Gospel Partnerships
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Gospel Partnerships

2 Timothy 4:9–22  (ID: 3663)

Relationships are a precious and weighty influence on a pastor’s ministry. Even the apostle Paul could not fulfill his calling alone and felt vulnerable to the affections of those around him. In this message, Alistair Begg teaches from the end of Paul’s letters to Timothy, admonishing us to value our co-laborers and be mindful of our greetings and farewells. Every pastor will benefit from loyal and useful friendships, which serve as channels of God’s love and affection from one to another.

Series Containing This Sermon

Basics 2024

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 23522

Sermon Transcript: Print

Jesus is the one, as we know, who leads us in our worship. Jesus is the one for whose voice we are listening when the Bible is opened up for us. But let me encourage you as pastors to be bold enough to take the initiative in the way in which your praise is structured in your churches. If you don’t, someone else will take charge of that, and you will find yourself having to negotiate things. And so, if you have an opening, an opportune moment, to be able to give the kind of guidance that you think is important for the congregation—not everybody likes every song, but we want the family to be united in song. It seems a strange idea to have, you know, my children in one room, singing their songs, and then others in another room because they don’t like those songs. We’re a family, and we’re going to make sure that the lyrics are biblical and the melody line is singable, and we’re not going to worry unduly about whether it came from the Middle Ages or from contemporary ages. That’s just a word in passing.

Second Timothy and chapter 4 and from verse 9. This is our text for this morning. Paul writes,

“Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he[’s] very useful to me for ministry. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

“Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. Erastus remained at Corinth, and I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus. Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers.

“The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.”

Father, what we know not please teach us. What we have not please give us. What we are not please make us. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Well, I don’t know if you read the acknowledgments in books. I’m not sure that I always do. But I was traveling back with my wife, and I was reading. I was reading a novel by a lady called Adriana Trigiani. It’s kind of a ladies’ book, I think. I’m almost embarrassed to tell you about it. But her most famous book is The Shoemaker’s Wife. And her most recent book is called The Good Left Undone. Just the title itself intrigued me. And since some years ago I had read The Shoemaker’s Wife, I wanted to read this book. It is a quite fascinating book that has to do with the period of World War II and the Italian lady who falls in love with a Scottish sea captain. And that’s enough to put you to sleep, I’m sure.

But I was enjoying the book so much that as the plane was moving into the final stages, I had completed it, and I just went through the acknowledgments—just read through them. It didn’t mean very much to me until I came on a name that I knew. “I know this person.” This lady, she lives in Cleveland. She’s the wife of a friend of mine. And so it intrigued me. And I said, “Well, that’s fascinating. I wonder how she got into the acknowledgments.” And then I began to think about acknowledgments, and I discovered that some people actually like to read the acknowledgments first, because it gives to them a kind of behind-the-scenes indication of what is happening in the writing process and also an insight in some way into the writer himself.

Those things have been in my mind as I have thought about these closing verses of this passage here in 2 Timothy. I think you would agree that the eighth verse seems to provide a fairly striking and suitable end to his letter. He’s already given the charge. He has explained that he is on his way out;[1] he’s in the departure lounge, as it were, waiting for his call. He’s explained that the crown that is to be awarded is not unique to him, but it is to everybody else who loves the appearing of Jesus.

Incidentally, who does love the appearing of Jesus? Is it all those people who started up again when the eclipse came around? Isn’t it amazing? You only need a little movement in the sky, and out they come from the woodwork again. I told my congregation, “Leave the soothsayers alone. Leave them alone.” Augustine was good. He says he who loves the coming of the Lord is not he who says it is near nor he who says it is afar off, but it is he who, whether it be near or afar off, awaits it with all his heart. That’s what Paul’s talking about here.

And then it would seem… And we’re not helped, I don’t think, by the little gap that is here in the ESV that I’m using. This is the way the Bible has been formatted for us. And it almost helps to bridge the rather striking contrast between the sort of high end of verse 8: “… [and] all who [love] his appearing. Do your best to come to me soon.” Well, that is quite amazing, is it not? How do you go from “all who [love] his appearing” to “Timothy, could you come as soon as possible?”

