2 Timothy 4:1-22

As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

A loved one’s last words mean so much to us, don’t they?

A week ago Thursday, my wife Anne’s father, Crawford Mortenson, age 94, died peacefully in his sleep. Friday afternoon of this week, we had his memorial service here in the sanctuary.

From the moment we heard of his death, we, his family members, have processed our grief in varied ways. Part of that process is to muse on some of the last experiences we had with him and, particularly, the last words we heard come from his mouth.

We are especially grateful to God that we, as a family, had spent three days with him just prior to his death. He and his wife, Martha, had invited all 36 members of their family, including the littlest of the great-grandchildren, on a three-day Thanksgiving weekend cruise from the Port of Los Angeles to Ensenada. Several hours ashore in Mexico was not what really counted. What was important was the fact that all of us were together in one place, sharing common meals and, each evening, gathering in a private room with chairs in a circle to both express thanksgiving for God’s blessings and to reminisce about the family. Little did we realize that, two weeks later, he would be gone.

Ever since then, we have been hanging onto his final words, from the most trivial to the most profound. One declaration of his we keep repeating was declared upon returning, “Let’s do this every year from now on!” That’s how happy and pleased he was with that adventure. There are those snippets of conversation in which he expressed his deep love for his wife, Martha, and his deep appreciation for his three daughters, Anne, Elaine and Kathy. He even had some tongue-in-cheek, dry-witted words of appreciation for his three sons-in-law, as well as the rest of the extended family. These final words are so important, even as they kind of summarize a lifetime of words and actions.


2 Timothy 4 may very well be the Apostle Paul’s last written words. He now comes to the conclusion, not only to his letter to Timothy but also his life on earth. His home was a prison cell in Rome. His words most likely had been dictated to his friend, Luke, perhaps within a few days of his execution. For the past 30 years, since his conversion on the road to Damascus, he has preached and founded churches, working for his crucified and risen Lord. Some have loved him, and others have hated him. He has suffered much for his convictions. Now, anticipating the executioner’s axe, he passes the baton on to his young friend, Timothy. Let’s listen to his words on this Christmas weekend and apply these final expressions to our own lives.

Paul tells us to be faithful in proclaiming the Gospel.

He writes, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching” (2 Timothy 4:1-2).

How much clearer could he be? This man, who lived as “a man in Christ,” wants us to do the same. This man, who faithfully proclaimed the Gospel, passed the baton on to the Timothys of his day, who passed it on through to the centuries to the point that we now reach for it and sprint forward in faithful proclamation of the Gospel, in word and in action. He warns us that there will be times when people will view the Gospel message favorably. And there will be times when they will not accept it. We are to be persistent in all circumstances, patient as we convince, rebuke and encourage.

Paul tells us to not be surprised if some people wander away from the truth.

He writes, “For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

Does that sound familiar? It was a problem in the first century, and it remains a problem to this day. All through his two letters to Timothy, Paul talks about the importance of remaining faithful to the truth once delivered to the saints. In a few moments, we will look at this more intensely.

Paul tells us that personal relationships are important.

He doesn’t actually put this statement in those words. What he does do is give some final instructions to Timothy that involve people, places and things. We see this in 2 Timothy 4:9-22. He urges Timothy to come and visit him soon. He talks about some friends who had deserted him. He thanks God that Luke has remained with him. He urges Timothy to bring Mark with him when he comes to Rome, showing that he was willing to forgive Mark some of the mistakes he made years before. He talks about a coat that he had left in Troas and asks Timothy to bring that, along with some books when he comes. He mentions a coppersmith by the name of Alexander who did him great harm. He declares that it is in God’s hands, not his, to square accounts. He warns Timothy of the severity of the opposition to Paul’s message.

Then Paul begins to muse in general terms about those who deserted him. He mentions God’s faithfulness in rescuing him, time after time, from difficult situations. Finally, he urges Timothy to greet Prisca and Aquila for him and the entire household of Onesiphorus, along with a number of brothers and sisters he mentions specifically by name. His final words are, “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you” (2 Timothy 4:22).

Isn’t there something reassuring to us when we muse on the last words of someone we know and respect? Our mentor, Paul, has shared these general observations. We need to take them seriously.


At the very core of what he is saying, he is challenging you and me to a faithfulness to the truth as revealed in the Scriptures.

