Some Things That Really Matter!
II Timothy 4:6-22
On the second Sunday in September of 1968, I stepped into the pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church of Kilgore, Texas and thus began my ministry under the call of Jesus Christ As a result, on this particular Sunday every year since, I always do two things. I always have us sing “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken,” the hymn with which my first worship service began. And I always preach a sermon designed to reflect some of my personal feelings about the ministry and about the church. Today, then, I would like to speak to you from the theme: “Some Things That Really Matter”…
This little news item recently appeared in the newspaper in Little Rock, Arkansas, so it must be true. It read: “The request last week actually reached a state church headquarters in Little Rock. Denominational officials in New York were updating their records. The request read: ‘Please send a list of all ordained ministers broken down by sex.’ The reply faxed off to New York was this: ‘We don’t have any in that category, but a lot are being overcome by old age.'”
Well, I’ve been in the ministry now for more than a quarter of a century and the rapidly passing years are having an effect. I suppose that’s why a statement I read the other day caught my attention. “Dying words of great saints form speech at its best and most beautiful. Last words of great saints reveal the essence of their lives.” In other words, if you pay attention to what great Christians say near the end of their lives, you will discover the things that really matter in the Christian life. Paul is a splendid example. Scholars agree that his second letter to Timothy was written just weeks or days, if not hours, before his death. The letter contains his last words. He acknowledges that death is near, that time is running out. He asks his young friend, Timothy, to bring him some things that really matter and to do it before it is too late. He says: “Timothy, please come before Winter.” Why before Winter? Because Paul knew that the Mediterranean Sea was too hazardous for Winter sailing by first century ships, and Paul knew that if Timothy waited until Spring to make the journey, it would be too late. Paul would be dead. So he said: “Timothy, do your best to come to me soon. Do your best to come before Winter.”
Now over the years, many preachers have taken that text, “Come before Winter,” and used it to remind people not to put off until tomorrow what ought to be done today because sometimes tomorrow never comes. I myself preached a sermon on that text a few years back. It drew a warm response. In fact, one couple, Steve and Bernadette Brown, were moved by that sermon to renew their commitment to Jesus Christ and to join this church—perhaps there were others I was not aware of, but the Browns told me of their experience—and what great members they have become.
But, you know, one of the things that occurs to me now is that sermons built around that text tend to focus on the urgency of the moment, but they pay scant attention to the actual request Paul made. Therefore today I want to zero in on those things, because those things are so necessary for our growth in Christ. They are the things that really matter. They mattered to Paul. They matter to me. They matter to this church. Here they are…
First Paul says: “Timothy, come before Winter and bring my parchments.” In other words, one of the things that really matters for us as Christians is to wake our souls.
Paul says: “Bring my parchments, above all else, bring my parchments.” Now the only things written on parchment in those days were holy words. What Paul is asking for is his Bible. He wants the Scriptures. We know that Paul was a great student of the Scriptures because first of all he was a Pharisee. And the Pharisees devoted their lives to the study of Scripture and because also he repeatedly quoted from the Old Testament Scriptures in his New Testament writings. Paul loved the Word of God written. Paul loved his Bible. Little wonder. He understood that the greatest ideas and ideals, the noblest dreams and deeds of humankind have had their nativity and then been nourished and nurtured by this Book.
However, the ignorance of many people in the church today with regards to the Scriptures is quite amazing and downright appalling. There was a time when a preacher could stand in the pulpit and make an incidental reference to a Bible story and everybody would know immediately the story being cited. No more. And I think it is largely the fault of the clergy in our time. There are too many ministers who believe that congregations want to hear about things other than the Bible. There are too many ministers who proclaim their own words rather than the word of God. That’s why it was so encouraging to me last week to get a letter from one of the families who joined our church recently saying that the reason they took that step is because in this church the Bible is believed and honored and exalted and preached and taught and studied and obeyed.
I read this book every day of my life. I read it in the sunlit days of my experience, and I read it in the dark nights of my soul. I read it when I am believing and I read it when I am unbelieving. I read it when I am strong and I read it when I am weak. I have never yet cracked open its pages without discovering some new treasure. I have never been able to encompass its breadth. I have never been able to plumb its depth. I have never been able to scale its heights. But I will never stop trying. Everything in my life which is good finds its birth on these pages. And everything in my life which is bad finds on these pages the changing, saving, forgiving grace of the God whose Book it is. This Book convicts, converts, consoles, comforts, counsels, and challenges me. I love this Book. I want you to love it too.
Herman Wouk in his book, The Caine Mutiny, told about Willie Keigh who was stationed aboard a naval minesweeper when he received word that his father had an incurable illness and would soon die. Shortly thereafter, he received a letter from his father. In the letter, the father wrote: “I am afraid that I haven’t given you much religion because I didn’t have much to give you, but I will mail you a Bible before I go into the hospital. Get familiar with this Book and its words. You will never regret it. I came to the Bible as I did everything in life—too late.”
