June 24, 2018
What Matters Most
Pastor Philip De Courcy
2 Timothy 4: 9-22

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Philip De Courcy (00:00):
We’re looking at 2 Timothy 4:9-22. Let’s stand as I read God’s word. If you’re following along, 2 Timothy 4:9. Paul’s writing to Timothy. “Be diligent to come to me quickly; for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica, Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. And Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come. And the books, especially the parchments.
[NEW_PARAGRAPH]”Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works. You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words. At my first offense, no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, that all the Gentiles might hear. Also, I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.
[NEW_PARAGRAPH]”Greet Prisca and Aquila and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus stayed in Corinth. But Trophimus I have left in Miletus, sick. Do your utmost to come before winter. Eubulus greet you, as well as Pudens, Linus, Claudia and all the brethren. The Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Grace be with you. Amen.”
You may be seated. I want to speak this morning on the subject what natters most. And we’re looking at 2 Timothy 4:9-22. The British writer and wit, Samuel Johnson, famously said this: “When a man knows he’s to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates the mind wonderfully.” He’s right. You can imagine that to be true. When we see the approach of death, it has a way of reprioritizing life, of switching the price tags, of making us think about what’s truly valuable. When we see the approach of the Grim Reaper, it has a way of refocusing us. Death and the thought of death separates the big things from the small things in life; the permanent from the passing; the spiritual and eternal from the material and the temporal. Death sobers us up and it pushes us to get down to the things that really matter.
Isn’t that why Psalm 90:12 tells us, “Number your days and apply your heart to wisdom”? Meditate on your death. It will be good for the way you live. In fact, in Ecclesiastes 7:1-4 we’re told to go to the house of mourning because it’s better than the house of feasting. To attend a funeral has a way of sobering us up that a party can never deliver. So when you look at death, it makes you look at life and you realize that you’ve only so much that’s been given to you in terms of days allotted and you want to use those wisely. That’s why Spurgeon, the great English preacher, said, “To be familiar with the grave is prudence.”
I want to carry those thoughts into the passage we’re about to look at, 2 Timothy 4:9-22. Now, when you read these verses, as we did this morning, it would be easy to conclude at your first reading that what you have here is just a jumble of final instructions from Paul. Some appeals he makes to friends. He updates them in his own personal situation and he sends and receives greetings and best wishes. But I think if you take a second look at this passage, there’s something more going on because this is set against the backdrop of Paul’s impending martyrdom. Hasn’t he made it clear in verse 6? “I’m ready to be poured out like a drink offering,” as in, “I’m ready to spill my blood for the gospel and the honor of Jesus Christ.”
He says, “The time of my departure, the time of my death, the time of my leaving this world is at hand.” It’s soon. It’s going to come quickly. The language of these verses in verses 6 through 8 are the languages of a man who realizes that his life has been largely lived because he uses this kind of language: “I have fought the good fight and I have finished the race and I have kept the faith. Therefore, there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord will give to me on that day, and not to me only, but all those who love his appearing.”
So you see that Paul is writing, very conscious of the fact that his time is short. In fact, in our verses that comes across also. Look at verse 9, which picks up right away from the language of verses 6, 7, and 8″ “Be diligent to come to me quickly.” Now, on the one hand, very practically he’s saying to Timothy, “Hey, the sooner you get here, the better, because I miss you.” But I also think by implication he’s saying, “The time of my departure’s at hand. If you don’t get here soon, I won’t see you and you won’t see me because I’ll have been dispatched to heaven by means of martyrdom.”
If you scroll down to verse 21, what does he say to Timothy? “Do your utmost to come before winter.” Again, practically it must be late fall. Winter’s coming. That will affect the ability to travel on the roads. The seas will be rough, shipping lanes will close down. Timothy may not be able to get there. So come before winter, before winter stops you. And come before winter because I’m probably not going to be living on the other side of it. So, you get my point.
When you come to these verses, you look at them, and I did for a while. I was sitting down at the Starbucks of the Orange Circle a week or so ago. I was just reading this and reading and going, “Right, what’s Paul at here? What’s the author’s intent? What’s he trying to get across?” And you’ve got all these comings and goings of his friends; you’ve got this up date on his personal situation. You’ve got him talking about his first trial. What does it all amount to? And I find that the interpretive key is this key. He’s about to die. So, if this is Paul’s last few paragraphs, because this is his last letter, I’m guessing he’s going to be focused on the things that really matter.
That’s why I took a second look at the passage with this idea. Paul, what really matters? You’re about to die. Your martyrdom’s just a month or two away. And if this is your last kind of letter and these are the last words in your letter, I’m guessing you’ve got a priority list going on here somewhere. I started to look at it and several things jumped out. I’ve come up with this outline which I’ll preach for you this morning. It’s this: that you know what? Friendship matters most. Faithfulness matters most. Forgiveness matters most. Faith matters most, and forever matters most. What matters most, that should matter to us. You don’t want to come to the end of your life having just allowed your days not to amount to much, to frivolously have thrown away your life for that which really doesn’t count. Number your days and apply your heart to wisdom.