In 2 Timothy 3, he talked about wicked people, imposters who are ” . . . deceiving others and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13). Now, this final chapter talks about people not putting up with sound doctrine, having itching ears, accumulating for themselves teachers who teach what they want to hear, turning away from the truth and wandering away to myths.

We live in a day so similar to that of Paul. In fact, if we look through human history, this is the human predicament, going all the way back to Adam and Eve in the garden, when they thought they were smarter than God. They didn’t take Him at His word. They didn’t trust Him as the source of all truth.

None of us wants to be gullible. Every little child loves a good story, and the more fantastic the better. Even now, I can picture my children, with heart-throbbing excitement saying, “Tell me more, Daddy! Tell me another story!” Then, when it’s all over, their believing little minds are forced to ask, “Did that really happen, Daddy, or did you make that up?”

Childhood passes. The cynicism grows through our adolescence and into our adult years. We pride ourselves that, no longer thriving on fairy tales, we reject myths. We view all elements of the supernatural with some suspicion. Are we really that sophisticated? Or have we simply traded in one set of myths for another, thriving on self-delusion?

I suggest that you and I are much more susceptible to untruth, to myths, than we realize. Every so often, some expert in some area will write an article, endeavoring to debunk some conventional myths. I remember reading an article by Peter Drucker in the Wall Street Journal titled “Six Durable Economic Myths.” In his incisive way, he repeated statements about economics, which just about everyone at that time believed. Then he tore each one apart, showing them to be myths. I was forced to radically adjust my own understanding of economics based on his critique of what were previously, for me, unquestioned truths.

In the same way, we can almost unconsciously slide into spiritual myths that can destroy our lives. On one occasion, I took a Thompson Chain-Reference Bible and worked my way through, from Genesis to Revelation, and found myself absolutely amazed as I discovered all that the Bible says about the ways in which we are deceived. We think we are adults. We pride ourselves on our sophistication. Nonetheless, we thrive on myths that can ruin our lives.

Time after time, the Bible warns us about our bent toward being deceived by others and deceiving both others and ourselves.

During the last several weeks, getting ready for this Christmas sermon, I have been jotting down various statements I have heard people make. These have been made in all seriousness by well-meaning persons. Perhaps you have heard some of them. These are myths, myths that can ruin your life. These are the myths that Paul is referring to that need to be questioned, evaluating them against the authority of the Bible.

Myth #1: Now is the time to create your financial security, for there will be plenty of time for God and others later.

There aren’t too many today who would own up to such a bold declaration. Yet, this is the basic presupposition of many. It is a myth that ultimately backfires. For some, the “burnout” of materialistic living comes sooner than for others.

Some time ago, the Los Angeles Times reported the suicide of a 25-year-old young woman by the name of Rosemary Russell. She had set high goals for her real estate business. She was nothing short of brilliant in meeting those goals, more successful at age 25 than most persons at 50. She owned a staggering string of properties. However, the breakup of her six-year romance triggered an inner remorse over misplaced priorities.

One reason I try to include a call to faith in Jesus Christ in every sermon that I preach is that we can never assume that everyone at St. Andrew’s is a born-again follower of Jesus Christ. I discovered, much to my surprise, Rosemary had attended here several times in the months leading up to her suicide. Somehow, she had felt it was too late to start over with new priorities. She left a note to one couple who were her friends: “Just do me a favor so it won’t all be for nothing. Don’t let the pursuit of money and success interfere in the beautiful relationship you two have. As long as you have each other, and a strong faith in God, you’ll want for nothing else.”

Now is the time to come to Jesus Christ. Now is the time to take seriously your interpersonal responsibilities for others. “Now is the time to create your financial security, for there will be plenty of time for God and others later” is a myth that must be disabused.

Myth #2: Being a Christian is following the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule.

Some people believe that. Many are members of churches. I remember one man who had recently joined a church. We sat talking about some problems he had. It became very apparent that he wasn’t too familiar with the claims of Jesus Christ. I asked him if he had ever received Jesus Christ into his life. His response was, “What do you mean? I’m a Christian. I’m a church member.” I asked him how he knew he was a Christian. His response was, “It’s simple! I live by the Golden Rule. There is no question about it!” This person is a member of a church. That is his definition of Christianity. His definition is a myth. He’s talking about a pagan concept of salvation by works. All you have to do is be a good person.

