Paul's List (8:30am)
October 23, 2016 Series: Exploring the Pastoral Epistles
Topic: Life Phase Scripture: Psalm 65:2–65:2, 2 Timothy 4:6–4:8
Paul the apostle was doing some life review in this passage. He sensed that his time was close. Looking back, he declares, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Elsewhere, we discern that he has regrets—from his life before his encounter with the risen Jesus. Here, though, he focuses on his new life in God’s forgiveness and spiritual power. He looks forward to the day of the Lord. Whatever he had been, or was now, he knew that his life was in God’s hands.
Wherever we are in our journey, a life review can be helpful. We take stock, try to resolve past conflicts, reflect on life’s meaning, and try to figure out what’s next. What chapter are we in? What major transitions are we dealing with? One writer call the life review “a reflective process which examines the past in order to come to peace with the present.” We do so in the context of the profound love of God surrounding us.
In three or four of his letters, Paul ends with a list. The list consists of the names of the people of the churches he so dearly loved. Romans 16, for example, has about 25 names of people to whom Paul sends his greetings.
Here at the end of 2 Timothy, there’s also a list. Paul tells Timothy, “Do your best to get here soon. Nearly everyone else is gone.” He mentions the name Demas. Once a close fellow-worker, Demas peeled off, and followed his own path. Paul states bluntly, “He deserted me.”
People will do that. They go their separate ways. It might be totally legitimate, but when they leave, it feels bad. “Only Luke is with me,” writes Paul. Luke—perhaps the gospel writer, the beloved physician—had a gift for faithfulness. He stood by Paul, through the tough times. Some among us have the gift for being “Luke” to others. They stand by in times of trouble, illness, and failure. One of the greatest things you can do is to stick with someone when everyone else has turned away. You can be a Luke to somebody who needs you.
Here’s another interesting one. Paul asks Timothy to “get mark and bring him with you.” This could be a story of reconciliation. John mark, as he’s called in mark, apparently chickened out on a dangerous mission. After that, Paul said “Never again.” Barnabas wanted to give Mark a second chance, but Paul was unmoved. So they split up. But now, years later, Paul wants “useful” Mark to join him. Somehow the ministry of reconciliation had kicked in. Former “enemies” were friends in the work of the kingdom. Is there a mark in your life? Is there someone who we need to try to reconcile with, or give a second chance, perhaps even be a mentor to?
One other name calls our attention. “Beware of Alexander the coppersmith. He did me some damage. There will be payback.” Nice Christian sentiment there. Some of us have probably had a real jerk along life’s way. It might have been a service to warn others what they were in for if they had to deal with him or her. Sometimes the harm done requires counseling and therapy. There’s also something to be said for letting go, if we possibly can. We can pray for grace to rid our hearts of bitterness against those who have harmed us. Otherwise, their hurt can distort our own enjoyment of the gift of life. We need grace to—as the Disney tune says—Let it Go.
One last detail about Paul’s list: “Timothy, could you bring my coat, and my books when you come?” Why he had left those items we can only guess. With winter approaching he would need that coat—and the writings to sustain his spirit in prison. It’s a slim list of needs. What if our material possessions were whittled down to bare essentials? What would we keep? A warm coat? A bible or treasured book? St Francis of Assisi had very little during his years of mission work. He preferred it that way, and at the end of his life he asked his caregivers to place him on the ground outside in his birthday suit. He died with literally nothing. It’s an extreme move—in a good way. We leave this earth with nothing but our relationship with God.
Our legacy in life is not what we accumulate, but what we give away.
Our names are on the list—God’s list. Some call it the Lamb’s Book of Life. It’s the list of all who are called and claimed by God in Christ. There’s no eraser, no delete button for that list. We belong, forever. How then shall we live?