Paul’s Longing for Timothy

Well, it gives us an insight into the nature of the one who’s writing: that it was clearly a lonely experience for him. And his desire to see his friend we considered, again, in some measure last evening. He had told Timothy that he longed to see him.[2] He longed to see him. The verb is a big verb. It means to yearn after something. It’s actually used by Paul on a number of occasions when he writes to the Philippians.[3] He is expressing the fact that he yearns after them. He yearns after them. In writing to the Thessalonians, he says to them, you know, “Timothy has come, and he has brought us good news of you—good news of your faith. And he has told us that you long to see us even as we long to see you.”[4] And the depth of this is obvious, and it is important. The fact that Paul has already stated that he longs for the appearing of Jesus and he shares that longing with others does not mean that he is no longer interested in the arrival of Timothy. In fact, he moves directly from the longing that is related to seeing Jesus to the genuine desire of his heart to see Timothy.

The fact that Paul’s engagement with the ‘then’ was so precious to him actually made the ‘now’ more significant to him.

Paul’s heart is heavy. His feet, though, are planted firmly on the ground. We would say that his head is still in the game, to pick up from the rugby analogies earlier. You will never forget the talk this morning. We were just singing that song, “Who else could do this, and who else could do that?”[5] Who else kicks a rugby ball around in the course of Basics? Only a Rico Tice. That’s the answer to it.

His heart is in heaven, but his feet are on the ground. It’s a real tension, isn’t it, when people seem to have some kind of heavenly dimension that has removed them? He’s announced the fact that his mission is accomplished.[6] But he doesn’t then declare that the rest of his earthly pilgrimage is somehow or another irrelevant.

You see, the fact that Paul’s engagement with the then was so precious to him actually made the now more significant to him. I love the hymn that has the lines

Heav’n above is softer blue;
Earth around is sweeter green;
Something lives in every hue
[That] Christless eyes have never seen.
[But] birds with gladder songs o’erflow
[And earth] with deeper beauties shine,
[Now] I know, as now I know,
[That] I am his, and he[’s] mine.[7]

“He watches over my going out and my coming in, from this time forth and forevermore.”[8] Paul is on his way out. He’s already announced the fact. He’s told Timothy that he wants him to continue in the faith.[9] But he now tells him that he wants his company. Look at this sentence: “Do your best to come to me soon.” What do you think that meant for Timothy? He got to read this out, you know, in a public hearing. Must have made him feel special! “He wanted to see me. He wanted to see me!”

Relationships are precious, aren’t they? You know, we rejoice in a Christian love that is unimpaired by distance or by time. We’re brought into the family, as we were considering last evening. And therefore, relationships are important, and they’re precious.

As I was preparing for this, I had a little precious moment of my own, if I can share it with you. Christopher Ash has been mentioned this morning, and rightly so. He’s been with us on previous occasions. We’ve been in his company, some of us to our benefit. But in the last couple of weeks, he sent me a note saying that he was going to, in the will of God, be speaking in Canada in the foreseeable future, and he had thought to himself that he might take the crazy idea of coming across the lake and visiting us here at Parkside. Well, I wrote back to him, and I said, “What’s the time frame?” He wrote back and told me the time frame. I personally will not be here during that period of time. And so I wrote back to him, and I said, “This will be a lovely thing for the congregation, but unfortunately, I will miss out.” He wrote back and said, “I didn’t want to come and see the congregation. I wanted to come and see you.” And I said to myself at my desk, “That is very, very kind.”

Paul’s Desertion by Demas

“Do your best to come and see me.” Because Timothy’s presence will go part of the way at least to offsetting—verse 10—Demas’s absence. “For Demas, in love with [the] present world, has deserted me and [he’s] gone to Thessalonica.”

Now, when you read others of Paul’s letters again—for example, in Colossians 4—Demas is a close associate of Paul’s in Colossians 4;[10] also in Philemon, which comes after Titus, you will remember: “Epaphras, … and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, [these are] my fellow workers.”[11]

“Do your best to come and see me soon.” Let’s not miss the fact that he doesn’t say, “Listen, I have Jesus, and that’s all I need. I don’t need anyone else.” That would be a silly thing to say, wouldn’t it? It wouldn’t be true, either. We’ve no basis for assuming that somehow or another, the apostle Paul was a superhero. He wasn’t.