Here are five things that should matter. Let’s start with the first one: friendship. Friendship matters. Now, the guys have been with me for several months in 2 Timothy and we have made it clear this is Paul’s last letter. It’s his second letter to Timothy. It’s around AD 67. He’ll soon be martyred according to church tradition. But we read here of this intimacy, this deep and abiding relationship between Timothy and Paul. Look at verse 2 of chapter 1: “To Timothy, a beloved son.” Look at chapter 2, verse 1: “You therefore, my son.” Paul is at the end of his life. He dispatches a correspondence off to this young man he loves deeply, urging him to be faithful to that which Paul’s been faithful to, name;y the treasure of the gospel.
So it shouldn’t surprise us when we come to the end of this letter, he’s dying for Timothy to come because that’s his son in the faith: Come quickly. Come before winter. But beyond that, we shouldn’t be surprised at the end of this letter that Paul mentions other people who are dear and near to him, fellow workers in the gospel, those he has done mission with, those he’s been in the trenches with. He writes about their movements and how they can minister to him.
What’s clear here, that as Paul approaches his death, what matters most is his friends, his fellow workers in the gospel. Paul had a network of friends and co-laborers that he treasured. He was not a lone ranger. In fact, if you do your homework and read the New Testament, and I think Paul wrote somewhere like 13 letters of the New Testament, you’ll find within his letters some 100 names of people he calls out, people who are in his circle of friends. You have several of them here. In fact, if you go to Romans 16, there are 26 people specifically named. If you go to Colossians 4, there are 10 people specifically named. When you come here to this chapter, there are 19 people specifically named, 16 men, 2 women, and the Lord Jesus, who is the friend of all friends.
So what’s the point? It’s a very simple one. Paul’s writing his last few words, and included in that correspondence is updates and directions to his friends because friends matter. He sends some of them. He scolds some of them. He salutes some of them, and he summons some of them. He writes with a sense of need. So he wants some of his friends to come and minister to him physically, emotionally, and spiritually. “Bring me a coat; I’m freezing. Bring me some books; I want to study, and come and join me; let’s pray together and fortify my soul because I think it’s all over for me.” So, he writes with a sense of need.
He writes with a sense of disappointment. He’s deeply disappointed in Demas who has deserted him for this present world. He’s disappointed in the believers at Rome because none of them stood with him in his first trial. They were a no show. And then he writes to dispatch some of his friends to new places of ministry or to go back over old hunting ground for the sake of the gospel. Point being that he favored friendships.
Here it’s a simple thought I want to bring out. We could develop this, but I’m just going to leave it for what it is. Paul is about to die, and he’s dying with the presence of Christ and with the company of friends. And that’s what he values. He certainly values the Lord Jesus. When no one stood with him, Jesus stood with him. We’ll get to that in a moment.
But alongside that, he’s thankful that Luke is there. He wants Timothy to come soon and before winter, and he wants him to bring John Mark, who at one point Paul had washed his hands of. He was a ministerial drop out. He was a no-good guy. But Mark has redeemed himself by the grace of God. He’s back in the game, and Paul’s excited to spend some time in the company of this young man and to let him know, “Hey, I’m in your corner. I had to say some rough things.” Sometimes there’s tough love, but you’ve got this all going on.
So just try and get this thought, that as Paul dies, he’s enjoying a sense of Jesus’ presence. But he wants his friends to be there because friends are important. They’re important in life and they’re important in death: Genesis 2:18, “It is not good that man should be alone.” Life is a team sport. It’s not a solo. It’s team sport. We should have friends. We should favor friends. We should discover friends. We should invest in friends. We should treasure friends. We should be a friend that’s going to help us through life. They’ll make a success of us, the right ones. We’ll want them around our deathbeds because they helped us to get where we got to. We’ll treasure their company and their focus is on the gospel and on Jesus Christ. That’s why Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, what is it? “Two is better than one.”
So Paul’s challenging you and me, young or old, favor friendships. Have several friends that have been with you across a lifetime, who have been in the trenches, who have been there when you’ve shed a tear in sorrow, when you’ve laughed in success, who were in your face when you were pointed in the wrong direction. Have some people like that in your life, and it’s never too late to find them and treasure them because it has been well said that a man is not poor who is rich in friends. Good friends will come in when the world goes out. Good friends make us better friends with God. Good friends know all about us and are still happy to keep company with us. Good friends are another room to live in. They expand life. Good friends half our sorrow, double our joys, and triple are significance.
