Laura was just 13 years old when the Lord took her to heaven after a brave earthly battle. I was asked to read her last words to her confirmation class. As I imagine you can imagine, it was at one and the same time an extremely difficult but marvelously wonderful thing to do. In sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph she thanked God that her parents and her pastors and teachers taught her God’s Word, which gave her faith in Jesus her Savior, and she also encouraged her classmates to keep believing that Word until they joined her in heaven someday. I do not remember all the specific words of her last words, but I will never forget the impact and meaning of what little Laura wrote.
In our lesson for today we also have some last words spoken to us, last words from God’s Word and about God’s Word which can have the impact and meaning to give you and me the ability to make them their own last words for ourselves and maybe for someone else, too. With these last words of the apostle Paul to Pastor Timothy to help us out, let’s think about some Last Words about The Word.
Last words normally have to do with the end of life, of course, and these last words of the apostle Paul had to do with the end of his life. This letter of 2 Timothy was the last book of the Bible which St. Paul wrote, and chapters 3-4 from which our lesson are taken are the last chapters of this last book. In the very next words after our lesson, in fact, Paul said, “The time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race.” Since Paul knew he was soon going to die, he wanted this young pastor Timothy to be sure to take care of something very important – the Word of God that Paul had preached so faithfully ever since the Lord brought him to faith in Jesus as his Savior.
But these important words which Paul was speaking before he died had to do with the important message from God’s Word about what would happen after he died. Listen again to the first two verses and think about what these last words about The Word are saying about what will happen after you and I die: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Why are the Holy Scriptures – God’s Word – so important for after we die? Because they make us wise for salvation. There is nothing more important about this life than to use your time in this life to learn how you will be able to live forever in the next life. Paul’s last words about The Word are so important because they save you for the next life.
If all there was for Paul – or for any of us – at the end of life was the end of life, then this life that we are living would really have very little meaning or purpose. Sadly, you and I prove how true that is every day by acting as if we don’t have a meaning or purpose from God himself – by instead trying to find meaning or purpose or enjoyment or fulfillment in things that will only lead us apart from God after we die – our sins. But what God has done through the life and death of his only Son, Jesus Christ, is opened up another life in the next life which gives this life complete meaning and purpose. Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ our sins against God have been paid for and have no ability to keep us away from God after we die. That’s why one thing God’s people who believe that for themselves have done throughout the centuries, just as we do today, is to make sacrifice after sacrifice to make sure that their children – and the children of others — can know what God has done for them, too. Making sure that those younger than us can know these things through the Christian education programs we provide for them is like constantly passing on last words about The Word to every single child we can.
The reason the thought about passing on these last words to our children comes to mind is because of Paul’s reminder to Timothy that he had been taught God’s Word with him from infancy. If you have had—or now have — the privilege of knowing about God’s salvation for the next life from young on, thank God for it and continue in it. If you have had – or now have — the privilege of attending Sunday School and / or Lutheran Elementary School and / or Lutheran High School and /or Teen Bible Class, thank God for it and continue in it. And if you now have – or will have – the privilege of supporting Christian Education through teaching it or providing offerings for it or giving encouragement for it, thank God for that privilege and continue in it. The more we as God’s people continue to pass on the amazing love of God as we hear it in the Word of God, the more children of God young and old will take seriously anyone’s last words about the Word – the Word which tells us what Jesus has done to save us for the next life.
Paul’s last words about the Word, however, are not just about then – after we die. Paul’s last words are also about now – while we are still alive. In other words, they not only save us for the next life, but they also guide us in this life. Listen to verses 16-17 and see if you can think of two reasons Paul gives in his last words about why The Word is so important for right now. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
One thing that makes the Bible so different from any other book – and a reason that we can trust it to guide us in this life — is that Paul says it is “God-breathed.” That means that in some miraculous way God breathed into the writers of the Bible exactly what he wanted them to write. The apostle Peter talked about this one time, too, saying that “Men of God spoke as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” This Bible teaching is something we call “Verbal Inspiration.” God “inspired” – or breathed into the writers of the Scriptures – all the “verbs” – all the words – he wanted them to write.
That leads very naturally to the second thing that Paul mentions as to why his last words are so important for this life and why we can trust them to guide us. He says that since they are from God himself, they are “useful” – they are practical – they are useful for“thoroughly equipping” us for every good work. That phrase “thoroughly equipping” means giving someone everything they need in order to accomplish a task. It’s kind of like one of those do-it-yourself-put-together-a-piece-of-furniture kits. If all the tools and nuts and bolts are right there, you’re good to go. If not, it can be very confusing, especially if you aren’t very handy with do it yourself projects. God’s Word is handy. It gives us everything we need to do the things Paul mentions: teaching (tell people what God says in the Bible he wants us to know), rebuking (tell people what God says in the Bible is sinful), correcting (tell people what God says in the Bible about how he has done the work of making things right again by sending a Savior) and training in righteousness (tell people what God says in the Bible about how we can live the right way to say “Thank you” to him for all that he has done to make us his children).
Paul’s last words about the next life and this life also remind us that there will be many people who want nothing to do with them or to change them to make them something they like better. In verse 3 of chapter 4 near the end Paul says, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” It wouldn’t make any sense for someone who heard some last words to take care of their parent, for example, to change or neglect all the medications and the diet and the nursing care that that person needed. That would be very unloving and very dangerous. It makes far less sense, and it is far more unloving and dangerous to do that with the things of God, even though we know that the vast majority of people do just that. Paul’s last words tell us to be very patient and to instruct carefully in those situations, but he tells us, as he told Timothy, “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season (that means at any time); correct, rebuke and encourage.” ….
Brothers and sisters in Christ, whether you may have a little time left to live before you go to heaven or whether you may have many, many more years, make these last words about The Word words which you think about and listen to and pass on to others every day of your life. Since God’s Holy Word has saved you for the next life, and since it guides you in this life, devote your life from beginning to end to everything that that Word tells you to believe and do in the name of Jesus your dear Savior, for he has given you his word that he will be with you until you have spoken your last one — just as he was for a little thirteen year old girl who is waiting for us all to join her. Amen.