Keep Your Head Intact
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Keep Your Head Intact

2 Timothy 4:1–22  (ID: 2083)

The world’s approach to “truth” can feel like a buffet, with people choosing to believe whatever sounds most appealing. As Paul passed the baton of faith to Timothy, however, he challenged him to keep his head clear amid the unpredictability that surrounded him. Wrapping up our study on 2 Timothy, Alistair Begg encourages us to uphold the unwavering principles of Scripture. As we face down hardships, he reminds us, God will give us abundant grace to remain useful in his service.

Series Containing This Sermon

Useful to the Master

2 Timothy 1:1–18, 2 Timothy 2:1–26, 2 Timothy 3:1–17, 2 Timothy 4:1–22 Series ID: 15501

Sermon Transcript: Print

Open our eyes, that we may behold wonderful things in your law.[1] For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Well, in coming to this last chapter, Paul is actually now about to move out of his office, as it were. He’s been talking about it, if you like; the letter concerns this. His departure is imminent, and he’s about to vacate his chair, and there is no doubt in Timothy’s mind that it is going to fall to him to take that seat and to fulfill the responsibility that is now his in the cause of the gospel. The vacancy is going to be left as a result of Paul’s “departure,” which he mentions in verse 6; he’s referring there to his death. It’s not that he sees himself quitting on the job or failing as a result of exhaustion or indifference. No, he’s going to breast the tape as best he can, but he knows that he needs to go. After three decades of faithful service in the army of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the midst of doctrinal and moral confusion, to a young man who is more prone to lean than he is to lead Paul is about to entrust the truth of the gospel.

And throughout these mornings we’ve noted, in chapter 1, that he has urged Timothy to guard it and to keep it, to be prepared to suffer for it, to base his life and his ministry upon it, and now, in this final chapter, to be bold in proclaiming its truth. The sense of urgency which pervades these verses is matched by the intimacy which is also conveyed in them. Here we get an insight that is somewhat unique into the heart of the apostle. His humanity comes out with great clarity. While his concerns are as vast, if you like, as the extension of God’s kingdom throughout the world, nevertheless he’s not immune to the need for friendship, for the encouragement that warm clothes will bring, and also for the help of good books.

Now, in seeking to have a plan of action through these verses, let me tell you what it is: first of all, to notice the exhortation that comes in verse 2 to “preach the Word.” And you will notice in verse 3 that there then follows an explanation: “For,” he says, “the time will come,” so on. And then in verse 5, his concern for the stability and well-being of Timothy: “But you, keep your head.” And then the explanation which follows in verse 6: “For [I’m] already being poured out like a drink offering.” And then finally, in verse 9, “Do your best to come to me,” and then the explanation which follows immediately in the tenth verse.

“Preach the Word”

But first of all, this stirring charge to “preach the word” of God. Now, that comes in the opening phrase of verse 2, and the context in which it is set is graphic—the reminder to Timothy that the call to preach had not come about as a result of human contrivance, but as a result of a divine commission. And he underscores the solemnity of the responsibility which falls to Timothy by exhorting him not in his own name, but rather in the light of not even his apostleship, but as he says, “in the presence of God and of [the Lord Jesus Christ].” And he mentions three factors there as an incentive to Timothy’s faithfulness: first of all, Jesus is going to appear; secondly, his kingdom is going to be ushered in in all of its fullness; and thirdly, men and women are going to face the judgement. If you like, this is the theological underpinning for this exhortation to be a preacher of the Word of God, to be conveying the truth in his day. They were truths which Timothy’s generation needed to hear, and indeed, which every generation needs to hear.

When the Word of God is truly preached, the voice of God is really heard.

At an earlier time Samuel Johnston said, “The master has set a day when he will separate the sheep from the goats, and this is a truth which our frivolous age needs to hear.”[2] And despite the fact that as a result of unbelief, or perhaps even of ignorance or disinterest, men and women may devalue and discount the claims of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord’s servant is charged with fulfilling his calling in the awareness of Christ’s right to judge, the certainty of his return, and the fact that he will one day reign supreme over all: “At the name of Jesus every knee [will] bow … and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”[3]

Now, it’s within that sort of environment that he then says to Timothy, “Now, this is what you need to be doing.” Sangster, the Methodist preacher at the turn of the century here in Britain, said, “Preaching is in the shadows. The world does not believe in it.”[4] And while we may, by our presence in these large gatherings each day of this week, suggest that that is not the case, the fact is that this is somewhat atypical. And there is a realistic sense in which we might say that the condition is even more grave than that identified by Sangster. Certainly it would be true in the United States to say in increasing measure, “Preaching is in the shadows. The church does not believe in it.” And there are prominent individuals moving around America at the moment with influence over young men in ministry, suggesting to them that if they’re going to be effective in Bible teaching into a new millennium then they’re going to need to discover how to speak in just fifteen-minute blocks, because no one can or will listen for longer, and they should give up on biblical exposition and make sure that they’re able to do energizing and humorous topical studies.

