Christians and pastors need regular encouragement to persevere in the faith. We serve the Lord in difficult times (2 Tim 3:1) and will face persecutions (2 Tim 3:12). In his final epistle, Paul exhorts Timothy not to be ashamed of the Gospel (2 Tim 1:8), and to continue in what he has learned (2 Tim 3:14). He writes 2 Timothy with a sense of urgency and fills it with commands to help us endure. In the final chapter we find Paul’s last recorded words. In them we learn his final lessons about perseverance in the faith. Like him, at the end of our lives, we want to be able to confess, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7). In this post, we’ll examine Paul’s last words to learn what fueled his perseverance.
Future Hope Fuels Perseverance
While imprisoned by the Romans and awaiting execution, Paul looks forward to his eternal reward. He does not focus on his present sufferings—he fixates on future glory (Rom 8:18–25; 2 Cor 4:16–18). After confessing, “The time of my departure has come” (2 Tim 4:6), he writes, “Henceforth there is laid up for me a 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” (2 Tim 4:8). This statement of future hope extends to all who love the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ. While wicked people may afflict us, the righteous judge will award us a crown. Paul expresses this assurance again at the conclusion of this passage. He says, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim 4:18). Paul knew he would be safe and arrive in our Lord’s heavenly kingdom. Focusing on future hope rather than our frustrating circumstances will empower our perseverance.
The Fellowship of Brothers Fuels Perseverance
As he awaits death, Paul urges Timothy, “Do your best to come to me soon” (2 Tim 4:9). The presence of other believers helps us persevere through trials. Paul needs Timothy because some of his companions have either deserted him (like Demas) or have moved on to serve elsewhere (like Tychicus). Faithful brothers and coworkers can help meet our temporal needs. Paul requests Timothy to bring his cloak (2 Tim 4:12)—probably to stay warm in the Roman prison. Fellowship with others also meets our spiritual needs. He adds, “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry” (4:11).
Paul considered Timothy his “true child in the faith” (1 Tim 1:2). This exemplifies the close relationships we should strive to build in the church through discipleship and serving together. Paul and Timothy had served the Lord together by proclaiming the Gospel and making disciples throughout the Mediterranean world. Striving together in the Lord’s work builds strong relationships. At the end of his life, Paul calls upon his faithful brother Timothy to be a source of help and encouragement.
Forgiveness Fuels Perseverance
For a time, Paul’s friends deserted him. He writes, “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me” (2 Tim 4:16). He served the Lord faithfully, made many disciples, and yet came to a point when none of his Christian brothers stood with him. David recounts the sting of betrayal by writing, “For it is not an enemy who taunts me— then I could bear it; it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me— then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. We used to take sweet counsel together; within God’s house we walked in the throng (Ps 55:12–14; see also: Ps 41:9). The Apostle John records a time in Jesus’ ministry when many disciples deserted him. He writes, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:66). Jesus was betrayed by Judas, one of the Twelve. Demas, one of Paul’s fellow workers abandoned him (Phil 24; 2 Tim 4:10). If you serve the Lord, you will likely be betrayed.
Experiencing betrayal can easily lead to bitterness and festering resentment. Many no longer follow Jesus after being stabbed in the back by another member of the church. Repeated disloyalty and relational scars tempt pastors to resign. When all deserted Paul, he says, “May it not be charged against them!” (2 Tim 4:16). When others failed him in a time of great need, he responds with forgiveness. One can easily become bitter when betrayed or deserted by other Christians. Bitterness is a cancer of the soul which can lead people to excuse their unfaithfulness and apostasy. Follow Paul’s example and his command to be “forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph 4:32).
The Faithfulness of our Lord Fuels Perseverance
When all his friends deserted him, Paul affirms, “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me” (2 Tim 4:17). After assigning us the Great Commission, Jesus promises, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). The promise of his presence should encourage our perseverance in his work. This reality helped Paul endure the Roman prison.
Paul also explains, “The Lord . . . strengthened me” (2 Tim 4:17). To persevere, we should rely on the strength the Lord provides. Facing one of the greatest trials of his life, David strengthened himself in the Lord (1 Sam 30:6). When Habakkuk reflects on the judgment and devastation coming upon God’s people, he writes, “GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places” (Hab 3:19). We do not rely on our own strength to endure trials—we rely on the strength Jesus gives us in our time of need. We know he will meet all our needs (Phil 4:19).
While the fellowship of brothers greatly aids us, we must be content with the presence of our Lord and the strength he provides. People are frail, fickle, and will fail us. The Lord will never fail us and he is always with us. We must rely on Christ alone as our refuge when other Christians disappoint us.
Fervent Discipline Fuels Perseverance
Paul demands Timothy’s haste because he wants, “The books, and above all the parchments” (2 Tim 4:13). Not only does he need his cloak in the Roman prison, he also needs God’s Word. He knows his end is near, yet he still wants to read the Scriptures.
William Tyndale spent the final eighteen months of his life in prison. He wrote a letter reminiscent of Paul’s requests in Second Timothy. After asking for warmer clothes he writes, “But most of all I beg and beseech your clemency to be urgent with the commissary, that he will kindly permit me to have the Hebrew Bible, Hebrew grammar, and Hebrew dictionary, that I may pass the time in that study.”1David Daniell, William Tyndale: A Biography (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), 379. In the last days of his life, he still wanted to study and learn. Regardless of our trials, we must maintain an urgent desire to read, study, and meditate on God’s Word.
How will you get through the dark seasons in your service to our Lord? In Bunyan’s classic The Pilgrim’s Progress, it was God’s Word that enabled Christian to escape the dungeon of Doubting Castle. He says, “What a fool I have been, to lie like this in a stinking dungeon, when I could have just as well walked free. In my chest pocket I have a key called Promise that will, I am thoroughly persuaded, open any lock in Doubting-Castle.” We have precious promises in God’s Word—we must rely on them to navigate the valleys of life.
God’s people derive perspective and comfort through reading the Scriptures. We have a great need to hear from God everyday—especially when we encounter various trials. The Bible reveals God’s unchanging character and invincible will (important realities when facing changing circumstances). It reminds us of promises designed to help us remain steadfast when afflicted. Don’t allow the pain of a trial or the darkness of this world to stymie your discipline to read God’s Word. Be like Paul, Tyndale, and Bunyan—desire Scripture in the dark times of life.
Paul’s confession, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” would make a great epitaph for our headstone. This would make a wonderful summary of our Christian life and ministry—to persevere in the faith. Paul’s example in 2 Timothy 4 can help us keep the faith.
|1||David Daniell, William Tyndale: A Biography (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994), 379.|
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