Somehow, Demas had got off track. People speculate about what it might have been. We don’t actually know. He left for Thessalonica. Were things more exciting in Thessalonica? He decide, “I want to go somewhere where it’s a bit more engaging”? Perhaps in Thessalonica, things would be a little less demanding. And we don’t know whether this was to be a temporary lapse, whether it was the result of a series of small compromises, whether it was a diminished interest in the crown which is to be awarded to all who long for his appearing.[12] Had Demas sort of lost sight of the then, and it had impacted him in the now? Well, there’s no doubt that Demas is there for us, at least in 2 Timothy, as a warning to us.

Paul is clearly very sensitive about being deserted. He mentions the fact in chapter 1, doesn’t he? He says, “You need to know that the folks in Asia have deserted me.”[13] Well, the reason he mentions that is not to draw attention to it but simply to acknowledge it. He’s not flying above it! He’s not saying, “It doesn’t really matter. I don’t care about those people in Asia anyway. I have Jesus. That’s all that matters.” No: “They deserted me.”

And frankly, there are a lot of empty seats. His small group is smaller, if you just look: “Titus—he went to Dalmatia. Crescens has gone to Galatia. Tychicus—I sent him to Ephesus. Carpus—he’s in Troas. Erastus has gone to Corinth. Trophimus is in Miletus.”

Now, Paul, I think, is clearly a vulnerable old clay pot. That was his picture: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels in order that the transcendent power might be seen to belong to God and not to us.”[14] He wrote that because he understood it. Paul was uniquely gifted. Paul was powerful in his influence under God. In fact, he was so capable that he tells us that there was given him a “thorn … in the flesh, a messenger [from] Satan,” to keep him “from becoming conceited.”[15] “So that I didn’t get a fat head,” he says, “God has orchestrated the events of life in such a way that this sense of weakness that is mine, which the Evil One seeks to turn into a horrible situation, comes to me under God.” And it is in that context, in that sense of vulnerability, in that awareness of what he’s dealing with that he’s able to write this final letter.

Paul’s Delight in Relationships

But look at that lovely sentence: “Luke alone is with me.” “Luke alone is with me.” It’s really quite wonderful, isn’t it? “Our dear friend Luke, the doctor,”[16] as he refers to him when he writes to the church in Colossae. There’s no indication that Luke was a great evangelist, that he was full of great ideas, that he was a compelling leader. There’s no indication of that. But his contribution to the kingdom of God was substantial. And in what did it lie? This: faithful to Christ; faithful to his brothers and sisters in Christ; and, particularly, faithful to Paul, the servant of Christ. The servant of Christ.

When you’re down and troubled,
And you need a helping hand
And nothing, [no], nothing is going right.

That’s James Taylor, in case you thought it was in the Bible.

Hey, ain’t it good to know
That you’ve got a friend?
People can be so cold.
They’ll hurt you,
… Desert you,
… Take your soul
If you let them.
[Whoa, now], … don’t you let them.[17]

If I was Rico, I would say I want you just to turn to your neighbor and tell ’em all that you’re feeling and… But I’m not going to do that. But you might like just to, somewhere in the course of the day, scribble down your list—many names, unlikely names, names that wouldn’t be famous names, but names of people who continue to mark your life because of their faithfulness to Christ, faithfulness to his church, and faithfulness to you.

T. S. Mooney—and there’s a fellow here from Northern Ireland; I was asking him about T. S—T. S. was regarded as the kind of Archbishop of Canterbury of the Presbyterian Church in Northern Ireland. He was a very interesting little man. He died in his eighties. He was a Crusader class leader. He led a boys’ Bible class for fifty years of his life. He’s buried in Londonderry. He was the master of the one-lines, as I think I’ve told you before. I asked him on one occasion, “Why have you never married?” and he said, “Well, in my case, the desirable was always unattainable, and the attainable was always undesirable.” And then, not to outdo himself, he followed it up by saying, “I’d rather go through life wanting what I don’t have than having what I don’t want.” I said, “Better than you realize, you’ve just answered my question as to why you were never married.”

But one of the chapters in a little book that was put together by a number of those who knew him—one of the chapters in the book is simply called “The Minister’s Man.” “The Minister’s Man.” And his minister in the Presbyterian Church essentially said, “If I could count on one individual who would be there when the prayer meeting began, it would be T. S. If I thought there was someone who was on a business trip but would be back in time for the evening service, it would be T. S.”[18] He was a faithful soul. In fact, he used to say that there would be no justification for a member of the congregation’s absence from the church service—that if it was legitimate for them to be gone, then it would be legitimate for the minister to be gone. And if it was illegitimate for the minister to be gone, then it is unthinkable that they would be gone.

