Living Hope: “Undistracted” – 2 Timothy 4:9-22

Child drownedWhen she called us, her voice was broken – a reflection of her broken heart. There is no pain like the searing burn of the loss of a child. A simple picnic, and a happy family time was forever stained with painful loss. She was setting the picnic table, and he was grilling the burgers. For only a few minutes they lost track of the toddler. When they realized he had wandered, they both felt the flash of pain and a sick feeling, as they dropped what was in their hands and ran down toward the pond a hundred steps off the back patio. Seeing her child face down in the water was more than she could bear. He charged into the shallow pond, but it was too late – and now their hearts were broken. Guilt swept through the hole in their hearts. How could they have lost track of their child. How could they comfort each other and face the days ahead? How could they keep their other two children safe without smothering them. These were the painful pressures they felt – and they all came at one time.

First, there were the EMTs and their horrified looks. Then there was the police officer that seemed to lack the compassion one needed for such a delicate task of asking questions to dazed and bruised hearts. Finally there was the trip to the hospital, then to the funeral home. Questions were pelted by family members, clueless friends tossed platitudes, but they were barely holding it together – and that is when she called.

Regardless of how you feel about the inattention this young couple gave to their child, you and I have to admit the obvious – anyone can get distracted. No one is insulated from making a critical mistake when operating a motor vehicle or watching a child. Focus is critical in a world full of distractions. Add to that the fact that most of us have been duped into believing that our brain can multi-task – like a dual core processor – and the tendency to be distracted can bring us into certain peril.

Distraction isn’t only an issue when it comes to SAFETY, but also to SPIRITUAL GROWTH. The simplicity and passion of our early walk in the Word, our relationships to people, and our Intimacy with God can easily get lost in the barrage of other “Christian agenda items” (like service, programs, property management, etc.) The issues of life are demanding, and it takes fervent and deliberate focus on the most important issues to keep us walking with God through the mess of daily living. I want to take us back to a simpler faith – and the place to look is the end of the last letter of Paul’s writings in the New Testament – the last part of 2 Timothhy 4. Paul was facing his own end on earth, and it was clear that his magnificent career as a writer of the Word given by the Spirit of God was coming down to its final word. His career as a writer spanned twenty to twenty five years. It grew in four stages: Prophetic, Polemic, Philosophical and Pastoral. By the end, Paul settled into the idea that ministry is not just about the future, not just about being correct, not just about understanding who you are in Christ and grasping great Heavenly truths – it is about friends and cloaks when you get cold.

Go back with me to the dank and putrid dungeon, and listen as the seconds tick away in the final moments of Paul’s life. What did he learn?

Key Principle: God’s best work is accomplished in followers who learn to focus on the three eternal parts of life: people, the Word and intimacy with God.

I. Focus on People:

Paul learned, through his tough but fruitful ministry, that a live lived serving God is all about PEOPLE. He did not subscribe to some MONASTIC view of holiness that moves the believer from the fray of everyday living. Rather, he made life about a series of people – different types – that he experienced, and now he wanted to “turn the light on” for Timothy.

One of the mistakes of youth can be seen in their handling of people. As teens, we all pass through a time when we don’t recognize the wisdom of those who love us the most, and many of us fell prey to peers that had little more wisdom than we did – but perhaps had more “street smarts”. Learning to read people, and growing in our ability to work together with people is a key to our success in life, and in the ministry of service to one another. Listen to what Paul wrote to the younger Pastor…

2 Timothy 4:9 Make every effort to come to me soon; 10 for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service. 12 But Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. …14 Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. 15 Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching. 16 At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. …19 Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. 20 Erastus remained at Corinth, but Trophimus I left sick at Miletus. 21 Make every effort to come before winter. Eubulus greets you, also Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brethren. 22 The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.

In his closing remarks, Paul offered to Timothy what looks like a shopping list of sixteen names. Read the end of the book quickly, and it sounds like a roster for a baseball team, or roll call in a college classroom: Demas, Crescens, Titus, Like, Mark, Tychichus, Alexander, Prisca, Aquila, Onesiphorus, Erastus, Trophimus, Eubulus, Pudens, Linus, Claudia. Obviously, Paul was wrapping up the letter with a few comments to Tim about what he had done in relation to the team of people that were a familiar part of first century church ministry.

