as much a part of what makes you you as any part of your personality.
As a Christian, your eternity will be physical. In an actual body. Not floating on a cloud; you’ll walk on the new earth. Take care of your body: Listen to it. Watch your weight; keep as active as you can. And your aches and pains are a reminder that a new body awaits!
But Paul wants more than his coat, he asks Timothy to bring his “books, and especially [his] papers” (scrolls, and especially the parchments). We can’t know what was on them. The books/scrolls may well have been Scriptures or something purchased. The papers/parchments were probably his own notes, his meditations on Scriptures, his prayer thoughts.
Why did he want them? He knew he’d be dead soon, so why “waste” his last days reading? Was he just bored in prison? We saw last time he wrote (3:15) the holy Scriptures… [give] you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus.
- We were thinking last Sunday evening how the Bible is the communication of Christ to you, represented and enlivened to you by the Holy Spirit.
- The Apostle Paul, an old man in prison, wanted to engage with Christ as revealed in Scripture.
- This letter is probably the latest one we have. He’d written Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Ephesians etc, and at the end of his life he remained a disciple.
There’s no age limit to reading. You are always a disciple. You will always benefit from meditating, thinking about Christ as revealed in the Bible.
You might say, “I’m too old – I forget what I’ve read. My mind’s like a sieve.” Make it a clean sieve. If it blesses you while you read and then you forget, then you can know that if you read it again you will be blessed again.
You might say, “I’m too busy.” Then you really might be too busy. Stop something.
If you’re young, develop godly habits.
To centre your life on Christ, build your time around him.
The Lord is always with you (16-18)
For all we’ve said, your true contentment and happiness isn’t permanently to be found in friends or good health. There will be times when both friends and health desert you.
Paul was alone in prison, facing death. Read 2 Timothy 4:16.
- They didn’t deny him like Alexander had.
- But they were fearful and worried, and no-one went to court with Paul. It would have been dangerous.
So what happened? Read 2 Timothy 4:17-18 (NLT). “And he rescued me from certain death” is literally, “And I was saved from the lion’s mouth.” The NLT has translated that as “certain death” so that you don’t picture Paul being thrown to lions in a Roman amphitheatre. But he was facing certain death in Rome.
That said, he uses the phrase “lion’s mouth” intentionally. He’s using language from Psalm 22 throughout these verses. Look at some Psalm 22 language, drawn from the Greek version Paul read:
- “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me” – where abandoned is the same word Paul uses to describe how everyone had deserted him.
- You remember v16-18 …an evil gang closes in on me. They have pierced my hands and feet. I can count all my bones. My enemies stare at me and gloat. They divide my garments among themselves and throw dice for my clothing. It’s a first-person view of the crucifixion.
- There’s a prayer for release (v21) Save me from the lion’s mouth
- And the psalm goes on to say how the crucifixion brings salvation and Good News to the whole earth for generations to come.
- Christ died in the sinners’ place, and now lives!
- Psalm 22 is about what Jesus has done for you. Us all!
Owning Psalm 22
In 2 Timothy, feeling his own loneliness and impending death from the Romans, Paul owns Psalm 22 and makes it his own – but with important differences.
- Paul was abandoned by people, but not by the Lord.
- He felt the threat of the lion’s mouth (as it were), but the Lord rescued him.
- And the Lord rescued him so that he could speak of Christ in Rome to all nations – very much fulfilling what Christ set out to achieve in bringing Good News and salvation to the world.
Paul knew he’d die soon. But that didn’t diminish his confidence in the Lord: Read 2 Timothy 4:18.
All Christ’s followers will take up their cross, follow him. You can expect to suffer for him – in work, in your family, etc. But just as Christ rose to glory, he will welcome you into his heavenly kingdom, delivering you from every attack. And even in those attacks, he stands by you.
The future is glorious!
If counting the cost of discipleship holds you back from following Jesus, you haven’t grasped the infinite gain of being one of his.
- “Demas has deserted me because he loves the things of this life.”
- Demas presumably (hopefully) had some good times in Thessalonica.
- But, over the past 1900 years or so, do you think he ever regrets abandoning the faith? Might he now think that following Jesus would have been worth it after all?
For those who do, hear this from an old disciple of Jesus Christ: “The Lord stood with me and gave me strength so that I might preach the Good News in its entirety for all the Gentiles to hear.”
We’ve seen the value of maintaining friendships and health. But you might feel alone, abandoned by friends and health. Maybe at home, alone. Maybe in a hospital bed. But if you are Christ’s then you are never alone. And he will rescue you and save you to his kingdom forever.
Because, in the end, you are the Lord’s work.
2 Timothy 4:22 is (probably) the last written word from Paul we have [read]. May the divine assistance of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. You can do the Lord’s work, and he will see you home.