Return to Sermon Archive
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
I now invite you to turn your Bibles to 2 Timothy, chapter 4, and follow along as I read two passages: verses 6-8 and 16-18. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
6 As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come.
7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
8 From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
16 At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them!
17 But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth.
18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
The word of God. Thanks be to God.
In 1906, English playwright George Bernard Shaw moved to the little town of Ayot St. Lawrence in Hertfordshire. Shaw said that previously he and his wife had visited the town, and, while walking in the local cemetery, had come across a tombstone on which was the inscription: “Jane Evesley, Born 1815 - Died 1895. Her Time Was Short.” Shaw said that any community in which an eighty-year-old woman was considered to have had a short life was the community where he wanted to live.
At some level all of us are concerned about dying. During a recent follow-up visit to the doctor after my stroke, the Doctor said, “If you had not been on zocor (anti-cholesterol drug) when you had the stroke, you would probably be dead.” Now everyone knows they are going to die, but the subject takes on a different emphasis when your doctor looks you in the eye and says you could have been dead. I could have been dead not twenty years from now, but right now. That is a scary thought.
As long as the human species has been around, we have been afraid of death. Back in the fifteenth Century, King Louis XI of France had a court astrologer. The king believed in astrology but had come to distrust the loyalty of this astrologer, so he called the man to appear before him, intending to have him thrown from a high window when he gave a certain signal. By the way, Louis XI was known as the Louis the Cruel. When the astrologer presented himself, the king asked the man to predict the date of his own death. “I shall die,” said the astute astrologer, “just three days before your Majesty.” After that, Louis XI made real sure that the astrologer was well protected.
In our postmodern culture, fear of dying takes a new twist. Our culture believes so much in science and technology, that some people think that we can find a scientific escape from death.
This attitude drives much of the research in cloning. A clone is an exact genetic duplicate of ourselves. In this view, when one version of our body starts to wear out and die, we can simply make a copy in a laboratory and let that copy be born as the first version passes away.
We have made a lot of progress in cloning. In 2002, scientists in Texas cloned a female calico kitten named “Cc,” which is short for “Copycat.” Cc is believed to be the first pet ever successfully cloned. She came out of the Missyplicity Project. The Missyplicity Project was a multimillion-dollar scientific enterprise to clone a dog named Missy for her owner, John Sperling, who has several billion dollars he is willing to spend on that sort of thing.
But Missy was an old dog who died before the project could succeed, and the scientists cloned a cat instead. The researchers on the Missyplicity Project hope that the cloning of pets will become a popular procedure among the very rich.
The cloning of Copycat actually began back in 1997, when the very wealthy Mr. Sperling read a newspaper account of a gene that was responsible for dramatically extending the life span of worms. The article speculated that this worm gene could also be found in humans, and Sperling — who was then 77 years old — wanted to know more. So, with a pile of money at his disposal, he hired his cardiologist to dig into the science of longevity.
According to an article in Wired magazine (Feb 2004), Sperling wants people to live forever, and he is promising $3 billion to make it so.
So what are we to make of all this? What are we to make of worm genes and cloned cats? The most obvious response is that a clone is not us. If scientists could make an exact genetic duplicate of me, it would still not be me. It would be a different person. So if we come down off our science fiction high, we once again are confronted with age-old reality of our own mortality. We are going to die. Life on earth is short. As Thomas a Kempis says, “Vain and brief is all human comfort” (Imitation III. 16). Now I have always known that. Just lately I have been reminded rather vividly and brutally of that obvious truth.
Let me put that truth in a more positive way. Most of our existence is not going to be here in this flesh, most of our existence will be in eternity with God. We stay here awhile and then we go on to a much better life. That being true, the challenge for each of us is to focus less on long life now, and more on eternal life in Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul serves as our example. In his second letter to Timothy, we read, “As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come” (2 Timothy 4:6). Paul looks on the end of life without fear or panic. He sees his death as a kind of a priestly sacrifice — “a libation,” which is to say, a drink offering. The image is that of a priest pouring out an offering on the altar of God. That image, says Paul, symbolizes his life.
Death is not a horrible, senseless tragedy that is to be avoided at all costs. Death is the final offering of a life that has been devoted completely to God.
So the question to us is what do we do with the life we have now in the flesh, knowing that this life is less than a second in universal time. Our culture says we are hoard life. Our culture says, we should hang on every last breath no matter what it costs and no matter who it hurts. Paul offers us a different ideal. He offers us a life poured out in love for others.
