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The Triumphant Epitaph of Paul, Part 1

2 Timothy 4:6 February 14, 1988 55-24

Please turn in your Bible to 2 Timothy chapter 4. And we're going to begin this morning a look at verses 6 through 8. We will be examining these wonderful three verses this morning and then again on next Lord's day morning, as well.

I confess to you at the very outset that this is a passage which perhaps should be preached by an angel and not a man. The best of men with the best of gifts and the best of tools could hardly do justice to these profound rich far-reaching verses. Mine will be but a feeble attempt to capture something of the essence of what comes through in this great text from the heart of the Apostle Paul. If I were to give title to verses 6 through 8 I would call them, "The triumphant epitaph of Paul." Here Paul, in a sense, writes his own commentary on his own life. He sums up his life; past, present and future. He does it with that economy of words that is known only to the genius of a Holy Spirit inspired writer. In a very few choice words he says vast amounts of great truth. As he looks at his life, as he writes the final chapter, as it were, on the whole story of the Apostle Paul it becomes for us not just a story of triumph but a model of triumph, not just the record of one man but the motivation for all men for what we see in Paul, the triumphant end of a life of service should be the longing of all of our hearts.

So, we approach the passage not just examining Paul, but examining ourselves. And though there are a few verses still left in chapter 4, bits and pieces and details related to Paul's current situation with reference to Timothy, these verses, verses 6 to 8, are really the final commentary on his own life. They capture up the essence of his own epitaph.

If I have learned anything living this life I have learned that the final words of dying men and women tend to be stripped of hypocrisy. As people take a last glimpse of life before they enter death, their hearts are usually open and revealed. And if we could hear what is said in the last moments, we can often understand how they view the whole meaning of their life. I think of the words of Napoleon on his death bed, "I die before my time and my body will be given back to earth to become the food of worms. Such is the fate which so soon awaits the great Napoleon." I think of the dying words of Talleyrand which he penned on a piece of paper and placed them at his bedside before his life ebbed away he wrote: "Behold, 83 years passed away, what cares? What agitation? What anxieties? What ill will? What sad complications? And all without other results except great fatigue of mind and body and a profound sentiment of discouragement with regard to the future and disgust with regard to the past."

They are simply illustrations of a long, long list of people who faced death tragically. But then there is Paul who faced death triumphantly. Listen to his words beginning in verse 6, "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith. In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord the righteous judge will award to me on that day and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing." What triumph, what hope, what joy, what exhilaration, what victory. Here are the words of God's greatest servant giving personal testimony to his life, given in behalf of Jesus Christ. He faces impending death. He knows his present imprisonment will lead inexorably to martyrdom. It's a hard time for Paul to leave and we need to understand that. You have to have, in a sense, the heart of the shepherd to capture the heart of Paul. When you have poured your life into people, when you have made the ultimate sacrifices again and again and again to bring the saving gospel to build and nurture the church, and you now are coming to the end of your life to face the reality that the church isn't what you hoped it would be, it can be heartbreaking. It's a hard time to leave.

There's trouble in the church at Ephesus, one of Paul's favorite churches, one that took up at least a tenth of his ministry life span of 30 years. There's trouble in that church and not just in that church, that's representative of a lot of troubled churches. If we had nothing more than his own epistles to the churches, we would know they faced trouble. The pure gospel is already being contaminated by deceitful liars, purveying doctrines of demons. And the people are actually, according to verse 3, itching for more. Ungodliness is tolerated in the church along with false teaching. And it isn't just Ephesus, it's that way a lot of places.

And then there's Timothy and as much as Paul wants whole- heartedly and consummately to believe in the courage of Timothy, I'm sure he has his doubts. Timothy must be challenged and thus these two epistles, 1 and 2 Timothy, again and again and again challenge Timothy to courage, consistency, faithfulness and an uncompromising ministry. It's not an easy time to go. The church isn't what you had given your life to see it be. And your successor is weak in some areas of life and you question his ability to carry on. And it's that kind of reality of the situation that compels the words of Paul. It's a hard time. Timothy must be strong. The church must have a leader. He must be faithful. He must resist the onslaught of evil and error.