A closer look at the name list reveals two things:

Paul’s had a variety of relationships that were very important to him in the handling of the message of Jesus – his work was among and about PEOPLE. His end comments were not simple administration – they were of the work of co-laborers and fellow servants.

Paul saw great value in all of the other people in the ministry – though many had relatively minor contributions compared to the Apostle. We don’t know much about most of the people on the list. There was no great council of the church called by Eubulus, and there is almost nothing known of many of the other names listed in the text – but Paul recalled them and God recorded them. The reason is clear: any one who yields themself to the power of God’s transforming work can begin to see that God can accomplish great things through the smallest among us. No man can offer another a true measure. Our work is rightly measured by our Master alone.

Make sure people know they are important.

Look at the beginning of the portion, back in verse nine. Paul opened with an “I need you – please come soon” (4:9) request. The beginning of a focus on people is a genuine recognition of our NEED for what others bring to our lives and to the work of the Savior. We cannot really minister in the lives of others until we believe that we not only have truth to offer THEM in terms of a relationship with God, but they have VALUE to God regardless of their current state in regards to a walk with Him. People are loved by God, even when they are resisting Him, and don’t see the value of having HIM in their daily lives. We need to see the value, or we will blow the opportunity to be used of God in their lives. The Daily Bread offered a great illustration of this:

A story is told of a man who loved old books. He met an acquaintance who had just thrown away a Bible that had been stored in the attic of his ancestral home for generations. “I couldn’t read it,” the friend explained. “Somebody named Guten-something had printed it.” “Not Gutenberg!” the book lover exclaimed in horror. “That Bible was one of the first books ever printed. Why, a copy just sold for over two million dollars!” His friend was unimpressed. “Mine wouldn’t have brought a dollar. Some fellow named Martin Luther had scribbled all over it in German.” -Our Daily Bread, June 7, 1994.

Here is the truth: we won’t long to reach people when we don’t LOVE people and VALUE people. We will see them as a hassle, and not as a wonder made by God. One of the ways to practice seeing the value of people is rehearsing in our minds when they can TEACH US about life. We have things to LEARN from others, and in opening ourselves to learning, we help communicate the value of the other people and make a real life connection. Paul did that, and the request reflected that he knew he had need of Timothy HIMSELF – not just things Tim could bring to him in prison. The sense of loneliness Paul felt could be eased by Tim’s presence.

Don’t forget that many people, like Tim, probably didn’t see their own value. Up against the intellect, the capability, the accomplishments of Paul – they felt small. For those among us who have lived lives of success, who have accomplished great feats for God – it is especially important for that kind of person to work hard to show value in the others around them. I have served with some great men. Pastor Vince, before he went to Jesus, served in Africa for many years. His last classes alone brought literally hundreds to Jesus Christ. Yet, he never made people feel small. He treated me with respect and kindness, even though my life hadn’t come close to his in accomplishments for the King.

Recognize there are a variety of people in your life.

Beginning a closer study at verse 10, I felt it may be helpful to move the people from the list into groups that reflected what Paul may have seen as the “sun set on his ministry” and he faced his own death. I believe the text exposes eight types of people:

Let me start with those who were a negative influence on Paul – to get past the bad news and into the good:

#1 Defectors:

Quickly jumping off the page in 2 Timothy 4:10 is Demas felt the connection to the world more deeply than the connection with me (4:10a). He was a former companion of Paul and left Paul – drawn away by the things of the world.

Who hasn’t seen this? In the life of our family, I have watched my parents, my brothers and sisters, and even my wife and I draw close to help some individuals that take from us, but don’t really follow Jesus. They start off looking like they want Jesus, but after a while, the world’s attractions draw them away. The more you gave, the harder it is to let go without pain.