And so, this comes like a siren call in the midst of that confusion. And the fact is that preaching is something more than the meanderings of a man’s mind from behind a pulpit. And this is made clear by the constituent elements in the task which are unfolded for us.

It hardly needs to be reiterated, but let’s not miss the fact that it is the Word that is to be preached. In the rest of the chapter he refers to the same when he mentions “sound doctrine” in verse 3, “the truth” in verse 4, “the faith” in verse 7. We ought not simply to take that for granted. It’s not the responsibility or the privilege of the preacher to simply dream up his own ideas or to convey things that are concerns to him, but rather to be under the instruction of the Word of God himself and to be conveying the same to others.

Now, while each of us again today may feel ourselves very much in accord with this, I want to say to you again that I don’t believe this to be largely the case. And what I’d like to do is quote to you for a moment a fairly extensive piece from Jim Packer, when he was speaking in Scotland some years ago now, to ministers concerning the responsibility of preaching. And he gave this as his definition of preaching: “Christian preaching is the event of God bringing to [a congregation] a Bible-based, Christ-related, life-impacting message of instruction and direction [from himself] through the words of a spokes[man].”[5] Now, each word in that, I think, is tremendously helpful, but the fundamental issue is that we believe that when the Word of God is truly preached, the voice of God is really heard, for it is God himself bringing a message through his Word via the lips of a mere mortal. Therefore, any preoccupation with the speaker is ultimately unhelpful both to the speaker and to the listeners. Not that we denigrate the existence of human gift—surely God could have spoken in other ways, but has chosen to take up human instrumentality. Nevertheless, it is to God alone we look, both to hear from him and then to give him glory as a result of what it is he has conveyed.

Now, when you take that as a definition, it quickly becomes apparent that, using that as a standard, not every performance from behind a pulpit can be called preaching as per this definition. And the kind of cool, chatty approach that draws attention to myself doesn’t qualify. The dull and boring approach that has all the kind of conviction of a man reading from the Yellow Pages doesn’t qualify. And when that is what congregations experience, then they have eroded for them any sense of expectation. They do not attend the Lord’s Day in worship believing that God’s voice is about to be heard, because their conviction regarding the same has been eroded by a kind of man-centered preoccupation, or with a man-centered focus as he draws attention to himself—or as, having done no preparation at all, he simply drones on for a while and then drifts off into some kind of oblivion, and people are rather glad that he’s gone.

Now, says Packer, so instead of heading for worship with the expectation of an encounter with God in both giving him praise and hearing him speak, the average congregation, in a spirit of “detached passivity,” come as observers to measure the performance, rather than as participants waiting on the Word of God. Instead of sitting up expectantly praying, “Master, speak! Thy servant heareth, waiting for Thy gracious word,” they sit back, relax, and “wait to see if anything the preacher has to say will catch their interest.” Since many in our churches have been brought up under knowledgeable fellows speaking with emphasis, they can hardly be blamed for their attitude. “Just as it takes two to tango, so … it takes an expectant, praying congregation, along with a preacher who knows what he[’s] about, to make an authentic preaching occasion.”[6]

And that’s why, in light of that kind of sentiment, Spurgeon told his congregation that if they would pray for their pastor, then their pastor would be able to preach the exact same sermons to far greater effect. Because we do not pray for the work; prayer is the work, and preaching is merely gathering up the results of the battle that has been waged before God’s throne in prayer. When the people of God begin to conceive of it in these terms, then it will transform both the listener and the speaker.

Now, this is borne out in the phrases that follow. “Be prepared,” he says. It literally means “stand by.” It’s the doctor on call, if you like—those sorry souls with bleary eyes and drinking lots of cups of coffee, dreading the phone call, and yet ready for the phone call, and at a moment’s notice up and pulling themselves together and down onto the ward. It’s the picture of the old Second World War dispatch writer with that motor bike with the leather seats and the spring underneath it, loitering around, as it were, but ready at a moment to be dispatched with information that was of vital importance. “So,” he says, “you’re going to need to be the kind of individual, Timothy, who is taking and making opportunities—when it’s convenient, when it’s inconvenient. You should never allow laziness to divert you from the privilege.”