And so, after 30 years from that day on the Damascus Road as Erasmus once said, "Paul is laying down his arms so that Timothy may take them up." And it's a crucial time in the life of the church. And in one final effort to call Timothy to faithfulness, Paul shows him how he sums up his whole life. And I believe he has two things in mind. First of all, I believe he is saying, "Timothy, I hope and pray that you can come to the end of your life like this. I hope you can come to the end of your life triumphantly and victoriously. Even though it won't be the way you wished it could be, you can still come to the end with triumph."

It's amazing that there's an eloquent quietness here. There's a settled confidence. There's a triumphant note even though Paul is hurting over the state of the church and questioning the strength of Timothy. He faces death triumphantly. And he is saying to Timothy by implication, "O Timothy, I hope you can come to the end like this." But even more than that he's saying to Timothy, "Timothy, the very fact that I am already being poured out as a drink offering and the time of my departure is at hand is compelling you to step into the gap, take the baton, exercise the leadership. And if you do that faithfully you will come triumphantly to the end even as I have."

He looks at his life from three perspectives. In verse 6 he looks at the present, the close of his life and says he is ready. In verse 7 he looks at the past, the course of his life and says he was faithful. In verse 8 he looks at the future, the crown of his life and notes that he will be honored and rewarded. This is the way to go out.

You say, "Isn't there a lot of pride here?" I don't believe there's any. I believe that Paul the Apostle knew that he was what he was by the grace of God. I believe that in Colossians 1:29 he says, "I labor...I labor," indicating that he gave the very best and maximum effort he could give but he also says, "Striving according to His power which works mightily within me." He knew where the source of power was. He's not taking credit. He is simply acknowledging that by the grace and power of God and by his own faithfulness to function within that grace and power he has come to a joyous victorious end. And he sets an example for Timothy and compels him to take his place.

Let's look this morning at this first element and then briefly at the second one. In verse 6 he discusses the present of his life, takes a look at the close of his life and says he is ready. "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering and the time of my departure has come." I want to carefully look at that verse, I think it's instructive. The first two words are important. "For I," I here is emphatic. It's compared to verse 5, "But you," if you put them together, "But you be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry," why?, "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering and the time of my departure has come." In other words, I'm leaving. Timothy, now is the time for you to get on with it, set your priorities, suffer whatever you have to suffer, do the work of an evangelist, fully do your ministry. And now is the time for I am leaving...that's the essence of it. If you have to do it, Timothy, you have to succeed me.

He falls, I think, into a wonderfully elite group. You remember Joshua 1:1 and 2, "It came about after the death of Moses the servant of the Lord that the Lord spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses My servant, saying, Moses, My servant, is dead, now therefore arise, cross this Jordan, you and all this people to the land which I am giving to them to the sons of Israel." Moses, My servant, is dead, now therefore you arise. And Joshua was the first great successor in the leadership of God's people. And do you remember this wonderful statement in 2 Kings chapter 2 verse 15? "When the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho opposite him saw him they said, The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha and they came to meet him and bowed themselves to the ground before him...the spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha." Another great successor. The mantle of Elijah placed on Elisha. And here we find Timothy, another of the great biblical successors. "But you...you must do all of this because I'm leaving. Take my place." Paul knows that his leaving is imminent, you will note the word "already," already, now it's often translated. I am now leaving, I am already leaving is an equally proper translation, it is thus to be translated in Romans 13:11, 2 Thessalonians 2:7, 1 John 2:8. Already is a proper translation, I'm already in the process of being poured out as a drink offering.

