Continue On And Finish Well
By Rich Carmicheal
Scripture Reading: 2 Timothy
The very fact that you are reading this article is evidence, I believe, that the Lord is calling you to walk more fully in His plans and purposes for your life and service. He is issuing a call to His people, including you and me, to take note of the hour we are in, and to leave lesser things behind, and to strive after those things that matter to Him and that will spiritually impact the lives of people close to us as well as those in far off places.
Scripture teaches from Genesis to Revelation that the Lord longs to work through His people, through individuals such as you and me. He longs to see you be all that He has created you to be, and do all that He has created you to do. Even in your mother’s womb, He began forming who you are (Psalm 139:13-16), and now through re-creation in Christ His work continues: "For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Eph. 2:10). He does indeed have plans and purposes for your life and service. Perhaps you are already walking faithfully in Him, or perhaps you are out of step and need to redirect your life toward Him. In either case, His call is for you to walk in the fullness of all that He has in mind for you.
Toward this end, I have been much encouraged and challenged recently by the Apostle Paul’s message in his second letter to Timothy. Though you may or may not be called into leadership ministry as was Timothy, I hope you might take to heart Paul’s challenge to be faithful to who the Lord is calling you to be and what the Lord is calling you to do. Here are some important truths embedded in that letter that can encourage us toward that high calling.
1. We must awaken to the significance of the hour we are living in. The Apostle Paul gives this warning about the last days: "But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power…" (2 Tim. 3:1-5). While these characteristics were present to some extent in Timothy’s day as well as in the intervening nineteen centuries, we certainly see them intensified in our day. All around us we see violence, evil, hatred, greed, selfishness, hedonism, arrogance and lack of self-restraint. Every indication is that we are in the last of the last days. The time is short.
Paul also warns of the increase of false teaching: "For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear" (4:3). Unfortunately, there is a growing number of people in our day who claim to be part of the Church and yet are abandoning sound doctrine and are tolerating, condoning and living in sin. They are lovers of money and lovers of pleasure. They have a form of godliness, but are rejecting God’s values and standards. Their teaching, like the teaching of Hymenaeus and Philetus who wandered away from the truth in Timothy’s day, spreads like gangrene (2:17-18). Paul warns that "evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived" (3:13).
2. This is the hour for God’s people to rise up. In the midst of such darkness and deception, there is all the more need for light and truth. Paul’s message to Timothy and to us is that we are to stand in contrast to the darkness of the hour. "Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with all who call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (2 Tim. 2:22). Or, as he writes in 1 Timothy 6:11: "But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness." In an hour when many are losing sight of the Lord and His ways, it becomes all the more important that we display the life, love, truth and character of our Lord. The need is great and the time is short.
As God’s people, something most sacred and valuable has been entrusted to us – the Gospel of our Lord. Timothy had received this precious gift through the faith and influence of his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice (2 Tim. 1:5), as well as from the Apostle Paul (1:13; 2:2). Paul’s encouragement to Timothy was to guard, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the good deposit that was entrusted to him (1:14), and to pass the Gospel on to others who would in turn pass it on (2:2). That Gospel has been handed down through generations, and has, by the grace of God, made it to you and me. And now it is our responsibility and privilege to pass the good news of our Lord on to others. This is not a time to be "ashamed to testify about our Lord" (1:8). Instead, in light of the seriousness of the hour, it is a time to share the grace that "has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light…" (1:10).
Paul’s message in Second Timothy carries a heightened sense of urgency about the need to pass on the true Gospel. One reason for this is that Paul is in prison (2:9) and knows that his own death is imminent: "For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure" (4:6). This may very well be Paul’s last letter, and he is doing all that he can to encourage Timothy to faithfully carry on the work entrusted to him. Note these words of encouragement: "…fan into flame the gift of God" (1:6); "…join with me in suffering for the Gospel, by the power of God" (1:8); "…be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus" (2:1); "…the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others" (2:2); "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved" (2:15); "…continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of" (3:14); "Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction" (4:2).
Paul knew the stakes were high. The future advance of the Gospel depended on individuals such as Timothy being faithful to their training and calling. And so it is today as individuals, such as you and I, are called to faithfulness in guarding and sharing the Gospel. This is our hour to fan into flame the gift of God, to testify about our Lord, to be strong in the grace of Christ Jesus, to present ourselves before God as those approved, to continue in what we have learned and have become convinced of, and to be ready to share the Word in season and out of season.