Friends are important. That’s why Proverbs 12:26 and 13:20 tells us, “Choose your friends carefully. Friendship is a walled garden with a gate.” Only certain people should be allowed in, and you should give time to your friends. You should give trust to your friends. You should be there with them in their trouble as they will be in your trouble. You should be truthful, forgiving, gracious, tactful. Here’s homework for you. Read the book of Proverbs, one of the best manuals on friendship. Get a piece of paper and a pen and write down the verses that mention friendship, and you’ll come up with a profile and what it is to be a friend and what to look for in your friends.
Remember this, especially young people, there’s a big difference between friending and being a friend. All right? You have 500 friends, supposedly, on Facebook. No, you don’t. Maybe you have 5 of the 500. That’s not surprising because you really can’t have that many friends at an intimate level. That’s a small circle. That’s a limited. That’s a walled garden with a gate. And so work at that. That’s why I love part of Jackie Robinson’s story. I haven’t watched 42 in a while. I need to rewatch it. It’s an inspiring story. First Black man in America to play in the major leagues. If you listen to him and watch him, he acted with class. He was a man of character and he faced a lot, played for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
There’s a scene in his life where he’s in Boston playing and he’s up against [inaudible 00:16:32] all across the baseball league, you know, fast balls to the head, the opposition spiking him at the bases, crowds being venomous in their hatred of him, the opposite dugout shouting epithets his way. And he’s humbled it with a certain courage and fortitude. But this day, it’s getting to him. He’s at breaking point. If you’ve watched the movie, you’ve read the story, you’ll know that there’s a Southern gentleman on the team, Pee Wee Reese, who leaves the Dodgers’s dugout, goes over to second base in the middle of the game with the crowd, the fans, the other team hurling insults and he puts his arm around Jackie Robinson. He doesn’t say anything. One, he wouldn’t be heard. Number two, what he did was saying at all. “He’s my friend and you got to come through me to get to him.” Jackie Robinson says that that moment saved his baseball career.
Friendship is a wonderful thing. It’s a treasure, something to be valued, something that you want to work at, something you want to enjoy down to your dying breath. I hope you and I have friends across a lifetime, and time and distance and issues don’t get in the way. I just want you to reread that passage later, and you go through all these lists. But you need to realize all these people knew Paul, were known by Paul; they were all close to Paul, some closer. And Paul’s dying and he treasures them because what matters most in life, number one, friendships.
Number two, faithfulness. Faithfulness. Because if you reread these verses, you’re going to see that Paul is isolated and abandoned and he has faced opposition for his gospel commitment. Notice that verse 10, “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world and has departed for Thessalonica.” I don’t believe that Demas forsook Christ. I don’t believe he was an apostate. Neither does John Calvin and many biblical writers. I believe that he took cold feet. I believe the thought of this present world, convenience and comfort, drove him back to Thessalonica, where there was a church, but he didn’t want to stand with Paul because that came at a cost and his love for the material, his love for the present moment, his love for his own preservation caused him to betray his friend. That’s there.
Alexander the coppersmith, according to verse 14, does Paul much harm and opposes him. There’s a debate as to who this Alexander is. There’s an Alexander in Acts 19 that actually stood with Paul in the beginning of the church at Ephesus, where this letter is going because that’s where Timothy is. But that’s not the Alexander. I also don’t think it’s the Alexander of 1 Timothy 4 who was a heretic and was indeed put out of the church for his own sake.
No, I think this guy’s probably like Demetrius the silversmith. If you go to Acts 19, you’ll read about Demetrius the silversmith who was someone who fashioned idols and opposed the gospel. Because when people got saved, that ate into his business. He was a bottom line guy. “I don’t like Paul. I don’t like it’s gospel. I don’t like what it does in the lives of my customers.” And I think we’ve got this going on. I think that’s the Alexander is. He’s a business guy. He probably fashions idols, too. It’s like Demetrius the silversmith. Alexander the coppersmith hates me and has stood in my way, and he warns Timothy about him, which again would point to the fact he’s somewhere in Ephesus. Paul says, “I just give him over to God.”
Then you’ve got the fact verse 16, that no one stands with Paul. He’s by himself. He’s on his tod. He’s alone, deserted, opposed by foes, let down by friends. So nobody at the church of Rome where Paul is in Rome. They were a no-show. Kind of sad, isn’t it? But here’s the thing that strikes me. No lawyers, no friends. Well, he’s got Luke. Only Luke. He’s wanting Timothy to come soon. But there he stands as a lonely soldier committed to the gospel. But that’s okay for Paul. He wished it was otherwise, but whatever they do is not going to determine what he does. And so he remains faithful.