Here is the truth, that I will call the “Defection Principle”: We will invest time and energy in some who will slip away, attracted by other priorities. In Matthew 13 Jesus encountered the same thing! In the background there were people leaving the ministry, and pressure was coming on Jesus to “get the crowds back”. He offered a step parable, where each thought was built on the previous thought:

1. The Sower on the Terrace (Mt. 13:3-9; 18-23): The problem with followers is not the seed, but the soil. The sower is true, the seed is good, but the soil must be right to get growth.
2. The Wheat and the Tares (Mt. 13:24-30; 36-43): Some leave us because they were never truly with us.
3. The Mustard Seed (Mt. 13:31-32): Some leave because they do not understand my priorities!
4. The Leaven (Mt. 13:33): The Kingdom WILL have its effect – no need to worry.
5. The Treasure (Mt. 13:44) Some have left but they are making preparation to take it fully!
6. The Pearl (Mt. 13:45-46) Some will be coming that have left all behind to grasp it!
7. The Dragnet (Mt. 13:47-50) It is the nature of the Kingdom to grab all kinds – and LATER it will be sorted out who was the true follower.

Not only will we have people that seem to be with us and then show themselves to be of another mind, but the fight for the hearts of men is a SPIRITUAL battle – and as such it will bring us into conflict. Drop your eyes down to verse 14 for the second kind of person–

#2 Enemies:

Alexander the Coppersmith set out to harm Paul (perhaps by testifying against him in addition to standing against Paul’s teaching) – but Paul had to leave him to the Lord’s judgment and warn Tim to keep an eye out for him (4:14-15). Paul had no illusions that enemies existed. He had gone out into a spiritual war, and he raised the eyes of the enemy and his minions. Paul had previously instructed the church in Ephesus 6:10-20 (Call/Conduct/Conflict) that there were battle armaments: belt of truthfulness, breast plate of right choices, sandal cleats of the identity in Christ, then as necessary – the blocking and locking shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the small dagger of the “rhema” Word. All were to be used with constant prayer and watchfulness. Paul was very conscious that he was at war.

I often find that believers walk without a consciousness that there is an enemy crouched in the tall grass of life. He is seeking to destroy and uses people to get that destruction to tumble onto us. Paul didn’t hate people – but he also didn’t underestimate how much damage people could do when operating as stooges for the underworld. He didn’t HATE them, because he knew that would hurt his own walk.

It was Dale Carnegie who wrote, “When we hate our enemies we give them power over us – power over our sleep, our appetites and our happiness. They would dance with joy if they knew how much they were worrying us. Our hate is not hurting them at all, but it is turning our days and our nights – drawing us into hellish turmoil.”

God offered encouragement in the war in the past when he wrote things like – Isaiah 43:2, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be destroyed; the flames will not consume you.” (my paraphrase). Don’t misunderstand that as a blanket promise that life won’t hurt – that isn’t the context. What God consistently told His people is this: “Follow Me and I will lead you through life to complete your call!”

Let me offer this “Attack Principle”: Some will attack us and try to destroy what we are building as we reach out for the Lord – and that was promised from the beginning. Jesus made the promise in Matthew 5:11 “Blessed are you when [people] insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

We must be wise and keep our eyes open, but not walk around with a chip on our shoulder! We pass the names of those who oppose the Gospel, not as an act of hatred, but in an attempt to protect those who come behind us by making them aware of potential deceptions. We needn’t get paranoid, but we don’t want to be ignorant of the enemy’s schemes and devices.

Now let me turn to the many people that were positive in the life and heart of Paul:

#3 Vision Expanders:

Paul moved his attention from warning Tim, to celebration of his co-workers. He said the Gospel was moving forward with Crescens in Galatia and Titus in Dalmatia – both out doing the work (4:10b).

I love to hang out with missionaries who are actively on the battle lines around the world. They are people under fire, but they are people who have their blood pressure heightened and their mind sharpened – because they are in the midst of the fight. The pressure of the front line has toughened their resolve, and the daily need for prayer and armor has led them to greater disciplines that help snap me back into reality. Most of all, I appreciate the way they stir up vision in me – and help me to see beyond the four walls I live inside – to a hurting and needy, lost world.

Here is the “Mission Team Principle”: We have the privilege of serving with others that are sometimes far away. We hurt with them, and pray for them, but they also add something – they help expand our vision beyond our own work.

#4 Faithful Companions:

Paul made clear that “Luke remains at my side” (4:11a).

Years ago, Henry Durbanville wrote: “A friend is the first person who comes in when the whole world goes out.” There is a delight in sending out people to ministry, but thankfully some stay with us and cling to us. What a joy! Building a team in a small town has taught me that everyone who decides to remain and capture the local vision is a gift of God to us!

