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Come Before Winter

Scripture: 2 Timothy 4:6-9; Text: "Do thy diligence to come before winter..." (2 Tim. 4:21a).

The names of many saints are mentioned in this chapter, but the main characters are the aging Paul and the younger preacher Timothy. This is the second letter that Paul wrote Timothy and in the closing remarks of this epistle, he encourages Timothy to come quickly. Paul desperately needed Timothy to replace Demas, who had deserted the cause of Christ and returned to the world.

The words of our scripture reading makes it clearly evident that Paul is very anxious for Timothy to arrive. He faced the serious problem of human opposition which seems to have been directed by a man named Alexander. In spite of his opposition, there was a more urgent need because winter was soon to wrap the region in a blanket of hardship. Therefore, Paul not only encourages Timothy "Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me" (2 Timothy 4:19), but also "Do thy diligence to come before winter ..." (2 Timothy 4:21).

It appears that perhaps a number of considerations were involved in this request. Let us consider three possibilities. (1) It seems likely Paul sensed that death was eminent. In preceding statements he said "For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand" (2 Timothy 4:6). Evidently he speaks of death as the means of being offered on the altar of service and his departure was to be from the body to God's paradise above. We must all die, unless Jesus returns first, for it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment (Hebrews 9:27). With the exceptions of Enoch and Elijah, all other great servants of God, including Paul; have left the scenes of action by the exit of death. Paul seems to feel that his remaining time on earth would be brief so he anxiously looks forward to Timothy's arrival.

It appears that Paul's petitions to Timothy grew out of the fact that he might not survive the coming winter in the harsh atmosphere of a Roman prison. Because he was aging and perhaps failing in health, he accepted that possibility as being very likely and therefore he encouraged Timothy not to wait until the winter was past for it might be too late then for him to see Paul alive. It is always wise not to put off until tomorrow that which we can do today, for in our procrastination we may never have the opportunity again. The wise man Solomon wrote, "Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth" (Proverbs 27:1).

(2) Another reason that Paul might have had for making such an urgent request of Timothy, was that certain items were needed before winter came. Winter was soon to cover the earth with a blanket of bitter cold and snows that would shut the door to many outside activities and make the indoors more difficult to bear because of boredom. Paul was aware of his needs during the bitter days ahead and so requested, "The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus; when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments" (2 Timothy 4:13). His coat would help keep him warm as he wiled away the days with reading and study.

Like Paul, we cannot control the elements of nature but we can by wisdom prepare ourselves to cope. We expect some unpleasant times to befall us, but if we make proper preparations and trust God for the rest, we too can endure them as over comers. Solomon said, "Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest" (Proverbs 6:6-8). God created us superior to the ants and He provides for us divine leadership; therefore, we are to keep our eyes on the future and our hearts upon God, as did Paul.

(3) Finally, it seems that Paul's urgent request might have been made out of a genuine concern for the welfare of Timothy. Winter travel was at the best difficult and sometimes impossible. The seas were often stormy and very dangerous for those who chose to sail them during the winter. It was a winter storm that ship wrecked Paul on his way to Rome. He had advised the ship masters to winter in Phenice, but because there was a balmy break in the weather they sailed past Crete and in a few days were caught in a tempestuous wind called Euroclydon (Acts 27:13-14). After about fourteen days the vessel was destroyed and only by the providence of God, the passengers and crew survived.

Even the land was not accommodative to travel because the deep snow further impeded their slow modes of transportation. Therefore, whether Timothy decided to travel by land or sea, it would increase the risks if he waited until winter. The work of the ministry had enough perils for the younger minister to face without adding the dangers of winter travel. It is reasonable to conclude that Paul was concerned with the welfare of Timothy as much as himself. After all he wrote to the church at Philippi these words: "Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:4-5). Those who share with Paul a genuine Christian concern, will not limit their realm of interest to their own affairs but will always be considerate of those with whom their lives are bound in the service of God.