What does he say to Timothy? 2 Timothy 1:8: “Therefore, do not be as ashamed of the testimony of our Lord nor of me his prisoner. But share with me in the sufferings of the gospel according to the power of God.” Timothy, it costs to be a gospel minister. Are you willing to pay the price? I hope so, and God will empower you to do it. We read in chapter 4:7, “I have fought the good fight. I finished the race. I have kept the faith.” Remember we said that’s not subjective faith. Paul’s not saying that “I die confessing my trust in Jesus Christ.”
He’s saying, “I die committed to the same gospel I heard that brought me to faith. I still believe that Jesus is the eternal son of God. I still believe that Jesus was in the beginning with God and was God and created all things for the glory of God. I believe he was virgin born. I believe that there was a perfect union of human nature and divine nature in Jesus Christ. I believe in his miracles, his sinlessness. I believe in his death on our behalf, the shedding of his blood to make atonement for our sin. I believe in his resurrection bodily three days later. I believe in his ascension. I believe in his prayers on my behalf as an advocate between God and man. I believe right now, he may be getting off his throne to return any day. I believe that. I still believe that and I do believe that. And I will die believing that.” It’s powerful.
That’s where Paul is, because in the end, gospel commitment matters. You’ll want to die with some of your friends nearby, and you’ll want to die with a firm grip on the gospel and know that you never deserted it. You didn’t betray it ethically, morally, or theologically, that you’re still standing.
You read this last chapter and these last verses as I did, several times trying to get Paul… I don’t want to get lost in all the details. What’s going on here? Well here’s what’s going on here, Philip. I’m showing you what matters most. You will see I’m dispatching this person there and I’m sending this person there because I want the gospel to keep going out into of the world. I want disciples to be made. I want them to be baptized. I want churches to be established. I’m focused there right up to the end. And that’s challenging, folks. Everything is secondary to his commitment to the gospel. He even wants books to study the gospel. He wants his friends to help him die for the gospel. He wants to know that the churches across the empire are being served by gospel ministers who are faithful.
Because you know what? When his head rolls from his shoulders, when he is beheaded in martyrdom, that’s what happens to Paul, he wants to know that on the other side of death’s door, he’s going to hear one thing and one thing only: “Well done, Paul, good and faithful servant.” And you know what? That’s what matters. The gospel matters most. Oh, we have families to raise. We have businesses to do. We have housework to keep up with. We have friendships that develop. We have places that go on and on. That’s life. And it’s all part of life. But it should all revolve and orbit around the gospel. I’m raising my kids in the gospel. I’m in the world learning about the gospel. I go to a gospel-preaching church. I sure the gospel, and I’m weary of men in the church today who are diluting the gospel because like Paul, what matters most is the gospel. You read this letter and you know that there’s theological apostasy. There’s cultural antagonism, and there’s personal suffering for Paul, but he keeps it going. I reread the story recently. It was challenging.
I move on with this thought. Athanasius, learn about old Athanasius. Long gone. Fourth century. Bishop of Alexandria, but faithful to the gospel. Because around his time, there was a heresy that was infecting the church. It was this idea that Jesus is a God-like figure, but he’s not God. This was being perpetuated by a man called Arius. You’ll meet some of his friends today on your doorstep. They’re called Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses. They believe that Jesus was created. Oh, he may have created some things but he himself was created. In fact, the famous Arius statement is there was a time when the Son was not. Arius argues there was a time when Jesus didn’t exist. He’s not equal to the Father. He’s not fully God. God-like, but not fully God.
And Athanasius says, Hold on a minute, that’s false. That’s wrong. That’s deceptive.” And he would go to all the watering holes that we would go to, Thomas saying, “My Lord and my God.” “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.” “In him dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” And so Athanasius takes Arius on.
It all comes to a head around AD 325 at a council in Nicea. It’s called the Council of Nicea. The church gathers and the majority embrace Athanasius’s position. There’s a statement there about the fact that Jesus is fully God, always has been. You would think that battle was over. But Arius continues to cause trouble. In fact, he even gets the ear of Constantine, the emperor, and he kind of falls into the Arian heresy. Several other empires did that, and so Athanasius kept the fight up and he was exiled, I think, six times out of his parish by emperors. He escaped death. He was willing to die, but he never had to pay that ultimate price.
According to history, he stands before one of the emperors, Theodosius. And Theodosius gets a little frustrated with him and says, “Athanasius, do you not realize the world is against you?” Because it seems even after Nicea, the church went backwards; Arius was in the ascendancy again. “Athanasius, do you not realize the world is against you?” To which he fearlessly replies, “Then I’m against the world.” And we have a famous Latin statement concerning him. Athanasius Contra Mundum. Athanasius against the world. It’s a great story and it’s a page out of church history that should inspire us. Just like Paul: “At my first defense, no one stood with me, but the Lord stood with me.” Athanasius Contra Mundum. Athanasius against the world, standing alone. But you know what? You won’t mind standing alone for Jesus Christ in time when you know you’re going to stand with him for all eternity. That’s a price worth paying.