Now, it is the Word that is to be proclaimed, we are to “be prepared in season and out of season,” and when we get to the task, there are various elements involved: correction, and rebuke, and encouragement. All of these won’t necessarily happen all of the time, but it is a dangerous thing when in ministry of the Word somebody gets stuck on one track, as it were, and begins to bury a congregation under a vast, heavy weight of correction, and the people are bowed down under it; or that it becomes a sort of dreadfully nice place, with the minister bending over backwards to make sure that everybody is encouraged. The balance of God’s Word is the balance of God’s Word: correction for those who are thinking wrong, rebuke for those who are living comfortably with sin, encouragement for those who are down in the dumps. And I always say to young men, now, in ministry, “If you will just expound the Scriptures, then you’ll take care of this. You don’t have to have this at the front of your brain all the time. It’s good to remember it, but the balance of Scripture will ensure that there is correction, there is rebuke, and there is encouragement.”

Now, the manner in which this is to take place is also clear. What is the spirit of the individual who’s engaging in this? Well, he must do so “with great patience and careful instruction.” Jesus had to look at his Twelve and say to them, “Have I been so long with you, and still you do not understand?”[7] I derive great encouragement from that as time goes by in pastoral ministry, and there are things that you’ve been longing to convey and see become a central part of your people’s life and experience, and yet it doesn’t just seem to dawn. And you find yourself saying, “Have I been so long with you, and still you do not understand?” And the temptation, then, is to try and rattle a few heads, you know, or to stir people up by means of forcefulness.

The balance of God’s Word is the balance of God’s Word: correction for those who are thinking wrong, rebuke for those who are living comfortably with sin, encouragement for those who are down in the dumps.

The manner is “great patience.” We always remember good, patient instructors, don’t we? The teachers who put their arm around our shoulders? They might have squeezed the back of our neck a few times, as well, but you knew that were genuinely patient with us. They were wise enough to know whether the question was simply a diversion or whether it was a realistic cry for help.

I love the story that was told to me by the matron of the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh when I used to visit her in 1976 in a nursing home along the Corstorphine Road. By that time, this once-vibrant lady had been reduced as a result of the onset of some kind of motor neuron disease, so that she lay in her bed; she had the faculty of speech and she could hear me, but to hold her eyes open for more than a split second was impossible for her. And I used to sit by her bed, and she would ask me to read, and I would read, and she would ask me various questions. And then she said to me, as I continued as an assistant there to Derek Prime, and then as time came for me to tell her that I was going on, she said, “I want to let you know that in looking after all the nurses in the Edinburgh Royal, I often had occasion to rebuke them and correct them.” She said this: “But I want you to know, Alistair, that I took it to myself never to rebuke a junior nurse without my arm around her shoulder.” And I wish that I could’ve remembered that more than I have.

“Great patience” and “careful instruction.” If we merely rebuke error and do not instruct in righteousness, then the individual’s spirit may be broken without their life ever being changed. You remember, you went out the front with your exercise book, and you had a teacher, and she had that red pen, and it looked like some form of dramatic modern art before you’d been there for more than forty-five seconds. And you took it away, you trudged back to your seat, taking scant comfort from the fact that there was a section at the bottom of the page that had no red marks on it, and then immediately saying, “Well, of course it wouldn’t; there’s nothing written on that section, you know,” and dreading the possibility of others seeing it, or of one of your school friends asking about it, or of your mother inquiring about it in your school bag. And often those teachers finished one’s interest in that particular subject, not because it was illegitimate for them to mark with the red crosses, but because it seemed that they were members of the Red Cross Society—that the whole reason they’d been put in a classroom was to let you know how lousy you were at the particular subject. Let us, then, as pastors and teachers and Bible class leaders and Sunday school teachers, beware of the strident tone and the constant urging of our people, often to a standard up to which we ourselves do not live.

Now, let me say lastly, in relationship to this, that preaching is not less than teaching; it is more than teaching. People always say, “Well, would you say you’re a preacher or a teacher?” It’s actually a very American question. And I say, “Well, I’m a preaching teacher and a teaching preacher.” And what I mean by that is that I believe preaching is teaching plus application, direction, and summons—so that there is that element, that hortatory element, which is founded upon the didactic element of opening up the truth that is before us.

“The Time Wil Come…”

Well, that’s his first exhortation: “Preach the Word.” Why is it so important, then? He tells us in verses 3 and 4: because “the time will come,” he says, “when men [won’t] put up with sound doctrine.” It’s interesting, this, isn’t it? “They won’t put up with it; therefore, do it.” It’s not like, “You know, you’ll come to a point where people will not be interested in preaching, so give up preaching and just tell a lot of stories,” or “give up preaching and just sing a lot of songs,” or “since they don’t like it, just do drama,” or whatever it is. “No,” he says, “I want you to preach the Word with great diligence, when you feel like it, when you don’t feel like it, in season, out of season, careful instruction, great patience—for people don’t want it.” It’s interesting!