Now, when you think along these lines, you realize just, again, how important these folks are. And as we consider Luke himself and the nature of friendship, it’s set now in the context of a very different world. Even to speak in these terms about friendship in the climate of our day is to appear almost anachronistic. Eric Felten, a journalist with the Wall Street, wrote recently,

Our modern, rootless times do seem to be a particularly inhospitable environment for loyalty. … What sort of loyalty is there in the age of Facebook, when friendship is a costless transaction, a business of flip reciprocity …? Friendship held together by nothing more permanent than hyperlinks is hardly the stuff of selfless fidelity.[19]

These acknowledgments give us an insight into this mighty apostle’s desire for relationships and his delight in those relationships. Continue a little way; notice: “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry.” Well, we know Mark, don’t we? Isn’t this the guy who had previously bailed out during some rough seas in Acts chapter 13?[20] Hadn’t he become the basis of contention between Paul and Barnabas?[21] Yes and yes. But look! But now, in the goodness of God, Mark has once again become his coworker. Restored relationships are beautiful.

“Get Mark. He is useful for the ministry. And while you’re at it”—and you’ve preached on this, of course, before, about the cloak and the parchments, and who knows what you said about it all? Who knows what I’m about to say about it all? “When you come, please bring the cloak and the books and the parchments.” And we always tell our congregation, “You see? Apostles get cold. Apostles get bored. Apostles get lonely.” And then we say, “And so do we.” And then hopefully they’ll send us a book, and we’ll feel much better.

Now, if you look at this—which I presume you’re actually doing—if things work out as Paul is hoping, he’s going to be spending the last days of his life in the company of three of his most beloved companions: Timothy, Luke, and Mark.

Now, let me have my own little flight of fancy about the parchments. Because everyone wants to know: What are the parchments? Doesn’t it annoy you when people ask questions that there’s no possible answer to? And you want to say, “That’s such a stupid question.” (Don’t say that.) What if the reading materials contained sort of sketch outlines of the Gospel stories which Luke and Mark were later to write? That would then mean that if that was the case—which is conjecture—then Paul would have had some part in the editing of those Gospels. I wonder: In that context, did he urge Mark and urge Luke, “Write down the history of Jesus; it’ll be very, very important”? It’d be quite a transformation, wouldn’t it, for Mark? Part one: “I don’t want him coming along.” Part two: “Get Mark and bring him.” Part three: “Mark, why don’t you try writing a Gospel?”

Paul’s Enablement in the Lord

Now, from verse 14 to verse 18, I want to suggest we have there a particular warning and the story of a wonderful rescue: Paul, vulnerable; Luke, helpful; Mark, useful; Alexander, harmful. “Alexander … did me great harm,” he says. “Many evils to me he has shown.” We don’t know what that was. Was he an informer who was responsible for Paul ending up in this second imprisonment?

Now, you’ll notice Paul’s reaction to this. He’s going to leave the Lord to settle the matter: “Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm. That’s all I have to say on that.” He says, “The Lord will repay him according to his deeds.” This is not about personal injury. He’s not concerned about it in relationship to himself, because look at what he goes on to say: “Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message.” Timothy needs to be on guard, because the opposition is to the message, which is Paul’s great concern. “I charge you to continue in the things that you have learned, knowing those from whom you have learned them and how from infancy you have known the Scriptures, making you wise for salvation. Now, stand firm in this, Timothy.[22] And therefore, you should watch for a character like Alexander. His opposition is to the gospel, which is at the heart of what we’re doing.”

Paul was opposed. We know that he’d been deserted because of the message he proclaimed. But once again, he doesn’t bear any grudge. You know, to be deserted and not to be disgruntled is an evidence of God’s goodness. He’s deserted, but he’s not disgruntled about it. He doesn’t allow it to become the occasion of bitterness or of resentment. It actually proves to be the occasion in which he makes this amazing discovery of the Lord’s enablement—verse 17: “At my first defense,” you remember, “no one came to stand by me.” (“They all deserted me then.”) “May it not be charged against them!” (“Let that go.”) Here: “But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through … the message [that I’ve been given the chance to proclaim] the Gentiles might hear it.”