Let’s keep moving on. What matters most? I want to know that. I don’t want to flitter away my life. I want to put the price tags where they really belong. Friendship matters most. Faithfulness matters most. Forgiveness matters most. Go to verse 16. “At my first defense, no one stood with me. But all forsook me.” Man. Talk about letting the side down. What’s your reaction, Paul? “May it not be charged against them.” That’s powerful. He forgave them. He didn’t spend a lot of time on that. He was sweet, not sore. He prayed that God would forgive them. He’s showing a contentment here in his circumstances. He didn’t allow his circumstances to get him down. He wasn’t down. He wasn’t downing himself. And amazingly, he wasn’t down on others that hurt him.
Here’s another great lesson. You know what? As you go through life, keep short accounts. Paul learns to pray a prayer that’s not original to him by the way. He had heard this prayer from the mouth of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Go back to Acts 7:60. Paul is not a believer. He’s actually party to the hounding of God’s people. He’s actually party to the martyrdom of the first Christian, Stephen. As the stones rain on Stephen, we read in Acts 7:60 that Stephen prayed this: “Then he now done and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And he fell asleep.” That means he was killed by stones and fell asleep in the Lord Jesus.
That’s powerful, isn’t it? Praying that God would forgive the very people that’s killing you? But you know that’s not original to Stephen because on the cross, Jesus prays what? In Luke 23:34, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” And that was addressed to the crowd at large, certainly addressed to the soldiers that had beaten him, stripped him naked, and were gambling for his clothes at the bottom of the cross. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” That’s powerful. We have here a model of the way we’re to live and the way we’re to die. We’re to die having forgiven people that have hurt us.
You see, what happened to Paul can happen to us. In fact, it may be happening to you right now. There are people in your life who are disappointing you, hurting you, not holding up their end of the bargain. And that’s tough to handle, especially when it’s loved ones or those that are close to you. You expect better. But they have wounded you and harmed you and hurt you. So here’s the issue. The issue isn’t what happens to you. The issue is how you handle what happens to you. The issue’s never what happens to you. The issue is always what’s going to happen to what happens to you. Are you going to let it make you bitter? Are you going to let it make you better? Are you going to react like the world and punch back? Or are you going to react like a Christian who was taught by Jesus Christ, “Father, forgive us as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Are you going to allow the culture to dictate your reaction, your emotions to dictate your reaction, or the example of Jesus Christ and the cross to dictate your reaction?
You’ve got two options. Number one, you can fan the smoldering embers of a burning resentment into a destructive flame and you can burn the place down. You can hit back. You can become bitter and you can hold on the grudges, and watch your house burn down and your life crumble into a sorry state of bitterness and anger. Or, you can bury the hatchet at the foot of the cross without the handle sticking up. Now, the reason I say that, because remember years ago a guy said that. He said, “I need you to bury the hatchet and make sure the handle’s not sticking up.” Because some of us bury the hatchet with the handle sticking up just in case we have to go back. That’s not forgiveness, and it’s not forgetting.
But you and I can go to the foot of the cross with that person in mind, having done all we can perhaps to reconcile, done all we can to go to second mile, done all we can to live peaceably, but we’re not getting very far. So what are you going to do? What’s going to happen to what happened to you? You’re going to take the hatchet and bury it at the foot of the cross without the handle sticking up. Because that’s what Jesus did. That’s what Stephen did. And I admire Paul, who says at the very end of his life about people who let him down, “I pray that will not be charged to their account.” He didn’t have their names in a little black book. He didn’t carry a big long list. He didn’t have a hit list of people he was out gunning for. Christians don’t do that. The cross and the gospel doesn’t allow them to do that. And you never want to go to your deathbed holding onto grudges.
I like what Paul Powell, Southern Baptist says, “Bitterness is an emotional cancer. If you do not rid yourself of it, it will ultimately consume you.” It will shrivel your soul like a raisin. Carrying resentments in your heart is like carrying a bag of stones. The longer you carry them, the heavier they become. And if you aren’t careful, you will eventually stumble beneath the weight of them and be crushed by them. So go on, collect postage stamps, collect coins, collect autographs, collect bubble gum cards if you must, but don’t collect resentment. Come on. Aren’t some of you tired carrying that bag of stones? Just gets heavier, slows you down in life, get your eyes off Jesus. It’s no way to live, and it’s certainly no way to die with a big bag full of resentment for people you should have forgiven a long time ago.
Let’s keep moving. Faith matters most. Pastor, where do you get this thought? Well, look at verse 17. In fact, let’s read verse 16 because then it has the kind of wallop. “At my first defense, no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged to them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me.” It’s beautiful. Paul’s saying, “You know what matters most? Faith in Jesus Christ.” Having a relationship with Jesus Christ, owning him as your savior and your Lord, having him as a friend, and he comes and changes your life, forgives your sin, puts purpose to your days, and he supplies grace and love and mercy along the way so that you might live for his glory.
