What would you say if you were ever told that you only have some weeks or some months to live? The doctors have tried everything they can and finally the day has dawned; you have been told to set your house in order. Sudden sadness would envelope the person in question, added with shedding of tears, with the knowledge that one is about to die. Admittedly, this is a very tough one, I must say, because the mind would be filled with so many things one would want to do and to say. There would also be the unwillingness to die.
It reminds me of Jesus’ last words to the disciples when he knew the time to go had come. He made them understand how it was for their advantage that he leaves and goes to be with God in Heaven. He made it look like He was on a mission (now we know He was) he had to accomplish especially for the sake of humanity. He explained to them the plan and purpose of God in sending the Holy Spirit to continue that which God had started. He didn’t sound sad but went through the most painful part of His life as they nailed Him to the cross. He became an anathema in exchange for our life.
I am also reminded of another who wrote to Timothy at the earth-shattering, momentous and emotional time of his life. It was the defining moment and knowing that he had only a little time left, he decided to write this last letter to his son, Timothy reminding him about what he had taught him and more importantly passing the baton to him. Timothy was inundated about the sad information of receiving the baton to continue the race that was started by his protégé, father and mentor in God.
He was set to go on a missionary journey and Timothy was discovered. He decided to take Timothy with him on this journey. They were going to Macedonia through Ephesus. The church in Ephesus had been set up, so they had to stop by and see how their fellow brethren were doing. They encountered a challenge with the Ephesian Church; false teachers had taken over the church and some mitigation had to be put in place. Timothy had to wait behind at Ephesus while his master proceeded to Macedonia on his missionary work. They both never knew that was the last time they were going to see each other. The Bible describes how they both wept on each other’s shoulders as they parted.
As he attempted to return to Ephesus by way of Troas, he was re-arrested at the instigation of Alexander the metalworker. He had been brought to trial in Rome and had already had a preliminary hearing; he knew that the end was near, as things were not looking good because he was not released. He was going to undergo a trial but he knew it would not lead to his release; his time of execution approached, he was soon going to die. There was no one around him, not even his friends were around as he was kept out of circulation so that only with difficulty could he be found (all his friends had left him). They were all ashamed of his imprisonment, but one man, Onesiphorus, was faithful and searched until he found him.
Knowing that he was soon going to be executed, one would have thought that he would be depressed and despondent, loosing all hope of a fruitful ministry. He thoughts were not about himself and the excruciating pain he was suffering or his accomplishments. He was more interested in making sure that Timothy was prepared to carry on the work. He decides to write to his son Timothy before he dies as he suffered in chains, in a cold dungeon. He sure must have a lot to write about and disregard his present predicament. The urgency is the picture being painted here and not what he was going through. He had some very important things to say to his son as he contemplates death.
What did he have to say to his son that he had not said?
He told him to rekindle the gift that God had given to him because that was the only thing that could keep him in the path of the call. It would help him to be bold in speaking and teaching the Word of God. Timothy couldn’t afford to be shy with the gifts from God. It was the sacred word taught or spoken that would keep him in the day of trouble and suffering. Timothy was told to expect his share of suffering for the Gospel because this is the reason why his mentor was in chains. He couldn’t afford to be ashamed because his master was in prison. ‘The times are going to be fierce and hard my son, you can only persevere in the work of the ministry as they move to kill you too’. He was assured that the God that delivered his master at Lystra, Incomium and Antioch was able to deliver him also.
Timothy was instructed to hold fast to the sound doctrines that he had been taught, not veering to the left or to the right, but to remain focused on what he had learnt. The same teaching he heard from his master, he was required to continue without adulterating it. There was that tendency to water down the message because of the fear of being arrested by the Roman government. He was reminded not to change the words he had heard from his master. He was only allowed by his master to pass on the same things to the congregation and also to stand against any contrary teaching from any faction.