Now, I listened carefully to Johnny and to Andy yesterday afternoon. And if you haven’t done that, I’m sure you have it on your plans for today. And I tracked right along with all that was shared. And when they came to the part where they talked about Derek’s quiet time—“I’m going to be quiet now”—and when they said it was his pattern to find, if you like, a nugget that he would take with him into the day, I said to myself, “I remember that so well.” And it made me think of one in particular, when, in our lunchtime staff meeting, he was guiding our thoughts. And he said that what he had taken for the day was the two verses, Psalm 118:13–14, which had been the reading for the day. And these two verses read,

I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
 but the Lord helped me.

The Lord is my strength and my song;
 he has become my salvation.

And he said, “You’ll see the progression there, don’t you? Pushed hard, falling, helped, strengthened, singing, saved.”

That’s what Paul is saying here: “That’s exactly what I experienced. But the Lord stood by me, and he gave me his strength.” “When all around my soul gives way,” he might have sung with us, “he then is all my hope and stay.”[23] Every attempt that the Roman government had had to devour him—the “lion,” if you like, of the Roman government: “I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.” “The devil is a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour,[24] but I was rescued. Every attempt has been unsuccessful. And so I’m confident that the Lord will rescue me from every evil deed.” (“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”[25]) “And having rescued me, he will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Paul’s Gospel Partnerships

But then there’s another wee bit, 19–22: “Greet [Priscilla] and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus.”

Well, let’s just think of Onesiphorus for a moment. What a wonderful person Onesiphorus must have been! You can do this as your homework and check that these verses are actually where I think they are, since I can’t remember where they are myself right now. The devotion of Onesiphorus shines, actually, very brightly. Yeah, there it is in 1:16.

Incidentally and in passing, you don’t want to get yourself in the list like Phygelus and Hermogenes[26]—you know, “Hey, I’m on the list.” “Yeah, but why are you on the list?” “They remember me.” “Yeah, but why do they remember you?” You’re not that deacon that, no matter what was going on in the meeting, wanted to be minuted—that “I personally stood out against this ridiculous idea.” And now, all these years later, when you read through the minutes, you’re remembered for that ridiculous idea, which seemed perfectly sensible to everybody else.

Anyway, Phygelus and Hermogenes, they’re on the dark side of the moon, but Onesiphorus is there quite wonderfully: “May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus.” Why? “Because he often refreshed me. He wasn’t ashamed of my chains. When he arrived in Rome, he searched for me earnestly, and he found me.”[27] Obviously, he’d gone to a great deal of trouble in order that he might provide comfort to the imprisoned apostle. And what he’s actually saying as he’s drawing letter to a close is “God bless him and his family. I remember him with fondness.”

In my notes, on a similar vein to the T. S. Mooney anecdote, I have—and I can’t remember its source, but it has to do, fascinatingly, with a man called Mr. Smith. It almost seems like an invention now: “Concerning the Death of Mr. Smith.” It was an obituary that I read: “The Death of Mr. Smith.” (Sounds like a great book title, incidentally.) But this is what the minister had to say about the absence of Mr. Smith: “A great blank, emptiness, was created in the church by his death. A Sabbath morning without his kindly visit to the vestry was difficult to imagine. He left behind him the fragrance of an honorable name and a cherished memory.” Mr. Smith! How many Mr. Smiths have there been in all the world? And yet, here, one day we will see him. Onesiphorus, you see, lived his life so as to be missed.

And in many ways, these kind of individuals that make up so large a part of our lives and our ministry, they’re scattered all around us. They’re united with us. They’re in our phone calls, in our letters. They’re in our hearts. And some we’ve never met and never will meet. I love it when people write stuff like this: “Thank you for meeting me nearly every morning on YouTube.” I never met him! “The time helps me prepare for the day at Walmart. Much like the music of Fernando Ortega, I love praying for my customers. It is my place of ministry. Opportunities abound!” Well, that’s a blessing, isn’t it? He sees. He understands. He came, and he heard, and he went to tell. And he’s looking for people to tell, praying for the people that—in the old song, you know:

Lead me to some soul today;
… Teach me, Lord, just what to say;
Friends of mine are lost in sin
And cannot find their way.[28]

“Help me.” What a wonderful person this is! Steven, whoever he is—like an Onesiphorus.