The fact is, you may have a Sunday school, perfect-attendance pin that hangs forty bars long and not be a Christian. This myth leads very quickly to the belief that you are not a sinner. There is something about us human beings that wants to deny the fact of our sin. The Calvinist concept of total depravity is repulsive to the modern mind. We paint that doctrine in the extreme, then ridicule it, never fully probing the Scriptures for what it means. It simply means that you and I in no way are able to save ourselves. No amount of good works can do the job. 1 John 1:8-10 speaks truth to this myth in these words:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

This self-congratulatory attitude has to go. The initiative is God’s. He gives us the gift of our salvation. It is His grace that is our sufficiency, not our good works.

Not only is this myth operative for the nonbeliever, who prides himself in his good works. It is just as true for the believer. Jesus describes the New Testament church at Laodicea as a group of people who took pride in their spirituality with this words:

“For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

All of our best religious practices do not save us.

Nor can we hide behind our Presbyterian emphasis on a covenant. Our parents may have been good Christians. We may have been exposed to the means of grace, both in the home and in the church. These are not guarantees. No human-made props can do the job. Isaiah lamented the fact that Israel was tempted to turn to Egypt for help. The Lord chides his people who put their trust in human strength, who look to the power of humankind instead of the power of God. “Being a Christian is following the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule” is a myth that must be disabused.

Myth #3: Have faith. That’s all you need.

This, too, is a myth. The Scriptures clearly teach that we cannot earn our salvation. We come through faith in all that God has done for us through Jesus Christ. The flip side of the coin is that faith alone is insufficient for a dynamic, growing Christian life. The Bible says, “Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves” (James 1:22). James goes on to say, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:17).

Time after time, the Bible mentions works. Christians are to be doers as well as believers. We are to visit orphans and widows in their affliction. We are to act on the instructions given us by our Lord. Our faith is to be “fleshed out.”

The Bible expresses a deep concern for Christians who have been blessed with great knowledge about the Christian faith. There is a danger of our knowledge of God getting in the way of our service for others. It is exciting to see the way God is working in the lives of so many of you. Hopefully, we at St. Andrew’s are able to hold, in healthy balance, both faith and works. Even as there is the traditional cleavage between the social Gospel and personal Gospel, there is an increasing gap developing between those who emphasize sound doctrine and those who concentrate on meaningful relationships. Some preaching today is simply Bible teaching, telling the people more about God but not applying that practically to human experience. On the other extreme, you have preaching today that is quite humanistic. It may use a biblical text as a pretext to help a person get along with himself and with other people. It is relationally- oriented. Hopefully, we have the capacity not to live at either extreme of the spectrum. God wants us to know His Word, to have sound doctrine, and to see that doctrine applied practically in our lives, so that we follow through in faithful service.

One person shared with me a spiritual breakthrough. He said, “I am beginning to realize that Christian maturity is not simply knowing a lot cerebrally but applying what I know, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to my everyday living experience. Previously, he thought that Christian maturity was judged by measuring how much knowledge he had about the Bible. He had missed the whole dimension of practical application of that knowledge to daily living. “Have faith. That’s all you need” is a myth that must be destroyed.

Myth #4: The man or woman of God has to have everything together all of the time.

We have talked a lot about balance. I have tried to stress in my ministry the Christian idea of growth towards wholeness. There is one danger. You can drive yourself to distraction if you expect perfection.

Wouldn’t it be nice if life could be lived in neat little compartments? Wouldn’t it be great if we could live antiseptic existences? Life isn’t that way. Even though Jesus removes our sins as far as the east is from the west, we are still human beings. We are called to holiness. That holiness is to be lived out in a world in which we are daily confronted with various temptations. Our consciences are to be sensitive to God’s will. We must rely upon the Holy Spirit to resist temptation. We are only kidding ourselves, though, if we think we have arrived at a point of perfection. Instead, we are in a process of sanctification. The Holy Spirit is working in His ongoing way in our lives. We have the ideal of balance. We have our ideal of the sinless existence. But when the Scriptures call us to perfection, we have to face the fact that our ultimate perfection is in Jesus Christ. He paid it all. All we have we owe to Him. Sin has left its crimson stain. He is the One who has washed us white as snow.

Many a Christian becomes discouraged, looking into a spiritual mirror and seeing the reality of one’s own life. Don’t throw in the towel. Take courage. Begin to read the Bible, not just for its teachings. Read it as good biography, a spiritual biography.