Not to wander, but let me say this: I keep hearing about Cyber-church, and part time shepherding, etc. We need to be careful and not to be so foolish as to think we can reinvent real companionship and relationship. The computer is a TOOL to reach into each other’s lives, not a substitute. The electronic religion of the multitudes creates an emptiness—interpersonal relationships are so desperately needed to keep our faith glowing and growing, and not just in chat rooms… If you drop off your associations with other Christians and disassociate yourself from them in worship and service, you will run out of spiritual fervor and dedication in a short time. Here is the “Companions Principle”: There is no relational substitute for sweating while laboring side by side with a friend.

The TRUTH of Koinonia is that God’s family has some responsibility to and with one another…

1. We are to be hospitable to one another – 1 Peter 4:9 – being more than nice.
2. We are to have a care for one another – 1 Co 12:26 – not lip service – but selfless service.
3. We are to pray for one another – James 5:16 – not ignore one another.
4. We are to restore one another – James 5:19-20 – not destroy each other.
5. We are to teach and admonish one another – Co 3:16 – teach where you can, correct where you must.
6. We are to serve one another in love – Galatians 5:13 – giving of yourself to one another.

The greatest hindrance I have observed in church ministry is NOT the behavior of lost men and women around us – but perpetually immature people among us. Churches are CRIPPLED by spending hours settling disputes caused by immature people.

Some need affirmation. They play games. They are willing to minister if they get the opportunity to be important and affirmed. They will be gone for a few weeks and then be upset that no one seemed to notice. Here is a truth: Get involved in ministry and people will know when you aren’t there. If you are not a vital part of keeping it moving, people may not notice if you absent yourself. Don’t play games with busy people who are doing the work. It is immature, and it bogs down children’s workers and deacons that are already taxed heavily with the size of the issues in front of them.

Ask yourself this: Am I giving more than I expect to take in relationships with others in my church? If you are giving more, then ask this: “Am I hungering for attention and praise, or am I growing in maturity and serving the Lord for His praise?”

Perhaps in order to move my mind off of my own troubles, I should learn to take notice of the cares and the joys of the fellow Christians around me. Maybe I am talking too much but listening too little. Maybe too many of my sentences are filled with “I” and “me”. Listen to others; listen in order to help them. Often you won’t even need to say anything. You don’t have to fix all their problems – but you do have to care.

Let me deliberately encourage you to find an active role in the life of the family. Have you ever heard anyone say, “I can worship and be fed spiritually at home…” They say that because they think church is for THEM. We are for each other, and all of us collectively are for HIM. Don’t forget to pray for those with special needs, mentioning them by name in your private prayers. Don’t make prayer requests a matter of gossip, but keep prayer requests simple where they can be and confidential where they must be.

#5 Restored Ones:

In the words at the end of verse 11: “Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service…” Paul made it clear that he recognized old conflicts needed to be laid to rest (4:11b).

Mark had a spotted past. Most scholars think he was the disciple that ran from the Garden of Gethsemane without his cloak. We know that he was a rich kid from a Cypriot Jewish home. We also know he left Paul on the earliest mission journey and his second attempt to come on board ended up splitting the team of Paul and Mark’s uncle Barnabas – a painful moment in Paul’s ministry. Here Paul called on Mark and made the point that he was profitable.

Now we see at work the “Restoration Principle”: Mistakes ARE made in ministry, and we need to recognize them and still love one another. Restoration is a central theme in God’s salvation story!

Chuck Swindoll made the observation that,“ The neighborhood bar is possibly the best counterfeit that there is to the fellowship Christ wants us to give his church. It’s an imitation, dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality – but it is a permissive, accepting and inclusive fellowship. It is unshockable. It is democratic. You can tell people secrets, and they usually don’t tell others or even want to. The bar flourishes not because most people are alcoholics, but because God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known, to love and be loved, and so many seek a counterfeit at the price of a few beers.

#6 Reinforcers:

Paul’s reference included the man who apparently went to carry this very letter, 2 Timothy, to its recipient – Pastor Timothy at Ephesus. Paul recognized that Tim needed additional support (and this letter) in Ephesus, so Paul sent Tychicus (4:12).

