After storming Omaha Beach on D-Day, 1944, Captain John Miller and his troops were given a new assignment. Save Private James Francis Ryan. It seems that Private Ryan’s other brothers were killed in combat, and the State Department had decided to send a rescue party to bring Private Ryan home safe to his family. So, Captain Miller and his men go looking for one G.I. in a field of green.
This is the premise for Stephen Spielberg’s 1998 Academy Award winning film, “Saving Private Ryan.” Captain Miller (played powerfully by Tom Hanks) finally finds Private Ryan (played by Matt Damon) in a small French town. As the movie draws to climactic ending, however, the German army out mans and out guns their American counterparts and Captain Miller gets fatally wounded defending Private Ryan. As Captain Miller is taking his last breaths, he pulls Private Ryan close and whispers in his ear, “Earn it.” Upon giving up his own life and the lives of many of his men, Captain Miller’s last words point Private Ryan back to the incredible privilege of life he has been given because of the death of another. The movie concludes with a now grown James Ryan weeping at John Miller’s grave, hoping desperately that he had fulfilled Miller’s final words.
It is amazing the perspective that imminent death brings. Many times, people do not know the day or hour of their translation into eternity, but when someone does, they often spend their last hours providing deep insight and reflecting on what really matters.
In the book of 2 Timothy, we have the last words of the Apostle Paul. Paul had been arrested again because of his faith in Christ, and the Emperor Nero’s madness assured Paul that this time he would have no escape. He did not know if his execution would be that day or sixty days from then, but he was certain that his earthly life was drawing to a close. So, as he sat in that dank dungeon in Rome, Paul took out a pen and wrote his “son” in the faith, Timothy. In this letter, we have Paul’s last preserved written words.
In this short letter, we have Paul’s most personal writings included in the Holy Scriptures. He does not write this letter to a church that he had planted, or to a person he was training, he wrote this letter to a friend who needed encouragement. Nero’s persecutions had scattered the church, and Paul wanted Timothy to stand firm. In a sense, Paul’s dying words to Timothy were simple . . . “Keep it” (not “Earn it”). Paul knew that there was no way for any human to “earn” the gift of life given us by Christ’s death on the cross. Paul instead, focuses his final words on the charge to the believer in this life . . . “Keep the faith.” Paul does not want Timothy to end his life weeping at a friend’s grave … instead he wants him to carry on the mission God was working through him.
Over the next two weeks at Wildwood Community Church, we will examine in a deeper way this most personal of Paul’s epistles. In our reading of this passage, it is my prayer that we would feel the personal impact of the Christian life and that we would keep the faith that God has entrusted to us. I hope to see you Sunday!