There’s no sense here of a pragmatic approach to building a ministry, whereby we give the people what they want. If you, as mothers, gave your children what they wanted in relationship to food in their early years, you would be pushing them around in a wheelbarrow, and their faces would all be covered in ice cream with Smarties and everything sticking out of it. But you didn’t give them what they wanted—maybe a little here and there, but you knew that you needed to give them a balanced diet. They needed starches and carbohydrates, and they needed fruit, and they needed vegetables, and “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” and all that kind of stuff. And now you see them growing in physical maturity, because you were wise enough not to capitulate to their silly ideas.

You say, “That’s not a very nice way to think about your flock.” Well, I don’t mean that’s the exclusive nature of what they’re like. But we all have silly ideas. That’s why God has established a structure. That’s why he’s given a father to be the head of the home and a mother to be with him in partnership. That’s why he’s given to eldership the responsibility of leadership in the church.

Nor is preaching simply a man with a product trying to overcome consumer resistance, as is suggested to us now. So, you have a salesman, and he has a product, and you have a potential market. The potential market is not remotely interested in your product; therefore, you need to do everything you can possibly do to overcome consumer resistance to get them to buy your product: “Oh, I don’t like that.” You go to these restaurants in America, and they come out on roller skates. Why? I’ve a sneaking suspicion: the food’s no good. It’s a diversion. That’s not fair to good restaurants that have waitresses on roller skates, I understand, but…

Now, you see, this is the contrast, because motivated by personal satisfaction—that’s what he’s saying there; “to suit their own desires,” that’s personal satisfaction—what will they do? Well, they’ll get a lot of teachers, a plurality of teachers, and they will be united by one factor—namely, a willingness to say what their listeners want to hear.[8] “That will be it,” he says. “You will find yourself ministering in an environment where there is an increasing desire on the part of people to have teachers who simply tell them what they want to hear and a willingness on the part of many to assign themselves to that task. But you, Timothy, you’re not to be like that, son.”

It may be in God’s plan for you to feel distinctly uncomfortable at the moment, in order that you might know the comfort that he can bring.

When these individuals decide where to go to church, their number one decision-making factor is simply, “Will he tell me what I want to hear?” Says Stott, “They do not first listen and then decide whether what [they’ve] heard is true; they first decide what they want to hear and then select teachers who will oblige by toeing their line.”[9] And so they bounce from congregation to congregation, from place to place. It’s a sad and sorry thing. And, of course, the more restaurants there are in the town, the more places there are for you to go. You don’t have to stay at Aunt Mabel’s Pancake House, you know, because that’s the only one; there’s a lot of places you can go. And sadly, American Christianity is marked by people moving from place to place to place to place—what Chuck Colson calls the McChurch mentality: if you don’t like the burgers at McDonald’s you can move to Burger King, and if you don’t like it there you can go to Kentucky Fried Chicken, and then on to Wendy’s, and so on.[10] There’s always another place you can go and have them serve it up to you just the way you want. And that, sadly, is so often the case.

Can I say to some of you who are planning on making a run from it, from your church, for a less than biblical reason: Won’t you stay there and make a commitment to pray for your teaching minister, to pray for the ongoing work of the gospel? Don’t be scurrying around from place to place just looking for somebody who will make you feel comfortable. It may be in God’s plan for you to feel distinctly uncomfortable at the moment, in order that you might know the comfort that he can bring.

“Keep Your Head”

Now, because of the crazy environment in which he is ministering, he must continue to preach the Word of God, and he must be sure that he doesn’t lose his spiritual, theological equilibrium. Isn’t that what he’s saying there in the opening phrase of verse 5? And this is the second imperative: first, “Preach the Word”; secondly, “Keep your head.” It would be so easy for the prospect of Paul’s departure, coupled with the itching ear syndrome, to knock Timothy completely off his balance. And so he issues this strident call to him: in Scots, “Keep the heid!” “Keep the heid!” The danger is that you allow your head to be spun all over the place.

I haven’t used many golfing analogies this week. Will you allow me one story of Steve Brady and I playing golf in St Andrew’s? Brady had a caddy called Sandy McLaren. Sandy was trying to help Reverend Brady, and he had a gargantuan task on his hand, because he was topping the ball on every shot. Every time he went for the ball, he missed it. And Sandy kept saying to him, “Mr. Brady, keep your heid doon. Just keep your heid doon.” It was like a broken gramophone record for seventeen holes: “Oh, Mr. Brady, would you not keep your heid doon?” And after he made a lunging pass at the ball and got about a fifteenth of it on the eighteenth tee, the Reverend Brady strode off the tee, waiting for nobody, and off across the fairway in the direction of the Swilcan Burn. And Sandy shouted, “Mr. Brady, where’re you away to?” And Brady said, “I can’t take it any longer. I’m going to drown myself in the Swilcan Burn.” And Sandy said, “You’ll never do it. You couldnae keep your heid doon long enough.”

