August 14, 2022
With his final written words, the apostle Paul left both personal instructions for his protégé, Timothy, and greetings to his fellow believers. Alistair Begg considers these words, explaining how the mighty apostle was strengthened and encouraged by the individual giftings of fellow believers. As we survey the men and women whose lives intersected with Paul’s ministry, we find warnings to heed, examples to follow, and a poignant reminder of the interdependence of God’s people in every age and place.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to turn with me and follow along as I read from 2 Timothy and chapter 4—2 Timothy chapter 4 and reading from verse 1. Paul gives this charge to Timothy, his young lieutenant, as it were, in the faith, the one to whom he’s entrusting the responsibility in Paul’s absence. And he writes:
“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. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
“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.
“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[’s] 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. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
“Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus remained at Corinth, and I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus. Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers [and sisters].
“The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.”
Father, we turn to the Bible, seeking the help of the Holy Spirit to speak and to hear, to understand and to live in the light of its truth. From ourselves we look to you, to this end. In Christ’s name. Amen.
Well, last Sunday, in chapter 23 of 2 Samuel, we looked at that particular chapter under the heading that appears in the text that most of us are using, “The Last Words of David.” And in the evening in particular, those of us who were present for Communion, we looked then at this long list of names, some of whom were particularly mentioned. Most of them were simply there in a very long list.
And I don’t know about you, but in the days that have elapsed since, I have been thinking a lot about those two things: number one, last words—what they should be, what they will be—and long lists, and who would be in these long lists. We mentioned in passing last Sunday evening that this is not unique to the Old Testament, that you can find a similar expression of partnership in the letters of Paul himself—notably, at the end of Colossians, and then at the end of Romans, in chapter 16. But it’s also true here, as you would have noted as I read, in the final letter of Paul here in 2 Timothy.
And so this morning, I want us actually to consider not the last words of David but the last words of Paul himself. There is a series here, I sense. It’s not the beginning of one, but I made a note of it, that we could go on for a long time: the last words of Jesus, the last words of Abraham, the last words of Moses, and so on. Put your minds at rest; that is not my plan. This is something of an aberration. It gives me time to understand 2 Samuel 24 as well, which you ought to pray for, because I’m going to try and teach it to you, so you could ask God to help me.
Now, the context for his last words to Timothy are here in this chapter. In verses 6–9, he explains that his life is being “poured out,” which ought to make us think of what David did last week, when his friends came back with the water that they had gone to get from the well near the gate in Bethlehem, and he poured it out. Similarly, in a very different expression, Paul’s life is being poured out. He’s now in the departure lounge. He hasn’t taken off, but he’s ready for going, and he is able to announce in verse 7 that the fight, he has fought it; the race, he has run it; and the faith, he has kept it.
And in light of that, he has written these last words to Timothy, his young lieutenant. It is clearly a personal letter. He has also written a first letter to him. Now this is the second and the final. It is a personal letter that would have been read publicly. And that is important to understand. We would not have the letters that come to our mailbox written to us in such a way that it would be anticipated that they would be for public dissemination. Many of them could be, of course, but that would not be the purpose.
So Paul, writing to Timothy here, recognizes that Timothy will take it to heart personally, but in having it read to the congregation in which Timothy was serving, then it would mean a number of things. First of all, the congregation would learn what it meant for Timothy to do what Paul is asking Timothy to do—namely, in chapter 1, to make sure that he “guard[s] the good deposit”; that whatever else he does, he must make sure that the good news, the truth of Jesus, must be held carefully and conveyed effectively into the generations that are to come. That his gift as a pastor and a teacher is to be fanned into a flame. He mustn’t rest on his laurels. He mustn’t lie down, as it were, at the midpoint in the proceedings, but he must stir himself up and keep moving. And the congregation was also going to learn of the depth of Paul’s affection for Timothy. Right at the very beginning, he says, “I have longed to see you. I remember your tears”—whatever was involved in that emotional encounter. And twice here in the section we’re going to look at, he wants him to come to him, and he wants him to come to him soon.
So, we’re not looking at verses 6–9, where, essentially, Paul says, “I’m heading out.” We’re not actually going to give ourselves to the more familiar material of verses 1–5, which really encapsulate Paul’s concern for the ongoing work of the gospel, reminding Timothy of the fact that he has become convinced of the truth of the Scriptures—Scriptures which are, he says, divinely inspired, completely reliable, and totally sufficient.
