Summary: St. Paul offers Timothy some final advice before his earthly departure. Christian consistency, the ability to endure hardship, mission, and heavenly reward are discussed.
A man was on the practice golf course when the club pro brought another man out for a lesson. The pro watched the fellow swing several times and started making suggestions for improvement, but each time the pupil interrupted with his own version of what was wrong and how to correct it. After a few minutes of this interference, the pro began nodding his head in agreement. At the end of the lesson, the student paid the pro, congratulated him on his expertise as a teacher, and left in an obviously pleased frame of mind.
The observer was so astonished by the performance that he asked, “Why did you go along with him?” “Son,” the old pro said with a grin, as he carefully pocketed his fee, “I learned long ago that it’s a waste of time to sell answers to a man who wants to buy echoes.” [Illustrations for Biblical Preaching compiled by Michael P. Green]
My friends, our world today is much like the man receiving the golf instruction. Some people think that they are the experts in all things. They don’t listen to advice; avoid lectures, and certainly don’t want to be told what to do. Times have certainly changed. Years ago people sought out mentors, advisors, and coaches in the workforce to help them mature in their career. Christians sought advice from their spiritual fathers. Today, everyone thinks that they know better; they believe that their boss is stupid, everyone is an idiot, and only they have the answers. It’s true, fools want echoes, and wise people listen to advice. Today, in our epistle reading from 2 Timothy 4:5-8 we see the mentor, St. Paul offering pastoral advice to his pupil Timothy. Timothy was a wise bishop that heeded St. Paul’s counsel in building the Church of Ephesus.
Here is a little background about the context of today’s epistle. When St. Paul wrote his final letter to Timothy, he was in prison and knew that his martyrdom was very near. St. Paul reflects that he did all that God asked and fought the good fight. St. Paul refers to his pending death as a departure. The word for departure in Greek has several interesting meanings. The word is used when an animal is unyoked from the shafts of a cart or plough. The word is also used when prisoner’s bonds or fetters are loosened when he is released. A military meaning involves armies breaking camp and unhooking or loosening their tent ropes. Finally, we see the term for departure referring to releasing the moorings on a ship. St. Paul is telling us his time had arrived; He will soon depart this world and his heavenly reward is waiting. Before St. Paul’s final exit, he penned this letter giving Timothy final advice on four elements of the Christian faith.
Our God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Our Lord is consistent and we are encouraged by St. Paul to “remain steady.” This means that we remain sober, unwavering, and steadfast during hard times and trials and to have self-control in all things. Staying in control is not easy. How can we have self-control when the sky is falling and the world around us is blowing up? What do we do when our lives are out-of-control? St. Paul stands as our example. His life was chaotic, filled with conflict, adversity, and life-threatening events. He understood that even though he had no control over his circumstances God was “in control” of his life. St. Paul was aware of his environment and knew the proper way to act when things changed. Consistent people don’t get rattled when they are faced with adversity, trials, and difficult situations. They know that God is ultimately in control and there is no situation beyond His mercy. Each trial for the consistent Christian is a challenge and an opportunity to grow one’s faith. The challenge is to simply let God be the Master of our lives. Consistency is directly related to being true to Christ and His Gospel. In other words, Christian consistency is obedience to truth and righteousness. Consistent living is complete sobriety so that our minds are open to the Holy Spirit while simultaneously filtering out the pollution and misinformation of this world. Consistent Christians lead virtuous lives by living for the glory of God by helping Him care for and transform His creation. In addition, consistent Christians are not complacent Christians, but actively spend all their energies emulating Christ. Such was the life of St. Paul. He was consistent to the end.
Ability to Endure Hardship
Tertullian said, “He who fears to suffer cannot be His who suffered.” Suffering, and hardship are part of life. Granted, they are a part of life that many of us want to avoid, however, despite our best efforts to avoid suffering, somehow we cannot escape some hardship. Our bodies deteriorate. We all experience the loss of loved ones, job stress, and the effects of dysfunctional relationships. Some of us lose our jobs, others must take care of aging parents, and there are people who are victims of crime or unforeseen tragedy. In reality, no one lives a storybook life all the time. Our beloved saints endured a great deal for their faith. Many were martyred, however, they welcomed their suffering because it purified their soul and developed their faith. St. Paul is testament to someone who actually boasts of his hardship. From his other epistles we learn that he was beaten with rods (three times), he was shipwrecked (three times), he was stoned, and faced dangers from robbers, hostile Gentiles, and Jews that wanted to destroy him. Paul’s suffering enabled him to become completely dependent on God’s mercy for survival. By relying on God rather than his own abilities, St. Paul’s burdens became a blessing. He totally committed his life to our Lord. Ultimately, he completely understood the Christian calling to “take up one’s cross” so that he could receive his heavenly crown.