The 4th chapter of 2 Timothy is Paul's final declaration of faith before he was executed by Nero. When he pinned these words he was in prison and fairly certain of his imminent death.
I suppose that my situation is somewhat similar to Paul's, although Paul's physical condition was much more severe than mine. But my doctors tell me I am going to die before too long.
I have communicated with several people in the last few months that had a much different perspective on life and death than I. One was a man in his 80s who was actually in amazing health for his age. I told him I was reacting against people saying if they were in critical condition they didn't want “extreme measures” to keep them alive. I said extreme measures were what I wanted. He spoke to me as if he had much more wisdom than I. “Well, when you can no longer have quality of life you would rather not linger.” But what he called quality of life was comfort and diversion. He jokingly said, “If I couldn't play golf.” Those are not my purpose in life.
In 2 Timothy 4 Paul gives us a marvelous example of integral hope in his life. Paul's life even at that difficult end was still buoyed by a higher purpose. 2 Timothy 4:1,2 reads,
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”
Paul challenges Timothy, and us, to preach the word. And faithful endurance of his painful situation was crucial to that encouragement. He saw his approaching death as part of his challenge and a crucial part of his worship. He encourages us in versus 6-8 by comparing his life to a drink offering.
“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.”
A drink offering was a powerful expression of devotion in the desert middle east where water was life. The first drink offering mentioned in Scripture was made by Jacob as he met God at Bethel in Genesis 35. As he emptied his canteen onto the ground, he was trusting his life to the Lord who had appeared to him. Later when drink offerings were included in worship in the Tabernacle the vessels for it were to be of gold, befitting costly devotion.
Paul sees his final circumstance as the ultimate worship and witness for God. And he could endure it however long it wood last for two reasons. First, as he wrote earlier to the Philippian Church,(Philippians 1:22-24) God might allow him to continue his purpose on this Earth. Also, he knew the reward waiting for him in the presence of God was worth whatever he had to endure.
Relationships were also crucial to the hope Paul clung to. The English Standard Version of the New Testament labels the final two-thirds of this chapter as, Personal Instructions. Verses 9-13 capture this.
“Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.”
I do not believe Paul saw his purpose or even his worship as separate from the lives of other people. He was investing himself in them.
God has allowed me to live some years longer than the doctors thought I would. But I still have the cancer that they believe will take my life. Shortly after they began telling me my condition was terminal, I wrote an article for Mature Living Magazine entitled Filling The Unforgiving Minute. You can see that article on my website listed below. Of course I took my title from Rudyard Kipling's poem If. “If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run.” In the article I said I wanted to devote the remaining days of my life to writing, prayer, and relationships. In these days I see writing is my purpose and calling from God. It is an extension of my original calling to preach. And of course prayer is essential to that. I pray for God to do what only he can do in the lives of people through my writing. Prayer is also crucial to relationships. I pray for those I love and for others i meet. And relationships are in the purpose of God. Even after my condition deteriorates so that I can no longer write, I hope to be loving and pray for people around me.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
I recently listened to a re-dramatization of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. Dame Agatha drew that marvelous story out of the heartache of mourning. The story was built around the extended grief caused by the kidnapping and murder of a child.
Mourning is indeed one of the most painful aspects of life in this fallen world. Every pastor has to deal with such heartbreak. Many years ago I was pastor in a dairy community near a large city in Texas. A family I did not know came knocking on my door one morning before daylight asking if I would pray for their baby. Unfortunately their baby, who turned out to be a four or five year old child, was already dead. The child had died that night in a careless accident. And, of course, the hearts of that whole family were broken.
My Father's heart was broken when my mother died after they had been married 60 years. I had no memory of seeing my father weep in my entire life, even at his own mother's funeral. But for over a year after my mother's death he hated to go anywhere because he could not seem to speak to anyone without tears streaming down his face.
The one time that Scripture tells us Jesus wept was at the graveside of a friend. Jesus knew He was preparing to raise Lazarus from the dead. But He also knew the depth of pain death inflicted upon those whom He loved.
You can read a great deal about means of comforting those who have lost loved ones. And I am sure many of them have some efficacy. But there is a depth of pain there that can never be completely alleviated in this life.
And yet we find this promise from Jesus, that those who mourn are blessed because they will indeed be comforted. The comfort Jesus is speaking of is greater than any comfort we can administer. And in fact this is a comfort we can only grasp by faith in this life. God alone can bring about complete comfort to those who mourn.
In the Return of the King, the final book in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Sam Gamgee wakes up after the ring has been destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom. He is amazed that he is alive. And Gandalf, whom he was certain was dead, is standing before him. And he asks, “Is everything sad going to become untrue?” Though we must endure heartbreak in this life, we are promised all things lost will be renewed and every tear will be wiped away when we stand before our Lord in the end. And while it is hard for us to believe from this perspective, the goodness of that day will be good enough to turn even our heartache into comfort. Our deepest heartache will be replaced by Joy.
“Pleasure is to happiness what candy is to nutrition.”
James 4:3 reads, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” How do we justify this verse with verses like Matthew 7:7-8? “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”
When you find two things in the Bible that seem to contradict one another, study them prayerfully and you will come to understand both passages far more deeply than you would have at a glance.
