Some famous last words:
“I can’t sleep.” – J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan.
“I’ll finally get to see Marilyn.” – Joe DiMaggio, baseball player formerly married to Marilyn Monroe.
“I give my soul to God, my body to the earth, and my worldly possessions to my nearest of kin, charging them to remember the sufferings of Jesus Christ.” – Michelangelo, painter.
Last words are fascinating. We want to know: did the person say something meaningful? Did they summarize their life well? Though not everyone gets to choose the last thing they will say, some, when given the rare opportunity, make the most of it, like Michelangelo.
Today’s Scripture reading from 2 Timothy includes Paul’s last recorded words. They are, of course, not the last words he spoke (presumably), but they are the last lines of the last existing letter he wrote before being martyred for his faith. So they are the last word we have from Paul. And I don’t know about you, but I love them.
I love that Paul charges Timothy to preach the Word of God faithfully, noting that it will not always be a welcome message. I love that Paul reflects on his own life and concludes, before God, that he has run his own race to its end, and is finishing well. I love that he is ending his life with a lot of faithful friends around him. And I love that he asks Timothy to bring him his books and his coat because winter is coming. These last verses of 2 Timothy deal with both the theological and the practical—both of which are deeply spiritual.
A few years back, I became seriously ill and had to put my own house in order. I recovered, but ever since then I’ve thought about the end of my own life quite a bit. I wonder what I will say, who will be around me, where I’ll be, and how I’ll experience the presence of God in that moment. There is an old Puritan prayer that makes me laugh, in which the writer asks God to let him die in a particular way. He writes:
“Prepare me for death, that I may not die after long affliction or suddenly, but after short illness, with no confusion or disorder, and a quiet discharge in peace, with adieu to brethren. Let not my days end like lumber in a house, but give me a silent removing from one world to another.”
I love the courage in those words, in essence, saying, If it’s all the same to you, Lord, let me go in this way.
I suppose what I love most about both that old Puritan prayer and Paul’s last words in 2 Timothy is the way they express a confident hope that the gospel they’ve clung to all these years is still true, burning like a light that attracts these soon-to-depart brothers to their Maker.
May you and I, when we come to our own ends in this life, have such an affection for the Lord as Paul. May we not be questioning the truth of the gospel, but rather may we be chained to it. Until then, let me conclude with Paul’s last words from this letter: “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you all” (2 Timothy 4:22).
Written by Russ Ramsey