A sermon delivered by Randy Hyde, Pastor, Pulaski Heights Baptist Church, Little Rock, Ark., on October 24, 2010.
Psalm 65:5-8; 2 Timothy 4:6-8
The Apostle Paul has two people on his mind. First of all, he is thinking of his young friend Timothy. Paul has known Timothy for a few years now, has been in his home, met his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois, has seen the influence they have had on his young friend’s life and faith. No mention is made of Timothy’s father, so it is assumed he is somehow out of the picture. Perhaps in an effort to somewhat fill that void, Paul refers to Timothy as “my loyal child in the faith.”
There is a strong bond that has developed between them, and obviously Paul feels a true affinity with his young colleague. Timothy is not the only one Paul has mentored over the years, but he does show perhaps the most promise. Timothy has become a minister largely through Paul’s influence, and right now, he could use some pastoral, not to mention fatherly, advice.
In his correspondence with Timothy, Paul conveys a sense of responsibility toward him. He knows the difficulty Timothy is experiencing as a pastor. It’s hard enough to be a Jesus follower in that time and culture, but Timothy is having to deal with the double-edged sword of not only having problems from without the church but having to deal with immature followers within his congregation as well.
So it is not surprising that Paul would write his friend and offer advice, advice gleaned from decades of ministry and struggle, from dealing with some of the very same issues that are now encompassing Timothy. And besides, Paul is never shy about offering advice to anybody, whether they ask for it or not.
“As for you,” Paul advises, “always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.”
“As for you… As for you…”
Paul is thinking of Timothy, isn’t he?
But Paul isn’t just thinking of Timothy. He is also thinking of himself. He is in prison, and instinctively knows he will never again see the light of day, at least not outside these four walls covered with bars. He knows the Roman system, and is aware that it is now starting to turn in on him. For awhile, Paul could use his Roman citizenship as a shield to ward off the inevitable. But after all appeals have been exhausted, even his prominent position cannot keep him from becoming a victim of his ultimate fate. Despite making appeal after appeal, Paul knows he will surely die, and it will not be a natural death. His life will be ended at the hands of another.
I wonder what it is like to know you will die. Oh, we all know we will die some day, but to know that this inevitability is sooner rather than later, to have it confirmed rather than merely speculated… well, it’s just about the hardest thing in all the world, I would imagine. I’ve been with others when they have faced this reality… just this week, in fact. I’ve watched as friends, with great courage and faith, have shared with me, from the depths of their hearts, how they want to face that moment when it comes, how they will deal with the ensuing days that will lead up to that time. I’ve witnessed faith on such a deep level that when the time comes for me I can only hope to come within shouting distance of this kind of courage and trust.
Well, this is where Paul now stands. No one has to tell him. He is very much aware that his days are numbered. But that doesn’t keep him from giving Timothy advice, does it? In fact, it may compel him even more to tell Timothy how to conduct his ministry since he, Paul, won’t be around much longer to be of help to his young friend.
“As for you…” he says to Timothy, “As for you…” Do this, do that. “As for you…”
But finally, he is almost forced to say, “As for me…” Timothy has his whole life ahead of him. He is a young man, with many days and a multitude of experiences and challenges to meet. He will need to remain sober, to be willing to endure hardships, to proclaim the gospel and carry out his ministry fully. Timothy is a young man and has much yet to do, goals to accomplish, ministry to perform.
But Paul’s time is almost gone. “As for you…” he says to Timothy. But what does he say when it comes down to, “As for me…”?
“As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
“…poured out as a libation.” Do you find that choice of words to be, well, curious? I do. Of all the images he could have used, he goes for one that draws one’s thoughts to a tavern or pub… or maybe even a beer joint.
I thought I knew what the word libation meant, but decided to look it up just in case. Yep, sure enough, it’s a drinking image, of beer being drawn from a tap. Paul says his life is being poured out, drained from the keg, as it were, until the last drop is gone. Or maybe he is thinking of the psalmist who said…
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death (22:14-15).
I am poured out like water… or maybe something stronger!