And then, with all of that, he comes to these—if you’re using the same text as me—“Personal Instructions” and “Final Greetings,” which continues to remind us of how many people were involved with him in the matter of the gospel, which is always the case. We might have anticipated, too, I think, that some of these practicalities we might have been tempted to get out of the way, as it were, if we were writing the letter—some of these details about cloaks and books and who’s here and who’s there and everywhere else—so that the thing could finish with a great crescendo, you know: “Now preach the Word. Be diligent in season and out of season.” Well, he’s done all that. So the very fact that he ends in this way actually reminds us of the importance of all the others.
Now, if your text is before you, I want you just to look down and see yourself and see myself, as it were, in the group, in the list. You’re there at the very end of verse 21: “and all the brothers [and sisters].” “And all the brothers [and sisters].” And “we, being many, are one body in Christ.” Who are we? How many notable names? Not many. But we all share the same lifeblood. We all share the same vision. We all are uniquely gifted, not in the same way as one and another, but nevertheless given gifts in order that we might see the gospel proceed. And it is because of all of that that I want us just to work our way very straightforwardly through this final section.
And it begins, you will notice, in verse 9, “Do your best to come to me soon.” “Do your best to come to me soon.” It was clearly a lonely life in a cold, dark dungeon. We ought not to think that he’s somewhere down on the south coast of the Mediterranean, down somewhere near Montpellier, whatever it might be. No, no, he’s not there at all. He’s in a really dreadful spot. The kind of context in which he finds himself would have had a hole in the top for any kind of light and for any kind of air. Buried in that context, under Roman jurisdiction, he says, “Do your best.” “Do your best to come to me soon.” And he had told Timothy how much he loved him at the beginning of it. So it’s no surprise that he would like to see him, is it?
Now, the first thing I made note of as I read this: I said to myself, “What is very interesting is that he has just announced in verse 8 that he loves the appearing of Jesus. He loves the thought of Jesus coming back. And then he immediately says, ‘Do your best to come to me soon.’” In other words, the fact that he is very excited about meeting Jesus does not mean that he is no longer interested in meeting Timothy.
In fact, it is his anticipation of that day which makes the enjoyment of the moment for which he longs all the more important. Paul’s heart, if you like, was in the heavens, but his feet were firmly planted on the ground. Every so often, I meet people who are very heavenly, but it seems somehow or another that they live at a different level from me; that they have now moved onto a plane, a realm of spiritual geography, that I myself have never experienced; that somehow or another, if I could be taken up to that level, then all the affairs of time and the issues of who and the what and the everything, they all just pass away.
In my experience, no they don’t. They become all the more precious. It is the perspective of heaven that gives significance to the reality of earth. The hymn writer gets it:
Heaven above is softer blue,
[And] earth around is sweeter green!
[And] something lives in every hue
[That] Christless eyes have never seen;
[And] birds with gladder songs o’erflow,
[And earth] with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, [that] now I know,
I am his, and he is mine.
It doesn’t mean that all of this has now become irrelevant. No, all of this has become supremely, supremely wonderful, in a way that the scientific rationalist who’s an atheist has nobody to talk to, nothing to say, no one to rejoice in, no one to praise. No: “Come to me soon.” He has declared that his mission is accomplished, but the earthly matters are not irrelevant.
“I want you to continue,” he said to Timothy—“Make sure you continue in the things that you have become convinced of, knowing those from whom you learned it,” and so on—“I want you to continue, but I also want your company. And I want your company soon.” “Soon”! There’s nothing like “See if you can manage, but if not, no big deal”—you know, that kind of thing. “Would you like to come over? If you can… However, if you don’t…” You know, it’s like, oh, forget it! No. I’m not remotely interested in coming over if that’s the extent of the invitation: “It’s up to you, whatever you think.” No. Uh-uh. “Do your jolly best to get here, Timothy, and get here soon.” Can you imagine when that was read out in the public congregation, how Timothy must have sat up in his chair? Sat up and said, “See that? See? See? You see how much Paul loves me?”
Of course he loved him. Because Timothy’s company is going to go to some way to offsetting the disappointment which is contained in verse 10: “For Demas, in love with this present world…” Incidentally, you will notice there, he says that these people are in love with Jesus’ appearing; the verb there is agapao. It’s the same verb: they love his appearing, but Demas has actually stopped loving his appearing, and he’s started loving this present age. He’s “deserted me.”
