Maintaining Spiritual Traction in a Shifting Culture (2 Timothy) – “Last Days Survival Guide, pt 4, Keep Community a Priority” 4:9-22

Maintaining Spiritual Traction in a Shifting Culture

Part 13

Last Days Survival Guide, Part 4

2 Timothy 4:9-22

Bruce A. Hess

If you would, please take out your Bibles now and turn in them, in the New Testament, for the last time in our study, to the book of 2 Timothy and chapter number 4. If you don’t have a Bible, there should be one under a chair in front of you. You could grab that Bible and turn to page 167 in the back, and you would find yourself at 2 Timothy, chapter 4.

There was a man who was working on his job and he was injured and he filed an insurance claim and as often happens with insurance companies, they requested more information, so he responded to their questions with this letter of explanation,

“Dear Sirs, I am writing in response to your request concerning clarification of the information I supplied in box number eleven on the insurance form, which asked for the cause of the injury. I answered, ‘Trying to the job alone.’ I trust the following explanation will be sufficient, I am a brick layer by trade and on the date of the injury, I was working alone, laying brick around the top of a three-story building. When I finished the job I had about five hundred pounds of brick leftover. Rather than carry the bricks down by hand, I decided to put them into a barrel and lower them by a pulley that was fastened to the top of the building.

I secured and tied the end of the rope at the ground level, went back up to the top of the building, loaded the bricks into the barrel and pushed it over the side. I then went down to the ground and untied the rope, holding it securely to insure the slow descent of the barrel. As you will note in block number six of the insurance form, I weigh 145 pounds. At the shock of being jerked off the ground so swiftly by the 500 pounds of bricks in the barrel, I lost my presence of mind and forgot to let go of the rope. Between the second and third floors, I met the barrel. This accounts for the bruises and lacerations on my upper body. Fortunately, I retained enough presence of mind to maintain my tight hold on the rope and I proceeded rapidly up the side of the building, not stopping until my right hand was jammed in the pulley. This accounts for my broken thumb, see block number four.

Despite the pain, I continued to hold tightly to the rope and unfortunately at approximately the same time, the barrel hit the ground and the bottom fell out of the barrel. The void of the weight of the bricks, the barrel now weighed about 50 pounds, I again refer you to block number 6, where my weight is listed. I began a rapid descent. In the vicinity of the second floor I met the barrel coming up and this explains the injury to my legs and lower body. Slowly now, I have been slowed only slightly, I continued my descent down, landing on the pile of bricks. Fortunately, my back was only sprained. I am sorry to report, however, that at this point I again lost my presence of mind and let go of the rope. I trust this answers your concern. Please note that I am finished trying to do the job alone.”

Now, that is a rather funny story. It makes us laugh just a little bit and you might be wondering what that really has to do with 2 Timothy. What does that really have to do with the spiritual life? I think the answer to that is, that way too many people try to do the spiritual life alone. There is a myth afoot in the Christian world and it goes something like this, ‘The spiritual life is something that you do just with Jesus, it is a just me and Jesus approach.’

The idea seems to be, ‘I don’t really need other people, I am fine on my own.’ The mindset is something like this, ‘I prefer to live a solitary spiritual life, thank you very much. After all, people are strange and they just complicate life. It is just easier for me to do this spiritual life thing on my own.’ Now, there is only one problem with that mindset and that is, it is not even remotely Biblical.

The Christian life is a people life. As followers of Christ we are called to build into people. We are called to support people. We are called to be supported by other people. We are called to reach and develop others.

Today we are coming to the conclusion of our study of 2 Timothy, our study on Maintaining Spiritual Traction in a Shifting Culture. We have been learning, as we’ve concluded this Book, that there is a time coming when things are going to go from bad to worse. So, we have been looking at, the last few times, a Last Days Survival Guide. What do we need to do to survive as things go from bad to worse? We have been looking at several things.

First of all, we saw that in order to survive, we need to learn from consistent, godly examples. We saw that earlier in chapter 3.

