Come Before Winter
By Pastor Thom McKee
Last Sunday we looked at a personal letter written by Paul to his protégé Timothy. Many scholars believe that these may have been Paul's last words to Timothy and that he may have died shortly thereafter. The book is called 2 Timothy, and it is part of what we call the pastoral epistles in the Bible.
In the letter, it is clear that Paul was in prison and on trial for his life (probably in Rome) and church history tells us that he may have been executed there. At the end of chapter 4, the last chapter of the book, Paul sent some instructions that seem very personal. He warned Timothy to watch out for certain people (2Tim 4:15), mentioned some others who had let him down (2 Tim 4:10), sent greetings to those who helped him along the way (2 Tim 4:19), spoke of some struggles he had to endure alone, and gave thanks to God for strength (2 Tim 4:16-17). He even asked Timothy to bring some of his stuff, namely books and a coat that he had left in another city (2 Tim 4:13). But the instruction that really stood out to me the most came in verse 21. In this verse, Paul's final instruction to Timothy, he says, "Do your best to come before winter."
There is just something amazing about these words that not only instructed Timothy thousands of years ago, but also cry out to us today. In the ancient world, travel was far more difficult than it is today. Sea routes would be closed during the winter because they were too treacherous, and travel by land was practically impossible due to poor road conditions. In essence, Paul's request to Timothy was a warning that if he didn't come soon, it may be too late.
We don't know if Timothy ever made it to visit Paul before that winter in the mid sixties of the first century. However, we do know that Paul understood that it was important for Timothy not to delay his trip. Perhaps Paul was aware that he might not make it out of his present trial alive. Or maybe, he did make it out alive and was able to travel to Spain like he had planned to (many people in Spain like to claim he made there eventually). We simply don't know what happened.
But as I was thinking about this passage during the week, I couldn't get Paul's words out of my head. How many times have I felt called to do something, but then just thought, "there will be time for that later." The problem is that many of those times when I delayed a decision, it eventually became too late. That is just the way life works. Often, if we delay committing to following through on a plan of action, we eventually forget about it altogether, blaming it on a busy life or moving on to something else, and it becomes too late because circumstances change (relationships continue estranged, reconciliations don't happen, people die). Paul knew that, and he asked Timothy not to delay his visit. He knew that a visit after winter might just be too late.
As we enter 2017, it is a time to reflect on changes that we would like to put into action this year. If you're like me, you may be making some New Year's resolutions, and may even have a broken a few already. But this is a time of year that many people look to the future and begin making plans for a brighter one. As my family and I set out to make some changes this year, I am trying to keep Paul's words in mind. My prayer to God is, "Am I putting off some of the things I should be doing now? And if I am, Lord, give me the courage and motivation to do your will now and not delay."
At IM Free Church, we take seriously the fact that we are a body in Christ. And a healthy body must continue to work in order to maintain its health - all parts doing their part and working together. We have many exciting ministries happening, and some that need to be launched or renewed. We have individual need for growth as well as growth as a body. And everyone is needed. We have children's ministries, youth ministries, adult ministries, music ministries, support ministries, Bible studies and local and global outreach (we are even planning another short term mission trip to Uganda this July). Have you been feeling a Holy Spirit nudge that you've been pushing aside? As God has challenged me, so I challenge you - don't delay - get involved and follow God's call.