“Do your best to come before winter . . . ” (2 Timothy 4:21). Paul, likely, was in Rome, in prison, when he wrote his friend Timothy these words. He’s feeling the end is near. “The time of my departure has come. My life is like a drink-offering being poured out from the altar” (CEV). “I am being poured out as a libation” (NRSV).
There’s urgency in his voice. He’s getting out his last instructions to Timothy. Eugene Peterson translates Paul’s words this way: “I can’t impress this on you too strongly. . . . keep on your watch. Challenge, warn, and urge your people. Don’t ever quit. Just keep it simple. . . . keep your eye on what you’re doing; accept the hard times along with the good; keep the Message alive; do a thorough job as God’s servant.”
Paul knows that time is short. Like some of us who see retirement growing closer, or we watch our grandkids get their learner’s permits, Paul sees how quickly time has flown by and how little time, relatively speaking, is left. His life is measured now in smaller intervals. He’s not thinking about next spring. He’s thinking about now. Timothy, Come before winter.
Paul knew that some things needed doing right now, before the ice of winter makes them impossible to do. We know it, too.
There are things we must do now—before we miss our chance. “How precious our opportunities are when we realize that they do not last forever.” (My late friend Rev. Allen Smith of Little Rock wrote those words in a sermon by the same title as this essay, in a collection of sermons, The Sovereignty of Grace.)
The simple statement, ‘Come before winter,’ reminds us that life has limits.
Do you remember that beautiful ballad by the late Harry Chapin called “Cats In The Cradle?”
My child arrived just the other day
He came to the world in the usual way
But there were planes to catch and bills to pay
He learned to walk while I was away
And he was talkin’ ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew
He’d say “I’m gonna be like you, Dad
You know I’m gonna be like you”
This young dad is too busy to notice his son. And the saddest thing is that his son does grow up just like his old man. The son is so busy making a living that he forgets to make a life . . . just like his dad.
I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away
I called him up just the other day
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”
He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time
You see my new job’s a hassle and kids have the flu
But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad
It’s been sure nice talking to you”
It’s sad when you realize you’ve missed your opportunity, when you show up to the party and everyone has already gone home.
There are our children who say in their own way, “I’ve got ideas. I’ve got dreams. I’ve written some songs, drawn some pictures. Want to see them?” Now is the time to listen. Their invitation will not last.
There are things we must do now. Winter will be too late.
There is the opportunity for service. “We need somebody like YOU to fill this job. Can you do it? Would you do it?” To put the decision off any longer is to say ‘no.’ There is the friend who says “Lets get together soon.” To say ‘wait’ is to say ‘farewell.’
Allen Smith asked this question: There is Jesus who invites us to follow him. “Come, follow me. Before the December wind scatters the leaves of your good intentions. Come to me before your heart grows cold and your desires fade and your opportunity is gone.”
Paul wrote to his friend Timothy and asked that, if possible, come before winter. Spring might be too late. Do you hear the longing in Paul’s voice as he urges Timothy—urges us to do now what is necessary? Paul needed his books. A coat. He needed a friend.
There are things that need our attention now, things we might be putting off, things we might be afraid to face. But now is the time.
I was born and raised in the sight of water in Hampton, Virginia. I was baptized and nurtured in the Presbyterian church. There was never a time when weekly worship attendance, the giving of ...