In order to survive, we must nourish our life and others with Scripture. We saw that in chapter 3, verse 14, through the first four verses of chapter 4.

If we are going to survive, we saw last time that we need to focus on finishing well. And, we saw that in verses 5-8 of chapter 4.

Now, we come to the last part of this Last Days Survival Guide. This last item is a huge factor when it comes to finishing well and that is, if we are going to survive, we need to keep community a priority. We see that in chapter 4, verse 9-22. In other words, we need to be connected to others.

If we were to read verses 9-22, and we are not going to read it this morning, just to save a little bit of time, but if you were to read your way through that, you would think, perhaps, this is a throw away section of the letter. I mean, after all, he just mentions several different people’s names and such and such is over there and he says, “Would you bring me my coat? And, there are some other things I want while I am here in prison.” You would just think, reading through it, that it is not that important. I think this section is very important.

There is a lot of emotion in these verses from the spiritual warrior that we know as the apostle Paul. We just, in these verses, have a glimpse at his humanity and a glimpse at his heart. But, there is also, I believe here, a lot of theology. A lot of theology about the church, a lot of theology about the Christian life. It is the kind of theology, as I was reading about where someone called it “Lego Theology.”

I have two grandsons and both of them absolutely love and live for Legos, but there is one thing about Legos, Legos are made to be connected. And, so are we, as followers of Jesus Christ. As Paul writes these verses in verse 9, down through verse 22, he is going to mention fifteen names of people that he was connected with, Crescens and Titus and Luke and Mark and Tychicus and Carpus and Prisca and Aquila and he is going to mention Onesiphorus and Erastus and Trophimus and Eubulus and Pudens and Linus and Claudia. All these people, as he is living his spiritual life out, he is connected with them. Then, he is going to mention two difficult and disappointing relationships that he had. One with a man named Demas and another with a man named Alexander.

As we get ready to tackle these verses this morning, what I really would like to do is, to tackle them somewhat thematically. So, we are going to be looking at three different things.

First of all, we are going to see that community runs deep in God’s spiritual economy.

Secondly, we are going to look at Paul’s need for community.

Then, we are finally going to look at Paul’s concluding confidence that he communicates in this section.

So, that is where we are headed, just so you know where we are going to go. We want to begin with the first element and that is, we want to see that community runs deep in God’s spiritual economy. What I want you to do is just focus for a moment on that phrase. It may seem a little odd when you first hear it, but it is totally true. Community runs deep in God’s spiritual economy.

What I want to do for the next few moments is just to zoom in for a moment, if we could put it this way, on this idea of Lego Theology, that we are made to be connected. It is deep in God’s spiritual economy.

Let’s just start by taking a look at God Himself. Let’s take a look at the Trinity. Isn’t it interesting? We have the Trinity, we have one God, we have three persons, and they value one another, they serve one another, because community runs deep in God’s spiritual economy. You see it in the Godhead, we see it in the life of Jesus when He was here on this planet. You remember, He had twelve disciples and then He even had a special group of three, Peter, James and John. He said to them, ‘What I want to do is, I want to be with you and you with me.’ And, He would say things to them like, ‘Pray with me.’ Because community runs deep in God’s spiritual economy.

It is all over the place in the Bible. Think about the Lord’s Prayer. Did you notice it is not “My Father Who art in Heaven?” It is “Our Father Who art in Heaven. Give us our daily bread. Forgive us our trespasses. Lead us not into temptation. Deliver us from evil.” Why is it like that? Because community runs deep in God’s spiritual economy.

It is all over the place. You see it in the church, which is called the body of Christ. It is one body, there are many members of the body and we all have a role to fill. Why is it like that? Because community runs deep in God’s spiritual economy.

There is diversity in this community. In fact, even when you look at chapter 4, verses 9-22, there is diversity there. He is going to mention individuals who were Jews, he is going to mention individuals who are Greeks, he mentions individuals who were Romans. There is diversity. Luke was a doctor. Paul and Prisca and Aquila were tent makers. There is diversity in the community.

