These final verses mark the final words that Paul ever wrote. At first glance they appear to provide a sporadic, maybe even panicked message as Paul urges Timothy to come to him before it is too late. But if we take the time to read carefully, we should notice that this message is neither sporadic nor panicked but is in fact coherent and logical. The purpose of these verses is quite simple: Paul desires Timothy’s presence and is informing Timothy regarding the situation he is about to step in to. Timothy is needed, but Paul does not want Timothy to charge in uninformed.
It is texts like this one that truly test our belief in Paul’s words just a few verses earlier. If we truly believe that all Scripture is God-breathed and is beneficial for teaching, rebuke, correction, and training in righteousness (3:16), then we must teach and preach this text as we would any other. Yet there is the reality that this text does not lend itself to our traditional three-point outline with a poem. I praise God for Scripture such as these verses that force the preacher to be a straight-line expositor; that is, to simply explain the text without heavy-handed sermonizing. As we seek to understand and meditate on these final reflections from Paul, I simply want to make five observations of the text that also reflect all faithful ministry.
Ministry Can Be Lonely (vv. 9-10)
“Make every effort to come to me soon; for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia.”
It is not a rule that ministry will be lonely, but the Lord’s herald had better be prepared to live a lonely existence. Paul was the greatest preacher and minister of the gospel in history, second only to our Lord Jesus Christ, yet he was alone in the end. This loneliness happens for a variety of reasons.
For Bad Reasons (v. 10a) – Demas was a veteran minister in Paul’s service. He was with Paul during his house arrest waiting to appeal to Caesar. As Paul concluded his letter to the church in Colossae, Demas was there to add his greeting (Col. 4:14). Also, in Paul’s conclusion to Philemon (who was a member of the Colossian church) he refers to Demas as a fellow worker (Phile. 1:24). This is one who has been with Paul for some time and was seemingly trustworthy. But now he has deserted Paul.
It would be naïve to think that Demas’ defection is anything less than complete apostasy. Paul writes that Demas’ love is for this present world or literally the now age. The aorist participle indicates that Demas has fallen in love with this now age and continues to love it. This stands in stark contrast to those who love the appearing of Christ (v. 8). It is those who love Christ’s appearing who will likewise receive the crown which is righteousness on that day. It seems that Demas will not be counted among those who will be given such a crown. His affections are squarely placed upon the present without regard for the future. This is why he has abandoned Paul.
For Good Reasons (v. 10b) – Crescens and Titus are also mentioned here but stand in a very different light than Demas. We know nothing of Crescens other than the fact that he has been dispatched to Galatia, a region which Paul and Barnabas first ploughed with gospel seeds nearly two decades prior. He must be a trusted pastor indeed. Of Titus we know much more. This is the man who, like Timothy, was sent to complete the work of church planting on the isle of Crete. He has been dispatched to Dalmatia, presumably to engage in similar work. These men are not apostates. They are simply not available.
There are times when ministry is lonely and one longs to have his most trusted colleges nearby, yet ours is not the only mission underway. The Lord has tasked these men with His holy mission in fields far from Rome. I’m sure their desire was to be at Paul’s side. But their master has called them away. There may be heartbreak in this, but not shame.
For Reasons Beyond Our Control – At times it is noteworthy what is not in the text as much as what is in the text. I cannot help but notice that there is little mention of the Roman church. Only four names appear in v. 21 as representatives of the Christians who remain in Rome and have had contact with Paul. Where’s the Roman church?
This is where we must keep the context in mind. This letter was written after the widespread persecution of Christians within Rome following the great fire. Though we are not sure how or why the fire started, we do know who was blamed for it: Christians. Many saints went to their deaths as they were fed to wild beasts, fell to the sword, were crucified, and made into human torches. Where’s the Roman Church? Those who are left are deeply underground. And yet, they are not absent. The letter concludes with representatives who remain with Paul.
Ministry is not an Independent Enterprise (vv. 11-13)
“Only Luke is with me. Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service. But Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments.”
One thing that we just cannot escape as we read these verses are the mass number of names. Ministry assumes people. The word ministry (διακονία) literally means service and service assumes there are people to serve. But this service is not ever a one-man show. Even the great apostle Paul is actually in need of people.
The Blessing of Luke – This statement that only Luke remains is not a back-handed lament (All I have with me is stinkin Luke!). This is statement that commends Luke’s faithfulness. Luke has been with Paul since his second missionary journey where Paul and his team picked him up in Troas (Acts 16:8-10). The careful reader will note that Luke records the team coming to Troas in the third person (they came down to Troas) but the team leaves Troas recorded in the first person (When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia). Luke is now with the mission team.
Luke’s faithfulness never wavered. He never left Paul after he was arrested in Jerusalem and followed him to Rome for his audience with Caesar (“When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the solder who was guarding him.” Acts 28:16). Luke remained with Paul during this stay and sends his personal greetings to the Colossian church (4:14) and to Philemon (1:24) right alongside Demas. What is the difference between Luke and Demas? Luke remained.