I trust you will forgive me that lie. But I want to tell you that this is my verse, 2 Timothy 4:5. I scribble it down for myself with regularity. I remind myself of it with frequency. The danger is that when we need to be steady and stay awake, when we need to be calm and we need to be cool, we begin to flap and go crazy and annoy everyone around us. And so this is a wonderful word of encouragement to all—particularly, perhaps, to some whose heads are being spun. There’s a more successful ministry, apparently, in relationship to size down the street; there is someone who’s been there less time and attracting more interest; there are people within our leadership team who are discouraging us dreadfully; we have the sensation that it might be a good idea to throw in the towel, to lie down on the grass, and not to take the baton for the next four hundred meters. And the Word of God comes and says, “Now, listen: just keep your head,” and do so “in all situations.”

That will involve enduring hardship. If Timothy was going to continue to refuse to compromise on the basis of truth, if he was going to uphold these principles of biblical certainty in an age of confusion, then he was going to suffer hardship. And when the biblical principles become unpopular, the temptation arises—especially for a young man in ministry—to downplay the factors which cause offense. He says, “Make sure you don’t that. Keep your head in every situation,” in the situation of “hardship.”

“Make sure,” secondly, “that you are involved in evangelism—that you’re doing the work of an evangelist.” D. E. Hoste said, “I would not appoint a man or a woman to the mission field unless they had first learned to wrestle with the evil one. For if they have not learned to wrestle with the evil one, then they will wrestle with their fellow missionaries.”[11] In other words, when a church loses sight of the battleground, loses sight of the overarching objective to which we will come this evening in Acts 28—to see unbelieving people become committed followers of Jesus Christ—when that note goes, then there will be all kinds of things that come in to take its place. And they won’t all be bad, but they won’t be the best thing. And we reminded ourselves yesterday that the Bible is a book about salvation, and Timothy is to be committed to proclaiming the good news.

And in doing this, he must “discharge all the duties of [his] ministry.” In other words, don’t shirk all the different bits and pieces. There are all kinds of things involved in pastoral ministry. Not all of them are those for which we’re immediately prepared. They don’t all attract us in the same way that others do. But that’s true of everybody’s job. There are few people who like everything that they do every day. He says, “Now, don’t run away. Leave nothing undone that you ought to do. The environment around you may tempt you to silence or to compromise. You may find that it dulls your spirits, that it weakens your resolve. But let me,” he says, “urge you on all the more. The tougher the times, the greater the public disinterest, the more diligent we need to be in keeping our heads and fulfilling the task.”

“I Am Already Being Poured Out”

Now, the reason, he says, that Timothy must act in this way, he gives the explanation beginning in verse 6: “Because I’m on my way out. I’m being poured out like a drink offering. I’ve fought the fight. I’ve finished the race. Timothy, you’re going to have to take the next lap.” You notice the juxtaposition between the opening two words of verse 5 and the opening two of verse 6: “But you…. For I….” This is absolutely explicable. It’s not difficult, this, at all. Studying the Bible is not difficult. If you’re studying it in English, you just need to understand the English language: “But you…. For I….”

You can read Numbers 15 for your homework, and there you will read of the drink offering, a final act in the sacrificial ceremony that brought a closure to all that had gone before. Paul picks up on that when he writes to the Romans and he urges them, “I want you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice.”[12] And now he says, “That’s essentially where I am. I don’t think that my second defense is going to go better than the first. I think I’m probably out of here.” He was talking in realistic terms. But he says, “It’s my departure that’s coming, and my life is just passing away. I’m pouring it out now like a drink offering.”

It’s a wonderful illustration of the Christian’s view of death. The word here for “departure,” analusis, is a word that was translated variously in contemporary Greek usage. It would be the word that would be used of a farmer unshackling his oxen from their yoke and allowing them to roam in relaxation; the word that would be used for striking a tent and heading for a permanent dwelling; the word that would be used for weighing anchor and heading to that final harbor that was our destination. Paul says, “That’s it for me. I’m going to be relieved of the yoke. I’m going to be weighing anchor and heading for my heavenly harbor. I’m going to be striking tent and heading for my permanent dwelling.”

Death holds no terror for the Christian.

There’s no sense of grim desperation here, is there? There’s no sense of agonizing over it. He’s in a dismal dungeon, and yet what a wonderful reminder to us that “God has made of death for the Christian a narrow sunlit strip between the goodbyes of yesterday and the hellos of tomorrow”;[13] that death for the Christian—what we fear most—we never experience. We’re gonna fall asleep in the arms of Jesus, and we’re going to wake up, and we’ll be at home, and the sun’ll be shining through the windows, and we will hear our Father’s “Well done.” So, therefore, that event holds no terror for the Christian. What it will mean for us in the eking out of our lives may be painful; I’m not sure I like the prospect of the process. But let us learn here from Paul. “I’m going to be departing,” he says.