We see even in the names that he mentions here, both men and women. The women are Prisca and Claudia. And, we don’t know their exact ages, but there is this diversity into community, Timothy and Mark were probably in their 30’s, Paul and Luke were probably in their 60’s, you have people in their 60’s and people in their 30’s and they are connected together. That is because community runs deep in God’s spiritual economy. It is a myth, a myth, a myth, that the spiritual life is a solitary life.

It is all over the place, you see it in the Book of Romans. The Book of Romans is the greatest theological treatise ever written, sixteen chapters, but if you go back and look at chapter 16, it is 1/16th of the greatest theological treatise ever written and in chapter 16, thirty-seven individuals are mentioned and other groups are mentioned. Why? Because community runs deep in God’s spiritual economy. Paul did not believe in the solitary spiritual life.

You see it in some of the details of the New Testament, some fifty-six times in the New Testament, we have what are called “one another” commands. They are commands about how we are to relate and be connected to one another. Why are they there? Why are they there? Because we were, as followers of Jesus, made to be connected. It is important that we keep community a priority.

Recently we’ve heard some of Nelson Mandela in the news, his health is failing. You might remember him; he was the gentleman who was imprisoned in South Africa in the fight against apartheid. I don’t agree with all of the views of Nelson Mandela, but he made a very interesting statement that relates to this principle of community. He points out how community was critical when it came to surviving the difficulties of prison.

This is what he wrote as he looks back on that time: “It would be very hard, if not impossible for one man, alone, to resist. But the authority’s greatest mistake was to keep us together, for together our determination was reinforced.” Now listen to what he writes here, “We supported each other and gained strength from each other. Whatever we learned, we shared, and by sharing we multiplied whatever courage we had individually. The stronger ones raised up the weaker ones and both became stronger in the process.” That is really the way community was designed by God to work.

So, you see it is important for us to understand that community runs deep in God’s spiritual economy.

But, the second thing we want to look at today is Paul’s need for community. I mean, this is the apostle Paul, the greatest spiritual warrior that we know of in the New Testament. If the mighty apostle Paul needed community, if he needed to be connected to other people, what does that say about me? And what does that say about you?

We are ready to dive into these verses now. Look at verse 9, he is writing to Timothy and he says to Timothy, “Make every effort to come to me soon.” I might remind you that he is in prison and he believes that his execution is impending. By the way, if you were a Roman citizen, like Paul was, you wouldn’t be crucified, they didn’t do that, instead what they would do is, they would tie you down, they would beat you with rods for a little while and then they would bring out this axe and they would chop your head off. And, Paul, the mighty warrior, says to Timothy, “Make every effort,” we could translate it, ‘Do your best to come to me soon.’

Now, part of the reason why he was feeling that way is what the next verse unveils for us, because you notice that little connective there where it says, “for,” this is part of the reason why, he says, “for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.”

We have seen this guy before in the New Testament. Some six years earlier in Colossians 4, and the book of Philemon, he is called, by Paul, “to be a fellow worker with me in the ministry of Jesus Christ.” He was connected to Demas; they did ministry together.

Remember how we talked about the importance of being focused on finishing well last time? Well, we also talked about how we have all known people who have started very well, but then they didn’t finish well. Demas is one of those. Demas started well, he was serving, he was involved, he was connected, but Demas did not finish well. Paul says that he “deserted me.” It is a word that means to be abandoned. He left me in the lurch and he went off to Thessalonica.

You know what really jumps out at me in verse 10? It is that little phrase, “Demas having loved this present world.” That fascinates me, that just magnetically attracts me. I want to know more detail, what was involved in all of this.

Part of the pressure as we are living out the spiritual life comes to us from hostile people, especially if you go to certain places of the world where there is a lot of hostility against Christianity. Just like a guy we are going to see show up named Alexander. Part of the pressure that comes to us in the spiritual life isn’t necessarily from hostile people, but sometimes it is just from the world’s system that is always trying to squeeze us into its way of doing things. Or, from our own flesh.

