But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 8 in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing. 9 Make every effort to come to me soon; 10 for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service. 12 But Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. 13 When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments. 14 Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. 15 Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching. 16 At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. 17 But 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. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. 19 Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. 20 Erastus remained at Corinth, but Trophimus I left sick at Miletus. 21 Make every effort to come before winter. Eubulus greets you, also Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brethren. 22 The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.
One verse in this passage was the text for the sermon I preached in 1990 to mark my tenth anniversary at the church. I called it then one of my favorite testimonies to the faithfulness of God. It still is, and the verse is 2 Timothy 4:17. "But 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."
I dealt with the context then in some detail. But today is the close of missions week and I am not going to do that again. Instead I am going to go straight from the plain meaning of the words of this verse to missions application with the hope that God might use Paul's testimony and the testimony of other missionaries to stir you up to a more radical venture on the faithfulness of God in finishing the Great Commission for the glory of his name and the good of the nations.
But before I make that application let's do this: not everybody comes to worship this morning with a clear and animating sense of God's passion for the glory of Christ among the peoples of the world. Most of us are pretty parochial and ethnocentric and narrow and even sometimes self-centered and racist in our way of life. We simply hardly ever even think about the global, multi-national, multi-ethnic, multi-linquistic cause of God, and what God's zeal and purposes are for Guinea, West Africa and Indonesia and Tanzania and Thailand and Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and Turkey and Czechoslovakia and China and Siberia and Japan and Cameroon and Myanmar and the Somali or Winnebago or Dakota or Chippewa of Minnesota.
So I don't assume that you come to worship this morning with a clear and resounding awareness and interest in the really great news of the world – not a Vikings winning streak, not a Marilyn Manson desecration, not the presidential elections in the U. S., not the Palestinian-Israeli conflict – but the spread of Christian truth and faith among the peoples of the world on the way to a God-wrought consummation that will make all of world history look like what it really is – a brief prelude to the everlasting, all-glorious kingdom of God.
I don't assume you come with your heart enthralled with God's great global purpose. So I want to begin by simply letting God tell you, in his own words about his priorities.
Old Testament Promises
First there are Old Testament promises:
Psalm 22:27-28, "All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, And all the families of the nations will worship before You. For the kingdom is the LORD'S And He rules over the nations."
Then there are Old Testament prayers:
Psalm 67:3 "Let the peoples praise You, O God; Let all the peoples praise You."
Then there are Old Testament commands:
Psalm 96:3, 10, "Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples. Say among the nations, "The LORD reigns."
Then there is the great New Testament Commission from the risen Christ:
Matthew 28:18-20, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
Then there is the apostle Paul's great life of utter dedication to this mission:
Romans 15:20-21, "I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man's foundation; but as it is written, 'they who had no news of him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand.'"
Then there is the magnificent picture of the final outcome of God's purposes in history:
Revelation 5:9-10, "And they sang a new song, saying, 'Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth."
This is big picture. This is what Christianity is about. This is God's design in world history—that people from all nations and tribes and languages come to worship God through Jesus Christ.
You might say, "But isn't the gospel about finding forgiveness of my sins and getting the hope of eternal life, and being filled with the Spirit of holiness and being changed into the image of Jesus so that I am a better mom or dad or son or daughter or friend or employer or citizen?" And the answer is, Yes. But if that is all you dwell on in your walk with God, you miss the big picture. You miss the bigger point of it all. You're like a bat boy at Yankee Stadium who thinks the great point of the World Series is to hand the players their bat.
So I urge you this morning in the name of Jesus to wake up and to enlarge your heart and to stretch your mind and to spread your wings. Mount up above your limited life – yes a very important life, which God does not belittle – and see the great and thrilling big picture of God's global purposes for the history of the world which cannot fail. "My purpose will be established," says the Lord, "And I will accomplish all My good pleasure" (Isaiah 46:10).
And as God gives you wings to rise up and see the world the way he sees it, many of you, I pray, will be loosened from your present situation – job, neighborhood, state, nation, plan – and called to an engagement in this great historic, global purpose of God as a goer and not just a sender.
And to that end I give you 2 Timothy 4:17 as a great encouragement, and great incentive, a great hope for what it will be like to venture something new and radical on Jesus. "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."
This is Paul's experience of Matthew 28:18-20. You recall that Jesus there said, "All authority is mine . . . go make disciples . . . I will be with you to the end of the age."
