2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18 CEB
I’m already being poured out like a sacrifice to God, and the time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith. At last the champion’s wreath that is awarded for righteousness is waiting for me. The Lord, who is the righteous judge, is going to give it to me on that day. He’s giving it not only to me but also to all those who have set their heart on waiting for his appearance.
No one took my side at my first court hearing. Everyone deserted me. I hope that God doesn’t hold it against them! But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that the entire message would be preached through me and so all the nations could hear it. I was also rescued from the lion’s mouth! The Lord will rescue me from every evil action and will save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and always. Amen.
Of all our time with 2 Timothy over the past few weeks, this piece feels the most personal with this final private message between mentor and mentee. Paul’s life is drawing to a close, as he shares with Timothy, “‘I have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.’” What more is to be said? Surely, we can turn away and leave these two to their last words and go on to other things, and yet, it is here at the end of Paul’s life that he offers a final witness for all of us. He describes his life in the CEB as “‘poured out like a sacrifice to God,’” while in the NRSV he says, “‘I am already being poured out as a libation.’” Here it is, this mentor’s life has been poured out as a libation before God, he has put his whole life into serving God, withholding nothing. Paul’s life models what it looks like to accept the invitation to live the gospel fully, and as we seek to live a faith life without shame, we too have that invitation to live a life poured out, will we accept the offer?
Libation is not a word we encounter too often. The Greek for libation is stendomai which can be understood as “to have one’s life’s blood poured out.” Libations are drink offerings to be poured out before a god, and in this case, the libation is for the living Triune God. Paul sees himself as a cup being poured out to the Lord. In other words, Paul has put his blood, sweat, and tears into following Christ and serving God. At first, to empty your life to God sounds only as if you are willing to die for God, but to sacrifice your life is also a call to live for God. In this way, I am reminded of John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer, which reads:
“‘I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.’”
I am no longer mine by yours, God. “Put me to doing,” or as Paul would say, run your race, fight the fight, and keep the faith before you. Wesley’s prayer and Paul’s life both serve as this invitation and call to not only live but to live fully into what it means to follow the gospel.
I think this meaning can be found in that last claim of Paul, that he “kept the faith.” I think here Paul offers Timothy and all of us what it looks like to live fully into a gospel life. When you keep the faith, what springs to mind? Do you think it means to keep the faith to yourself, keep it secret, and keep it safe? Do you look to keep it unchallenged and unexamined? I do not think these things capture what it means to keep the faith for Paul. When Paul says that he ran the race, what kept him going? What did he keep before him to continue running and keep fighting? To keep the faith is to keep it before us always. To let our faith, to let the example of Christ, captured in the gospel, be the measure by which we hold our lives. Keeping the faith before ourselves, this example of Jesus before our eyes and our actions means to keep it as we live every day. It means to keep it even when choices and life gets difficult. It means keeping it when there are divisions. It means keeping it even when our own security and privileges are at risk.
I can affirm all this because these examples can be seen and felt in the life and words of Jesus Christ. He has provided a model by which we are to live and follow. Now, I have shared before that God’s name, Yahweh, is less a name and more an invitation. I have shared that Yahweh does not simply translate to “I Am Who I Am,” but rather it is better translated as “I Am, Who I Will Be.” God says to us, if you want to know the divine, watch what I do. Well, Jesus culminates in this promise as he is Immanuel, “God with us.” Jesus tells us that if we want to know how to faithfully follow the example of the divine, watch how I, the very Son of God, live and move and speak. God molded the divine into human flesh to show us all how we might live in the image of our maker.
We keep the faith, following Jesus, even when lesser options attempt to capture our attention. Sometimes we are told that our faith should be intertwined with lesser things like the love of nation, certain economies, particular political parties, certain stances on social issues, and whatever else has captured the moment in this present day. Our faith, with Christ as a model, is and will always be first and foremost. There can be no other contender for that throne. If anything less than God is put on that throne with God or in place of God it becomes a demon. We must keep the faith in every day, in every moment, for the rest of our lives to live it fully.
Why would we do this? Our faith invites us to give much, but what do we receive in turn? Are we rescued from suffering? I mean, Paul says, “‘The Lord will rescue me from every evil action,’” including even being rescued from the lion’s mouth! Except, Paul does not promise that by keeping the faith we will always be safe from pain and hardship, and suffering. That isn’t the promise, and that isn’t the rescue Paul speaks of so let’s hear him fully: “‘The Lord will rescue me from every evil action and will save me for his heavenly kingdom.’” There will be pain, suffering, and hardship as we pour ourselves out, but we can be confident that we are being rescued into the kingdom of God. Again, look to Jesus, our very measuring stick. I do not think anyone could argue that Christ’s life was safe from pain, hardship, and suffering. To follow Jesus means to walk, not around these things, but through them. We can do this because we are assured that these things will not keep us from the kingdom, from God.
This is probably not very appealing today, for today, we see pain as the ultimate evil. We will buy up products that promise to take away or prevent pain. We will yell and fight and pass legislation if it prevents us from having to confront things that pain our comfortable lives. We will deny the existence of sources of pain. We say that God is on our side in this fight against pain, and we even pray for God to take away or prevent our pain. Keeping the faith will cause pain though. Keeping the faith will put us at odds with neighbors, society, governments, and nations. Keeping the faith has put Christ on the cross and Paul in prison both of which certainly caused pain. To avoid hardship, suffering, or pain while popular in today’s world is the antithesis of a fully poured-out gospel life.
Again, we might be asking ourselves, why then would we follow Christ? We not only fail to avoid pain, hardship, and suffering, but we also will be more than likely to encounter these things by embracing a gospel life! Why be a Christian at all!? It is about our lives, this cup from which Paul has poured his libation to God. It can seem like pouring out our lives to God is to risk losing everything that makes us who we are. However, we are made to be in relationship with our God, so to hold anything back in our cups, in our lives, is to be less than who we were meant to be. You see, this kingdom will be a place where we can be fully and truly ourselves. We are going to a place where we can be the people that God made us to be. When we pour out ourselves into this gospel life, we are in turn filled with the grace and presence of our God. That’s why we follow and endure. To live a life not fully in the gospel is to deny who we are at our essence, and at our essence, we are God’s. We cannot fully be what God made us apart from the divine. God wants us to be restored to our full selves so much, that our Lord will stand with us even when no one else will. Paul sees this in his own life by the end, as he says, “‘But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength.’” With this presence, Paul was able to live a gospel life fully, taking everything, all the good and bad, as part of the journey that will ultimately lead him to the place where all will be right. This same invitation is before all of us. It does not promise safety but it does promise fullness and righteousness and justice for all of God’s people. Will you accept this invitation? Amen.
Pastor Paul Grossman