PREACH THE WORD
From the time that our girls were very small with their too-big backpacks and their lunch bags dangling from small fists, we have reminded them as they walked out of our door, ‘Remember who you are, whose you are, and what you stand for.’ And then, as a follow-up, I would call, “And if you are confused about any of the answers, we will talk about it when you get home.” As parents, there is always this core desire to make sure our children are well-grounded. We know that as they leave the circle of our protection, the world will challenge them, that the enemy of their souls will prowl, and that they will sometimes wonder where they belong.
In 2 Timothy, we find Paul in the midst of penning a message to his spiritual son, Timothy, and this will be his last such letter. There have been arrests and floggings and prisons in the past, but this time, the end really is near and Paul knows it. He writes to Timothy with the passion of one whose last words must be articulated. It’s the same sense that I have when my children walk out the door without me. And, Paul’s ultimate message to Timothy, to the generation that will take the place of Paul is, ‘Preach the Word – no matter the cost. Preach the Word with your lives.” Paul says this in verse 2 and then he elaborates in the verses that follow. Paul wants us to live out our lives and our ministry in ways that glorify God, even if the consequences are difficult, even tragic. We are to live and to die with an eschatological hope of the coming kingdom.
Paul uses the analogy of a ‘drink offering’ in verse 4, giving us a beautiful insight into how he is processing the course of his life and his looming death. In Jewish culture, the drink offering had a special place as a celebration. Utilize Andrew Langham’s article, Comments on the Drink Offering for a clear and readable explanation of the various Levitical Offerings.
Langham points out that the drink offering is the celebration of completion – the joy of God in a completed work. Paul is able to look at his life, certainly the persecution and even the lives that were martyred because of his testimony or even by his own hands, and see himself through the lens of God who accepts the whole of Paul’s life as a drink offering – a celebration of a completed work.
There is a deep correlation here for us as Wesleyans. The escape from Egypt, the wandering and travails in the desert eventually bring the Israelites to a celebration of the drink offering, but it only with their entry into the promised land. There is no drink offering when God rescues them from the bondage of Egypt – God’s work was not yet complete. The delivery from the bondage of sin is not the completed work. The drink offering is celebrated only when God’s people are fully present in the promised land for it is only in the promised land that we are finally and fully complete, whole, perfected. Yet here in 2 Timothy, we hear Paul proclaiming that he is being poured out as that drink offering. There is something of the journey of sanctification here, if we are willing to dig for the meaning.
In the second portion of the reading, verses 16 – 18, Paul brings us face to face with his reality in these last days. Nero is on the throne, his thirst for Christian blood unquenchable. He was known to wrap Christians in oiled animal skins, impale them, and set them on fire along the road to burn as literal lamps in the night. It is worth noting here that even in their martyrdom, the light dispels the darkness, for we can proclaim with the Early Church Father Tertullian that ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.’
As Paul pens this letter, that darkness must be overwhelming. If we go back to his letter in Romans 1, we find Paul writing of the great faith of the church in Rome and celebrating their great zeal for Christ. It is a church alive, vibrant, and thriving. Just a decade later, and Paul says of that same church, ‘At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me.’ Could it be that the majority of those faithful Romans of a decade earlier had already met their tragic end at the hands of Nero?
And yet, Paul reminds us that our eschatological hope is not connected to the end of our earthly lives, nor is it in connection with the end of life on earth as we know it. It is as the new kingdom and God’s reign in that kingdom become a reality that together we lift our glasses to celebrate with Christ in the drink offering – the celebration of accomplishment that is Christ’s birth, death, resurrection, and reign for ever more. Until that time, Paul tells us in his final letter, in his final days to preach the Word with our lives.
Langham, Andrew. Comments on the Drink Offering, http://biblecentre.org/content.php?mode=7&item=790
Questions for the congregation or for further development:
1. How can we spiritually offer or be a drink offering to God?
2. Consider Paul’s words in Philippians 1:21 ‘For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain’. How do Paul’s words at the end of his life correspond or complete what he wrote to the Philippians?
3. Explore how our death, physical as well as death to sin become the celebration of God’s accomplishment.