In fact Jesus gave us a hint at the answer in Matthew 7. The very next verse compares God answering our prayers to a father giving to his child. Does a father who loves his daughter give her all the candy she asks for?
In John 15:7 Jesus brings this promise into divine perspective. “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
The English Standard Version of Scripture footnotes the word passions in James 4:3 as “pleasures.” We live in a society that is driven by pleasure. And we may be the first generation to have no awareness of problems with pleasure. Pleasure is to happiness what candy is to nutrition.
The word translated passions here is a broader word than simple desire. It refers to the drive for comfort, luxury, thrills, and physical pleasures in our world. 1 John 2:15,16 warn us, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of life—is not from the father but is from the world.”
The entire passage, James 4:1-10, brings all three of these together.
God, as the ultimate Father, protects His children from those things that draw us away from Him. In his book Desiring God John Piper coined the term “Christian Hedonism.” But he was talking about living for the deeper pleasures and the higher joys that come in the presence of God. Psalm 16:11 affirms, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Our prayers spring from what we love. As long as we love the world, we will be drawn away from the only source of satisfaction in our lives. And our prayer lives will be frustrating because our Heavenly Father loves us too much to let us fall into the worlds quagmire of pleasures.
One of the greatest tragedies that is sweeping the modern world is confusion and therefore corruption of purpose. In how many areas of life have we confused our purpose and so lost all hope of fulfillment?
IS COMFORT YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE?
In John 12:27,28 Jesus said,
"Now is my heart troubled, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name!"
Purpose was crucial to Jesus. But do you realize what our Lord said here? His purpose was for His heart to be troubled. It was necessary for Him to come into the hour of trouble to redeem us. What is your purpose? Is it to avoid trouble or heartache?
Your God given, soul satisfying, purpose is not comfort. Jesus said He would send us another Comforter. But the Holy Spirit is to be with us in trials. If your purpose is comfort, finding it will bring boredom rather than satisfaction.
WHAT ABOUT PLEASURE?
The purpose of your life on this earth is not pleasure either. God created pleasure. It can be very good as a side dish. But it makes a terrible main course.
The drug epidemic and the sexual revolution that are deadly parasites on our homes, our economy, and all the foundations of society are products of the unquestioned belief that pleasure is the highest human value.
I am aware that many of my readers would already agree with what I am saying. Although I am very pleased if some of you who disagree are reading this. But even those of us who basically oppose such behavior find ourselves tempted, even addicted to internet pornography or some other pleasure oriented problem, because we have been able to indulge in it secretly. I pray for God's deliverance which will certainly require uncovering the rattle snake's nest. Many churches have men's groups where it is safe to confess such things. Pastors may have to find or organize a ministers' group to deal with whatever you need to confess.
But many of us who are free from the most debilitating of these sins are living our lives as if pleasure were more important than anything else. We need to challenge that thinking with scripture, prayer and seeking a higher purpose from God.
IS YOUR PURPOSE SECURITY?
Have you ever been thrilled by stories of risk or sacrifice? They are the bread and butter of TV drama. Would you watch an adventure show in which the leading character never had any higher good for which he was willing to risk or sacrifice? Would you watch the show twice if the hero ran away from every danger in cowardice or cynicism? You would not because somewhere deep in your consciousness you know safety and security are not the purpose of life. I love the statement from Jim Elliott's college journal. "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."
Jesus concluded with the highest purpose of our lives. “Father, glorify Your name!
I intend to write again next week on this subject. I suspect you will be surprised if not shocked at two things that I say should not be your purpose in life.
In Matthew 4:17 we are told that after His temptation in the wilderness and the arrest of John the Baptist Jesus began His preaching ministry with the call for repentance. "Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."
Interestingly enough, the word the Lord uses here in Greek, the language of the New Testament, demands that the action of repentance be continual. When we come to Christ we enter into life-long repentance. Of course, this means a permanent change of thinking. But in our daily lives it also means we must continue to turn our hearts away from sins that inevitably creep in. Let me suggest three necessary aspects of continuing repentance.
1. A Sensitive Heart
How do you respond when someone accuses you of wrong? Do you put all your energy into defending yourself? Do you automatically attack? Or do you pray? You can ask God, "Father, is this an opportunity to repent?" Since our ultimate accuser is Satan, you may well discover that the accusation is not completely true. But even in this situation you may have an opportunity to bring your heart and your thinking more in line with your Heavenly Father's. If your heart is sensitive, what the enemy intends for evil will only make you more Christlike.
2. A Thoughtful Heart
The freedom to examine your heart comes to from saturating your mind in the truth of the gospel. Have you memorized verses that give you God's assurance? Do you think daily about their wonderful truth? You don't have to defend yourself. Jesus is actively defending you before the throne of God. (1 John 2:1) You are not condemned. (Romans 8:1) God sees you washed in His blood. (Revelation 1:5) There are hundreds more!
3. A Comforted Heart.
To react in repentance rather than defensiveness you need to be immersed in the love of God that His Spirit desires to lavish upon you. Do you regularly Give thanks for the love of Christ? Do you tremble in wonder at God's amazing grace? Only in such assurance will you be free to continually examine your heart and allow God's Spirit to bring it nearer to His own.