Now you say, "What does he mean by that? What does he mean that he's already in the process of being poured out as a drink offering?" Well in order to understand that, we need to go back to the roots of Paul's thinking which, of course, because of his Jewishness are found in the Old Testament, back to the book of Numbers chapter 15. And I want you to turn to it because I want to spend a few moments there so you'll understand the profound richness of what Paul is saying here. Numbers chapter 15. Now remember the setting. The children of Israel are wandering in the wilderness. They are under the judgment of God, a whole generation will die out because of the sin that they committed there of idolatry and unbelief, complaining against God. An old generation under judgment is dying out, a new generation is growing up. The old generation will die in the wilderness, the new generation will go into the promise land. But it's hard to have much hope for the promise land, it's hard to have much vision while you're roaming around endlessly for 40 years in the desert. And so God here in chapter 15 begins to put hope in their hearts by giving them some sacrificial laws which they will engage in when they come into the land. He is setting their hearts upon the possession of the land. He is causing them to begin to think about how it will be when they come into the land which God will give them.

Verse 1 says, "Now the Lord spoke to Moses saying, Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, When you enter the land where you are to live which I am giving you, then make an offering by fire to the Lord, a burnt offering or a sacrifice to fulfill a special vow or as a freewill offering or in your appointed times to make a soothing aroma to the Lord from the herd or from the flock."

Now God says when you get into the land I want you to get into making offerings. And He gives some very general descriptions of offerings, burnt offerings, sacrifice of various kinds under a special vow as a freewill offering in an appointed offering season, making soothing aroma to the Lord. You will then be called upon to give offerings to God when you come into the land.

He then goes on to describe in some detail the elements of those offerings. But first of all His description is most helpful to understanding what Paul had to say. Let's pick it up in verse 4, "And the one who presents his offering shall present to the Lord a grain offering of one tenth of an ephah of fine flour mixed with one fourth of a hin of oil," it's approximately a gallon. Now let me give you the picture. In verse 4 you present an offering, that would be an animal, a lamb or whatever, and then you give also a meal offering of an ephah of fine flour mixed with a quart of oil that makes kind of a porridge kind of thing, only with an oil base. And verse 5, "And then thirdly, you present wine for the libation, or the drink offering, one fourth of a hin with the burnt offering or the sacrifice for each lamb." So here was the typical sacrifice. You give a lamb as a burnt offering which means it's all consumed on the altar, none of that was taken by the priest, it symbolizes total commitment, total dedication, total sacrifice. And then you gave a meal offering and then you gave finally a drink offering which was poured out all over that first two-part offering.

Now further he describes this offering as the animal gets larger the meal offering gets larger and the drink offering gets larger. If a ram is used, you prepare a grain offering two tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with one third of a hin of oil and for the libation or drink offering you offer this time one third of a hin of wine as a soothing aroma to the Lord, more than a fourth. And when you prepare a bull as a burnt offering or a sacrifice to fulfill a special vow or for peace offerings to the Lord, then you shall offer with the bull a grain offering of three-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with one-half a hin of oil and you shall offer as the libation one half a hin of wine as an offering by fire as a soothing aroma to the Lord. So you can see the amount gets larger as the animal gets larger.

Then verse 11 it says, "Thus it shall be done for each ox, for each ram, for each of the male lambs or the goats. According to the number that you prepare so you shall do for everyone according to their number, all who are natives shall do these things in this manner in presenting an offering by fire as a soothing aroma to the Lord. And if an alien sojourns with you, or one who may be among you throughout your generations and wishes to make an offering by fire as a soothing aroma to the Lord, just as you do, so he shall do. As for the assembly there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns with you a perpetual statute throughout your generations, as you are so shall the alien be before the Lord. There is to be then one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you."

Now there's a basic instruction that God gave them about this matter of giving offerings. You give an animal, you give a meal offering and finally you pour out a drink offering. The drink offering then was the capstone of sacrifice. It was the final factor in sacrifice, the final act of sacrifice and it too was given in total and none of it was to be consumed by the priest, it was all poured out on the altar. Every burnt offering was totally given to the sacrificial act as the meal and the wine were to follow. And that was to be for everyone, whether an Israelite or an alien, for all times by God's people.