But it’s not just Onesiphorus that he mentions here. Priscilla and Aquila. Consider the providences of God in the life of Saul of Tarsus: the role that this fellow Ananias was given to play—a reluctant servant of Jesus, we’d have to say, and yet uniquely involved. And when Claudius has determined that the Christians are to be driven out of Rome, included in that exodus you find a couple, Priscilla and Aquila.[29]

Presumably… And I was just watching a series called We Were the Lucky Ones about the Second World War and the invasion of Poland and the evacuation of the Jews. And the pictures that are there are so graphic: “You’ve got to get up. You’ve got to get out. You’ve got to be gone. They’re coming for us.” Priscilla and Aquila: “We’ll get up. We’ll get out. We’ll go on. We’ll end up in Corinth.”

What a happy thing that the disruption led to the relocation, that it caused them to make their way to Corinth! And if we had the opportunity to bring them back now and do a little interview with them, they would have said, “I could never have imagined that out of that disruption and putting us in that place, there would be the opportunities that became ours in the gospel.” Because remember, when Paul comes into Corinth, he says, “When I came to you, I didn’t come like a bigshot. I’d been let down in a basket through a hole in the wall. I didn’t come in a limousine. I wasn’t dropped in by a helicopter. In fact, I came to you in fear and weakness and in much trembling.”[30]

“Sounds like you could use a couple of friends! I have them here for you.”

You can read it. You can read it. It’s in the Bible—Acts chapter 18. I love it. It just says—Luke says—“He found a Jew.” That’s what it says! “He found a Jew.” Oh, yes, he did. “And he went to see them, and … he stayed with them.”[31] And he discovered that not only did they share his faith, but they shared his trade, for goodness’ sake! What a perfect amalgamation in the providence of God!

Uniquely gifted, greatly used, but not a one-man band. In fact, when you go through the New Testament record, you find that there’s virtually a hundred people or so who are clearly organically involved in some way with Paul. Timothy was a junior partner, but he mattered. And that’s why he’s concerned that he would come. Again he uses the phrase “Do your best to come before winter.” “Give me the opportunity to see you again, Timothy! When will I see you again? When will our hearts be together, to learn, to tolerate, to be tolerated?”

There will be a last time for every journey. The way we say hello and the way we say goodbye really, really matters.

“Eubulus sends greetings to you.” Really? Do you know much of Eubulus? No? I don’t. But you’re not in it either. Don’t you love it when people come up to you and say, “You know, I never knew who you were”? And I always say the same thing: “Isn’t that fascinating? I never knew who you were.” But here’s the phenomenal thing: our heavenly Father knows us both. He knows when we sit down and when we stand up. He knows the words of our mouths before we even speak them. Such knowledge is high! It’s virtually impossible to attain to it, to get our heads around it[32]—that the people that we’re sitting next to right now, that the context into which God has brought us in these few days, is under the sovereign purposes and plans of God. And it’s an amazing and a wonderful thing! And I know you know. We would be happy to be included in the little phrase “and all the brothers.” “And all the brothers”—strong bonds in a love that can’t be eroded.

Paul’s Gracious Partings

So, we consider the amazing providences of God, we consider the blessings of gospel partnerships, and we consider the importance of gracious partings. Gracious partings.

There will be a last time for every journey. That’s not morbid. That’s just fact. It is for that reason that the way we say hello and the way we say goodbye really, really matters. Paul understands this. This is probably Paul’s last written word—famous last words. It’s familiar phraseology, but it’s purposeful phraseology: “The Lord be with your spirit,” and “Grace be with you.” He takes his leave of his readers with a parting blessing, ’cause he knows that Timothy would never outgrow the need of Jesus’ presence, nor will any of us, as God’s people, outgrow the need of his grace.

When I mentioned earlier… And I just finish in this way. It’s in my mind now, which is always dangerous, ’cause there’s so many dangerous things in my mind. But when I was thinking about being with Rico at that Skegness thing, then I remembered being at another thing. And at the other thing that I was at, which was a similar thing, John Wimber, the father of, you know, sort of mainstream charismatic Pentecostalism, was one of the speakers. And he and I would eat together, and then we would go. And in the evenings, what was striking was that he would do some little exposition from the Bible, and then he would close the Bible, and then he would say, “And now we’ll just do ministry.” And then he launched into a dimension of things that held no appeal to me and I don’t actually believe necessarily was particularly helpful to others.