The writer of proverbs says: Proverbs 27:17 – “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” –reinforcing friends help sharpen us to become spiritually acute a bit at a time. Think of a blacksmith who makes swords. He takes a hammer that is made out of iron and methodically beats another piece of iron, continuously landing blow by blow, until it takes the shape and sharpness of a sword. That isn’t always comfortable for either side – the hammer or the sword – but the effect is worth the struggle.

We are better when we have reinforcing friends that can help shape us.

The sending of Tychicus illustrates the “Reinforcer Principle:: We all need those who will under gird and reinforce the work that God has laid on our hearts. Often our vision can only be accomplished when many hands and feet move! We have to SEE each other. C.S. Lewis said something simple, but illuminating: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, “What! You, too? I thought I was the only one.

#7 Old Friends:

By this, I don’t just mean friends that have been on the planet a long time, I mean friends that have known US a long time. Paul mentioned Priscilla and Aquila, the tent makers with the old battle scars from war fought alongside Paul (4:19) as did the worker Onesiphorus (literally, “profit bringer” – 4:19b) a member of the church who boldly supported and encouraged Paul in the past (1:16).

The little children’s song said: “Make new friends, but keep the OLD, one is silver and the other gold.” Psychology Today: In a survey of more than 40,000 Americans said these qualities were most valued in a friend: “1. The ability to keep confidences 2. Loyalty 3. Warmth and affection.” quoted in Homemade, June, 1982.

Proverbs 17:17 says: “A friend loves at all times and a brother is born for adversity.” Friends are committed for seasons, great friends are committed for life.

The “Old Friend Principle: is this: Build a life team – a corps of people that you stay in contact with over the years to mutually pray for and encourage each other. Even at the end of his life, Paul wanted them to know that he had not forgotten them. Friends stick and though the days with them slip away, they live in our hearts.

#8 Supporters:

4:20 “Erastus remained at Corinth, but Trophimus I left sick at Miletus.”

Erastus, the city treasurer of Corinth (Rom. 16:23) was not able to be present, but aided the ministry in his own abilities. He couldn’t GO, but he could GIVE (4:20). Some people like Trophimus are God-provided supporters unable to follow due to the failing of their body (4:20) but they desired to be faithful.

The “Supporter Principle” is this: Sometimes the most meaningful and needed friends aren’t the ones on the battle line, but the ones on the supply line.

Look at the local church that was Paul’s support base: surrounded by believers who made a difference, Paul wrote: 21 “ … Eubulus greets you, also Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brethren.” (4:21b), and writing to another church (the YOU is plural in the end of the letter – showing Paul’s intent was public reading for this personal letter). Acts 2:42 says the early Christians devoted themselves to fellowship. They just didn’t HAVE fellowship; they devoted themselves to it. This means that fellowship was a priority and one of the objectives for gathering together.

II. Focus on The Word:

To keep a people focus, we will need frequent correction and instruction – even if we have walked with God for many years. I LOVE that Paul’s final comments went PAST PEOPLE. He loved the team, and he knew ministry was about people – but that is NOT the only eternal value we are to have! Look at what he asked Tim to bring him.

2 Timothy 4:13 When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments.

Though Paul requested his letter writing equipment, he particularly wanted the parchments – The Word of God (4:13). He didn’t know how long he had to live, but he knew what message warmed his faith and kept him digging into LIFE… God’s Word.

III. Focus on Intimacy with God:

We have seen Paul focused on PEOPLE and he expressed his hunger for the Word – but the final words of the Apostle also included two very important little sentences that lay open his heart:

4:17 But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Paul was able to say it clearly:

• God stands with me when I am alone (4:17a).
• God gives me the strength to complete the work He has commissioned (4:17b).
• God rescues me from the snare of the enemy (lion – 4:17b).
• God delivers me safely to His home (4:18).
• God is worthy of praise for all the ages! (4:18b)

As we face the end of life’s journey, our real values come out. I recall the old story:

Eleven millionaires went down on the Titanic. One wealthy man, Major A. H. Peuchen left $300,000.00 in money, jewelry and securities in a box in his cabin. “The money seemed a mockery at that time,” he later said. “I picked up three oranges instead.” – Source Unknown.
Paul shared his end values:

God’s best work is accomplished in followers who learn to focus on the three eternal parts of life: people, the Word and intimacy with God.