While all that has been said thus far helps to explain the reasons behind Paul's unusual request of Timothy, there are also some additional spiritual lessons which may be drawn from those words of urgent petition. Therefore, the remainder of this sermon shall be devoted to an understanding of such Biblical principles. As we do so, we will need to observe some parallels and draw some conclusions based upon the similarities.

To begin with, we need to recognize that the whole of life may be depicted by a "day"; there is then a parallel between life and the period of sun light hours that we consider a day. Our Lord Jesus Christ used such a comparison in His preaching, so we know that it is acceptable to do so. When Jesus healed the man who was blind from birth, He said, "I must work the works of him that send me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work" (John 9:4). The message is simple and obvious. He depicts life as a day that begins before sunrise with conception, then at sunrise we are born and the years of growth and maturity are depicted by the bright hours. Then comes the dim lite afternoon- hours of old age and finally as the sun sets, the darkness of death closes in. Jesus knew that He must do His Father's work before the night of death came for there is no work, nor devise, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave to which we are destined to rest, until Jesus comes (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

Our Lord also used the parallel between "life" and a "day" as He spoke His great parable about laborers in the vineyard, which is recorded in Matthew 20:1-16. Men were hired at various hours of the day, up until the eleventh hour or five o'clock in the afternoon. The day ended at six o'clock at which time the men were paid and sent home. In a similar way, we are called into the service of God at different ages (hours) and regardless of whether the young or old serve God, the pay is the same - joy of the Lord as they hear the words of the Master, "... Well done, thou good and faithful servant ..." (Matthew 25:21). Yet the earlier we come, the longer we have to enjoy the blessings of His kingdom. Some of you are in late afternoon, but God bless you to enjoy richly the time that remains; others of you are in the morning time of your youth and I encourage you to give your life in loyal and devoted service to Jesus Christ our Saviour (Ecclesiastes 12:1).

Just as the hours of a day may depict the life time of an individual, so a year may do the same. The length of time we designate as a year, has four seasons; two of which are mentioned in Genesis 8:22. God said, "While the earth remaineth, seed time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease." Summer and winter were mentioned, but we also divide the year into Spring. and Fall, which are the seasons of change. In this parallel we need to perceive life as consisting of four seasons or a complete cycle of them. Think about it! Springtime is a time of new life, when all nature buds and brings forth new leaves and flowers. It is one of the most beautiful times of the year to many, yet it is a meaningful picture of birth and childhood years. What a beautiful time of innocense and carefree life. After spring, comes the Summer of life, which is a time of growth and productivity. The crops and trees have fruit that is growing and filling themselves with fruitfulness for times to come. How beautifully this depicts the years of young adulthood, when people marry and have families. During these fruitful years of childbearing, children are brought into the world and are to be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. But at middle age, as our children grow up and our energies begin to diminish, life's beauty begins to fade and give way to bulging waistlines and graying hair. It is at this stage of life that we recognize that fall has begun. The chest sometimes falls to the waist and the hair from the head. Seriously though, middle age begins the fall season of life and through those years there are many changes that take place. Not all the change is bad, for there is a beauty to this season that is unequaled by the others. The gorgeous colored leaves fill the countryside with indescribable beauty. In life, it is the same; for most people by their middle ages are able to slow down some and enjoy their children and grandchildren in a way unavailable during the years when the burden of raising children and providing for their needs, put such stress and tension on the lives.

Finally, we come to the winter of life, if we are blessed to live long enough. Winter is also a beautiful season and we are to recognize that every season of the year is designed by the great Architect of the universe, to have special significance. Let us recognize that life is beautiful and filled with meaning from beginning to end. If we loose sight of that fact, we will loose much of the joy of living. Even though winter is a beautiful season, it is also a difficult one. The bitter cold makes it extremely difficult for some people, but I confess that the older I get, the more I have come to enjoy winter. I now appreciate winter as I never did when I was younger. Hopefully, I will be able to enjoy my winter season of life, if I am blessed of God to live that long.

