2 Timothy 4:6-8 and 16-18 Twenty-Third Sunday After Pentecost
In preparation for my sermon, I read the whole second letter from Paul to Timothy. It is as beautiful as it is sad. Most of the scholars believe that this is the last letter Paul wrote. It is believed that when he wrote it, He was in jail awaiting his execution in Rome. As I was reading the letter, I found a real and Vulnerable person here. Paul the one who stood before kings, the one who presented the gospel of Jesus before some of the greatest philosophers of his time, in this letter seems a little scared and lonely. “At my first defense -he says- no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them.”
While I was reading this letter, one word jumped out of it, the word was commitment. Commitment between a faithful God and Paul; commitment between a faithful Paul and God. In verses 6- 8 he wrote: “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store 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 longed for his appearing.”
Ever since Paul had the personal encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, he started fighting the good fight; and in every one of his letters we find a very real commitment and determination; his perseverance and his trust in God are very profound. What he is doing in 2 Timothy which again is believed to be his last letter, is summarizing his ministry, his call, his commitment to Jesus, his Lord, and Savior… What can we learn this morning from the great apostle Paul’s life and ministry? I believe we can learn to never give up on our commitment, to never give up on Jesus. Because Jesus never gives up on His commitment to us. His lesson to Timothy and to us today is also an invitation to examine our commitment to Jesus. Is our commitment deep enough to endure what it takes to inherit the crown of life Jesus has already prepare for us? Is our commitment to Jesus deep enough to fight the good fight every day of our lives?
There are different kinds of commitments: those we have for example with telephone companies. We sign a legal contract and we commit ourselves to pay for their services and there are those commitments that even when we do not sign any paper, we are willing to bear them till the end. Those that as soon as we make them, we know we are ready to do anything to keep them. That is the kind of commitment Paul is presenting to Timothy and us this Sunday. Those commitments have no room for doubts; have no room for hesitations. Paul fought to keep that commitment every day of his life with all his strength, all his mind and all his heart.
Talking about commitment, I heard once about a young college man who one day went into a photography studio. He had a framed picture of his girlfriend and he wanted to duplicate it. This, of course, meant that the picture had to be taken out of the frame. In doing this, the studio owner noticed that there was an inscription on the back of the picture. The inscription said, “My dearest Tom, I love you with all my heart. I love you more and more each day. I will love you forever and ever. I am yours completely for all eternity.” It was signed “Diane,” But right after her signature it was a P.S. The P.S. said, “If we ever break up, I want this picture back.” That P.S said a lot about Diane’s commitment to Tom. But the kind of commitment Paul is setting an example for us does not have as I said before room for doubts. It was no chance for Paul’s relationship with Jesus to break.
There is no doubt about Paul’s commitment to Jesus. There is no doubt that after he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he had to fight the good fight day after day. He fought against Jews who accused him of not honoring Moses and the law; He fought against gentiles who saw him, and his new message as a threat to Rome, to their gods and to their business as described in Acts 19. And as a result of all this, he went –several times- to prison, he was whipped, his life was always in danger, as he expresses in 2 Corinthians 11:26-29, and at the end, he paid with his life his commitment with Jesus, but he never gave up. He fought all the way to the end.
How can we, as the church and as persons strengthen our commitment with God who called us in Jesus to serve him? Paul gives us some clues in his letter. In the first chapter of 2 Timothy verse 9, He says, “He has saved us and called us to a holy life-not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time” It is by Grace my sisters and brothers. The strength we have to be faithful to our commitment is not based on what we can or cannot do but in Jesus’ own purpose and grace. Remember, He called us, He called you; He made us who we are; He gave us what we have; we belong to him, he bought us on the cross, He paid with His blood. I know you know that but is important to remember it. Because in our journey with Jesus there are moments when we do not know what to do next and our commitment weakens. When that happens just trust in His grace, remember His promises. Do not give up, do not doubt Jesus, keep your faith up. Remember we do not depend on our ability but on God’s grace and purpose; allow Him to work in your life; allow Him to use you for His honor and Glory as He did with Paul, Peter, Timothy and many more. Put your life in His hands and He will fulfill His purpose in your life.
Another clue to strengthen our commitment is found in chapter 4 verse 12 “Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.” This is also important, what Paul is asking Timothy is to take his place in the body of Jesus; he is asking him to do, what He was equipped by God to do. Do not neglect your gift. Remember, our gifts are blessing not only to us but to others too. If your gift is to sing, do it, the church will be blessed; if your gift is to teach, do it, the church will be blessed; if your gift is to visit and bring words of strength to those who are in need, do it, the church will be blessed and our commitment as community of faith will be strengthened along with yours. Long ago when Yani and I were members of the youth group of Hempstead UMC, I was part of a music band, after participating in our Sunday service, one of my brothers approached me and told me, “I was ready to give up; today was going to be my last Sunday in church, but after all of you guys sang, God spoke to me and told that I have to stay.” God used our gifts to speak to this person.
Let us not neglect our gifts; let us practice our gifts; let us do it in harmony with the gifts of our brothers and sisters. Let’s fight the good fight together.
One last advise I will share from Paul’s letter to Timothy comes from same chapter 4 verses 15 and 16, “Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Two things, first our commitment with God is personal, but is also collectively. “give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress” “Persevere in them because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearer.” It was not about Timothy only was about his community. Our journey with Christ it is about helping each other. I love the story in the Gospel of Mark chapter 2 about the paralytic brought to Jesus by his friends. They brought their friend together; they claimed and made an opening in the roof together; their friend was healed by the effort they did together. We do not have to struggle by ourselves; we belong to the body of Jesus and we have each other. The paralytic did not fight his fight alone, he had friends. If your commitment is weak, your community will lift you up. If you know someone who is struggling with his commitment offer your help.
Paul also reminds Timothy to watch his life and doctrine closely. In other words, live and act according to your faith and belief; according to the commitment we have with God in Jesus. Our commitment to God is not rhetorical, is practical. James 1:22 says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” “Watch your life and doctrine closely” was the apostle Paul’s -who was ready to die- advised to Timothy. And to strengthen our commitment we must do the same. Very often we must compare our actions, our thoughts and our words with the written word of God, with what God expect from us because to be more than a conqueror; to win the good fight words and actions must match. Let us not give up on our commitment to God, let us keep fighting. Let me finish with one quote from the great Vince Lombardi, he said, “most people fail, not because of lack of desire, but, because of lack of commitment.” If we want to be a more than a conqueror church, we must daily strength our commitment with God, th