So here Paul is at the end of his life – this is his last letter. He has been left alone in Rome before the great authorities of the world – abandoned by man it seems, but not by Jesus. You see this in verse 16: "At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me." But then in verse 17 he says four great things:
- "The Lord stood with me," just as he promised all his missionaries he would do: "I will be with you to the end of the age."
- The Lord strengthened him. He is the Risen King, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, and all authority belongs to him over all nations. This Lord stood with him and strengthened him.
- This strength was for the proclamation of the gospel, not just to be comfortable and secure. "The Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished." "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you," Jesus said in Acts 1:8, "and you will be my witnesses." The power and the strength of the risen, authoritative Christ is for witness to the gospel that Christ died for sinners and rose again and is gathering his people from all nations.
- And the fourth thing Paul said was that this proclamation of the gospel was that he got this strength and spoke this gospel so that all the gentiles – or all the nations (pa,nta ta. e;qnh) might hear.
This was his passion to the end. Spread, spread, spread. I don't doubt that when Paul died he prayed, "O Lord, let my dying magnify Christ among the peoples of the earth!" (Philippians 1:19-21).
The Lord stood with me; the Lord gave me strength, with that strength the gospel was preached; and the aim was the gentiles, all the nations. That was Paul's experience of Christ's faithfulness and nearness and help. And it has been the case with thousands of missionaries in tens of thousands of crises. And it will be your experiences when you follow Jesus where he leads.
A hundred years ago John Paton, from Scotland, took the gospel to the New Hebrides in the South Pacific, today's Vanuatu. Within months his wife and son died. But Paton spent the rest of his life, until he was an old man, planting the church on the Islands. Paul's experience in 2 Timothy 4:17 was his as well. He quoted Jesus' words, "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age," then said, "Precious promise! How often I adore Jesus for it, and rejoice in it! Blessed be his name" (John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebredes, An Autobiography Edited by His Brother, p. 154).
Once he was surrounded by a mob seeking his life. He hid in a tree above them and spent a terrifying night there. He wrote later,
Yet I sat there among the branches, as safe in the arms of Jesus. Never, in all my sorrows, did my Lord draw nearer to me, and speak more soothingly in my soul . . . as I told all my heart to Jesus. . . . I will not grudge to spend many nights alone in such a tree, to feel again my Savior's spiritual presence, to enjoy His consoling fellowship (Autobiography p. 200).
This is the promise of Christ to you when you venture your life on his care in his mission.
Alexander Duff, who was born in Scotland in 1806 and went to India when he was 24 with two shipwrecks on the way, and spent almost 40 years there for Christ and his kingdom, wrote to his daughter later in life,
Why should I, who have been the child of so many mercies, be faithless or doubting? If any man living should trust in the Lord absolutely, and cast upon him the burden of all his cares . . . I am that man. All my days I have been a child of Providence, the Lord leading me and guiding me in ways unknown to me – in ways of His own, and for the accomplishment of his own heavenly ends (William Paton, Alexander Duff: Pioneer of Missionary Education, p. 232).
The Lord stood by him, guiding him all is life. He will do that for you to as you offer yourself up to him for his use and his mission.
But it doesn't mean that we will be spared terrible losses. It means Christ is there and governs all things and helps us and sustains us and turns all losses into gain as we trust him.
William Carey, the father of modern missions left for India from England in 1793 and never came home. He labored 40 years without a furlough. He lost two of his three wives in death. When he had a fever they attached 110 leeches to his thigh. And on March 11, 1812—after almost 20 years of work—a fire broke out and destroyed years of irreplaceable work. The draft of the great polyglot dictionary. The Sikh and Telugu grammars. Ten version of Bible that had been going through the press. The translation of the Ramayana which he and his partners had been working on for six years.
Carey was out of town in Calcutta. When Marshman told him tears filled his eyes, and later he said,
In one short evening the labours of years are consumed. How unsearchable are the ways of God! I had lately brought some things to the utmost of perfection of which they seemed capable, and contemplated the missionary establishment with perhaps too much self-congratulation. The Lord has laid me low, that I may look more simply to him (Mary Drewry, William Carey: A Biography, p. 154).
Carey knew, and Carey learned painfully to know better, that the mission of Christ goes forward by looking more simply to him. "I will be with you, I will help you." In all his losses, the Lord stood with him. He never forsook him. Never could he have endured as he did without him.
His watchword, was "Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God." In that order! First trust him. Trust his promise. He will stand with you. He will give you strength. Then . . . THEN . . . "attempt great things for God." You will open your mouth. The nations will hear and be glad.
That is my call to you this morning. Put your life in his hands and trust him to be there as you venture something new for him.