And in light of that, he looks back over his shoulder, and he says, “I’ve fought the good fight, and I’ve finished the race, and I’ve kept the faith.” What a wonderful thing to be able to say! Timothy could underscore it. He knew that Paul had struggled on many occasions. The metaphor is a good one: “The glorious fight that God gave me, I fought that. The course that Christ set me, I ran that.” It underlines for us the steady persistence that is involved in Christian living. For Paul, since his coming to Christ, it had not been a few forty-yard sprints. It hadn’t even been a cross-country run. It’d been a marathon that was going on right until he breasted the tape. He was “pressing on towards the goal to win the prize for which God had called him heavenward in Christ Jesus.”[14] And he had been a guardian and a steward of the gospel. He had kept the faith in the way that he now urges Timothy to do. He had retained his own personal faith and trust and confidence in the Lord Jesus, as he now urges Timothy—and us, through this letter—to do.

And so, from there he looks forward in verse 8. Verse 6 is the present tense: “Here I am. This is my experience.” Verse 7 is the past tense: “There I was.” And verse 8 is the future tense: “And this is what I’m looking forward to: a crown”—not his exclusive expectation, but rather the expectation of all who have been justified through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. They and he long for the appearing of the one from whom the unbeliever will hide in shame. He is looking forward to a crown.

One of the benefits of sitting up here has been enjoying the signing that has been going on at my left-hand side. And I have recognized that this is a language all of its own, and one that maybe one day I would like to learn. But I noticed in the songs that had to do with “crown” they had a little thing that they did like this for the crown. It went like this. And I picked up on that. (Now I’m translating for you!)

But you see his confidence. Nero may be about to declare him guilty, but he looks to the Lord, who is the righteous Judge: “This Nero character, he may send me to the guillotine. But the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award me on that day.” And his testimony of faith in three tenses there in 6–8 serves as an encouragement to Timothy, to whom he now gives a further and final word of instruction which reveals the sensitivity of his heart and the intimacy of his friendship.

“Come to Me”

Finally, he says, “Do your best to come to me quickly.” That’s the imperative: “Come to me quickly.” All through this letter we’ve sensed the ties that Paul feels to this young man Timothy. And if he’s ever to see Timothy again, he says, “You need to come to me soon.” Presumably, his concern about the winter[15] is that if he didn’t reach him before the winter then the difficulties of travel would probably prevent his coming. And three times he mentions about him coming; you can look through and find that.

It’s not difficult to sense from the words here an almost tangible loneliness on the part of the apostle Paul, in a dismal dungeon, separated from the opportunities that were previously his, no longer able to fulfill the things that he is exhorting his young lieutenant to, and aware of the fact that people have been leaving him all over the place—some for reasons of ministry (Crescens and Titus; certainly that would be true of Tychicus); but the real blow had been struck by Demas: “For Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica.” If you read the New Testament, you will discover that Paul and Demas had been close. They’d been related to one another. You can read of that in Colossians 4 and in Philemon. But now he was gone. Paul doesn’t say, “Well, que sera sera. Whatever. Doesn’t matter. I’ve got a few left. So what if Demas left?” No. There is a deep sadness in his life. And it would appear that the desertion was somehow directly related to Paul himself: “Demas has deserted me.” There was personal element to it. And in ministry these things are hard, and these things are sad. And you sense the sadness. What was it that called for Demas to do this bunk? Was he afraid? Was it a relationship with a woman? Did he fall in love with today and lose the sense of the then? We don’t know. But he stands out as an individual who represents discouragement to the servant of God at a time when his greatest need was for encouragement. Remember: we’re leaving a legacy.

The desertion of Demas is more than matched by the loyalty of Luke. Verse 11: “Only Luke is with me.” That’s the good news and the bad news. The good news is, Luke is with him; the bad news is, only Luke is with him. Where are the rest? “Our dear friend Luke, the doctor,”[16] as he refers to him in Colossians 4. In Philemon 24 he’s referred to again as “our fellow teacher.”[17] There’s no indication that this chap Luke was a great evangelist or an effective Bible teacher. But he was loyal to the Lord Jesus, he was loyal to the servants of Jesus, he was loyal to the gospel, and in his capacity as a Christian doctor he made a powerful contribution to the kingdom by way of the kindness of his heart. And I say to you again: kindness will live on in the hearts of men and women long after mental cleverness and eloquence has been forgotten.