Paul is saying, “I was alone but I wasn’t alone.” And remember, he’s in the Mamertine prison right now, which was constructed by the Romans to suck the soul out of a man. It was dark. It was dingy. It was deep, and it was damp. It was on the northwest corner of the Roman forum. It wasn’t far from the commercial center of the city. So while the prisoners weren’t able to get out, they could hear life going on just outside. Talk about salt in the wound. The entrance into it was at a very public place. So often, families didn’t go in to see loved ones because they would be associated with someone inside Mamertine prison, which was where those were held on death row and they just didn’t want the public scandal or the embarrassment. Maybe that explains why no one stood with Paul. Paul’s there all alone, but he’s not alone because Jesus says, “I will never leave you or foresee you.” That’s a wonderful thing, to live in the company of the Lord Jesus and to die in his company.
A couple of things about this just quickly. As we look at this little section, verses 17 to eat 18, I want you to see the Lord’s power. “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me.” Love that. “He assisted me to persevere. I am sensing there’s grace for me to die victoriously as a martyr.” The word strengthen means to be poured into or to have power given. Like an intravenous drip to a dehydrated man, Christ is pouring in grace to Paul, to inflate his spirit, put steel into his backbone, put hope into his eyes to allow him to die faithfully for the gospel.
Wasn’t it David Livingstone who spent, what, 30 years in Africa evangelizing, exploring, who said he was able to do it because of Matthew 28:20, “Lo, I am with you always to the end of the age.” He was famous for saying, “And that is the word of a gentleman of the sacredest honor.” It is the word of a gentleman. Jesus will keep his promise never to leave us or forsake us. And I love that. It’s one of the most beautiful, I think, verses in the New Testament. “All forsook me, but the Lord stood with me.” So you’ve got the Lord’s power.
Secondly, you’ve got the Lord’s protection. “The Lord was with me, strengthened me.” Look at verse 17, the end. “And I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.” Now this is a verse that has troubled some commentators. They’re not sure what to do with it because if you know your history and Paul was a Roman citizen, Roman citizens were not allowed to be crucified. That’s why Paul will be beheaded. And Roman citizens were never sent to the arena to be fed to the beasts. So, when Paul says here, “I was delivered from the mouth of the lion,” we go, “Well, if you’re Roman citizen, what lion are you talking about?” Well, could it be a reference to Satan? Could be. You’ve got 1 Peter 5:8-9. “You have an adversary, the devil, who goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.” So that might be a reference to the fact that the Lord Jesus delivered him from some of Satan’s traps and opposition, could well be.
Other commentators argue it could be a reference to the Roman political officials. Paul has escaped many a time situations where he’s been arrested and then released because in Daniel 7, the prophet Daniel likens Gentile political powers to several beasts. Could Paul be referencing here the Roman empire, Roman authorities?
Either way, we can’t be sure. But what is sure is that God delivered him. Somehow his head was in a noose and he escaped. Somehow it looked like he was heading for shipwreck and he stayed afloat. Just a wonderful thing that when you and I are going about the Lord’s business and doing the work of his kingdom, we can be sure that he’s going to be with us and he’s not only going to be with us, he’s for us and he’s against those who are against us.
So Paul says, “Hey, the Lord reprieved me, delivered me.” Didn’t David say that in Psalm 23:5? “You spread a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Now some of you were with me when I did Psalm 23 here early in the ministry at Kindred. You’ll remember that that’s a beautiful picture. I don’t believe that in verses 5 and 6 we go from the outdoors to the indoors. Many commentators say, “Psalm 23:1-4, sheep, shepherd. 5-6, guest, host.” But I think it’s sheep and shepherd the whole way through. The Hebrew word table can be translated table land. I think that’s the picture. It’s spring. The mountains are melting. You can take the sheep up and get some nice grazing ground. So, you’ve got to go through a deep valley which frightens the sheep, and so the shepherd protects the sheep with his rod and his staff, takes them through the dark valley with the shadows, with the laugh of the hyena and the hiss of the snake.
They get up up to the table land and what the shepherd does, he goes in and prepares the table land. So, he’ll go in and check there are no predators. He will dig up weeds and poisonous plants with the end of his staff, leave those on a rock to just weather in the heat. He will then take some oil and put it around viper nests so that the snakes won’t come out because they hate the thought of the oil on their skin. He also takes some of that oil and anoints the head of the sheep, rubs it in so it’s a repellent against bugs. How good is the shepherd? And it’s all a picture. So the shepherd prepares the table land for eating for the sheep in the presence of their natural enemies, the snakes, the hyenas, the wild dogs.