The reason why death is so awful for most people, is that most people live only for themselves, and at death they see the end of themselves. Paul lives differently and hence dies differently. He does not live for himself. He lives for Christ in the Holy Spirit. He does not live to gratify himself but to glorify God. Hence, how long he lives is not the issue. How well he glorifies God is the issue.
Nothing wrong with living a good long life, and nothing is wrong with living a good short life. The Apostle Paul had a relatively short life. Tradition says he had his head chopped off during the Emperor Nero’s persecution of the church. For that matter, the Lord Jesus did not have long life in the flesh. When he was crucified, he was about 33 years old.
The lesson is of all this is that the length of this fleshly life is not particularly important. What is important is how you live the life you have? Is your focus on cloning technology or “the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give you on that day.”
The question for us is not, “Will we die?” We know that answer to that question. The real question is, “How can we live in such a way that we are ready to die?” Paul’s advice is to fight “the good fight,” to finish “the race,” to keep “the faith.”
For many Christians, fighting the good fight means taking a stand upon current issues. Abortion, capitol punishment, war, the environment, homosexuality—those are some of the major issues that confront Christians today. So lets fight the good fight and get involved in politics, and vote. We did that last Tuesday. The problem with that way thinking, is that if you read the letters of Paul, you realize that is not what he was talking about. The letters of Paul are basically about one thing: the grace of God extended to us in Jesus Christ. All other issues are secondary.
You might have noticed that I do not preach much on what many people call the issues. I am not called to preach the issues; I am called to preach the Bible. That does not mean that I do not have an opinion on the various issues that confront the church in our time. I certainly do. But as a minister of the word, I am primarily interested in preaching what the Bible says.
Certainly a Christian should support worthy causes as Jesus did. Jesus spent his earthly ministry caring for people. He shattered the cultural conventions of his day and turned his society upside down to help people that were suffering. Jesus consistently reached out to the least and the lost, and he worked tirelessly to help those persons who were ignored or rejected or abused by the rich and powerful of his day. Go you and do likewise.
When Paul speaks of fighting the good fight, he has in the mind the image of an athlete contending in a game or contest. He is not talking about being mean-spirited, obnoxious, and ill-mannered to your opponents in the latest issue to confront the church. He is talking about focusing absolutely on Jesus.
Think of the runners in a marathon and their training, and their tenacity when running that race. See the fierce determination in their eyes, the eye of the tiger, see the veins pulsing on the sides of their necks, see their jaws clenched, fists pumping, legs driving. These runners are in a fight, and they do not intend to lose. Spiritually speaking we are in a fight, and we should have that same determination. We are determined to be focused absolutely on Jesus. The practice is our lives is to bring the love of power of Jesus into our lives.
It is a “good” fight because it is fight for Jesus. Ultimately the good fight is always with myself. I do not have to worry about that wicked person on the other side of a religious issue. The wicked person I need to be concerned about is me. We often hear about the moral decline of America. If I am going to do anything about that moral decline, I begin with me. If I want people to be more friendly, more loving, more kind, more patient, I need to start working on being more friendly, more loving, more kind, more patient.
The apostle Paul also challenges us to finish the race. Now Paul is using athletic metaphors, but he is talking about life. He is talking about being willing to let go of this life. We must come to the point where we recognize that this flesh is not what it is all about. This body is not me. My soul is me. Death is simply my soul’s departure to another phase of existence. In the end, all of medical miracles fail. We need to realize that the time comes when just keeping the heart and lungs pumping by heroic measures is not worth it, and it is time to go on. The last word of Jesus on the cross was, “It is finished.” Ultimately the time comes for us when we must be willing to let go of all earthly attachments, and say, “It is finished.”
Paul also implores us to keep the faith. Keeping the faith is trusting God to be with us through every good fight, through every tough race, through every illness, tragedy, conflict, and crisis. Paul himself tells the story of how he was abandoned by others in a time of need, but Paul says, “the Lord stood by me and gave me strength” (v. 17).
In the end, we are saved by grace through faith. The same holds for us, as for Paul and anyone else. Eternal life is not reached through scientific miracles, but through faith which is itself a gift of God.
The goal of the Missyplicity Project is to extend life. That is not what we are interested in. We are focused on a life of faith that glorifies God from start to finish. We do not need a Missyplicity Project to guarantee eternal life. That is a future that no science project can provide. Eternal life has nothing to do with cat clones or experiments on human longevity, and everything to do with following Jesus Christ. Dying without Jesus is the worst possible outcome for this life. Dying with Jesus is only going on a better future. Amen.
Alexander, Brian. “John Sperling wants you to live forever.” Wired, February 2004, Wired.com.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 12/06.04