The Mission of Tychicus – Tychicus is also mentioned as the currier which bore both the letters to the Ephesians (Eph. 6:21) and to the Colossians (Col. 4:7). It seems as if this faithful currier will deliver this very letter into the hands of Timothy. More than this, it seems that Paul is sending Tychicus to Ephesus for the purpose of relieving Timothy. Timothy cannot simply leave the situation in Ephesus and abandon his post. Paul knows this and so is sending a suitable substitute to shepherd the flock in Timothy’s absence.
The Desire for Mark – This is the same Mark who wrote the second (consecutively, third chronologically) gospel account. This is the same (John) Mark who, like Demas, abandoned Paul and Barnabas before they ever reached Galatia (Acts 13:13). This is the same Mark who Paul refused to bring along a second time and eventually broke company with Barnabas over this decision (Acts 15:36-41). And this is the same Mark who we find in Rome with Paul during his house arrest (Philemon 1:24).
At first Mark seemed to be just another Demas, one who loved this world more than the coming of Christ. Yet Mark repented and was restored. Now, he is a dear brother who is useful for service. Timothy is told to bring this faithful man along.
The Requests of and for Timothy – Let us not overlook the obvious request for Timothy. Paul’s urgency is not subtle. He begins with a call for speed (v. 9) and ends with another more specific call to get to Rome before winter sets in (v. 21). Paul, the great preacher, evangelist, and church planter is in need of people. No minister is an island. No Christian is a maverick. Ministry assumes and requires people.
Many a discussion is spent over these items Paul requests of Timothy; his cloak, his books, and especially the parchments. At the end of the day, Paul is a man who is in need. He desires the most basic human comfort of warmth in his dark dank dungeon. If Timothy would be so kind as to bring his cloak, Paul would be grateful. But in addition to human comfort, he desires his collection of books and in particular the parchments, those writings made of tanned animal skins. It is most likely that Paul is referring to his personal copies of the Scriptures. He’s asking Timothy to bring him his Bible. Not only will his personal copy of the Word of God bring comfort and courage in these final days, but he will require written evidence in order to mount his final defense. We’ll speak more of this in minute.
Ministry is Dangerous (vv. 14-15)
“Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching.”
Evil Human Agents – It is doubtful that this is the same Alexander who Paul personally excommunicated before Timothy took his post in Ephesus (1 Tim. 1:20). Ever since the famous career of Alexander the Great some 300 years before this, “Alexander” became a common name in antiquity. This man did Paul much harm, but the harm was done in Rome, not in Ephesus. This is a warning to Timothy to avoid this man once he comes Rome. The details of this harm are not clear, but the context suggests that this has something to do with Paul’s first hearing. When Paul says the he vigorously opposed our teaching it may be better understood as Paul’s testimony or defense. Paul uses λόγος (word/saying) rather than διδασκαλία (teaching/doctrine). It is likely that this Alexander bore testimony against Paul that damaged his defense that was eagerly accepted by the judge.
Ministry is never a neutral activity. As we stand as heralds for King Jesus, we must understand that every single person we encounter is either a loyal subject to the King or has sworn to be His eternal enemy. In such a case, they will not only oppose the King, but also the King’s heralds. They do not play by any rules and seek any means necessary to silence the voice of the King.
Divine Justice – This is not an embittered imprecation from a wounded man. Alexander’s deeds have not only wounded Paul but have discredited the testimony of the gospel. Paul does not seek personal vengeance but plainly states that the Lord will correct this great wrong as Alexander will stand before the Lord who will judge the living and the dead and be forced to give an account. Paul is not bitter. He leaves room for the wrath of God.
Remain Wary – This does not mean that Timothy should be naïve or foolish. Coming to Rome at such a time to be with such a person as Paul will naturally draw unwanted attention from men like Alexander. Timothy should avoid him at all costs. We must all have courage to stand in the face of opposition. But that is not the same as recklessly throwing ourselves upon the enemies’ swords.
Ministry is Always Victorious (vv. 16-18)
“At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me, in order that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was delivered out of the lion’s mouth. The Lord will deliver me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Surface Level Discouragement – Paul stood before the Roman court utterly alone. We might be perplexed by this because we know that Luke was with him as well as a few faithful followers in Rome. Why then were they not there? Paul does not mean that he was devoid of any and all fellowship, but that there was no one of stature who stood by his side at the time of his first hearing.
It was customary for a defendant to have the support of influential people who would have physically stood at the side of the accused and thereby given their support, name, and reputation for his cause. This would have been done to influence the judge to either acquit the accused or, if found guilty, minimize the sentence. There were none who stood by Paul to lend their support. Who are these individuals? We do not know, because they failed to show up. Yet Paul is not angry or embittered. In fact he intercedes on their behalf. They were weak-hearted, not false hearted. They lacked the courage to stand at the appointed time, as Mark did in Acts 13. They were not apostates as Demas proved to be.
Divine Support to Accomplish the Mission – Yet Paul was not truly alone. Men of influence may have abandoned him, but the King of kings and Lord of lords stood by his side and lent to Paul all of His influence and power to preach the gospel to all the Gentiles.