Now, notice: he’s “deserted me.” He doesn’t actually say here that he’s deserted the gospel. But this is a personal affront. This is something that has unsettled Paul. It’s not pleasant when those who have been your companions… And he was a good companion. You’ll find him in Colossians chapter 4, where he’s mentioned in the same phrase as Luke, who’s about to come in a moment or two. So Demas was part of the team. He wasn’t tangential. It’s a painful thing when those who’ve walked with us walk away, whatever the reason. And if it isn’t a painful thing, then there was no relationship to worry about in the first instance. No.
And once again, Paul doesn’t say, “I have Jesus, and I don’t need anyone else.” We have no reason to believe that Paul is able to take this in his stride. Paul is not a superhero. He’s an apostle, set apart by the grace of God to do a job which is now leading him to a beheading at the authorities of the Roman government. That is his prospect. “The time has come for my departure. Timothy, come. Demas is gone.”
Somehow, Demas had got off track. I don’t know why. He left for Thessalonica. Were things more exciting there in Thessalonica? “Oh, Paul, you’re just saying the same old gospel again and again. Over in Thessalonica, there’s a lot of exciting things going on.” I don’t know. Perhaps “Paul, you set the standard a little bit high. I don’t want to be in your company anymore. I want to go somewhere it’s less demanding.” We don’t know whether it was a temporary lapse or a wholesale collapse. We don’t know if it was the result of a series of small compromises. We don’t know if he had just grown increasingly disinterested in the crown that the Lord would award to all who loved his appearing.
Well, he appears here as a warning, doesn’t he? And it is clear that Paul is very sensitive about being deserted. He’s already mentioned this at the beginning of the letter: “You[’re] aware,” he says in 1:15, “that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.” In other words, he says, “I know what this is like. I know what it’s like to be on my own.” And the fact is, as we read through this section, there are a lot of empty seats: “Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.” Tychicus is in Ephesus, Carpus in Troas (verse 13), Erastus in Corinth (verse 20), and Trophimus in Miletus.
Now, we needn’t suppose that all of these people are deserters like Demas. In fact, I think it would be wrong for us to imagine that. They probably are actually dispatched, either by Paul or in the awareness of Paul, to various responsibilities in different places. And as a result of that, he doesn’t enjoy their company, and it matters to him. Paul is clearly vulnerable. He is, remember, an old clay pot, an earthen vessel.
However, you’ll notice in verse 11 that “Luke alone is with me.” “Luke alone is with me.” In other words, here you have a loyal man. Now, it’s also possible that when he says, “Luke alone is with me,” he’s simply saying, “And the reason… I kept Luke back because everybody else has been dispatched,” and so he’s just saying, “Luke alone is with me”—as opposed to “Look at Luke. He’s with me. Demas is gone. I want you to come. And, of course, all these other people are all over the place.” There is no question, of course, that Luke was probably Paul’s most loyal companion in his missionary journeys. He refers to him again in Colossians 4 as “our dear friend Luke, the doctor.” There’s no indication that Luke was a great evangelist, nor that he was full of great ideas, nor that he was a compelling leader. But his contribution to the kingdom was substantial. Let me say that to you again: no indication that he was a great evangelist, nor that he was full of great ideas, nor that he was a compelling leader. But his contribution to the kingdom was substantial.
You don’t need to be a great leader or evangelist to fulfill the remaining forty spots as helpers in the children’s ministry. You don’t need to be a great evangelist in order to write notes and cards and call and hug and greet. You just need to be you, doing what God has made you capable of doing where you are. And indeed, it would seem to me to be a very strange thing to join a church without the fundamental conviction in the heart of the person joining that “one, I am to be shepherded and guided and taught and helped by the leadership, and I am committed to serving in whatever capacity I am able to serve.” And if you don’t know how good you are at children’s ministry, try it. We’ll let you know, I’m sure.
Luke was a standout on account of his loyalty. Loyalty! There’s a concept, isn’t it? Loyalty. Eric Felten, writing—one of the columnists in the Wall Street—recently, he said,
Our modern, rootless times do seem to be a particularly inhospitable environment for loyalty. … What sort of loyalty is there in the age of Facebook, when friendship is a costless transaction, a business of flip reciprocity …. Friendship held together by nothing more permanent than hyperlinks is hardly the stuff of selfless fidelity.
