STRIKE THE TENT
by Mike Johnson
The last words people speak before they die may be spoken under a variety of circumstances. Sometimes a person speaks his last words without realizing that death is near. For example, a person's last words may be a comment about what a beautiful day it is. Sometimes a person's last words may be uttered while he is in a state of delirium. This person, in his mind, may be remembering his childhood or perhaps some recent past event. The last words, for instance, of General Robert E. Lee, who died in 1870, were quite fitting as he said with finality, "Strike the tent." General Stonewall Jackson, who died in 1863 during the Civil War, said just before he died as he came out of his dreams of battle, "Let us cross over the river and rest under the shade of the trees." Sometime, when people know they are close to death, they may speak words which are not literally their last words but, instead are spoken as a final message to loved ones. Last words usually carry much weight. A person who does not have much time left selects words that are important and close to his heart.
II Timothy is sometimes called the last words of the Apostle Paul. Paul wrote words of encouragement in this book to a young evangelist named Timothy. However, these are not literally Paul's last words as he probably lived for a time after this book was written. It was written near the end of his life, and it is probably his last book recorded in the New Testament. Therefore, this letter might be regarded, in a sense, as his last words. II Timothy 4:6-8 has some particularly fitting advice. Paul is about to "strike the tent."
THE END WAS NEAR
Verse 6 shows Paul's realization that the end of his life was near. This verse says, For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand." The ASV translates this as "For I am already being offered," and the NASB renders it, "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering." It seems that Paul views his death as being so imminent and certain that he speaks of it as a process that was already taking place. It is interesting to note the very calm and courageous manner in which Paul was able to approach death. This temperament was characteristic of Paul throughout his life as a Christian. In Acts 21:13, when he was warned about the persecution he would face if he went to Jerusalem, he replied , "...What mean ye to weep and to break my heart? For I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." Why was Paul able to view death in this way? For Paul, the answer was clear: "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21). If Paul lived, it would be "Christ," as he would have a life of faithfully serving God. He would be helping and teaching other Christians. If Paul died, it would be "gain," as he would be saved eternally. A faithful Christian can approach death with confidence. He can view it as a vehicle which takes him from this life to the better world which is to come.
It is also clear that Paul was not so preoccupied with his own suffering that he forgot the "cause" he would be leaving. The book of II Timothy shows that even at the end, his concern was for the cause of Christ. Actually, his concern was more intense than ever as he warned Timothy about the apostasies and the need to work for the cause up to the very end of their lives. We, like Paul, should never "retire" from being a Christian.
Verse 7 shows Paul's positive view of his past life as a Christian. Here he said, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith...."
Paul looked upon his life on earth as a constant battle. The life of a child of God is actually a fight against sin and false doctrine. Paul told Timothy that he needed to "war a good warfare" (I Tim. 1:18) and "fight the good fight of faith" (I Tim. 6:12). Our warfare, of course, is not physical but spiritual (II Cor. 10:4), and we fight with the "whole armor of God" (Eph. 6:11). We need to make sure that we always fight sin and error. This may seem strange to say in an age of tolerance, passivism, and religious indifference, but it must be done.
Paul also had "finished his course." The Bible compares the life of a Christian to a race (Heb. 12:1, I Cor. 9:24-27). A secular race normally has a marked out course. A racer would be disqualified if he tried to cut across the track's boundary marks. The Christian race also has a prescribed course. That course has been laid out by God, and it is found in the Word of God, i.e. the Bible (II Tim. 3:16-17).
Paul also said that he had"kept the faith." He did not depart from the faith even though he had to face much persecution. He continued in the faith and did not make "shipwreck" of it as did Hymeneus and Alexander (I Tim. 1:19-20)..
PROSPECT IN STORE
Since Paul had "fought a good fight," "finished the course," and had "kept the faith," he had a glorious prospect in store. He said, "Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing" (vs. 8). It is evident that Paul looked beyond death to the crown that awaited him. Paul, however, is not the only one who can obtain this heavenly crown. There can be more than one winner in the race for heaven. The crown is for "all them also that love his appearing."
These verses show us how Paul was able to face death, and why he was able to face it in the manner he did. As a result of his faithful life to God, he could look forward to a crown of righteousness." What kind of an attitude will we be able to have when it comes time for us to "strike the tent"? What will be our outlook? It will depend on the course we have followed. Let us heed Paul's words.
[Editors Note: Thanks to Mike Johnson for the article! Mike can be reached at: Mike Johnson, 2137 Penhall Drive NE, Huntsville, AL 35811, firstname.lastname@example.org]
Email the Editor at email@example.com
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