Remember the charge against Paul: Religio Illicita or inciting an illicit religion. Paul’s main defense was that he was not guilty of this charge on the grounds that Judaism was an accepted religion under Roman law and all he was doing was preaching the good news that the Jewish Messiah has come in the flesh and will come again. His defense would have been a detailed explanation of the gospel beginning in Genesis and running through the birth, life, death, burial, resurrection, and promised return of Jesus Christ. Paul’s first imprisonment would have ended with a small audience before Caesar. But now, as an accused criminal of the state, Paul is preaching to a packed house with all the cosmopolitan culture of Rome in attendance. Perhaps this is why Paul was left standing without human support, so that he might be free to speak plainly the gospel of Christ to the whole of Rome.
Assurance of Victory – Paul references another faithful servant of God sentenced to death by the king; namely, Daniel. God spared Daniel from the lion’s mouth and so too was Paul spared after his first hearing. It was entirely possible that Paul would have been convicted, sentenced, and executed after that first hearing. But God spared him and thus allowed him to write this final letter. Paul does not hold out hope of his release but clings to his assurance of freedom. He will keep his date with the executioner. But this will end in victory. Upon Paul’s death he will be free of any additional evil the world could contrive. Upon his death he will be welcomed into the Father’s heavenly kingdom. This statement of assurance that the Lord will rescue him from every evil deed is assurance that he will die and immediately be ushered to glory!
Ministry Continues until the Lord Returns (vv. 19-22)
“Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus remained at Corinth, but Trophimus I left sick at Miletus. Make every effort to come before winter. Eubulus greets you, also Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brethren. The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.”
Until the Lord returns, ministry does not cease. Paul has just, maybe a day or two earlier, survived his first hearing and does not know how much time he has left. But he uses this time to minister.
Care for Those Who Remain – We last see Priscilla (or Prisca) and Aquilla in Rome (Rom. 16:3), but it seems that they have returned to Ephesus where they spent time ministering in the past (Acts 18:18-28). What comfort to know that such a stalwart couple was standing with Timothy. Timothy, please greet these beloved saints for me.
With these he includes Onesiphorus’ family. It is they who are without their head as he is here with me. Timothy, ensure that they are cared for.
Never Desert the Faithful – Paul mentions two men who would have been known to Timothy. Erastus was Timothy’s traveling companion to Macedonia before Paul left for Jerusalem (Acts 20:22) while Trophimus came from the same area of Galatia as did Timothy (Acts. 20:4). Paul mentions them here to inform Timothy that they have not deserted but also that they may be in need of support. Timothy must personally rush to Paul, but perhaps he should send men to minister to these saints.
Proceed in the Strength and Grace of the Lord – Timothy is again urged to come before winter. The winter storms will make travel almost impossible and it is not even certain that Paul will be alive that long. He is to make all possible speed to come to Paul now. And yet Paul’s final words are not pointed at himself but are spent ministering to his beloved son in the faith.
He prays for the Lord to be with Timothy’s spirit, for God did not give Timothy a spirit of cowardice but of power, love, and disciple (2:7). This is a prayer for Timothy to fight the good fight, finish the course, and keep the faith in the power of the Lord. This is a prayer for Timothy to remain faithful as he trusts fully and only in the power of Christ. The final four words, grace be with you, state so much in so little space. This is a blessing as well as a charge. If the grace or favor (χάρις) of God is to be with Timothy, it implies that God shows His grace to Timothy. On the one hand, it is a blessing that reminds Timothy that his very life is a gracious gift from the Almighty by His grace. On the other hand, it is a charge to conduct the remainder of his life and ministry in a right standing with God as a true recipient of this grace.
Paul is ever the minster, ever the encourager, and ever the preacher. Doubtlessly these words were read through tears as Timothy immediately begins packing his bags to go and be with his mentor, father, and friend. We do not know if Timothy made it in time. But we do know Timothy followed the faithful example of his mentor.
Church tradition tells us that Timothy would later return to Ephesus where he zealously preached the gospel until 97 A.D. (30 years later). It was here that the pagans in Ephesus were about to hold a celebration to their pagan gods which involved riotous and sometimes violent processions through the city. Timothy is said to have stood before the procession in order to rebuke their idolatry and was violently attacked for his trouble. He died of his wounds two days later, a faithful soldier of Christ Jesus. He had fought the good fight, finished his course, and valiantly kept the faith.
We must completely eradicate from our thinking that one can be a Christian while at the same time have a life of ease. Every Christian is a minister, a servant within the body of Christ. Ministry is hard, lonely, dangerous work that will likely cost you your life, liberty, and the pursuit of earthly happiness. There are many who are faithless pretenders like Demas. They stick around until their lives are at stake and then jump ship. There are many weak-hearted flakes who cower in the corners and silently observe the struggle, never taking up cause. But praise be to God, there is always a faithful few who endure. Paul was such a one as these. With his dying breath he calls Timothy to emulate his ministry. With Timothy’s dying breath he proved to be like his mentor Paul and like his Master Christ. May we be found just as faithful. Soli Deo Gloria!