Do your best to come to the evening service. I didn’t say, “Hey, it’s no big deal. Do whatever you want.” No. Do your best.
That’s what he’s saying to Timothy, you see: “Timothy, you are uniquely gifted, but you have to stir up the gift that is in you. You’ve got to fan the flame that is in you.” How was the flame fanned in Timothy’s life? It was fanned by the people who were around Timothy, who were able to say to him, “Thank you,” who were able to say to him, “That’s an encouragement,” who were able to say to him, “Hey, look out, Timothy,” who were able to say, “You better not say it like that again, Timothy.” That’s how it happens. It wasn’t that he went away on a retreat by himself and walked in the hills and tried to do something. No, it was because of the context in which he served. That’s where it happens. That’s where it happens for you, and that’s where it happens for me.
In the old days of coal fires—and I grew up with them in Scotland—you can take one coal out of the flame and lay it on the hearth, and within minutes, it’s out. You can take a piece that’s lying there, and within minutes, snuggled in with the rest, it is back into flame. That is the point of emphasis here.
Now, he had previously been a little disinterested in the next character. (Incidentally, if we don’t finish this, I’ll just continue it this evening, which will give you something to look forward to.) “Luke alone is with me,” and then, “Get Mark and bring him with you.”
Now, this is a good point for you just to turn back in your Bibles. That way, if I hear the pages, I’ll know that you’re actually still alive out there. Acts chapter 13, and then Acts chapter 15, just to point this out. Acts 13:13. Paul and Barnabas are at Antioch in Pisidia, and Luke records that “Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia.” Real history, real geography. “And John”—that is, John Mark—“left them and returned to Jerusalem.” It’s just there, just a sentence. You come to chapter 15, and in anticipation of the Jerusalem council, Luke records—verse 1—“Some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you[’re] circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’” And they had to deal with that error. And then verse 2: “And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question.” And so, being sent on their way by the church, they went on their journey.
And it is in this context that they have this disagreement over the issue of Mark. Why I can’t see it I will tell you: because it’s in verse 36. I had “verse 3,” not 36. That was going to be a very long reading till I got to the verse I needed. So there we have it. Verse 36:
And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers [and sisters] in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him … [and] Paul chose Silas and departed.
Okay? Now we’re in the last words. Now we’re in the list. And the person that you might anticipate not appearing in the list appears in the list. He doesn’t just get his name there, but he gets a call to Timothy on his journey to Paul, presumably able to pick Mark up on the way: “Give him a ride when you come. Bring him with you”—notice—“for he is very useful to me for ministry.”
Well! Is that a change in Mark, or is that a change in Paul? Might be a change in both. Was Paul right when he said, “I don’t want Mark coming”? Was Barnabas right? After all, he’s the “son of encouragement.” I think you would lean in Barnabas’s company, wouldn’t you? Nevertheless, whatever was involved in that, he has become a coworker.
Restored relationships are beautiful. Restored relationships are wonderful. Nobody can be involved in a family for any length of time at all without a breakdown in relationships, whether momentary or whether prolonged. There is no joy in that. There is no health in that. There is no future in that. All the joy comes in restored relationships. And to the extent that Paul is the leader in this—certainly as he recognizes, “I am not going to get a chance to write another letter, it would seem. Therefore, this is my last shot. So I’m going to make sure that I say to Timothy, ‘Get Mark, and you bring him with you, because he is useful to me in ministry.’” Well, it may be a word to all of us. It may be a word to some of us.
And then, “When you come, bring the cloak, bring the books, above all the parchments”—telling us that apostles get cold, they get bored, and they get lonely.
“The parchments” and the identity of the parchments are the focus of all kinds of New Testament studies. People get PhDs for explaining to the rest of us that they know what these parchments were, when in actual fact, nobody knows what they were. Therefore, we shouldn’t really allow our imaginations to go too crazy. But we could allow them to go a little bit crazy, right? Because these parchments were obviously of vital importance.