Because winter is a darker time with shorter days and often cold and dreary, we see how accurately it depicts the diminished vision of old age and the difficulties of failing health. It occurs to me that the cold of winter is somehow mysteriously connected to the fact that older people tend to become more cold natured. In mid-summer I have visited with older people and found them in long sleeves and a sweater. There are such obvious lines of parallel between old age and winter, that they seem too obvious to ignore. After all the unpleasant aspects of winter only serve to help us understand that in extreme old age, there are often diminished pleasure in life. Therefore Solomon said, "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them" (Ecclesiastes 12:1). He tells us that when old age comes, there are often "evil days" of pain and sickness and as life fades and strength diminishes, so pleasures are reduced. So he encourages us to serve God while we are younger, while strength is enjoyed and we are able to actively engage in the various opportunities of service. Here the message goes back to the text - come before winter! Come before winter sets in with it difficulties and many limitations. Come in your best years and engage in the service of God. Why wait until the best of life is past and only the worst of life is left? Once winter has set in, the inevitable end to our cycle of seasons is death. It is not a pleasant thought for many, but it presses upon us more forcibly the need to "come before winter."

We can “come” to God only because He has already come to us by His work of grace in our lives. Somewhere in the distant eternity past, God chose a people for His own special treasure (Ephesians 1:4). He predestinated us to be finally conformed to the glorious image of Jesus (Romans 8:29), and in heaven we shall be like Him. Almost two-thousand years ago He gave His only begotten Son to die for our sins and redeem the elect out of every kindred, tongue, people and nation through His sinless shed blood (Revelation 5:9). During our lifetime, the Holy Spirit has quickened us into divine life through an effectual call from God (Ephesians 2:1). Now we are children of God and though we do not yet fully understand what we shall be in glory, we possess a most blessed hope of enjoying heaven, after our winter has ended (1 John 3:2-3).

Because we are alive in Jesus Christ, we can hear the call that issues forth from the word of God. It is a call to the fellowship of Jesus Christ as we live in His church, a life of purity that brings glory to Him. Yet it remains that many who profess the name of Jesus Christ and declare that they are saved by grace, have not yet answered the call. Some attend faithfully the worship services, but never have come in to enjoy the full blessings of His kingdom. To those of you who find yourself here identified, I say again - Come before winter!

Some of you have already waited through the Spring, Summer and Fall and now have felt the rigors of winter, yet you have not come. Perhaps you think it is too late now to give your life to the service of the Saviour and His church. What can I say to you who have already waited until winter? I tell you most emphatically - come anyway! Use your remaining time to the glory of God. Even if you come into the church to die, as I have known some to do; it is better to die in the church with a testimony of love for Jesus and a final act of obedience, than it is to die out of the church.

Since there are many who are still waiting, for some reason they suppose to be a legitimate excuse, I strongly encourage you to come before you get to the winter of your life. By doing so you will have the advantage of living many years in the church of our Lord , Jesus Christ. The earlier you come, the longer you will have to enjoy the blessings and the more glory and praise you may give to the One who loved you and died for your sins.

Procrastination is a sin frequently practiced among the children of God, and one that is seldom repented of. So often people intend to follow Jesus some day, but like the man who wanted to first be with his family (Luke 9:61) their delay deprives them of blessings which can never be regained. There is a depth of peace that comes with the answer of a good conscience toward God, which can not be experienced until the saved follow their Lord in baptism (1 Peter 3:21). Procrastination postpones many spiritual blessings. Perhaps, some of you have already deprived yourself of a closeness to Christ which would have greatly enriched your life during the seasons through which you have already passed.

Where are you now, my friend? What season might best identify your stage in life? Well, whatever it is may, I remind you of the words of Jesus. He said, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Matthews 11:28-30). Jesus calls us with the words - "come unto me." If you have not yet obeyed, then may I say as Paul did to Timothy - Come before winter!

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This page last updated on June 7, 2014