One of my seminary professors once made a thought-provoking statement; that if the book of 2 Timothy was to be written today, no Christian publisher would dare send it to print as an example of success in ministry. This is because it is a letter filled with very painful experiences by the Apostle Paul in the final chapter of his life and close of his ministry. Writing to his spiritual son, Timothy, Paul was very frank that “in the last days difficult times will come” (2 Tim 3:1). He reminded Timothy of numerous persecutions he underwent at the various places he preached the Gospel, but still urged the young man to follow in his footsteps despite the perils that lay ahead (3:10, 11).
This was Paul’s last known letter, and at the time of writing, he was in his second and last Roman imprisonment (1:16; 2:9) having been arrested for preaching the Gospel. With no hope of release, he made reference to his impending execution (4:1). Further, close ministry associates had deserted him in his last days. He lamented that, “All who are in Asia turned away from me” (1:15), “Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me” (4:10), and “at my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me” (4:16). Such an outcome would have been unexpected considering Paul was arguably the spiritual father of believers in that entire region.
In his last days he was also impoverished. He urged Timothy to hurry to visit him before winter (4:21) because among other things he expected him to bring along the coat he had left in Troas (4:13) that he may keep warm during winter. He undoubtedly could not afford even a secondhand piece of clothing at the time. And it is because of such predicaments that Timothy himself, to whom Paul sought to hand over his ministry mantle, was tempted to be ashamed of the Gospel. Hence Paul had to exhort him saying, “Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner” (1:8).
It is ironic that during the last days of the ministry of such a great apostle, he was deserted by all and in significant need. This is a period we would expect him to have an unrivaled following and numerous accolades from years of tireless service to Christ. But his biography contrasted that despite sacrificing your life to know and serve the Lord, you will be abandoned by virtually all those close to you, will be persecuted and imprisoned for your faith, will succumb to poverty and suffer need, and that your Christian life will eventually wind up with your execution because of the Gospel you believe and preach.
And that was the story of Paul. When he weighed every form of earthly gain against knowing and pursuing Christ, he considered the former to be worthless. He had earlier recounted to the Philippian church, a church he identified as one of those that suffered “deep poverty” (2 Cor 8:2), that:
“Whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own… but that which is through faith in Christ.” (Phil 3:7-9)
For Paul, the value of life was no longer about personal gain but rather forgoing it for the sake of knowing Christ, and now even more that he was about to lose his life for Him. In his own confession, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). Hence God Himself published the material in 2 Timothy, and has maintained its circulation for 2000 years that we may continue to read and learn from it.
But the life story of Paul is not to be confused as the testimony of a man who deserves Christianity’s lifetime achievement award, nor is it advocating a vow of poverty for Christians, for it is God Himself who blesses materially. Rather, the life of Paul is more of a testimony about God Himself. It is the testimony that outside of knowing God and having a relationship with Him through the work of His Son Jesus Christ when He died on the cross for our sins, there is no real value in life and its pursuits, especially considering the eternal implications.
The eternal implications are such that, just as the Lord maintained a sound record of Paul’s life, He is equally maintaining written records of our lives in books that He will use as the basis for eternal judgment upon unrepentant sinners. In Revelation, the Apostle John confirmed that:
“I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it… And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened… and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds (Rev 20:11-12).
If such a book was published concerning your life today, how would the final chapter read? Would it conclude with the account of an unrepentant life filled with pursuit of personal gain at the expense of knowing and following Christ; or like Paul, a truly repentant life of faith that has found value in Christ, the only source of true gain? Depending on which ending you ascribe to, eternity will either be spent in a new perfect beginning with the Lord, or in punishment for sin in the lake of fire (Rev 20:13-21:8).