David said that’s what God has been to me, in the presence of my enemies, when I’ve been under fire, the shepherd has guarded me. Folks, you and I can believe that. In fact, write this down. We don’t have time to develop this. But I was struck by the fact that sometimes our deliverance from God is unknown to us. Sometimes we don’t even know what he delivered us because we weren’t aware of the threat. Just like sometimes a soldier is unaware of the fact that they are in the crosshairs of a sniper’s rifle. Sometimes God has delivered us and we’re not even aware of it.
Second, sometimes he delivers us from the trouble. So before it gets any worse, God just shuts it all down and we avert a disaster. We don’t have to go through that painful experience. Sometimes our deliverance is within the trial. We don’t like this one, but that’s the way it is. Sometimes God calms the storms. But I’ll tell you, most of the time, he calms us in the storms because he never promised us that we wouldn’t face storms, trouble. “In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I’ve overcome the world.”
And then finally, sometimes he delivers us straight to heaven. “Oh, Lord, I’m tired. Tired of all this nonsense. Tired of all this fighting.” The Lord goes, “That’s okay. Why don’t you come home this afternoon? Straight to heaven.” And we’re delivered right out of it all. But the one beautiful thing is that the Lord delivers us from every evil work. Sometimes we’re not aware of it. Sometimes he delivers us completely out of it. Sometimes he delivers us from the fear and the anxiety that we would naturally have within it, and sometimes he just delivers us by taking us to that perfect place itself.
The Lord’s power, the Lord’s protection, the Lord’s providence. Notice again verse 17: “So that the message might be fully preached through me to the Gentiles.” Quick little thought here. Paul is not silenced. He’s strengthened, and he’s strengthened for further proclamation of the gospel. There’s every reason to believe that either at his first hearing or his second hearing, leading to his martyrdom, Nero would’ve been there. The emperor himself. Mad Nero, who burned Rome down and blamed it on the Christians.
Can you imagine that? What if that’s true? Paul’s actually preaching to the emperor. If not, he’s certainly preaching to those in the Roman government, and he says, “Hey, you know what, Timothy? This has been rough. Nobody was with me in the first trial. You know what? All kinds of stuff’s going on. This place stinks to high heaven. It’s cold. It’s damp. Bring me my coat. Bring me some books. But you know what? I got to tell you this. I got an opportunity to more fully preach the gospel.” He did that in his first imprisonment, didn’t he? Where he says in Philippians 1:12-18, “These things have fallen out for the furtherance of the gospel.”
Here’s the point, folks, we’re moving towards a close. Paul’s suffering, Paul’s pain, Paul’s imprisonment, Paul’s abandonment, those who hurt him, he just takes it and uses it as a platform to preach the gospel. So that’s the challenge to you and me this morning. What matters most? The Lord matters most. And he will empower us and protect us to preach his gospel. We need to take our suffering and our pain and the difficult things in life and let them become pulpits and platforms to preach the gospel, to show that Jesus is enough.
Are you using your trouble to testify that he’s enough? Just recently I was reading something of the life of Corrie Ten Boom. You know her story. Her and her father and her sister Betsy had hidden some Jews in their house in Holland. Nazis took them, sent them to a concentration camp. Eventually Betsy will die in a Nazi concentration camp. But before she dies, she shares on several occasions with her sister, “You know what? Corrie, when we get out, here’s what I want us to do. I want us to get a home and I want to get some of these ladies here with us here in the camp if we all survive. And we’re all going to live together and just rebuild each other’s lives. Would that be not cool? Or Corrie, you know what I’d love to do? This is crazy, but I’d love on the other end of the war to get this concentration camp, clean it up, change it, and bring all these bad Germans back to it and teach them how to love.
[NEW_PARAGRAPH]”Or Corrie,” here’s what she says one day. I quote. “We must get out of here and tell everybody that there is no pit so deep that he is not deeper still. They will listen to us, Corrie, because we have been here.” And you know why you listen to some people? One, because they’re expert and they’re very good; or they’re a compelling speaker; or because they’ve gone through something you can identify with. You know why Corrie Ten Boom made such an impact for Christ? Not only because she was godly and a gracious lady, she had been there. When she talked about suffering, you couldn’t trump her suffering. So when she speaks, “There’s no pit so deep, he’s not deep still,” you got to sit up and start believing that stuff. And Paul used his pain as a platform.
Here’s the last thought as the team gets ready. It’s a small, short point, although it’s long in terms of its implication: Forever matters most. What matters most? Friends, faithfulness, faith, forgiveness, and forever. These were Paul’s last days, but he carried within his heart the hope of heaven, and it made all the difference.
Look at verse 18. “The Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for his heavenly kingdom.” See, I missed that the first time around. I’m reading all about Tychicus going here and Carpus here and this person there and yet there’s this little kernel [inaudible 00:48:32]. Well, you know what, I’m on my way to heavenly kingdom. Well, that’s got to be significant since you’re about to die pretty soon. Yeah. You better believe that forever matters most. You got to have the hope of heaven. You’re not ready to live until you’re ready to die. I’m ready to die because on the other side of my death is joy forevermore.
