Interlude: 2 Timothy 4(a) End Game

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Today’s blog entry is more of a “practice devotional.” My friend Vince Andrada is running a Boy’s Upward Basketball League hosted by our sister church, Capital Christian Center. While mostly it is just a way to connect with and serve the community — plus have fun! — they do have a 5-minute devotional during half-time. This afternoon I’m speaking for a couple of the games, and have chosen 2 Timothy 4:7 as my text. This was one of the verses used this past Sunday in honor of our beloved Pastor Joe Elston, who passed away last week.

[Read more] as I work through 2 Timothy to prepare for my talk to a bunch of sweaty tweens.

Lord, speak to me through your Spirit and your Word, your Body and your Blood;
that I might know you as you are, and manifest the image of Christ in this world,
and the world to come. Amen.

2 Timothy 4:1-8

I charge [thee] therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom;

Even though we’re jumping into the middle of Timothy, it is clear that Paul is acting as an authority figure. Moreover, his authority is not based (solely) on personal power, but by their shared faith in Jesus as Lord (and Judge).

So, what is Paul using that authority to command Timothy to do?

Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.

If we didn’t know already, this is a pretty strong hint that Timothy is a pastor. So why would a pastor need to do all these things?

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away [their] ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

This verse often makes me uncomfortable — since I’ve seen bad preachers use this to justify themselves while alienating their congregations! Nonetheless, the sober truth is that we all come to a time like that, when we just want ‘comfort food’ and not ‘nutrition’ while sitting at the Lord’s table. And it is precisely at times like that when we need to be told the truth, no matter how painful:

But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.

Strong words. Paul is asking quite a lot of Timothy. Why?

For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand.

I wonder if this sent a chill down Timothy’s spine. Paul has been like a father to Timothy lo these many years. He’s seen Paul endure all manner of persecution and attack, to the point of despair, and yet never seen him lose heart. To hear a man like that refer to his death so casually has an ominous note of unalterable finality. Yet, even at this late hour Paul has no regrets:

I have fought a good fight

The Greek word translated “fought” — agonizomai — comes from the “place of contests” (arena) where Olympic-style games were held, but entered English as “agony” in the sense of “to struggle with extreme suffering”; perhaps due to Luke 22:44. The analogy may even be deliberate — Paul always had his eyes fixed on Jesus, and measured himself relative to that, not his fellow workers.

I have finished [my] course

More than just fighting, Paul finished. I don’t watch sports very often, but I’m periodically struck by the fact that it doesn’t matter who’s winning for most of the game — only who’s winning at the end. It reminds of Jim Collin’s story about the track team whose motto was “we run best at the end” — of the race, meet, and season.

I think if I could impart just a single idea to these kids, it would be that the goal is to win. Not merely to score a lot of points. Not to look flashy along the way. Not to satisfy someone else’s agenda. Not even just to have fun. But honestly, bluntly to win.

The difference, of course, is that in any league only one team can win. In life, however, we win when we make others into winners. That’s why so many people are coaches, and why my friend Vince gives up so much of his time for ministries like these. He knows not just how to win, but what is worth winning. For not all victories are worth the price:

I have kept the faith:

But this one is:

Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.

Prayer

O Father, grant me the grace to speak your heart to these kids. It is just a short devotional, barely a breather in the midst of a fast-paced, distracting game. Yet even those few minutes could be an appointment with eternity for some child there, that would impact their life forever. Not through my words alone, but how my words complete the testimony of love and sacrifice of all those who give up their time for these kids. Lord, help my words to be worthy of them, and of you, and those tweens might see the heart of God, and submit to you as their lifelong coach, and so much more. I ask this in Jesus name, Amen.

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