I grew up in such a conservative household that my mom discouraged me from caddying at the old country club, even though it was directly across the road from where we lived. Especially on the weekends, I could easily walk over, pick up a bag or two and earn a few coins. I’d be out in the sunshine, get good exercise. It was, as they say, a real win-win situation.
As I recall, Mom never told me I couldn’t do it. But she let me know she didn’t want me to. Why? Because they served beer in the clubhouse, and she didn’t want me to be near it or those who imbibed.
We had a place in town called Riley’s Pig, a beer joint on Highway 49 down from the county fairgrounds and across the highway from Harmon Park. It was a tavern with a neon-lit pig on the front, the kind of place where “other” kinds of folk hung out. Every time we went by it, it seemed to me – despite its white stucco facade – a forbidden, dark place, especially for a young boy who never saw a bottle of beer in the family fridge, and whose mama wouldn’t even let him caddy at the country club so as not to be around the stuff, or around the kind of people who drank the stuff.
Then the summer after I graduated from high school, Dad found me a job with Coca Cola as an assistant on a delivery truck. I discovered that Cokes were served at places like Riley’s Pig and not just beer. I entered that tavern, and others like it, for the first time in my life and was mesmerized by the taps all lined up in a row. And guess what? I didn’t have the first thought of the Apostle Paul. Not one time did the Bible even come to mind.
But reading this text again, in preparation for today, I thought of Riley’s Pig. Why would Paul do such a thing, use this as the image for his impending death? “…I am already being poured out as a libation”? Because he feels as if his very life’s blood is being drained little by little every waking moment of what time on earth he has remaining, just like a drink that is being poured out from a tap.
So when he thinks of Timothy, and when he thinks of himself and his life that is soon to be over, Paul realizes he needs to give his young minister friend his last will and testament. It has nothing to do with the few books he’s managed to keep with him, nor the cloak that helps keep him warm on chilly nights. Those aren’t the kinds of things Paul wants to leave Timothy.
Paul thinks of his calling, given to him first in that Damascus Road experience and honed over the years by his experience of sharing the risen Christ with any and all who would listen to his testimony. Paul wants to leave with Timothy that sense of urgency that will drive him to be true to the faith that burns within his own heart.
“The time of my departure is at hand,” Paul says. And then switching his imagery from the barroom to the battlefield or boxing ring, he says, “I have fought the good fight.” And just as quickly, moving to the running track, he says, “I have finished the race.” And finally, exhausting all the metaphors he can think of, he says, “I have kept the faith.” Paul is jumping from one idea to another in an almost frantic effort to convey to Timothy how he, Paul, has done all he can do with this life that is being poured out slowly day-by-day until there will be nothing left.
How can Paul offer such a testimony to his young friend as his last will and testament? Because, I’m sure that as he is in prison thinking of his own last days, he also gives a great deal of thought to the One to whom he has given his life. And he thinks of his Master and Savior dying on a Roman cross, with the moments and breaths, the ticks of the clock and ticks of the heart, ebbing slowly, slowly away. And Paul recalls what he has been told… of the night before Jesus went to that cross, when he met with his followers and after the meal broke the bread and spoke of his body, lifted the cup and spoke of his blood.
He pictures in his mind Jesus picking up the wine and slowly pouring the deep, dark liquid into the chalice saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Yes, Paul thinks, my life’s blood is being poured out as well, but it is not my sacrifice that matters; it is the one He made that counts.
So what does Paul offer his young friend Timothy in his last will and testament? He speaks of a crown, a crown of righteousness that will be given to him on that day. What day? That day, when his life will be yielded to this earthly existence and he will meet his Savior once again face-to-face. “And not only to me,” Paul says, will this crown be given, “but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
So if Paul leaves nothing else to Timothy in his last will and testament, perhaps it is that longing… that longing that he, Timothy, will one day claim that prize as well. Do you think, if that is indeed true, the same might be said for us?
Lord, may our last will and testament be that we have given our all to you, in gratitude for Christ’s giving his all for us. In his name we pray, Amen.