At the time of my mother’s death, now twenty-six years ago, all kinds of people wrote us notes with Bible verses. But it was actually the lady round the corner who did all my father’s ironing, left with two teenage girls of eleven and fifteen—her face comes to mind far more. Not to denigrate the kindness of the card writers, but I’ve forgotten the verses. But I’ve never forgotten her knock at the door, and handing in another load of towels. Don’t let the Evil One come to you on a day like this and say, “Well, I’m going home, and I’m not going home to anything particularly spectacular. I’m going home to the laundry, and I’m going home to the lady up the street, and I’m going home to the character I call in on and ask him if he wants eggs from the shop at the end of the street.” Listen, these are the things that so often are making a dramatic impact for the kingdom. “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good [deeds], and glorify your Father [who] is in heaven.”[18]

Don’t desert like Demas. Be loyal like Luke. And don’t let’s forget the ministry of Mark. Don’t you love this? “Get Mark and bring him with you.” Pardon, Paul? Did I hear you correctly? Isn’t this the character you blew out earlier on? You said, “You can take Mark anywhere you like, but he’s not coming with me.”[19] Didn’t you say that, Paul? “Yes, I did.” Were you right? “Well… well… let’s just say he’s helpful to me in my ministry now!” Okay, we’ll take that as a concession.

What a wonderful encouragement is contained here: that God is a God who turns defections into blessings; that he is the God who “nerves the feeble arm for fight”;[20] he turns the pain of failure into the privilege of usefulness. All of us have done a Mark at some point on the journey, I’m sure. How wonderful that God does this!

Now, verse 13’s an interesting verse—and we’re now very close to the flaps going down. “When you come,” he says, “bring the cloak … [bring] my scrolls, [and] especially the parchments.”

Now, there’s a couple of things here. First of all, here is this spiritual giant, and he wants his jacket. Don’t you like that? Y’say, “Well, he didn’t need a jacket. He had his own spiritual infrared warming system.” Bogus! He needed his jacket: “If you come, don’t forget it.”

Also, “Bring my scrolls.” What were these scrolls? Well, your home Bible study group spent twenty-five minutes on the scrolls, and at the end, if you laid every idea end to end, it couldn’t reach a conclusion. Why? Because we don’t know what they are. People have PhDs on the strength of these scrolls, and I’m a little jealous, but that’s all right. Whether they were the Old Testament Scriptures, the early narratives of Jesus’ life, the equivalent of his passport, we can’t say with certain. All we can say with certainty is that they were important to Paul, and that’s all that matters! “I’m cold! Bring my jacket. I’m bored! Bring my books. I’m lonely! Come and see me.” You see the humanity of the guy? That’s how we feel: “Hey, could you bring me a book? Dear Mom, please send me my anorak. And if you can drop by at the campsite, I would love to see you.”

And all the more so because he recalls the antagonism of Alexander, the metal worker, who was more of a hindrance than a help. And he says, “The Lord’ll take care of him. I’m gonna commit my cause to him that judges justly, but I need to mention him, because I want you to be on your guard against him,” not because he was opposed to Paul as a personality, not because he didn’t like the way Paul did things, but “because he strongly opposed the message of the gospel.” That is the great concern, loved ones, in our day. It’s not a personality conflict; it’s the issue of the gospel. We need to warn God’s people against those who strongly oppose the gospel—whether it’s politically correct or not! “Alexander the metal worker did me a great deal of harm. Now, I’m not going to go further than that. I will commit my cause to him who judges justly. But I need to warn you, Timothy, ’cause the character’s on the prowl, and he opposes the gospel.”

Not only had he been opposed by Alexander, but he had been unsupported in his first defense—that’s what he says in verse 16. The preliminary hearing that went before the formal trial had been an occasion of desertion. But he wasn’t embittered. Look at that lovely sentence: “May it not be held against them.” In other words, there’s no spirit of resentment, disgruntlement. It’s not, “I remember what he did to me then, I know this…” You see this distinction? His mention of Alexander probably pained him, because the only reason he would mention him by name was because he was opposing the gospel. There were many others who did all kinds of things to him that were personally related, but he doesn’t mention their names. In fact, he says, “When I think about them, may it not be held against them.”

We need to warn God’s people against those who strongly oppose the gospel—whether it’s politically correct or not.

Because, after all, “The Lord stood at my side and [he] gave me strength.” What a lovely word! The enablement was for a purpose: “so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth.” What an encouragement to Timothy as a young man! “I was like Daniel,” he says, “in the lions’ den. I went in before the highest tribunal of the day—before the Roman Empire, maybe even before the Roman Emperor himself, and with the whole world looking on. And the Lord has kept me safe. And the Lord will rescue me”—verse 18—“from every evil attack. I was delivered in the past, I’m kept in the present, I’ll be delivered in the future. And he’s going to bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. So to him be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

And just when you’re closing your Bible, he goes on and does another little section as you turn the page. Look at these people here. I love all these names; I can’t wait to meet them. Remember that old song, “You’ve heard of little Moses in the bull rush”? Remember that one?

