HOW TO WRITE YOUR LATE WILL AND TESTAMENT
2 Timothy 4:1-8
When we read Paul’s advice to Timothy, we see the hindsight of age and the potential of youth. Paul has a lot of experience packed into the years of his life as the Apostle of Christ to the gentiles. He has pushed through the pain, endured the hardships, and lived with the humiliation of persecution for his faith. Timothy was a young man by comparison but he was a man of deep faith and in him Paul saw great potential as a leader in God’s Church. I think Paul saw Timothy as an example of those who carry the torch to the next generation. It was a serious transition. Paul knew his days were numbered and he was concerned about what he was leaving behind. Timothy and others would soon bear the leadership role of Paul and other pillars in the church. What a challenge it is! It requires a sober mind and a kind of seriousness that calls on the young to grow up and for the old to remain focused on the things of God.
There was a Baptist preacher named Obadiah Holmes who lived in the middle of the 1600s. He was a member of the Second Baptist Church established in this country, which was in Newport, Rhode Island. Obadiah Holmes is one of our Baptist forefathers and a spiritual father for all Christians. He was a dedicated worker for the Lord and he was tough. Once, he went into Massachusetts to preach the gospel and was arrested for preaching the gospel without a license and for being a Baptist. He was thrown into the stockade, along with others, for the crime of preaching. The others paid bail to get out but he refused and he refused to let anyone else pay is bail. His conviction was that no State had the right to tell a man that he could not preach the gospel.
When Obadiah was about to die, he wrote a little book called Last Will And Testimony of Obadiah Homes. In it he leaves a few dollars to his five children and to his grandchildren, less than $300 total. He leaves a few pots and pans and household goods. But he left something else, he left his testimony. For him, the most important thing that he could leave was his testimony of what Christ had done for him. He left words of testimony of his faith and life to his wife, to his children, to his church, and to the world.
I have certainly discovered that the veil between life and death is very thin and that death is a possibility for any of us. But, those, who are in the third trimester of life, know that life will come to an end for all us. How are senior adults to live the Christian life in light of these dark facts? I don’t think the answers are so simple as one might think. There are many factors to consider. Certainly health is one of the most important ones to ask. What does your health permit? You may be concerned about preserving your estate to leave it to others. You may be concerned about your good name and your memory in the community. You may want to pass on a business to your sons and daughters.
While these things are important, I think the best will and testament is what Obadiah Holmes left to his family, the testimony of his faith. This is precisely what Paul was doing in this last chapter of II Timothy. Paul was in prison. There is some speculation when and where, but from the tone of the text it seems that Paul was in Rome in the final days of his life.
What Paul has to say is of the highest priority and of the utmost importance. And if one could sum up the life of Paul, I think they could be found in these words of testimony. “Timothy, fulfill your ministry!” As I come to the end of mine, you fulfill yours. You keep on going. Don’t stop! Even when I am gone, the Gospel must be preached.
Therefore, preach the Word. The idea of preaching is more than just standing behind the pulpit and speaking. The word means to announce, to proclaim. It can mean to share in a conversation or to proclaim in a sermon or to teach. This is not just evangelism as we know it, but teaching and preaching the whole counsel of God, how to be saved and how to live, what is expected behavior and what is not, how to love and how to reject those who pervert the gospel. Furthermore, it is a Word that must be proclaimed in season and out of season. In other words, always be ready to give a witness to the hope that is within you.
Paul’s charge involved three aspects, reproving, rebuking and exhorting. Reproving carries with it the idea of convicting or convincing or correcting those who have distorted ideas (Oden, 136). It is teaching proper doctrine and belief.
Rebuking is even a stronger word. Reproving is the ordinary teaching of others. But to rebuke someone is to strongly warn those who have rejected instruction and correction.
Exhorting is to encourage, to urge others to continue on. It is like a coach who tries to inspire his team. It is not so much comforting them, but building them up so that they can continue in the battle called the Christian life.
Paul urges that these things be done with great patience and doctrine. He knows that it will be hard. But, Paul places a strong emphasis on proper doctrine, that it should be taught regularly so that all the church may learn.
Paul knew the dangers of not passing along the faith to the next generation. He warns, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.” There is coming a day when they will not want sound doctrine and will do everything they can to teach what makes them happy. Pet doctrines will abound. The church will sell out to the world and imitate the practices, behavior, desires and prejudices of the culture. Loyalty to Christ requires us to stand against the times and teach sound doctrine derived only from the Word of God.
It had happened in Ephesus where Timothy served. It had happened to other churches in which Paul had ministered. It has happened throughout the ages. That is why Paul called on Timothy to be faithful in preaching the word. There will be times when God’s own People will turn away from sound doctrine. They will want to hear pleasing words, words that delight their ears, that entertain them, that lowers the standards, that makes them feel good, that confirms them in their hypocrisy and comforts them in their deliberate failure.
In those times, Paul says, they will accumulate for themselves teachers who teach what they want to hear so that they can turn from the truth. How do we keep from becoming that kind of church? By proclaiming the Word of God which produces faithfulness to Christ.
What gave Paul the right to make this kind of last will and testament? It is simple. He had been faithful to do these things. Paul had been totally taken by God. He knew that God is in charge and faithful. He was certain that even the toughest part of the struggle was but momentary light affliction compared to weight of Glory that awaited him in the very presence of God. Can’t you see him in a dark, damp, smelly Roman dungeon, rusty chains hanging from his arms and legs? He writes those words, “be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” ” For, my life is ending, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” I have been faithful, Timothy. I have been through the hard times and I know what it is like. You can do it, Timothy. It is your time to be faithful. I have fought the good fight, so can you! I have finished the course, so can you! I have kept the faith, so can you!
One of the responsibilities of the older generation is to teach, inspire, and encourage the next generation of Christians. It is to you we are supposed to turn. Paul said in Titus that the older men should teach the younger men and the older women are to teach the younger women the way of the faith. We are not left to blindly discover the Christian walk for ourselves. But, we are to have excellent examples of what it means to fight the good fight, to finish the course, and to keep the faith. And this is what senior adults do.
Your last will and testament will be written by the way you live your lives before us. How do we know how to age if we do not learn it from you? Are we not inspired when we see those for whom energy and health have passed them by with age? Yet, they are far more faithful to be at church than the rest of us? Do you not think we are awed by your Sunday School class? You can hardly find anyone to teach you, for who would dare think they could teach you? There are some of you who I look at and literally say to myself, when I grow up, I want to be like them.
It does not really make any difference what age we are, all of us are building our legacy even as we speak. It is in our attitudes, and our behavior and in our teaching. We write a new line every time we grow angry or selfish or when we exert kindness and patience. We write new chapters when we proclaim loudly our loyalty to Christ both in word and deed. And the question is not, will you leave a last will and testament, but what kind?
How do we leave a godly last will and testament? By fighting the good fight, by finishing the course, and by keeping the faith.