Think about this. If things were to work out as Paul planned, he was going to end his life, spend the last days of his life, in the company of three of his most beloved companions—namely, Timothy, Luke, and Mark. What if the reading material contained elements of the gospel story that had begun to be written, which Luke and Mark were going to produce a final edition of called the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Luke? If that were to be the case, then Paul could have played a part in the direction of and the editing of the Gospels. He could have said to them, upon review, “Hey, why don’t you two write down a history of Jesus?” And particularly for Mark, if you think about it, what a transition! From “I don’t want him coming along” to “Bring him with me; he’s useful” to “Hey Mark, why don’t you write a Gospel?”
Then, from 14 to 18, a particular warning and a wonderful rescue.
A particular warning: Paul is vulnerable, Luke is helpful, Mark is useful, and Alexander is harmful—the coppersmith. “Many evils to me he showed.” That’s a literal translation: “Many evils to me he showed.” He “did me great harm.” We don’t know the harm. Was he an informer, responsible for Paul’s second imprisonment? Whatever it was, he’s going to leave the Lord to settle the matter—like Jesus. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return, but he committed his cause to the God who judges justly. And Paul is doing the same thing.
His concern, you will notice, is not about personal injury. This is not a matter of a personality conflict with this fellow, Alexander. No, you will notice that the issue is the gospel message. This is always the issue for Paul: “Guard the good deposit. Make sure you tell others and entrust to others the responsibility of conveying this gospel. Therefore, when I identify Alexander in this way, it’s not because I just don’t like him as a personality. It’s because he has done many evil things that are harmful in the cause of the gospel.”
So Paul was opposed. He was deserted: “My first defense no one came”—verse 16. He was strengthened—verse 17: “strengthened … so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed.” Do you see it again? That’s it! What would he get strengthened for? So he could do pushups? No, he was strengthened in order that people might know how strong he was. No, he was strengthened so that he might do what he’d been called to do: “set apart for the gospel of [Jesus Christ].” The gospel is the issue. And the people on the list are on the list directly related to the gospel.
Think about the great list, the list that is there in the Lamb’s Book of Life, where the names of those in Christ are entered on that list. What is it that has got our names entered on the list? The gospel. What is it that we are responsible, then, to convey and to support and to sustain? The gospel. He doesn’t bear a grudge in this. He’s been deserted, but he’s not disgruntled. It actually proved to be an occasion about which we would love to inquire. Verse 17: “The Lord stood by me”—I wonder what that actually meant—“and [he] strengthened me.”
And so he says, “Every attempt by the Roman government to devour me, like a big lion coming to eat me—every attempt has so far come to nothing.” “I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.” That could be a literal lion. I don’t know. I think it’s more likely a metaphor. And so he says, “The Lord will rescue me. I’m confident of this.” It’s the Lord’s Prayer, isn’t it? “Deliver us from evil.” “I’m confident that the Lord will do what I’ve asked him to do—deliver me from evil—and he will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. And to him be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
And then a PS: 19–22. I think I’ll leave that for this evening. It’s ten o’clock.
Lord, in obedience to your prompting, we are in this chapter—surprising for probably all of us, not least of all me. And yet we believe that you have things in this passage that are supremely important for us at this point of transition in the life of our church congregation: the importance of restored relationships; the importance of understanding the gift you have given and the part you encourage us to play; the importance of reminding ourselves that there’s no one-man band, that we are entirely dependent on one another.
And we pray that this might be borne in upon us increasingly as we come to the commencement of this autumn season—as we see need, as we see opportunity, that you will help us, Lord. Help us to value loyalty and friendship and kindness. For after all, what grace that you have shown to us, that you called out into our lives and called us to yourself and called us into fellowship with one another, in order that we might, in response to your grace, affirm the fact that we are prepared and willing to serve you wherever, whenever, whatever. At least that’s the claim we want to make. And we want to ask that you will help us to fulfill the promises that we make. And we ask it in Christ’s name. Amen.
 See 2 Samuel 23:15–16.
 2 Timothy 1:14 (ESV).
 See 2 Timothy 1:6.
 2 Timothy 1:4 (paraphrased).
 Romans 12:5 (KJV).
 George Wade Robinson, “I Am His, and He Is Mine” (1876).
 2 Timothy 3:14 (paraphrased).
 See Colossians 4:14.
 See 2 Corinthians 4:7.
 Colossians 4:14 (NIV).
 Eric Felton, Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2011), 2.
 Acts 4:36 (ESV).
 See 1 Peter 2:23.
 Romans 1:1 (ESV).
 Matthew 6:13 (ESV).
Copyright © 2023, 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.