1-01 10 - Starts and Finishes
In Paul's closing portion to his second letter to Timothy, he lists nine men (including Timothy.) Some start well, others finish well. Some start their walk with God poorly. Some end poorly. There are combinations of each.
The goal is to ensure we, like many of these men, end well.
Look at it this way:
GOOD STARTS vs. BAD STARTS
GOOD FINISHES vs. BAD FINISHES
Paul used the racing illustration in a previous verse when talking about his own life. He said “I have finished the race” which speaks of a good finish.
Some people in life have good starts and good finishes. These are those who start their life with Jesus well. They come to Christ, live faithfully, do well and are strong and finish well.
Some have bad starts and good finishes. These are the Christians who have “good” testimonies, or at least the ones that we love to hear shared. They went to church as a kid, came to Christ, then rebelled, struggled, but eventually came to their senses and ended well. These are the prodigal son type people.
Others have good starts and bad finishes. These are the ones who start well but fade fast. It may be those who were active in the youth group, but left the church. You know “got out of the habit” and what not.
Finally, there are those who start poorly and end poorly. These are just bad. Bad beginning, bad middle, bad at the end. No progress whatsoever.
In God’s story, there are numerous people who fit into these categories. The truth is everyone in this room falls into one of the four. In this passage of Paul’s he lists nine men who fall somewhere on the spectrum of good and bad regarding starts and finishes.
Here are the nine:
Six of these nine would be categorized as the guys with bad testimonies. I say that tongue in cheek with “bad testimony” meaning there’s no horrible story of addiction or running. These are the ones who come to Jesus, serve faithfully and finish well. The reality is that the “boring testimony” is the really a good one. It’s a story of a life solidly founded upon the Gospel and seeking God throughout.
The first of these GOOD-GOOD guys is TIMOTHY. Timothy loves Jesus. He’s the young pastor this letter is intended for. He has been serving Jesus alongside Paul for around 15 years. Paul was his mentor. He was his “father in the faith.” He’s been “in the ministry” for about 15 years now. He’s growing. He’s discipling. He’s followed his mentor’s footsteps as he follows Jesus. He’ll probably be in prison one day as well for the sake of the Gospel.
TITUS is a man much like Timothy. He, too was mentored by Paul. One of Paul’s boys. Paul loves him like a son.
TYCHICUS was sent to Ephesus. He is one who is so faithful to the Lord that Paul can trust him with a great task and heavy responsibility. There were problems in Ephesus and Tychicus was sent to help fix the issues. Tychicus did not abandon Paul. He was sent by Paul. He’s mentioned in Acts 20, Ephesians and Colossians. He’s called the beloved brother and faithful servant. There is belief that Tychicus was possibly sent to deliver the letter we’re reading to Timothy and relieve him for a season. A faithful son in the faith.
CRESCENS is listed. Not much is known about him. We do know he was sent to Galatia by Paul. Why? Because he is a faithful and dependable man of the faith. He is trustworthy.
Paul’s in prison, but sending out his boys, leaders he has poured into. He has prepared for the transition of leadership in the church and is multiplying himself through these men.
Then there’s LUKE. I love how Paul says this “Luke alone is with me.” However, this is not a statement of “All I have left is Luke. It’s not that Luke is the leftover. It’s that all the other men, mostly younger, have been dispatched to do ministry and Luke, alone, is still with him to do the work needed in Rome. Luke is a great guy, a godly man, but he cannot do the work alone. That’s why Paul is requesting Timothy to come.
Finally, there’s CARPUS. This is the last of the six “Good-Good” guys. Carpus is the guy Paul left his writings and reference works with. For a man of God to entrust his treasured writings with someone is huge. Therefore, though not much detail is known of Carpus, we can presume that he is a trustworthy, godly man. One who has been entrusted with the very writings Paul has been imprisoned for teaching and sharing.
In this group of men, part of the church in Rome, some of the best are leaving – Titus, Tychicus, and Crescens. Others are in different locations around the region serving the Lord. When a church begins to grow, both in scope and in number, God calls out men and women to serve him. These people most often begin serving within the ministry of the local church, but there are times when these are called to GO. This is confusing for some. Whatever happened to so-and-so? That person was such a good teacher. Why are they gone? There are cases where the answer is not positive or good, but in a healthy church, often the “missing” are gone because they have been sent to do the Kingdom work in other areas. Their training is over and the battle awaits.
That’s where God has us as a fellowship now. We’re being disturbed at our foundation as we seek to fulfill the calling God has given us. Men and women are feeling the holy dissatisfaction with status quo. That’s because God is raising up church planters, pastors, missionaries and others to go from here to where the harvest is waiting for workers.