A great place to start is the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. Demythologize some of our popular conceptions of these great heroes of the faith. See them as God paints them, men and women who were sinners saved by the grace of God. These persons are listed in what some would call “God’s Honor Roll of Faith.” In actuality, it would better be called “God’s Rogues Gallery of Faith.” God remembers them for their faithfulness, as the writer of Hebrews lists them in their special place of honor. Go back, though, and investigate the circumstances of their lives. The picture is not always pleasant.

Noah celebrates God’s deliverance by getting drunk. Abraham lies, pawning off his wife as his sister because he fears Pharaoh’s power. Sara laughs at God’s promised provision. Jacob was a master deceiver. Moses was a murderer. Gideon was a timid soul, whose inferiority complex had to be overcome. Even Samson, with all of his weaknesses, is included in the honor roll. David, the great king, committed adultery, murder and coverup. Then there was Rahab, the harlot.

Isn’t it beautiful, the way that God preserved His saints for us? He didn’t paint them in the perfect hues of myth. He showed them with their warts. He tells you and me that we are human beings. We are not gods. We are subject to the flesh. We will make our mistakes. Then He leads us beyond ourselves, in all humility, to a deeper quality of life, which comes through right relationship with Him.

There is one person noticeably absent from that honor roll in Hebrews. His name? King Saul. Compare his life to David’s. David certainly did as much wrong. But there was a difference. Saul was a proud man who couldn’t admit his sin. He was a man who didn’t understand the meaning of repentance. David did. David wept about his sin. David’s heart was broken by his inconsistent lifestyle. The Psalms scream out with his cries of repentance. “The man or woman of God has to have everything together all of the time” is a myth that, if not shattered, will lead you either to ultimate despair or to spiritual pride.

Myth #5: You can trust your own inner feelings, without an external authoritative referent.

No, you can’t. Probably at the heart of everything said today could be another text, this one taken from Proverbs 14:12, “There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way to death.”

Contemporary humanism articulates a conviction that all is relative. It declares that there are no absolutes. We move through life making value judgments in total isolation from any kind of propositional truth.

Many in our contemporary society have adopted this creed. Their lifestyle is one of relativistic living. Is yours? Is your life cut free from absolute truth? Are you floating rudderless? Are you tossed like a cork on the open sea? Do you know what is right and what is wrong? Granted, there are those areas of gray in which the Bible does not speak clearly. However, your life need not be tossed to and fro, for there is authoritative truth that can be yours. There are facts you can know about God and yourself. These facts are final. What the Bible does not tell you about God and yourself can be handled by the principles of His Word, which can help you live, making the tough decisions at ambivalent points.

Is there a God? The Bible says yes. It declares that it is the fool who says in his heart there is no God.

Can I know this God? The Bible says yes. This God has revealed himself in nature. All that He has created wells up within you, that sense of “the numinous,” the holy. That’s not all. This God has revealed himself in a special way. He has touched lives personally through His Holy Spirit. He has revealed His Word through the prophets and apostles of old. He became a man in the person of Jesus Christ. You can have knowledge of God. Not only can you have knowledge of Him, you can know Him personally. You can depend on Him. His Word makes promises that you can appropriate. His Word, the Bible, is dependable. Some people don’t want anyone telling them what to do. They are frightened by authority. A professor at one of our seminaries sneered at his student, saying, “What basic problem did you have with your father as a child that you have to accept an external authority, such as the Bible?” Little did he realize the same question could be turned around on him. That student could have asked his professor, “What basic problem did you have with your father as a child that you can accept no external authority, other than your own autonomy?”

At times, I don’t want anyone telling me what to do. I want autonomy. When I cry out for autonomy, I am really saying, “I want to be God! I will be my own God! I will live free of those restraints, succumbing to the temptations of Satan, who whispers as he did to Eve, “‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil'” (Genesis 3:4-5). So we eat, disobeying the authoritative commands of a Father who loves us, who knows what is best. On we go through life, stumbling in our own self-centered, conceited autonomy. “You can trust your own inner feelings without an external authoritative referent” is a myth that can ruin you.

Myth #6: It really doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere.

You have heard this one, haven’t you? It is one of the most popular idealogies of today. More and more people believe it every day, as our society becomes increasingly heterogeneous. It is so easy to crawl into our own shells, holding our own personal belief systems to ourselves. We develop a “live and let live” mentality. We forget that a person can be sincerely wrong.

The August 1998 Utne Reader announced a lead article on its cover: “Designer God: In a mix-and-match world, why not create your own religion?” Entitled “God with a Million Faces,” the essay discussed the recent trend of “cafeteria-style religions” or “religion a la carte.” One example the article cites is the cult of Anne Marie. She has turned her spirituality into a creative collage of Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, quantitative physics, and childhood Christian remnants.

