The end of Paul’s second letter to Timothy contains the last surviving words of the apostle Paul. In a prison cell in Rome awaiting death, we get a close look at Paul the man near his dying days.
Paul, as usual, is pursuing relationships. He’s been deserted by Demas, betrayed by Alexander the coppersmith, and nobody in Asia stood by him at his preliminary hearing. I’d be tempted to withdraw, but Paul doesn’t. He begs Luke to visit him. He asks Luke to bring Mark, someone with whom he’d clashed in the past. He mentions the names of numerous people as he signs off. Paul is investing his last days in people, even after many of them have let him down.
I’ve been in ministry long enough to know betrayal. We felt tempted at one point to pull away so we wouldn’t be hurt so much. Years later, I realize how fatal that would have been to us and to any ministry we could have had. As I get older, I want to invest more in people instead of allowing myself to become more cynical about them.
I’m learning from Paul to keep pressing into people long after I’ve been hurt. As John Piper puts it, Paul was never alone in ministry by choice. Even after he was hurt, he kept investing in Timothy and enjoying the company of friends.
“When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:13).
I love Spurgeon’s riff on this verse. “He is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has been preaching at least for thirty years, and yet he wants books! He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! … Paul cries, ‘Bring the books’—join in the cry.”
We’re blessed. We have so many great books from so many centuries. We will not have enough time to read even the best of the best books. To our dying moments, if God allows, we can join Paul in his love of books as we read wisely. A life with good friends and good books can’t be all bad.
Nights in Rome can get cold in the winter, hovering a little above freezing. I’m sure prison was cold. Paul understandably asks Timothy to bring his cloak. “This is a personal comment, uncovering Paul’s humanness, his daily and physical desires,” observes William Mounce.
I like that. No matter how much of a spiritual giant one may become, one still gets cold. “Even the greatest theologians or preachers among us are still just ordinary persons needy for grace in Jesus,” writes Zack Eswine. “Pastoral desires, however grand or noble, do not deliver us from bodily limits.”
I love Paul for many reasons. I love that, at the end of his life, facing death and on the other end of being disappointed and hurt, he still loved people, books, and needed a good coat on a cold night. If we have some good friends, good books, and a warm place to sleep at night, maybe we’re doing okay after all.