In fact, this theme of forever is throughout this letter. In chapter 1:10, Paul says, “You know what? Concerning Jesus, he abolished death brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” Immortality. Everlasting life, and neverending existence of joy and pleasure.
In chapter 2:10 and 12, he talks about if we’ll die with him, we’ll live with him. If we will endure, we’ll reign with him. He talks about eternal glory in verse 10 of chapter 2. In chapter 4:8, he talks about the crown of righteousness that is laid up for him and not only for him, but Christ will give it on that future day to all who love his appearing. Verse 1 of chapter 4 talks about the judge coming, the Lord Jesus and his kingdom coming.
Paul’s been looking forward to trading here for hereafter for a long time, and now it’s come, and he’s good with it because he didn’t think about heaven at the last minute. He’s been thinking about heaven every day of his life. It defined his life. It brought joy to his life. It give him perseverance and hope in the midst of suffering, and now it’s just over the horizon, and he’s okay with it. “I’ve been preserved for the heavenly kingdom.” And that’s what matters most.
I’ve got a New King James. It says in verse 8, “Finally, there is laid up for me…” But if you’ve got an Old King James or you’ve got an ESV, I’d rather have that translation: “Henceforth that is laid up for me…” That’s all future. That’s somebody that’s got something to live for. Henceforth. So in the here and now, he had a henceforth. Do you have a henceforth part of your life’s philosophy? Or does it all end at death? Have you got the hope of heaven through faith in Jesus Christ, Paul did, and the henceforth of a new body, the henceforth of a nature that didn’t sin, the henceforth of a full knowledge of life, a henceforth of a new heaven and Earth, and a henceforth of Jesus’ glorious presence. That was enough for him as he put his head on the chopping block literally, he indeed was possessed by a sense of boundless joy and breathtaking glory on the other side of it. It would make up for all the losses and all the crosses.
Hey, Paul, you’ve stood alone. You’ve carried many a cross for the sake of the gospel so the Gentiles might fully hear. He’s going to go. Do you realize two minutes in heaven will wipe that all out? Just two minutes. In fact, two seconds. So he lives with the henceforth.
Let me finish with this story that I stole from Billy Graham in a book called Nearing Home. It’s the book he actually wrote not long before he died, just talking about nearing home. He talked about, “Hey, here’s my thoughts about heaven, why I believe I’m going to be there.” Well, in the book, he tells this story about a police officer who pulls over a distinguished looking lady who was speeding. As she rolls the window down and the officer asks her to explain why she was speeding, the older gentleman, her husband, sitting in the passenger seat, he kind of laughed and he said, “Officer, let me tell you this. We were speeding to get to the place before we forget where we were going.” Now, when you get older you’ll understand what they’re talking about. “We were speeding to get to the place before we forgot where we were going.”
Billy Graham talks about that and he says, “You never want to forget where you’re going.” Let it define everything about your life. The henceforth should be in the here and now, eh?
You know what? Paul never forgot where he was going. It kept him going. When he was alone, a cold night, out in Mamertine prison, all the crosses and losses he had engaged for the gospel. It’s all worth it. Minute in heaven will obliterate all that stuff. I know where I’m going. That’s going to keep me going. That’s what matters most. Friends, faith, faithfulness, forgiveness, and forever.
Let’s pray. Lord, we thank you for our time in the Word and what a rich passage of scripture. Sometimes we come to these lists of names in the travel log of gospel preachers across the Roman empire and we can miss something of what’s going on. We’ve been enriched this morning as old Paul, nearing the end of his life, takes up his pen for the last time and he tells us what matters.
Oh, Lord, help us to favor friends. Help us to have real ones. Help us to work hard at making them lifelong. Oh, God, these are days of apostasy, cultural antagonism. The world is against us and the gospel. But may we have the spirit of Athanasius. We’re against the world. We love Jesus more than life. We’re going to stand for his gospel regardless.
Lord, we thank you that we don’t stand alone. Thank you for the precious knowledge that our Savior supplies what we need, protects from evil, and wants us to use our trouble as a means of testifying to his grace.
Lord, it’s hard to forgive sometimes, but if we’re honest this morning, we know when we lie on that deathbed we’ll have wished we’d forgiven more. We’ll be repenting ourselves of bitterness, hardheartedness. So help us to just empty some of the stones out of that bag we’re carrying. Make the journey a little bit lighter.
Above all, help us to think about what lies henceforth. Help us to keep eternity in mind within time. Thank you for this passage that will help us indeed to concentrate our minds wonderfully on the things that really count for Jesus’ sake. Amen.