UNION GROVE CHURCH OF CHRIST, CLEVELAND TN.

THE APOSTLE PAUL’S PREPARATION FOR DEATH

It seems quite likely that the book of 2 Timothy is the last recorded epistle of the apostle Paul. In the first chapter of this letter to his son in the faith, Paul mentions his "chain" and the city of Rome (1:16,17), leading most students of the Bible to conclude that Paul was a prisoner in Rome at the time he wrote this epistle. Paul’s message in the fourth chapter shows a sense of urgency, as he pleads for Timothy to come to him quickly with the things that the aging apostle desired (4:9-13). Yes, as one reads this book he senses that Paul felt at the time he wrote it that his journey on earth was soon to come to an end.

Notice Paul’s attitude toward his approaching death: "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing" (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Please consider some thoughts on these three verses:

"For I am now ready to be offered" – Here the New King James reads "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering." Paul saw himself as a sacrifice for the Lord. He was prepared to lay down his life for his Savior, if such was necessary. He had earlier declared, "I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 21:13). The Holy Spirit charges all followers of Christ to present their bodies as "a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God" (Romans 12:1), and we see that Paul was now ready to give himself up in a special way.

"The time of my departure is at hand" – Departure from what? From this world. Death was knocking on Paul’s door, just as it will one day come to all of us, except for those who will still be living when Jesus comes again. "And as it is appointed unto me once to die, but after this the judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). Death was not something that Paul dreaded, because he knew that by living a faithful life in Christ on this earth meant "to be with Christ [after death, rdc]; which is far better" (Philippians 1:23).

If we were to receive the word from heaven that the time of our earthly sojourning will soon come to an end, wonder how we would live that last segment of our days in this life? Wonder what would be important to us then? The truth is, the Lord Jesus calls upon us to watch and wait every day, to be ready at all times, for we know not when the Lord will come nor the hour of our death (Matthew 24:42-44). Friends, we must always be prepared for our departure! Are we?

"I have fought a good fight" – Paul was a fighter! He was neither a brawler nor contentious person, yet his fighting still shines as an example for all who strive to imitate Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:1). Of course, the "fight" of which Paul speaks is his spiritual battle to live faithfully and overcome Satan. Contrary to the thinking of many, the New Testament shows that Christians are to be soldiers, fighting for their cause. The Holy Spirit charged Timothy to "fight the good fight of faith" (1 Timothy 6:12). We are also exhorted to "war a good warfare" (1 Timothy 1:18) and conduct ourselves "as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (2 Timothy 2:3). The fighting tools of our warfare, "the whole armour of God," are laid out for us in Ephesians 6:10-18. Why does the Lord give us such spiritual fighting equipment? "That ye might be able to stand against the wiles of the devil" (Ephesians 6:11).

"I have finished my course" – The remaining portion of "the race that was set before" Paul was the "home stretch" (Hebrews 12:1). Though Paul was a prisoner, we do not see any hint from him that he was ready to throw in the towel or pull up short of the finish line. Instead, we see him sprinting toward the end. He was still doing "the work of an evangelist" (2 Timothy 4:5), and appears to be ready to keep doing that until his death. Earlier he had told the overseers from Ephesus that the Holy Spirit warned him of bonds and afflictions that awaited him in every city. Yet, he pressed on, saying, "But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus …" (Acts 20:23,24). There was not an ounce of "quit" in the apostle Paul. It is true that living a faithful Christian life and holding out until the end is not an easy task, but being faithful until the end is just what the Lord requires of us: "… if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end … if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end" (Hebrews 3:6,14).

"I have kept the faith" – In no way is the apostle bragging about his personal accomplishments, rather he is simply stating the facts of the case. "The faith" which he had kept is the "one faith" (Ephesians 4:4), the system of faith that is revealed in the gospel. Paul had "kept the faith" by living in obedience to it. In other passages we see that the faith can be obeyed (Acts 6:7), can be destroyed (Galatians 1:23), can be preached (Galatians 1:23), and can be defended or contended for (Jude 3; Philippians 1:7). Brothers and sisters, we cannot turn our responsibility to keep the faith over to someone else and ask them to do it for us! This is an individual matter that each one of us must carry out in his own life. Are we doing it?

"Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness" – A person is truly foolish who thinks that there is only a physical part of man, and that there is no life after death. What a great reward from the Lord was awaiting Paul. What was it? "A crown of righteousness." This crown is elsewhere described in the Bible as being "incorruptible" (1 Corinthians 9:25), "the crown of life" (James 1:12) and "crown of glory that fadeth not away" (1 Peter 5:4). When will such a crown be received? "… the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day" (2 Timothy 4:8). "That day" refers to the second coming of Jesus or the day of judgment. Friends, if we will be blessed on that day to receive such a glorious crown, then we will surely understand that all that we have ever done on the earth in the service of our Lord is truly worth it. There will be no regrets in heaven about faithfully following Jesus the Christ!

"And not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing" – There will be enough crowns to go around in heaven! There will be a crown of righteousness for Paul, but all other faithful servants of Jehovah will receive one as well. Who are those that love the Lord’s appearing? Those who love Him and faithfully serve Him, patiently waiting for His coming (1 Thessalonians 1:10). The Lord has promised a crown of life "to them that love him" (James 1:12). Who are those that love Him? Those that keep His commandments (1 John 5:3; John 14:15). This reminds us of our well-known hymn: "Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey." No, we could never do anything to earn our salvation or eternal life, but God requires that we respond to His wonderful grace and love by trusting, loving, and obeying Him until the end of our earthly course.

The life that we live on the planet earth is only temporary. It is a time given to us to prepare for the judgment and the life to come. Can we truly say with the apostle Paul that we are prepared for our departure from this earthly life? Some folks are prepared, some are not. What about you and me? Have we truly been fighting the good fight and keeping the faith? If so, then let’s keep it up all the way to the finish line! If not, then it is time to set our lives in order even this very day, for today is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2).

- - Roger D. Campbell

 

 

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Last modified: September 27, 2008