Today, I’ve been thinking about getting older.
Sometimes, when we get older, we think it’s our time to slow down. “After all,” we reason, “I’ve done my part. I’ve worked hard and paid my bills and raised my kids. I’ve done more than my fair share. Now it’s time for someone else to carry the torch and lead. I’m just going to kick back, relax, retire, and die.”
But that’s not the example we see from Scripture.
In AD 60, Paul was imprisoned in Rome. He was treated well and allowed to stay in his own house at his own expense, for two full years “preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him” (Acts 28:31). It was during this time he wrote his prison epistles: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.
Paul was in his mid-sixties. About retirement age.
Paul was imprisoned a second and final time during the summer of AD 66. The cause of his arrest may be found in a statement Paul made in his final letter to Timothy: “Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works. You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words” (2 Tim. 4:14-15).
This time, Paul was not allowed to remain under house arrest, but was thrown among the most vile of prisoners in the Mamertine prison or another such dark and horrid place. This prison was more like a dungeon, or a pit that could only be reached by a ladder or rope let through a hole in the floor above. There was little ventilation and sanitation was non-existent. If the idea was to reduce men to mere animals before they faced trial and execution, then the Romans did their job quite well.
It was in this desperate condition, accompanied only by Luke (2 Tim. 4:11), that Paul penned his last letter to Timothy. Paul was now in his late sixties, well past retirement age.
Paul’s Final Words
Paul begins what would be his farewell address to his beloved son in the faith, Timothy. In these final words, Paul urges Timothy to be bold in the face of opposition, knowing his own time was short.
2 Timothy 4:1-5 – I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. (why) For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Paul then turns to more personal matters. He reflects on his present situation, his past ministry, and the future glory he will share with Christ.
2 Timothy 4:6-8 – For I am (present) already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have (past) fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is (future) laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
And then amazingly, in the midst of his deplorable conditions, Paul encourages Timothy to come to him, to the Mamertine prison, to help him continue in ministry.
2 Timothy 4:9 – Be diligent to come to me quickly.
Why would Paul ask that of Timothy? What possible ministry could Paul be undertaking? The Scriptures don’t say. But we can see that Paul clearly understands his time is not over and there’s still more work to be done. He knows there’s no retirement plan in the Kingdom of God. Paul’s not ready, like many of us, to kick back, relax, retire and spend the rest of his days cruising the Caribbean or watching reruns of the Andy Griffith Show. Even in the midst of unspeakable filth, in the throes of pain and suffering, Paul realized there was still ministry to perform for his Lord.
2 Timothy 4:10 – For Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica— Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia.
The sad news is that Demas has forsaken Paul and abandoned him and the faith. In doing so, Demas will forever be remembered as one who did not finish well and inevitably suffered the certain fate that awaits all who reject the One who came to save them. The good news is that Paul, even in prison, seems to be directing missionary endeavors to support and encourage the churches in Asia minor. Paul is saying that “Creschen has departed (or, has been sent or dispatched) to Galatia and Titus (has been sent or dispatched) to Dalmatia” (2 Tim. 4:10). Paul later says he sent, or dispatched, Tychicus to Ephesus (2 Tim. 4:12).
Think about it. In the middle of Paul’s prison cell he is still ministering to others. Paul’s physical circumstances may have changed for the worse, but not his calling nor his faithfulness to that calling. Paul, in prison and approaching seventy, facing trial and death, in unspeakable filth, continues ministering to others. He remains faithful even when he has every reason not to.
We then have the verse that communicates more to me about the heart of Paul than any other in this passage. Here Paul asks Timothy to bring Mark with him when he comes. That’s the same Mark, by the way, that deserted Paul early in their first missionary journey (Acts 13:13). And it was the same Mark that caused Paul and Barnabas to exchange such sharp words with each other that they split as a team and headed in different directions (Acts 15:36-39).
2 Timothy 4:11 – Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful (profitable, to furnish what is needed), to me for ministry (serving others, showing benevolence).
Note, Paul did not say Mark would be useful to him to meet his own personal needs, which must have been great. Nor did he say Mark would be useful to take care of Paul, or lessen his burdens, or comfort him while he suffered and languished in the Mamertine prison. No, Paul said Mark would be useful, or would furnish what was needed or lacking, in the lives of those Paul himself was ministering to— his fellow cell mates and possibly a guard or two. It was always for Paul, even in this late hour, about his love for Christ manifested by his ministry to others.
2 Timothy 4:13 – Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come— and the books, especially the parchments.
The cloak I understand. After all, it was probably quite cold in the prison, especially for a man of Paul’s age. But why the parchments? What did Paul need with them? They were for teaching, for his trial preparation, for the opportunity he saw to present Christ to those who would render judgment against him and decide his fate. He remembered what Jesus said about him, spoken to Ananias so many years ago, “he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). And even in the midst of prison, at his final curtain call, Paul saw one more opportunity to fulfill his calling and faithfully serve his Lord.