Now with that in mind, let's go back to 2 Timothy. And I believe Paul has that in mind. He says simply, "I am already being poured out as a drink offering." What do you mean by that, Paul? I mean this, it's as if I have already given myself as a living sacrifice, it's as if I've already somewhere along the line made the meal offering sacrifice and now I'm in the last act of my sacrificial self-giving. You see it? This is it. I can't give anymore, this is the final pouring out of my life, the final act of my complete dedication to the Lord. I've already put my life on the altar as a living sacrifice, a kind of burnt offering. I've already poured out the meal offering, as it were, and now the completion of it all, I pour on this final sacrificial act.

He saw his whole ministry as an offering to God. In Romans 15 he says in verse 16 that he is a minister of Christ Jesus, ministering as a priest the gospel of God that my offering of the Gentiles might be acceptable. He saw him as a priest...he saw himself as a priest. Perhaps he saw himself as the burnt offering. His ministry as the meal. And now giving his life as the drink offering. This is the consummate act of his life. It is now to be the last sacrificial act, a blood-spilling death. And the drink offering is vivid because he will shed blood in this death. As a Roman citizen he knew he couldn't be crucified, the Roman citizenry could not die by crucifixion, and so he knew he would be beheaded...an unimaginable bloody way to die. And so the vividness of pouring out his life as a libation or a drink offering is seen in the death means as well as the act of sacrifice.

This is not new to Paul He anticipated that this would come. He uses this same expression back in Philippians 2:17 only he uses it in a unique way. In Philippians 2:17 he says, "If I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice." In other words, he's saying there it's a conditional clause, and the idea here is if and it is possible, there is a possibility that in my ministry to you I might lose my life. He says if that's true, I rejoice. So when writing to the Philippians he was saying if and it is possible that I could be being poured out as a drink offering, if and it is possible I could be losing my life on your behalf, I rejoice. But he didn't know whether that was going to happen, now he knows. So what in Philippians 2:17 was a possibility is now a reality. He doesn't say if, he says I'm already being poured out. There's no if anymore, it's determined that he will die. The possibility has become a reality.

You say, "How so?" Well he says, please notice in verse 16, "At my first defense no one supported me but all deserted me, may it not be counted against them." Is that absolutely unimaginable to you that everybody around him who was indebted to him really for the knowledge of Christ, for it was he who preached the gospel to the Gentiles, would have deserted him in the hour of his trial before Nero? In his first defense for which he was now, of course, a prisoner, no one supported him, no one defended him, all were afraid, all deserted him, left him all alone before Nero and as a result he was now incarcerated waiting to come before Nero again for final sentencing and have his head chopped off. What an imaginable ingratitude. An incredible way that such a man should come to the end of his life who was the spiritual father, uncle, grandfather to almost every redeemed soul in the Gentile world could be deserted in the moment of his deepest need. But he was and never held it against them, "May it not be counted against them." And then he says almost pensively in verse 17, "But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me." And the end of verse 17, "I was delivered out of the lion's mouth," they put me in prison then instead of taking my life. And confidently says in verse 18, "The Lord will deliver me from every evil deed and will bring me safely to His heavenly Kingdom, to Him be the glory forever and ever amen." There's no bitterness in this man, no bitterness even though he was deserted by the people who were the beneficiaries of his sacrifice.

So as he looked at the present tense, he was already being poured out. He had no defense. He was incarcerated waiting for final sentence. No one had come to stand and defend him before Nero. His blood would soon be poured out as a symbolic kind of drink offering as the last act of personal sacrifice.

He says it explicitly then again in verse 6 in these words, "The time of my departure has come." Time here is kairos, it has to do with season rather than hours. This is the time of my death, not necessarily in the next few minutes or the next few hours or even the next few days. If you'll notice verse 13, in the final instructions he gives to Timothy he says, "When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus and the books, especially the parchments," so he must have thought he was going to live a little while, he wanted his coat and he wanted his books and he wanted his parchments. And then in verse 21 he says, "Make every effort to come before winter." Maybe it wasn't so much winter itself but maybe he realized that it would be winter that would bring his death and he wanted to see Timothy once more before he died. But he had the sense that he might be around for a little while, but nonetheless already his departure had come. Perfect tense verb, it's already arrived with continuing effect, the clouds of death have come and continue to hover. It's only a matter of being sentenced, I have no defense.