3. We are to be Christ-centered and filled with His Word. Paul’s second letter to Timothy reveals a truth that is central in all his letters, that is, our focus is to be upon Jesus Christ. Note the emphasis on Him: "Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus…" (1:1); "…the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus" (1:1); "Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord" (1:2); "This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time" (1:9); "…our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light…" (1:10); "…with faith and love in Christ Jesus" (1:13); "…the grace that is in Christ Jesus" (2:1); "Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David…" (2:8); "…the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory" (2:10); "…live a godly life in Christ Jesus…" (3:12); "…salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (3:15); "In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of His appearing and His kingdom…" (4:1). Christ Jesus is the source of life, grace, mercy, peace, salvation, immortality, faith, love, resurrection, glory and godliness. He is the One who appoints us to His service, He is the Christ, the Lord, the Savior, the Judge, the King and the One who is coming again. This is the hour to fix our thoughts and hearts firmly upon Him. This is the hour to proclaim Him. This is the hour to spend ourselves in His service. He is worthy! "To Him be glory for ever and ever. Amen" (4:18).
We must also set our hearts and minds on the Lord’s Word. It is the Word of God that equips us to minister in a world filled with darkness and deception: "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (3:16-17). We are to study to show ourselves approved, workmen who correctly handle the Word of truth (2:15). We live in a world that is increasingly rejecting truth. But truth is essential. It is "a knowledge of the truth" that makes it possible for people in error to "come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will" (2:25-26).
People all around us need to hear the Word of the Lord. Though we may not all be teachers, we all have a responsibility to know the Word, and to be able to share the Word in some degree with others. We need to be bold in sharing the Word with others, but do so with love and discipline: "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline" (1:7). As we share the Word of God with others, our words will at times carry warning (2:14), correction (4:2) and reproof (4:2). But in all cases our sharing is to be marked with such characteristics as kindness (2:24), gentleness (2:25) and encouragement with great patience and careful instruction (4:2). And our words and our way of life are to be in harmony (3:10) or our witness will become ineffective. As the adage states, we need to practice what we preach.
4. We must continue on despite hardship, opposition and persecution. As you press forward in being faithful to God and His work, you can expect hardship and persecution. Paul states very clearly that "…everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (3:12). Paul himself was very familiar with suffering throughout his ministry, and even at the time he wrote this letter he was imprisoned and facing martyrdom. His call to Timothy and to us is press on in sharing the Gospel even though suffering is inevitable. As Christ Himself taught, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated Me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also" (John 15:18-20).
Paul gives us a powerful lesson in holding the course even in the midst of opposition and persecution. He shares in this letter that even though people had deserted him (4:10,16), even though he had suffered a great deal of harm and been strongly opposed (4:15), even though he was imprisoned (2:9), and even though he was "being poured out like a drink offering" (4:6), he never lost his confidence in the Lord. "I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day" (1:12). "The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom…" (4:18). Paul was willing to endure everything so that others might obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus (2:10). And he declares with certainty that even though God’s servant may be "chained like a criminal" (2:9), "God’s Word is not chained" (2:9). God is able to work powerfully as His people go through hardships, opposition and persecution.
So whenever you find yourself in the midst of hardship or persecution, don’t give up, but endure. Paul exhorts us to "endure hardship" (2:3; 4:5) and to consider his own endurance (3:10-11; see also 2 Cor. 11:23-28). The writer of Hebrews exhorts us to also consider the endurance of Jesus, "the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (Heb. 12:2-3). As we fix our eyes upon Jesus, we can depend upon Him to strengthen us as He did Paul: "But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed…" (2 Tim. 4:17). And the glorious promise is this: "…if we endure, we will also reign with Him" (2:12).
5. Continue on in the work of God and finish well. When we see evil going from "bad to worse" (3:13), it is easy to become discouraged and hold back. Paul, however, has a different course for us: "But as for you, continue on in what you have learned and have become convinced of…" (3:14). Our God is still at work. His Word is not chained! As we are faithful to Him and His work, He is faithful to pour out His wonderful grace and His mighty power. The lost will be saved. The saved will be encouraged and strengthened. The Gospel will do its glorious work!
Let’s carry on faithfully until our Lord comes again or until He calls us home to be with Him. Let’s finish well so that we can one day say, in the words of the Apostle Paul, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store 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 longed for His appearing" (4:7-8).