“Demas, having loved this present world,” What was it? Was it wealth and money? Where he said, ‘I am tired of walking around everywhere, I want the newest chariot, I want to get a brand-new chariot.’ Or maybe he was saying, ‘I have always dreamed about this big house with this huge roof top porch. I’m going after that.’ Was it maybe pleasure? Maybe Demas decided to have a fling with the opposite sex. Was it maybe he just said, ‘I am tired of just drinking crappy stuff and poor food. I love really good wine. I want to go after the best wines. I want the best foods. I am tired of eating this way.’

Was it comfort in some way? Where he was saying, ‘This spiritual battle, just even living out the spiritual life, it is a hard thing to do. And it involves sacrifice. A lot of the people I know around me,’ Demas might have been thinking, ‘They get to enjoy all these kinds of things, I would like to enjoy some of those things more, too.’ Maybe he just said, ‘You know what? I just want to go and hit the recliner and put it on cruise control for a while. I would just like to hit the beach more than I am doing.’

By the way, there is nothing wrong with spending a little bit of time in the recliner and hitting the beach occasionally. But maybe it was the fact that, ‘You know what? This is just too tough. I would like it easier than that.’

I wish I could tell you how many times, in thirty-four years, that has been tempting to me. Just to say, ‘You know what? The spiritual life is pretty tough. You’ve got to deal with people and oh, man, it would just be nice to have a simpler life over here somewhere.’ We don’t really know what it was and probably Paul doesn’t tell us because it could be any of those. We need to be alert to all of that.

Notice he goes on to say in verse 10 that, “Crescens has gone to Galatia and Titus to Dalmatia,” off doing spiritual responsibilities.  Then, he says in verse 11, “Only Luke, (only Dr. Luke) is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service.”

You know, Demas was one of those guys who started well, but he didn’t finish well. Mark is one of those guys who did not start well, but he finished well. We first learn about Mark when the disciples, in Acts, chapter 12, were meeting at his mommy’s house. That is how he became known to everybody. Then, on the first missionary journey, Mark went with Paul and he was a drop-out. He got homesick, he was intimidated by the difficult circumstances and he said, ‘You know what? I am going to go back to mom’s. They have a little pool there, a little recliner there, I think I’ll…this is way too hard.’

You might remember when the second missionary journey came along, Paul said, ‘I don’t want anything to do with that dude.’

And Barnabus said, ‘Wait a second, now, I see some potential in that guy.’ You remember the story, that Barnabus took Mark under his wing and he had some community with Mark and years later what do we see? ‘Hey, I need some community, would you bring Mark with you? He is especially useful to me for service.’

Now, lean in for a moment. Men and women, when you have community, failure does not have to be fatal. See, community can overcome failure. Look at verse 12. He says, Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus.” Verse 13, he says, “When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments.”

You know, when you read verse 13, you just have to read all the underlying emotion that is there. He says, ‘When you come will you bring my cloak?’ It was a wool-like outer garment, it was a poncho-like thing. What is he really saying? He is saying, ‘Man, here in prison it gets cold and I spend a lot of time shivering and would you just please bring me that cloak that I left at Troas?’

We don’t really know what went on at Troas, it may very well have been that Troas is where he was arrested and so he had to leave stuff behind as he was hauled off to prison. And he says, ‘I want you also to bring along those books that are there and especially the parchments.’ The parchments were vellum, they were animal skins. You would write on them and no doubt these books included the Old Testament Scripture. And he wants some vellum because he wants to write more letters.

It is fascinating to me to see Paul’s perspective here. He still wants to study God’s word. I mean, life might not be going on for very long, but he still wants to study God’s word. He still wants to communicate truth to other people. I don’t know if you are fully aware of it or not, men and women, but we live in a day that downplays and undersells the study of the Scripture and it downplays and undersells doctrine and theology. I really don’t understand it, because it is the Word of God under the illumination ministry of the Spirit of God that transforms and renews our minds and our hearts and our lives.