At the age when most of us are tired and want to quit, satisfied and content with the memories of yesteryear, Paul urges forward. As long as there’s breath in his lungs, he will continue to proclaim the glories of Christ to anyone, anywhere, in any situation, no matter the costs. For Paul, his best days are from this day forward, no matter how dire this day seems. Even if this day begins chained to a wall, standing in human excrement, facing certain death, in the bowels of a Roman prison.
Convicting, isn’t it? Especially when you realize how we view aging and retirement today.
It’s my prayer that I will be more like Paul as the day of my departure approaches (2 Tim. 4:6). And I also pray I will not mimic most Christians I’ve seen in church, who have worked tirelessly for their retirement and, when it comes, when they now have all the time in the world to serve the Lord they claim to love, instead choose to spend that precious time for themselves, and not for Him or for others.
That’s not the New Testament model. Pray it doesn’t become the norm for each of us.
For the last couple of months I have been preaching about the Holy Spirit and His gifts, focusing on John 14 and 1 Corinthians 12-14, but specifically on 1 Corinthians 12:4-11. We have asked the Lord to show us what these gifts mean, are they all still operating in the church and, if so, what does that look like today? That’s right, we’ve dealt with all the controversial topics that tend to divide the body of Christ: second filling, baptism of the Spirit, Cessationism vs. Continuationism, the five-fold ministry, tongues and the interpretation of tongues, the role of apostles and prophets, if any, today, what is a word of knowledge and word of wisdom, and all the other crazy, scary stuff. It’s been quite an eye opening experience to see, not what I was taught in Seminary or grew up believing in a Southern Baptist church, but what the Scriptures actually teach regarding the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in His church back then, as well as today.
Naturally, in the course of this study on the Holy Spirit, we moved to the Acts to see how this was played out in the early church in real time. Last Sunday we preached about Peter’s sermon (Acts 2:14-39) and the amazing results of a 297 word message, excluding Scriptures, that was empowered by the very Spirit they received a few verses earlier (Acts 2:1-4). The Promise of the Father was given (Acts 1:4), and 3,000 people joined the 120 in faith in the risen Lord Jesus.
What an amazing day that must have been.
But now what? How do these 3,000 new believers, many from areas outside of Jerusalem (Acts 2:5-11), grow in their new faith? What are they to do? Where do they go? How do they learn? There would be so many questions each of them had. Where would they go to find the answers?
If they returned back home to Egypt or Rome, for example (Acts 2:10), who would disciple them? Who would teach them truth from error? They would be the only ones in their country that had received salvation as evidenced by the giving of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14). No one carried the light of Christ to their families and friends but them. No one was to speak into the darkness but them. They were alone. Uncertain. Literally babes in the midst of Jewish wolves. By returning home they were, in effect, being sent out as missionaries to tell others about the new life found in Christ— the Christ whom they knew nothing about other than what Peter had preached, and what they were just now discovering for themselves.
It was a recipe for colossal failure. Much like sending an eight year old to convince an atheist University professor of the validity of the New Testament text. They were vastly outgunned and woefully inexperienced in the things of Christ. They needed a time to grow, to mature, to understand what just happened to them. They needed time to come to grips with their faith in the Lord Jesus, and what that faith meant from that moment forward.
A New Home
So, most likely, many of them stayed. Where else were they to go to hear about the “wonderful works of God” (Acts 2:11).
Once, after Jesus proclaimed His unpopular, politically incorrect truth about the kingdom of God that offended the half-committed, many of His followers “went back and walked with Him no more” (John 6:65). Jesus had been telling them about the all-consuming relationship they were to have with Him. This new life they had experienced, this born-again reality was not like going to the synagogue once a week to dance around their Jewish maypole, feel good for a moment or two, faithfully perform their religious duty, and then go back to life as usual.
This was different.
Religion tries to make us feel good about ourselves by following some man-made ritual that, at least on the outside, makes us look better than we were before— especially when we compare ourselves with ourselves or with others who are struggling like us.
But this was different. Completely different.
What Jesus came to bring was a totally new life. The old man, our old life, is not rehabilitated or made better, or less offensive, by Christ’s sacrifice. He is put to death. Dead and buried. Just like Christ. Jesus sees nothing in us worth bringing into the new life He’s purchased for us (Isa. 64:4). Nothing. So all of the old man, the pride, fear, lusts, wants, desires, religion, rights, needs, literally everything— dies. Everything gets buried. Everything rots. And the new man, what Paul later called the “new creation” in Christ, is born again (2 Cor. 5:17). Born anew. Born from above. Resurrected to a new life (Rom. 6:4), created in the image, or likeness of God (Eph. 4:24), and secured by the indwelling presence of God Himself— in the person of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14).
