Michael Jackson | Associate Professor of Homiletics, TNU
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Whatever you think of this passage (and the Pastorals) historically, canonically this is presented to the church as final words of a seasoned minister of the gospel to one of his young apprentices. Pastor Paul has encouraged and instructed Timothy throughout this brief epistle, and in this text (2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18) he gives parting words. The occasion, Paul’s anticipated departure from this life and ministry, gives all of us the opportunity to reflect on the central theme of this passage – finishing well.
I love the finale of Les Misérables (the 2012 film version starring Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, of course). In that moving scene, Jean Valjean is sitting on his death chair and contemplating life’s end. I love how his life ends in a prayer that includes repentance (coming clean with Cosette and Marius regarding his “last confession…it’s the story of one who turned from hating, a man who only learned to love while you [Cosette] were in his keeping”), forgiveness (“forgive me all my trespasses”), and hope (“lead me to your glory”). When I show this clip to my students at Trevecca, I typically say, “Now that’s the way to die!”
Some of these themes are evident in Paul’s finale that is recorded in this text… certainly the themes of forgiveness (they deserted me, but may it not be held against them/charged to their account) and hope (the Lord will rescue me from all evil…). The end of life (for Valjean and for Paul) is doxology – a share in the glory of God, to whom be glory for ever and ever.
Attention to Greek words and grammar can offer some great seeds for preaching:
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith… all three verbs are in the perfect (prophetic perfect perhaps). Even though Paul is still alive and writing these words, he views his life lived for Christ as complete… and as my Greek teacher, Roger Hahn always loved to point out for the perfect tense – completed action that has continuing and ongoing repercussions… I like that idea – our finished lives continue to speak, to influence, to make a difference in the lives of those we have served. That’s how we leave a legacy!
σπένδομαι / spendomai – to pour out an offering (drink offering) as an act of worship –– Paul says that his life is already being poured out as an act of worship. To which I say, “What a way to spend a life!”
ἀναλύσεώς / analuseos – a term that literally means ‘loosing, releasing, departure’. Here Paul uses this term to refer to his impending death – and, while I want to be careful to not reinforce popular notions of a soul being set free from the body (we do believe in the resurrection of the body) – there is something very powerful about seeing the life everlasting as a life of freedom – freedom from sin, death, and the power of the grave. For the apostle who has suffered so much personally for the sake of Christ (think 2 Corinthians 11 and 12), his departure is certainly to be seen as a release from that suffering and pain and a participation in the joyous freedom of life lived in the presence of God.
δρόμον / dromon & στέφανος /stephanos – course and crown – Paul loves to use this athletic metaphor to speak of the Christian life, and I find it quite compelling. Paul knows the Christian life as a marathon, not a sprint, and, as I discovered when running the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta one year – the prize is not limited to the one who crosses the finish line first (that was definitely not me). No, the prize is given to all who finish the course. 1 Peter 5:4 and Revelation 2:10 are two other beautiful passages that speak of this victor’s crown.
πᾶσιν τοῖς ἠγαπηκόσι τὴν ἐπιφάνειαν αὐτοῦ / pasin tois agapakosi ten epiphaneian autou – to all who love his appearing – Two great words in this verse – agape and epiphany – and there combination here creates a powerful image – that of a faithful person who is leaning into life everlasting. I have seen this in real life – when I participated in the funeral of a dear friend who lived a faithful life and embraced the hope of heaven with great joy and passion. We were shown a picture of this dear saint which he was leaning forward in anticipation of something good, the joy of the Lord filling his countenance. This was a man who “loved his appearing.” He lived his life on this earth prayerfully, lovingly, and as a great servant of Christ, but the leaning of his heart was ever toward the hope of life everlasting.
Κήρυγμα / kerygma – the content of what is proclaimed /announced publicly – this is the preaching of the gospel – the good news of Jesus. We preachers are commanded in the first verse of this chapter to “Preach the word” faithfully, in light of his soon appearance (epiphany).
παρεγένετο /para + ginomai (16)… παρέστη para + histemi (17) – no one came beside me…but the Lord stood beside me. I find this play on words to be particularly interesting – Paul can think back to those who never came beside him in his time of need. But Paul can offer forgiveness, even here in his final words to Timothy, because of the faithfulness of God, who did not have to come beside Paul in his time of need – but who was ever standing beside Paul – in good times and in bad. I am grateful today for a God who does not have to be summoned to our side when we face hard times, because this God is ever standing beside us. Great is Thy Faithfulness!
Lots of homiletical gems could be included in a sermon from this passage, but for me, the central theme is one of “finishing well.” This passage intends to encourage a struggling young pastor to finish well. The sermon from this text would mirror that same function – to encourage Christians in their spiritual journey. Just as Paul was able to finish well, thanks to the faithfulness of a God who finishes well, may we find grace and encouragement to continue to fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith. For the victor’s crown is reserved for all who love his appearing. Even so, Lord Jesus, come.