You have heard of fearless David and his sling.
You have heard a story told of dreaming Joseph,
And of Jonah and the whale I often sing.
And there are many, many others in the Bible,
And I should like meet them all, I do declare;
And by and by the Lord will surely let me meet them
At that meeting in the air.
’Cause there’s going to be a meeting in the air.[21]

Oh, I almost started singing there! But that’s only in case of a fire. I want to meet Pudens, don’t you? Pudens—was this the real name or a nickname? Was this somebody who liked desserts? I don’t know. Pudens. Pudens and One-sip-horus, they’re going to be there. I’m going to see the two of them. What you have here are not “smarties” or “refreshers”; you’ve got all sorts here.

And the point is simply this: as wonderful as is to Paul the presence of the Lord Jesus, and as wonderful as is the prospect of the return of the Lord Jesus, both his presence with me and the prospect of his coming for me is not intended to be a substitute for the joy of human friendship and fellowship. We need one another. And if you have no idea what your ministry is to be in going back, you go back and just look out some folks, and make it your plan to drop a note, or give a call, or write, or drop in, or whatever it is. Because this is a little reminder to us of the way fellowship works: Pricilla, Aquila, Onesiphorus’ guys, Erastus, Trophimus “sick in Miletus.”

“Pardon? You left him sick in Miletus? I thought we heard last night that your hankies were doing the business? Or did they lose their power?” Miracles of healing were not at the command of their performers. Human experience and the biblical record make it perfectly clear that there are reasons in the divine council of God for a believer’s sickness as well as for a believer’s health. And to teach other than that is to teach from an empty head and a closed Bible. Send the letters “c/o Parkside Church.”

Now, let me finish by pointing you to two phrases: verse 22, the final phrase, “Grace be with you,” and the final phrase of verse 18, “To him glory.” Let me summarize it in this way: “From him grace, and to him glory. Timothy, you’re needing to be useful to the master. Don’t be ashamed, aim for God’s approval, continue in the faith, keep your head intact, don’t deviate. Be kind to everyone, patient, tender-hearted, and so on. Just run the race to the finish.”

And that’s my word to you: let us run the race to the finish. Some have already finished their race. As I had my colleagues and mentors sign my book this morning so that I would remember having been here when I’m old and cold and settled in my ways, I looked across the page to five years ago when I had the folks sign the book. And there, the lovely signature of dear John Cager, whose memory is a fragrance to us all, and a challenge to finish the race. And all of us could fill in other names, not simply from here, but around us.

And now to us, the final two hundred meters. If we live for seventy years, that would be nice. That means that now, at forty-six, I’m definitely well into the two hundred meters.

I love Eric Liddell’s answer when interviewed by the Edinburgh Evening Post after his success in the four hundred meters in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. “What,” they said to him, “was your success in running the four hundred meters?” “Well,” he said, “I ran the first two hundred as fast as I possibly could, and then, with God’s help, I ran the second two hundred even faster.”[22]

To those of you who were born a little earlier: don’t buy this notion that the future of the church is in the children. You are the future of the church. Your theological grasp, your experience of God’s faithfulness, your laying hold of God in prayer is undergirding the very framework into which another generation comes.

And so, then, let us press on. From him the grace, and to him all the glory.

[1] Psalm 119:18 (paraphrased).

[2] Source unknown.

[3] Philippians 2:10–11 (NIV 1984).

[4] W. E. Sangster, The Craft of Sermon Construction (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1951), 1.

[5] J. I. Packer, “Some Perspectives on Preaching,” in Preaching the Living Word: Addresses from the Evangelical Ministry Assembly, ed. David Jackman (Fearn, Scotland: Christian Focus, 1999), 28.

[6] Packer, 33.

[7] John 14:9 (paraphrased).

[8] 2 Timothy 4:3 (paraphrased).

[9] John R. W. Stott, The Message of 2 Timothy: Guard the Gospel (Leicester, UK: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), 111.

[10] Charles Colson, The Body (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1992), 41.

[11] Source unknown.

[12] Romans 12:1 (paraphrased).

[13] William Jennings Bryan, “The Fundamentals,” The Forum 70 (July 1923): 1674. Paraphrased.

[14] Philippians 3:14 (paraphrased).

[15] See 2 Timothy 4:21.

[16] Colossians 4:14 (NIV 1984).

[17] Philemon 24 (paraphrased).

[18] Matthew 5:16 (KJV).

[19] Acts 15:38 (paraphrased).

[20] Thomas Kelly, “We Sing the Praise of Him Who Died” (1815).

[21] May Taylor Roberts, “The Meeting in the Air.” (Paraphrased).

[22] See, for instance, Catherine Swift, Eric Liddell (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1990), 86. Paraphrased.

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.