He was told to pass on the same things to faithful men (leadership succession) who would carry on the work if eventually Timothy too were killed. He said this to prepare Timothy for any eventuality. The person preaching may be jailed but the Word of God cannot be jailed. He said that to Timothy because he knew from experience that the days were going to get tougher by the minute. ‘Throw yourself into the work of Christ and remain steadfast and unswerving’.
He also gave three examples to drive home the point that Timothy could not avoid suffering as he continued to do the Work of God. He gave the example of the soldier who had no life but was completely dedicated to the work and service they were called to do. Their main aim is to please their master, carrying out orders; they do not get caught up in making deals in the market place. The second example was that of the athlete who refuses to play by the rules and ends up as nothing, an exercise in futility and emptiness. Lastly the example of the farmer implying that it is the diligent and hard-working farmer who gets the produce. In other words, ‘Timothy, you can’t afford to be distracted by the complexities and temptations in the world’.
He was told to be diligent in the study of the Word of God; warning not to speak if he was not sure he knew what he was talking about. He was to investigate and put some earnest efforts in accomplishing what was undertaken compared to the many babblers and motivational speakers out there. He had to rightly divide the Word of God. If one was not rightly dividing the Word, one was sure to walk in error, corrupting that which is intended to be sacred.
He was told to warn the congregation over pious nitpicking, which chips away faith and wears everyone out. He was told to run away from infantile indulgence and run after mature righteousness, to refuse inane discussions as they end up in arguments and fights. God’s servants are not to be argumentative, but gentle listeners and teachers who keep cool, working firmly but patient with those who refuse to obey. He was to stay clear of pious talks, which are just empty talks that accumulate as poison to the soul. Becoming a vessel of honor was to be his focus and not just any vessel because in a kitchen, there are not only crystal goblets and silver platters, but waste cans and compost buckets – some are used to serve fine meals, others are used to take out garbage.
He was warned about the turbulent times coming ahead, how difficult they were going to be. They were perilous times, times of danger and trials. One of the characteristics of those days is that men shall be predominantly selfish, under the garb of religion, covetous, boasters, proud et al. Men will profess religion or in connection with the church but in absolute opposition to absolutes defined in the pages of scriptures. They will oppose the real power of religion and not allow it to exert any influence in their lives. He was advised not to have any associations with such categories of people. These false teachers walk on the vulnerabilities of women warming their ways into their minds through flattery and smooth talks. These women are eventually led away as captives under their indoctrination. These women would think they are learning but would eventually never come into the knowledge of the truth.
He also warned Timothy to remain focused and not judge himself by comparing himself with other people who are actually not doing God’s work. Like Jannes and Jambres, he warned, who were the magicians of Pharaoh. They threw their staff on the floor and their staff became snakes like that of Moses, meaning there is a slim line between truth and error. These deluded false teachers and seducers will increase in number, deceiving people but their works and deed would soon be exposed. Timothy was to continue in that which he had been instructed by focusing on the inspiration of the sacred scriptures, even though there is no physical evidence of materialism.
Finally, Timothy was commanded to preach/teach the word of God in and out of season. He was to teach at convenient and inconvenient times, in good times and also in bad times. He told him God was looking over his shoulder encouraging him to preach the message with intensity without fail. He commanded him not to quit because the time will come when people will ignore sound doctrine and opt for spiritual junk food – catchy opinions that tickle their fancy. They will turn their backs on truth and chase mirages. ‘Timothy, remain focused, accept the hard and good times when they come, keep the message alive and do your job as a good servant of God’.
He told him that there was a fight to be fought, a race to be run and a faith to be kept as he told him that his blood was about to be poured out as a drink offering (he was going to be killed). He also told him about what was laid up for him in heaven, knowing that it was the Lord that would be present on that future day. He referred to the crown that would be placed on him, encouraging Timothy that the same was also available for him.
Before Timothy could get to him physically his protégé and mentor in God was already killed. He was beheaded and finally he could go and be with the Lord as he had always wished.
We can only walk and follow these last words to also get the crown of righteousness from God.
What a Martyr.