When we would walk to the venue, we had to stop every fifty or sixty yards, because he had such a bad heart. And I said to him, “John! You’re the guy that believes in miraculous healings. You can’t even walk sixty yards without stopping for a breath.”

He said, “Well, God is sovereign in these things.”

I said, “Well, good. You got that part right at least. That’s good.”

And I remember when we came to part from one another, I remember thinking, “This is an older man than me. This guy’s into spiritual geography that I haven’t really paid any attention to at all. But he is a brother in Christ. And one day, we will be in heaven together.” And so, for that reason, in the strange mixture of life at Parkside Church, I actually don’t mind singing one of Wimber’s songs, which goes like this:

Oh, let the Son of God enfold you
With his Spirit and his love;
Let him fill your heart and satisfy your soul.
Oh, [give to him] the things that hold you,
And his Spirit, like a dove,
Will descend upon your life and make you whole.[33]

Essentially, he’s saying, “The Lord Jesus be with you, and grace be with your spirit.”

Father, thank you that you are far bigger than any of us, far wiser, far more merciful. When we have the occasion, perhaps in the afternoon, to walk around and think about the list of people who are part and parcel of our lives—those you have taken to yourself, all these precious relationships—Lord, forgive us for our self-centeredness. Forgive us for a “me” orientation. Forgive us for wanting to take selfies all the time. Lord, may Jesus Christ grow in us, and may, in every real sense, we be lost sight of in the wonder of his grace and goodness.

When we look back on our lives, all of us, “through all the changing scenes of life,”[34] the different bits and pieces, and we sing those songs, we think of the verses that we never sing, like,

When in the slippery paths of youth
With heedless steps I ran,
[Your hand] unseen conveyed me safe
And [brought] me up to man.[35]

And we know, Lord, just to be in the company of one another, that we have every reason to exhort, to encourage one another, to realize that even those who appear to be the most useful are often the most vulnerable and that in that vulnerability there is the fresh discovery of all the grace that each of us needs in order to make much of Christ and far less of ourselves. And we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.


[1] See 2 Timothy 4:6.

[2] See 2 Timothy 1:4.

[3] See Philippians 1:8; 4:1.

[4] 1 Thessalonians 3:6 (paraphrased).

[5] Michael Farren, Jonny Robinson, Dustin Smith, and Rich Thompson, “Only a Holy God” (2016). Paraphrased.

[6] See 2 Timothy 4:7.

[7] George Wade Robinson, “I Am His, and He Is Mine” (1876).

[8] Psalm 121:8 (paraphrased).

[9] See 2 Timothy 3:14.

[10] See Colossians 4:14.

[11] Philemon 23–24 (ESV).

[12] See 2 Timothy 4:8.

[13] 2 Timothy 1:15 (paraphrased).

[14] 2 Corinthians 4:7 (paraphrased).

[15] 2 Corinthians 12:7 (ESV).

[16] Colossians 4:14 (NIV).

[17] Carole King, “You’ve Got a Friend” (1971).

[18] Edgar S. McKinney, “The Minister’s Man,” in Mission Completed: T. S. Mooney of Londonderry, 1907–86, ed. John T. Carson (Lisburn, UK: T. S. M. Books, 1986), 36. Paraphrased.

[19] Eric Felten, Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2011), 2.

[20] See Acts 13:13.

[21] See Acts 15:36–40.

[22] 2 Timothy 3:14–15 (paraphrased).

[23] Edward Mote, “The Solid Rock” (1824).

[24] See 1 Peter 5:8.

[25] Matthew 6:13 (ESV).

[26] See 2 Timothy 1:15.

[27] 2 Timothy 1:16–17 (paraphrased).

[28] William Henry Houghton, “Lead Me to Some Soul Today” (1936).

[29] See Acts 18:2.

[30] 1 Corinthians 2:1–3; 2 Corinthians 11:33 (paraphrased).

[31] Acts 18:2–3 (ESV).

[32] See Psalm 139:2, 4, 6.

[33] John Wimber, “Spirit Song” (1979).

[34] Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady, “Through All the Changing Scenes of Life” (1698).

[35] Joseph Addison, “When All Thy Mercies, O My God” (1712).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.