Charles Spurgeon preached on this section and here is part of what he said when he was preaching on it, ‘Paul has been preaching for at least thirty years and yet he wants books. He had seen the Lord and yet he wants books. He had a wider experience than most people in his generation and yet he wants books. He had been caught up into the third heaven and had heard things which it is unlawful for a man to utter and yet he wants books. He had written the major part of the New Testament and yet he wants books.’

One of the best ways to finish well is to be a life-long student of God’s truth. To go right up to the end, studying the truth and growing in the truth and developing in the truth and living out 2 Timothy, chapter 2 and verse 15.

Then we come to verse 14, the trouble-maker. “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Be on guard (Timothy) against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching.”

It is a little bit unclear where this Alexander lived. He could have lived in Troas, remember, ‘I want you to go to Troas, I want you to get the coat, I want you to get the books and the parchments.’ Maybe he is saying, ‘You need to look out for him while you are there.’ Or maybe he lived in Rome and he is going to bring those things, Timothy is, back to Paul. But he says, ‘You’ve got to look out for this guy, he did me much harm.’

We don’t really know what that means. It may have been in Troas; he is the one who initiated the charges against Paul and so he warns Timothy about this guy. But what jumps out at me from these verses, is the phrase in verse 14, “The Lord will repay him according to his deeds.”

You see, men and women, you can’t let those who severely mistreat you derail you in your spiritual life. You can’t let people who mistreat you have you turn around then and invest all your energy to make sure they get back what they deserve to receive. That is why it says in the Bible in Romans 12:19, “Never take your own revenge, beloved…vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” He is very good at handling those kinds of things, yes thank you. He can do that.

David says, in Psalm 62:12, “Surely, God, You judge all people according to what they have done.” Paul understood, even though he had been mistreated in a severe manner, that God never nods off [falls asleep]. God takes note of every action. God is aware of every mistreatment. God is alert to every injustice, and He says, “The Lord will take care of it.”

Look at verse 16, he says, “At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them.” What is going on here? Well, he is talking about what we call, in our legal system, a preliminary hearing. In a preliminary hearing you could give some testimony, both against and in support of someone, and he says at my preliminary hearing no one supported me. Just technical terminology in the original language for being a witness in a court proceeding.

See, some of those people who didn’t show up were the people that Paul was connected with and they let Paul down and they disappointed him. How would you feel if you had been arrested and there was a preliminary hearing and no body that you are connected with showed up? How would you respond to that? What would be your attitude? Would it sour your outlook on people?

What does Paul say? Verse 16, last part, “May it not be counted against them.” It reminds me of Jesus’ attitude on the cross. See, this is part of the reason why, men and women, the ‘one another’s’ are there. It is why they exist; it is why it says in Colossians 3:13 that we need to, “bear with one another,” because we all have irritating weaknesses. You have them, I have them. It is why it says in Ephesians 4:32 that we are to forgive one another. Why is it there? Because we will hurt one another, we will disappoint one another. It is why it says in Galatians 5:26 that we are to encourage one another, because life is hard.

Let your eyes move down to verses 19-21, he says, “Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus remained at Corinth, but Trophimus I left at Miletus. Make every effort to come before winter.” And he mentions Eubulus who greets you, and Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brethren.

It is just so real, “Come to me Timothy before winter.” Why? Because travel would shut down, largely between November and March, especially on the sea. And he says, ‘I need those things. I need that stuff I need you to bring to me.’ And then he mentions these four individuals here. We don’t know who they are, we don’t know anything about them. They represent so many of us who are living the spiritual life, unknown to the world, but the Lord sees. It may be that you never receive accolades for what you are doing as you live out your spiritual life, but God sees it, He sees it. That is Paul’s need for community.

So, here is the question. Who are you connected to?