My friends, this is a matter of great urgency for me. I don’t want you to make the mistake of Willie Keigh’s father. I don’t want you to come to the Bible too late. I want you to know it and to love it now. Don’t let it sit on your shelf. Get it out. Read it. Study it. Get to Sunday School where you can learn more about it. Learn from it. Lean on it. Love it. One of the things that really matters to me and to us as Christians and to this church is this Book—the Bible. Paul said: “Timothy, please bring me my parchments, my Bible, while there is still time. Please come before Winter.”
Next Paul says: “Timothy, come before Winter and bring my books.” In other words, one of the things that really matters to us as Christians is to work our minds.
The word Paul uses here is the word “biblia”—it refers not to Scripture but to other books. Books were very expensive in those days; yet there is no doubt that Paul had managed to accumulate a small library. He was, after all, a student of Gamaliel, perhaps the best read teacher of that time. And we find ideas incorporated in Paul’s letters which are unmistakably the result of his own vast reading. Jesus said that we are to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength, and with all our mind. Paul believed that. Understand, please, Paul never said that you have to be a highly educated, learned person in order to be a Christian, but he does say that once you become a Christian, you will never be satisfied with continuing ignorance.
Never underestimate the power of a book. Would there have been a French Revolution without the writings of Rousseau? An American Revolution without the writings of John Locke and Thomas Paine? A Russian Revolution without the writings of Marx and Engels? Books change history. Yet it is troubling to note that fewer than 10% of the adults in this country read as much as a single book a year. Not only that, but these same people do not read to their children and do not encourage in their children a love of books. This is a matter of great urgency. You see we have only one chance to raise our children and that time passes very quickly. And our children today are in desperate need of having their minds stretched.
You want evidence? A recent nationwide survey among teenagers asked them to name the greatest heroes and heroines of our time. They answered: “Madonna, Michael Jackson, Clint Eastwood, and Kurt Cobain.” These young people have never had their minds stretched to encounter the great issues of life. They have never confronted poverty as John Steinbeck shows it in The Grapes of Wrath. They have never thought much about courage as Stephen Crane forces us to do in Red Badge of Courage. They don’t think about a life of self-sacrifice because they have never dealt with Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities. They never give themselves to pondering the true costliness of love because they have not read Edmund Rostrand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. They have no concept of the value of personal integrity in life because they have never read Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. They vote for Michael Jackson because they have never read the biography of Stonewall Jackson. They vote for Clint Eastwood whose adventures are on film because they have never read the real life adventures of Admiral Byrd or Ernest Schackleton or Richard Halliburton. They vote for Madonna because they have never taken a peek at the life of Madame Curie and they have never walked a day with Anne Frank. They idolize Kurt Cobain because they’ve never read J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia.
Paul says: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious…think on these things.” And where are these things most readily found? They are found in books. We need to stretch our minds and we need to stretch our children’s minds. Paul says: “Timothy, bring me my books while there is still time. Please, come before Winter.”
Then Paul says: “Timothy, come before Winter. Bring my cloak and bring yourself.” In other words, one of the things that really matters for us as Christians is to warm our hearts.
Paul wanted his cloak to warm his body, but even more, he wanted Timothy’s friendship and presence to warm his heart. I discovered recently that Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People has gone through 95 printings and more than 8 million copies are presently in circulation. I thinks that is rather sad, because it shows that so many people are still trying to learn how to win a friend. Did you know that a recent USA Today survey revealed that 44% of the American people say that their most meaningful personal relationship is with their pet! That hurts. Maybe the thing that matters most in life is friends. That was true for Paul. You can hear it in these last words that he wrote. It is certainly true for me. Whatever may have been accomplished for Christ in my ministry here, what I treasure most is the friendship we share. You have become a part of my life, and you have let me become a part of yours. One of the benefits of a long pastorate is the development of deep, loving friendships—and with that you have blessed me.
I stood here in this sanctuary one Saturday a few weeks ago. I was about to perform the wedding ceremony for General Ron Harrison and his wife, Mysie. Suddenly waves of emotion rolled over me. I looked at that great general standing before me. I remembered how God had used him to call me to this pulpit, and I remembered how deep our friendship has grown through the years. I looked at him and his family gathered here, and I reflected how over the years I had performed weddings and baptisms for his children and grandchildren, how we had worked through a major career change for him, how we had struggled and agonized through the long illness and death of his wife, Peg, how we had shared times of great joy, how we had relaxed and played together on vacations, how we had prayed together and grown stronger in our faith together, how we had worked together to help shape the direction of this great church, and how now God had brought a new person and a new love into his life. It was a deeply moving moment for me. Then I recognized that what is true of my relationship with the Harrison family is also true of my relationship with so many other families and individuals in this church. Suddenly I couldn’t stop the tears. I thank God for this church and her people. I thank God for you. I thank God for the privilege of being your friend. Even more, I thank God for the friendship which you extend to me. That is what really matters.
Paul said: “Timothy, I need the warmth of your friendship. Do your best to come to me soon. Do your best to come before Winter.”
That’s all that’s in my heart to say to you today. May our Lord bless this simple witness which I offer in His name.