Summary: A first-person narrative based on the Apostle Paul’s final words of encouragement.
If you only had fifteen minutes to live, who would you want to speak to and what would you say? Would you, perhaps, call up your mom and tell her how much you love her for all that she did for you? Or would you sit down with the grandchildren and impress upon them again those things that are important in life? Let me tell you what my last words were to a dear friend named Timothy. My name is Paul and I was a follower of Jesus 2,000 years ago. I want to speak to you about my last words because the Holy Spirit intended them to serve as words of encouragement for you 21st century Christians as well. I had a lot to say to Timothy. In fact I wrote him a four-chapter-long letter. Had I been forced to communicate on Twitter, you know, with 40 characters or less, I simply would have said: “Stand firm!” Can you give me some of your time now to explain why this message is fitting for you to consider on this Reformation Sunday?
“Stand firm!” That’s something that my Lord and yours, Jesus, often encouraged during my ministry. I remember the time I was in the Greek city of Corinth. I had just finished telling my fellow Jews that Jesus is the only way to heaven. Well, they didn’t like it. In fact they were so angry I could tell that they wanted to hurt me or at least run me out of town. That night, however, Jesus told me to stand firm and to keep preaching there because he was going to bring many people to faith through my sermons (Acts 18). Years later I was arrested by Roman soldiers in Jerusalem because they thought I had caused a riot. Actually it was those same Jewish leaders who had demanded Jesus’ crucifixion that had whipped up the crowd to oppose my message. Some of them had even vowed not to eat a thing until they had assassinated me. Has anyone ever sworn to kill you? It’s unnerving to say the least but again Jesus appeared to me and said, “Stand firm!” This time he promised that I would take his message of salvation to Rome (Acts 23).
Well, I made it to Rome alright after getting shipwrecked on the island of Malta. And even though I was under arrest, I was given the freedom to serve my sentence in a house. There I received many visitors and was able to tell them about Jesus. After a time I was released only to be arrested again and brought back to Rome. This time I was locked away in a cold dungeon. It was then that I wrote my last words to Timothy who had once been my sidekick. I wanted him to know my situation. I wanted him to understand, as if he didn’t know already, that being a Christian isn’t easy. For one, there will always be enemies of the faith. Alexander the metalworker was one such enemy. I know that I haven’t told you anything about Alexander in my letters but it’s enough for you to know that he didn’t just ignore my message from God as many had done, he actively worked to discredit me so that others wouldn’t take my preaching seriously.
Have you run into people like that – people who tell lies about you? Sometimes those lies can really hurt. I’m not just talking about the emotional damage that they do. It’s hard when someone you thought was your friend is speaking about you behind your back, but it’s dangerous when someone in the workplace is spreading lies about you. You could lose your job or worse. Think of Joseph in the Old Testament. He ended up in prison because of false accusations his boss’s wife leveled against him. If someone is doing this to you right now, let me encourage you to stand firm. Stand firm in God’s promise to deal with those liars in his own time and in his own way. Don’t plot revenge. Don’t start spreading lies about that person or telling everyone all the little things this individual has done wrong – even if they are true. Stand firm in God’s love for you and reflect that love back to the person who is hurting you. This is, after all, the kind of love that our Savior Jesus showed us isn’t it? I should know because I had once spread lies about Jesus and actively sought to destroy his followers but Jesus had mercy on me. He appeared to me in a blinding light – not to punish but to forgive and to make me into one of his messengers. So don’t stand in your anger or self-pity at how others are treating you. This is a fact of life: you’re surrounded by sinners. They’re going to treat you like trash. But just keep reminding yourself how you are God’s treasure. He’s not going to let anything happen to you that he won’t somehow work out for your eternal good.