“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” (2 Timothy 4:21-22 NASB).

Paul’s second letter to his protégé Timothy ended as did many of his letters recorded in Scripture, with graceful send-offs, candid observations, practical requests and a plethora of names you won’t find in today’s top ten lists of popular baby names.  But what set this letter apart from all the others was its sobering reality of journey’s end.

It had all come down to this for Paul.  The finish line of his thirty-year apostolic marathon was now clearly in sight.  Yet, crossing that line would mark the starting point for an even longer run through eternity with God.  Not all have the opportunity to say their final goodbyes.  Death comes suddenly and without warning for so many in this life.  But God allowed Paul one last burst of energetic writing to inspire Timothy and motivate countless believers down through the centuries to pick up the pace, quit jogging aimlessly through life and fulfill the ministry for which they are creatively called by God to accomplish on His behalf.  Paul taught us that Christianity is a relay race of faith.

Although it’s easy to close up the Good Book before reading the last fourteen verses of Second Timothy, resist that urge and “finish the course” as Paul might say, next time you’re tempted to leave the fullness of God’s Word a bit too early.  Listen carefully to Paul’s last recorded words in Scripture—famous to those running the race with Christ.

Notice the urgency in Paul’s voice as he twice uses the phrase, “Make every effort to come,” both soon and before winter (prompting a request for his cloak), in this concluding passage of Paul’s final letter.  Death soon awaited him at the hands of Nero.  Paul’s demise was certain—for himself that is—but definitely not for the Gospel of Christ which would continue expanding exponentially throughout the known world, becoming… well, famous.

Paul was not one to look over his shoulder, even to his infamous early persecution of believers, and he chose instead to focus on what lay ahead.  Yet, this was a rare moment when the footsteps of history were gaining on him, setting up a photo-finish between past and present.  Paul was content with the crown of righteousness that awaited him, preferring it to the withering perishable wreath that he had once spoken of to the Corinthians.  He had coached them in spiritual competition—about running the race to win, not stumbling across the finish line gasping for air.  Paul’s epic marathon lasted three decades and covered incredible milestones.  Yet, the full impact of his race continues to unfold, millennia later, with each new generation evidencing God’s enduring faithfulness.

Notice too, how many names Paul mentions with his final pen strokes—who, with one exception, were helping the cause of Christ—including Mark who had grown in his faith since Paul’s second missionary journey rejection.  Interestingly, Paul first met Timothy while on that trip.  Bottom line, Paul’s marathon was about people, fellow-workers and those who heard the Gospel as a result.  Early on, however, Paul quickly became an enigma to both his former religious allies and his new brethren in Christ.  Both groups feared Paul—either for what he had done or what he was about to do.  Each group reacted differently:  the former predictably hurled their outer robes and dust into the air in disgust while the latter remained understandably wary of Paul’s true identity.  But things turned out better for him than they did for Stephen.  In fact, Jesus sent Paul far away from all the ruckus… to the Gentiles.

Gone too was the pile of cloaks left in Paul’s care at Stephen’s stoning and his enthusiastic support had melted into a pool of genuine repentance, regret and lasting memory expressed, even as Paul spoke to some of his former cohorts about his conversion to Christianity (Acts 22:20-23).  Paul’s final words to Timothy perhaps reveal that his memory of Stephen remained fresh as he wrote, “may it not be counted against them(2 Timothy 4:16) referring to some less than totally-committed fellow-workers… not about his enemies.   Yet, these words do sound familiar.

Indeed, this phrase had come full circle for Paul over a thirty-year span, echoing the final words of Stephen:  a man “full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5), saying, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:60).  Stephen asked God for mercy on those who had laid their outer robes at the feet of Paul’s former mirror image, Saul.  Mercy even for those whose cumbersome robes hindered their throwing accuracy.  So, what held more value:  high quality robes or a man’s life?  Was there more concern over thieves walking off with the robes than there was over taking away Stephen’s life—violating God’s Sixth Commandment etched in stone—in the process?   Jesus stood ready to catch slain Stephen into His waiting arms.  Saul stood ready to catch hold of believers… by the neck, if necessary.  But somewhere along the way to Damascus, that all changed for newly-minted Paul.  Jesus healed many from blindness during His trek to the Cross.   Ironically, Jesus saw fit to heal Saul spiritually with physical blindness.

Perhaps, Paul’s fleshly “thorn” may have resulted from that acute blindness, though we don’t know for sure.  However, the famous last words spoken by Jesus to Paul…“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9) would spur him on, not as a coach yelling from a distance, but as a familiar voice who set the pace, right alongside him, encouraging him whenever he felt like throwing in the towel.  You can hear some of Paul’s discouragement come through his final words as he recalled those who deserted him—at one point, everybody.  But just as Jesus had stood waiting for Stephen, He stood with Paul when he needed it most.

Stephen, as a young disciple of Christ, may have heard the famous Mountainside Sermon, taking to heart Jesus’ interpretation of the Sixth Commandment:  “You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.  But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).  For, as deadly stones rained down upon him, Stephen drew upon this attitude taught by his Lord and perhaps the famous lasting words of his Savior, spoken only seven years earlier… when nails replaced stones and one seamless tunic held more value than an entire stack of robes… at least, now to Paul, who could see life a whole lot clearer.

Your name may not be Eubulus, Pudens, Linus or Claudia… but you can still be among today’s brethren in Christ and the finish line of your own once-in-a-lifetime marathon may come sooner than you think.  Are there people in your life who need to hear personally from you about Jesus?  Are you praying for them?  Can you forgive them even if they won’t forgive you?   Finally, was the last thing they remember hearing from you something that you want to be their lasting impression not just of you but of Christ?  Do something about it while there is still time.  Let your famous lasting words be written by the hand of God and may the lasting impression you leave behind glorify God.

Alan Summers, GBC Elder

All Scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) 1975 edition