Let’s look, very quickly as we close, at Paul’s concluding confidence. We see it in verses 17 and 18. “No one supported me,” he says, but, notice verse 17, “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.” He said, “Okay, maybe the people weren’t there, but the Lord stood with me and the Lord strengthened me. God never lets me go and He rescued me out of the lion’s mouth.” That is just an idiomatic phrase that means, ‘I didn’t die right then.’

Then he goes on to say this in verse 18, “The Lord will (in the future) rescue me from every evil deed.” I’m either going to duck death again or He is going to pluck me, at death, into His very presence.

If you mark in your Bible you might want to underline the next phrase in verse 18, “And will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom.”  ‘Jesus is never going to let me go,’ he says.

Then he says in verse 18, at the end, “To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” 

As we conclude our study of 2 Timothy, I have three thoughts for us. Alright, here we go.

Number one, get connected. Get connected. Do you know that in the animal kingdom predators seek to pick off the strays who have wandered from the rest of the herd? We have spiritual predators who have their eyes on us, so we need to get connected. That might mean a Bible study, that might mean a prayer group, that may mean some kind of a small group. At Wildwood, it might mean getting involved in an Adult Fellowship Group or getting involved in a home community group. But, get connected.

What does being connected actually look like? How do you know when you are connected? I like what Matt Proctor has to say, “When community happens, we talk about what we don’t understand about the Bible and what God is teaching us as we read. We talk about where we are struggling, who we are serving, who is frustrating us, what decisions we face, what blessings we are experiencing. We encourage, admonish, comfort, challenge, serve, rejoice with, mourn with, submit to, forgive, share with, bear with, care for and pray for one another. That is what it means to get connected.”

The second thought that I have, it is never too late for God to use you. Please be encouraged by Mark [note earlier comments on verse 11]. Some of us have had some significant falls spiritually, there have been some failures. It is never too late for God to use you.

You know, at the end of Back to the Future 3, the Doc is talking to Marty and Jennifer and here is what he says to them, “Your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it, so make it a good one.” Wherever you are in your spiritual life, the final chapter has not yet been written. It is never too late for God to use you.

Then, number three, Jesus will never let you go. His promise, if you know Him personally is, He will bring you safely to His heavenly kingdom and while you are on the journey there, while we are on that journey, He will give us the grace for whatever place He puts us in.

I am going to ask the worship team to come as we close with a song and while they are coming, I want to pray.

Father, we just thank You. I am always just overwhelmed at the incredible nature of this living Book we have in our hands. Father, I would pray for each one of us that, as we are in a shifting culture, that You would develop us into blameless, pure children of God in a crooked and depraved generation. I would pray that we would shine like stars as we hold out the word of life to people around us. And, we thank You so much that You will never let us go, that we can say I will fear no evil for God is with me and You will never let go of me. Amen.

Questions for Reflection: (week 13)

–“I prefer to live the solitary spiritual life, thank you.”

While someone may not say that out loud, that can be his or her attitude and practice.  What are some of the potential spiritual perils of “wandering from the herd” and being unconnected to others?

–Using a concordance (in book form or online) list at least 10 of the “one anothers” found in the New Testament.

–What might have been some of the lures that led to Demas abandoning Paul and the ministry (in light of Paul’s verdict that Demas “loved this present world”)?  What lures could entice you?

–List some of the emotions you observe coming from Paul as he closes this letter.  How did he choose to handle each of them?

–Have you ever had to deal with someone who hurt or disappointed you in a significant way?  How did you handle it?  Looking back now, what would you have done differently?

–“Failure does not have to be fatal.”  Are you aware of folks you’ve known who may have failed to start well, but then finished strong?  Elaborate.  What made the difference?

–Are you aware of anyone in the church who truly needs an encouraging, helping hand?  What could you (or your family/small group) do to help in some way?

–List some practical things we can do to help us be lifelong students of God’s truth.

–What is God prompting you to do to get better “connected” in community?