These guys Paul mentioned had to leave the church at Rome in order to do the work where they were needed most for the Kingdom.
While there are some Good-Good folks in our church today, I dare say there’s a good group of you, maybe many who are like MARK. (John Mark)
Mark would be one of the BAD-GOOD guys. He started off poorly. He made some mistakes. He really angered Paul, who was mentoring him and all these other guys. He angered him so much that Paul basically said “Get him away from me. I’m done with him.” In Acts 15 he is considered untrustworthy by Paul. It ends up with Paul and Barnabas splitting up.
Now, it’s years later. Maturity has a way of fixing things. Mark is one who starts poorly then finishes well. He was apparently a man with great talent and skill. He was one of those guys full of potential, but until he was cut from the team, he was a mess. He was a quitter. He was like the athlete who had all the potential in the world, was drafted high and ended up a bust.
When Paul said “I’m done” you would have thought Mark would be done as well. However, God used Barnabas, the encourager, to come along side Mark. He was the one coach that could work with this emotional, potential laden guy. Coach Paul was done, but assistant coach Barnabas was there. He was God’s man at this time.
So here’s Paul in prison, thinking of the most faithful ones he wants to see and to pass on the baton. On the list is Mark. What?
What this tells us is that Mark started poorly. He messed up. He loved the idea of Christianity, but not the sacrifice, but then something happened. God worked on him. Mark grew up.
Mark is the pastor with a past. The past of sin and failure. He’s the one that was the “golden boy” but blew it. Then, years later, through repentance and grace and maturity and growth, he was restored. Now, 20 years later Paul says “He’s valuable to me. Bring him with you.”
I love this. Many folks in the church are like Mark. You know. You went to church as a kid, but never really got it. Oh, you were a church member. You were baptized, but church was. . .well, just church. Now, it’s different. You’re fully surrendered.
You’re going to finish well.
You are Mark.
Then, there’s DEMAS. This is the guy who is our GOOD-BAD guy example. He apparently became a Christian, or at least thought he was. He even entered into ministry. He’s with Paul in Rome, doing work. He’s on the varsity.
But. . .something happened. Look how Paul describes him.
For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. 2 Timothy 4:10 (ESV)
This is the guy who was the leader in the youth group. He led public prayer when everyone else looked to the floor. He Saw You at the Pole. He volunteered. He had a little ministry thing going and then. . .he was gone.
Demus deserted Paul because he was in love with the world. That’s not a good thing. The “world” reference in Scripture means polar opposite to God. We are not to be “conformed to this world.” I wonder if Paul was thinking of Demus when he wrote this? This is the picture of human depravity and sin. The lure and magnetic effect of the world. Demus is the seed that fell on rocky ground, grew fast and then died. No roots. Not real. We don’t know what in Thessalonica drew Demus, but he quits and disappears. He gets there quickly.
Unfortunately, we could all come up with names of modern day Demuses. Those with ministries that were flourishing and then abandoned due to affairs, theft, pride, power, money.
Holiness and devotion for Jesus is not viral. Just because Demus hung out with Paul for a couple of years before he bolted did not mean that his faith was strong. Just because a person hangs out with someone who loves Jesus isn’t enough. Marrying someone who loves Jesus isn’t enough. Having parents who love Jesus isn’t enough. Sitting in church isn’t enough.
Hearing the message isn’t enough. Starting well isn’t enough.
Demus is like Judas.
Then we have ALEXANDER. This is the BAD-BAD guy.
He starts poorly. He ends poorly. He hates. He’s bitter. He hates God. He’s opposed to God’s people. He’s bad and never opens himself up to the Spirit of God.
I imagine when Paul thought of Alexander he cringed. This guy is nothing but trouble.
Alexander isn’t another pastor. He’s not a government official. He’s a metal worker. He’s a blue-collar, working, tough guy who hates Paul and the church. The thing is. . .he’s in the church.
Does he think he’s doing good? Who knows? The fact is he’s evil. He’s the guy in the church who influences others with his negativity. He’s an accuser. In the old days, he’d be the guy who started the phone chain of gossip. Nowadays, he just sends emails. Most people know he’s a snake, but there are some naïve ones who don’t see it.
He’s mentioned in 1 Timothy 1. Paul basically says, we’ve tried to discipline him. We’ve tried to work with him. Now, I’m done. We’ve done everything we can do. This guy wants to run with Satan. We can’t stop him. Let him run, but stay away from him.
He hates Jesus.
There are some in churches today just like this. They are bitter. They would say “I don’t hate Jesus or the church, I just don’t love it.” Jesus says you’re either for him or against him.