But I want you to notice the way he views life, this is so wonderful, and the way he views death. It's not that he's at all terrified by death, in fact what does he call death? The time of my...what?...what's the word?...departure. He doesn't call it death, he calls it departure. Death is imminent, death is standing by, he senses it much like Peter must have sensed it when he said in 2 Peter 1:14, "I know that the laying aside of my earthly dwelling is imminent," both of these great men of God sense their impending departure. Paul calls it a departure, I love that. I love that.

There's an African tribe that has an interesting custom that I have always thought was beautiful. When they do a funeral for a Christian, they never say "he's gone," they always say, "he's arrived...he's arrived." Paul looked at death as a departure. What does he mean by that? The word is so rich, analusis, it's a vivid word used for many things in the Greek language. Let me suggest at least four to you. It was the word used for unyoking an animal from the shafts of a cart or a plow from a yoke. As Paul looks at death he sees it as an unyoking. He sees it as a release from toil, as a rest from labor. A beautiful picture. He will be glad to lay his burden down. The toil has been burdensome, difficult, wearing, debilitating. And he looks to death as the release of the yoke, as taking the plow off his back, unhooking the shafts of the cart and laying down the burden and being free.

Secondly, it's a word used for loosening chains or bonds on a prisoner. And death for Paul was a liberation. Not only would he lose the physical chains which he bore so frequently in Roman prisons and even now, but he would lose the chains and bondage of his own flesh, his own fallenness, sin that dwelt in him. He would exchange the confines of a Roman prison for the glorious liberty of the courts of heaven. He would exchange the bondage of his own sinfulness for the glorious liberty of righteousness. And so, death for him was a departure, the yoke would come off, the chains would be severed.

Thirdly, it is the word used for loosening a tent to take it down. Paul was a tent maker. He made tents and he also used them. He was a nomad of sorts, traveling almost endlessly through the 30 year duration of his ministry. He knew what it was to strike camp again, to take his tent down. And what he is saying here is I'm taking my tent down only this time it will never go up again. I'm taking my tent down for the last time to embark on the greatest journey and I'll never need a place to sleep again, I'll never need a place to rest from weariness again, for this road will take me to the house of God. So he strikes the tent to head for the house of God.

And then fourthly analusisis also used for slipping the ropes to let the ship leave the harbor. A ship tied in the harbor to the strong poles that hold it there safely is set free when the ropes are released to sail from the harbor to the deep to another harbor. So Paul who many many times had sailed the Mediterranean at many times felt the ship set free from the dock to sail the deeps now says I'm read to launch out into the depth and find myself in the harbor called heaven. And death for him is a departure in every sense...just a departure. The yoke comes off and he's free, the chains are broken, he's free. The tent is taken down for the last time and he will live forever in the Father's house and the ship is released from the dock to take him to the shores of the harbor of heaven. What a view of death, victorious glorious perspective.

For the Christian death is laying down the burden in order to rest. Death is laying aside the shackles in order to be free. Death is striking camp to take up residence in a heavenly palace. Death is setting sail, casting off the ropes of this world to end up in the presence of God. Who then would fear such a death?

Paul does not die like Napoleon. He does not die like Gandhi, like Talleyrand or like any other such one who does not know God in Christ. There's one other note to add here and that is this, that I think Paul looked at his own departure in the way that Jesus looked at His death, Jesus said, "No man takes My life from Me, I lay it down of Myself." And I believe Paul was affirming here that nobody was taking his life from him either. He was laying it down. Marvelous thought. You say, "How so? Weren't they going to execute him?" Yes, but he could have chosen to compromise, he could have chosen to deny the faith, he could have chosen not to boldly proclaim Christ, he could have chosen to conciliate his religious views with that of the current emperor worship. He could have chosen some evasive route which may waylaid this inevitability of his execution. But he would not do that. And so in a very real and true sense he is giving his life. He has that sense of joy. There is not frustration, there is not futility here. There is not fear. There is not the sense that it's not finished, it's not done, how can this happen. He is laying it down. He is honored to lay it down. He is doing that thing which Jesus first asked the disciples who followed him to do and that is take up the cross and follow Me. In other words, if it means death, be willing to die. No, the Romans don't take his life, Nero doesn't take his life. The executioner who severs his head from his body doesn't take his life. He gives his life.