This was a message the religious crowd in Jesus’ day, and in our day, finds offensive. So they left Him to find another guru that was willing to teach what they wanted to hear, about how to have Your Best Life Now!
Look at the question of Jesus and the answer of Peter.
John 6:66-69 – From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Exactly. “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
This was the same sentiment those who came to faith at Peter’s sermon most likely had. Why go back home? Back to what? People who don’t know what I now know, which is next to nothing. Everything has now changed. I’m a new man. I see things differently. And I now have needs I didn’t even know existed before.
“Lord, I need to grow in my faith. I need to understand more of You who re-created me into something new. I need to know what Your will for me is now. Where am I to go? What am I to do? I need to learn how to hear Your voice and recognize when You speak. I need to be taught how to pray? I want my faith to grow. I want to understand the gifts the Spirit has given me to exercise for You. Lord, I need to spend time in Your presence and at Your feet. There’s so much I don’t know. So much that seems confusing to me. Lord, if I may, these other believers are now my family. And this, Your church, is now my home.”
And so they stayed.
They Continued Steadfast
Notice what happened next.
Acts 2:42 – And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
But there is so much more here than we read on the surface.
Do you want to know how these new believers spent the rest of their lives? Do you want to find out what made them the kind of people that turned the world upside down in the span of a few years (Acts 17:6)? Do you think we, as the church, can learn anything from the life they forged for us with the Spirit?
I do. But that’s something we’ll have to wait until tomorrow to discover together.
In Acts 2, after the promised Holy Spirit came mightily upon the faithful praying in the upper room, and after Peter preached his Spirit-empowered sermon, the infant church grew from 120 to over 3,000 literally overnight. And now the apostles had a logistics problem. How were they to manage a crowd of over 3,000 newbies without the benefit of Christian literature or Lifeway, CCM, K-LOVE, God’s Not Dead 1 and 2, WinterJam, or local mega-churches with multiple, cross-town campuses? What were they to do?
The answer was simple. They were to teach their new Christian brothers exactly what Jesus spent three years teaching them— how to live by faith. That’s right, faith. Remember?
Hebrews 11:1 – Now faith (pístis) is the substance (to place under, the basis, foundation, that which underlies the apparent) of things hoped for (confident expectation, to abide still, to expect fully), the evidence (proof, conviction, assurance, supreme confidence) of things not seen.
As we dig deeper into the life of the early church, we’ll discover that faith was pretty much all they had. And it was enough for them to turn their world upside down (Acts 17:6).
Do you want to know more about what it means to live by faith? Good. Then keep listening.
The following is a study on Acts 2:36-41.
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When Peter stands up in the midst of the 120 and declares that Judas must be replaced, he was speaking the truth (Acts 1:20). It is true from Scripture that God intended to someday replace Judas. But that doesn’t mean it was the right time to decide who the Lord had chosen to become part of the Twelve. What happened then, and what often happens with each of us, is that we decide a course of action, present God with two options we have chosen, and then ask Him to choose which of our choices is His will. And this assumes it was His will for us to do what we’ve determined to do in the first place.
The lesson from Acts 1:15-26 is that doing the right thing, at the wrong time, is the wrong thing. Everytime. No matter how much it feels like the right thing and the right time.
And it often takes years to undo the mistakes we make for the right reason, or so we think. Remember, spiritual maturity is asking God what His will is, and not trying to force Him to choose the lesser of two evils that we have chosen. Do you want to know more about this classic error of presumption? Then keep listening.
The following is a study on Acts 1:15-26.
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When the 120 met together after the ascension of Jesus, there were some logistics we often overlook when considering their 240 hour prayer meeting (Acts 1:14). For example:
What about food?
Did they go home to eat several times a day?
Did someone have food catered in to them?
Did they go to Wal-Mart or McDonald’s daily?
Did their family drop off lunch bags each day?
Or did they go on an extended fast?
And if so, what was that like?
I believe it was a time of prayer and fasting— and not just prayer alone. After all, that’s what Jesus expected them to do (Matt. 6:16-18). Which raises one last question: What can fasting do for me today? Or, why should I fast since fasting seems to be passe in the church today? Consider the following:
Fasting was an expected discipline in both the Old and New Testament eras.
Fasting and prayer can restore the loss of the “first love” for your Lord and result in a more intimate relationship with Christ.
Fasting is a biblical way to truly humble yourself in the sight of God.
Fasting enables the Holy Spirit to reveal your true spiritual condition, resulting in brokenness, repentance, and a transformed life.
Fasting will encourage the Holy Spirit to quicken the Word of God in your heart and His truth will become more meaningful to you.
Fasting can transform your prayer life into a richer and more personal experience.
Fasting can result in a dynamic personal revival in your own life and make you a channel of revival to others.
In summary, fasting opens up your spirit in ways that are hard to explain unless you’ve experienced it.
Have you ever considered adding fasting to your prayer life? You should. You really should.
The following is a study on Acts 1:12-14.
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