Unfortunately, the same kind of creative syncretism is becoming all too common in the Christian church today. One prime example was a recent PBS Christmas special using a script written by the narrator Thomas Moore, author of The Care of the Soul. In his narration, interspersed with wonderful renditions of Christmas songs and hymns (some of which, in a spirit of Northern hemispheric exclusivism, celebrated the “dark night” and barren cold of December), Moore lures us into the “real” significance of the holiday:

Although I was brought up as a Catholic, and know and love the stories and rites of Christianity, Buddhism has also profoundly affected my life, as have the ancient religions of the Greeks and Romans, Chinese wisdom, and African practices. At a certain level, every religion is a world religion, and in that spirit we can imagine a world Christmas, a holy time where the emphasis is on the mystery of human life, and not on sectarian arguments over doctrine and theology (presumably about the incarnation of the Word). The “real meaning” of Christmas is not what you believe, but how deeply and genuinely you are transformed by the spirit of the festival in the direction of hope, peace, and community. With all its traditions and theological niceties, Christmas is still fundamentally the celebration of the world’s birth and life’s nativity. Nothing could be more important to this celebration than whatever it takes to waken the child wherever it is sleeping.

This is the real meaning of Christmas – the Child – whatever this Christmas child mysteriously might be, come to life, found everywhere, the source of hope and, tender and mild, the way toward peace. We will never fully understand Christmas, but we can believe in it and allow the world to be refreshed by it. We can let its spirit enter into us and do its work in our hearts. We can honor it by observing its traditions as thoughtfully and intimately as we can. As we give ourselves to it, it will bless our lives. As we tell its story and sing its song, it will transform us. The others will find the mystery in us and be entertained and refreshed by it.

That, my friends, is the seductive spirit of our day. Create your own religion. It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you are sincere. But we forget that you can be sincerely wrong.

Have you ever taken a wrong turn? You have driven miles out of your way. You were totally sincere about what you were doing.

I once took a left turn where I should have taken a right turn. I was on my way to a speaking engagement in Kansas. For one-half hour I drove along the highway with all the authority of a man who knew precisely where he was going.

I thought I did. Suddenly, I was confronted with the reality that I was going through the wrong turn. I arrived at the wrong town at the right time. When I finally took out the map, my error became clear. I had to confront my error, turn around and retrace my previous thirty minutes of driving back to the stop light where I had made the wrong turn. An hour of valuable time was lost, and I was one hour late to that speaking engagement.

You can be totally sincere and, at the same time, dead wrong! It does matter what you believe. All roads are not leading the same direction. Jesus Christ said, “‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'” (John 14:6). As good as it sounds, religious eclecticism, people like Thomas Moore, have no place among those of us who call ourselves followers of Jesus. Granted, there is some truth in all religions. That fact does not make all religions the Truth. It is only through Jesus Christ that your sins can be forgiven. It is only through Jesus Christ that you can have contact with Almighty God. It is only through Jesus Christ that you can be empowered as His Holy Spirit takes control of your life. “It doesn’t really matter what you believe as long as you are sincere” is a myth that God’s Word abolishes in no uncertain terms.

Thanks be to God who has given His Word, which disabuses the many myths that we create. Trust the Savior today. Make your peace with Him. Let Jesus Christ set your life straight, demythologizing that which can ruin your life.

Now we come to a simple conclusion of our multi-week series of First and Second Timothy. It is actually the topic of today’s sermon, “What Jesus Came to Enable You to Say.”

If you have repented of sin, put your trust in the crucified and risen Jesus Christ as your Savior, when you come to the end of your life, as did the Apostle Paul, you can emphatically say what he said:

As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing (2 Timothy 4:6-8).


John A Huffman, Jr. is Senior Pastor of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA.

Read the other sermons in this series:

Mentored for Sound Doctrine & Godly Lifestyles (1 of 12)
Christ’s Power to Save (2 of 12)
Prayer and Worship (3 of 12)
Servant Leadership (4 of 12)
Believing the Truth (5 of 12)
Relationships (6 of 12)
Greed vs. Contentment (7 of 12)
Strength in Suffering (8 of 12)
Perseverance & Persistence (9 of 12)
Workers Pleasing to God (10 of 12)
Following the Truth (11 of 12)
What Jesus Came to Enable You to Say (12 of 12)

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