That reminds me of one of Browning's young soldiers of whom he wrote when he was writing about Napoleon. He said this young soldier came flying from the battlefield to report to Napoleon the victory at Radisbond(?). The young soldier was so exhilarated to report the victory, so honored to be chosen as messenger for his emperor that almost unnoticing his wounds he rushed into the presence of Napoleon to announce the victory...at which point Browning says the emperor noticed his wounds were severe. And Browning writes the words of Napoleon, "You're wounded! Nay, the soldier's pride touched to the quick, he said, I'm killed, sire. And his chief beside, smiling the boy fell dead." I'm not just wounded, I'm killed. You see, wounds are only second-class marks. Death is first-class.

Wounds for Paul were not enough. Yes he said in Galatians 6, "I bear in my body the marks of Jesus Christ." But wounds were not enough. They were second-class marks of loyalty, death is first-class. And so he says, "I'm already pouring out my life as a drink offering in the final act of self-sacrifice."

That's how he viewed the present. What a view. What a view. The close of his life and he's ready. Let me introduce you to point two, the past. Here he looks at the course of his life and he was faithful. Look at verse 7, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course. I have kept the faith." That's a flashback, folks. That's a flashback over his ministry. And in the Greek the object is placed before the verb emphasizing this, the good fight I have fought, the course I have finished, the faith I have kept. Perfect tense verbs in each case describing completed action with present continuing results. As the Apostle looks back, catch this, will you, no regret, no sadness, no sense of unfulfillment, no feeling of incompleteness. He doesn't see the smallest thing left undone. I fought, I finished, I kept. What a way to go. What God called him to do he did. What God equipped him to do he did. What God enabled him to do he did. What God providentially allowed him to do and gave him opportunity to do he did. And he faces death with wholly satisfaction, triumphant in the memory of a life work completed. This is no unfinished symphony. And I personally can't think of any more glorious way to leave this world than to leave like that knowing you have done all you were called to do, to yield up your life with a total sense of accomplishment. What a way to go.

That's the prayer of my heart. It should be the prayer of your heart. It should be the prayer of Timothy's heart. How can I live my life to end it like this? How can I live my life so that it comes to the very end with total satisfaction that I did what He called me to do? How can I do that? As I studied verse 7 I came up with about half a dozen principles that will enable you to live your life so that it can end like this. And if you want to know what they are, you better come back next Sunday morning. It may be..it may be as practical a message on spiritual commitment as you've ever heard. Unforgettable truths come out of verses 7 and 8.

Paul was a man who could look at the present of his life, face death with joy. Why? Because he could look at the past of his life and know he had done what God had called him to do. That's the way to live. That's the way to die. Let's bow together in prayer.

Father, we thank You for the example of this tremendous servant of Yours, the beloved Apostle Paul. We thank You for his spiritual commitment. We thank You for the model that he is to us. We love him. We love everything about him. We love to see the dedication of his life, born out of this deep profound love that he had for You. We even look forward to the day when we shall meet him face to face in Your presence. And, Lord, we...we thank You that he could come to the end of his life and say I'm pouring out my life as a drink offering in one final act of sacrifice for the Lord I love. He counted not his life dear unto himself, willingly gave it and gave it as an act of sacrifice to cap off all the sacrifices of his faithful service. Lord, help us each to be able to come to the end of our days in this world with the sense of having accomplished what You had given us to do, with a tranquility of heart that views death as departure, that sees it as nothing more than being loosed from the yoke of toil, freed from the chains of the world, striking down the tent for the last time to live forever in the palace of the eternal God, setting free the ropes to sail into heavenly harbor. Father, may we so view death because we have viewed life as Paul did and because we have fought the good fight, finished the course and kept the faith. And may we know the joy of reward which he knows even now in Your presence. These things we ask in Christ's name. Amen.