When my grandfather died, I was in my early twenties. During his final illness, I flew from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and met up with my brother in Atlanta, Georgia. From there we flew nonstop to Puerto Rico.
Once we arrived we went directly to the hospital where he was. I remember seeing a shadow of a man in a hospital bed who didn’t look like my grandfather at all! He was extremely thin, weak, and white as a ghost. There were lots of people waiting to say their final goodbyes. I patiently waited my turn to briefly see him. I remember touching the skin of his left hand . . . it was like the skin of an onion: thin, brittle, and fragile. His breathing was shallow, and his eyes were open, but he acted like he couldn’t see me.
I leaned over, kissed his forehead and cheek, and, identifying myself, told him how much I loved him and didn’t want him to go away. His breathing was irregular, and there was this weird rattle in his chest.
He smiled at me, and slowly, softly, breathlessly speaking to me through a whisper—for that’s all the strength he had—he told me not to be sad or cry because I would once again see him in heaven. He said that he loved me very much and that God had something incredible in store for my life.
Then, just like that, it was somebody else’s turn.
That would be the last time I saw him alive. My grandmother and aunts told me that the doctors didn’t understand how he could continue to live as long as he did, but he died shortly after speaking with all the folks from the States: me, my two brothers, and my three cousins. He literally hung on just long enough to do that.
Famous Last Words
I’ve never forgotten that visit. There are power and significance in the last words that are said to us right before somebody dies. When a person doesn’t have a lot of time left to live, they tend to carefully measure their words and share only what’s most important.
The entire Bible is filled with crucial truths that, if we understand and internalize them, we’ll be eternally better off for it. Jesus, speaking to John the Revelator, bluntly put it in these terms: “Whoever has ears, let them hear” (Rev. 2:7). Translation: “Don’t just hear, but DO!”
But even within those truths, there are “famous last words.” One of my favorite writers, the Apostle Paul, during the last months, weeks, and days of his life wrote such words in several letters known today as his “Pastoral Epistles”: 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus.
The Back Story
In terms of actual order, Paul first wrote 1 Timothy, then Titus. The last letter ever written by the Apostle Paul was 2 Timothy.
Who was Timothy, and what relation was he to Paul that the apostle wrote his last letter ever to him? Timothy was the son of a Greek father and a Jewish mother. Paul says Timothy had a “genuine faith,” the same as that which lived in his mother and grandmother (2 Tim. 1:5). When Paul came preaching Christ, all three accepted his teaching and committed their lives to the Savior.
Timothy joined Paul during one of Paul’s later missionary journeys and served as Paul’s representative to several churches. Paul addresses Timothy in his first letter to him as “my true son in the faith,” showing the close bond they shared (1 Tim. 1:2).
During his fourth missionary journey, Paul instructed Timothy to care for the church at Ephesus while he went on to Macedonia. When he realized that he might not return to Ephesus in the near future, he wrote this first letter to Timothy to develop the charge he had given his young assistant, to refute false teachings, and to supervise the affairs of the growing Ephesian church.
Paul also wrote one of his very last personal letters to Titus. Titus was one of Paul’s closest and most trusted fellow workers in the gospel. When Paul left Antioch for Jerusalem to discuss the gospel of grace (Acts 15:1f) with the leaders there, he took Titus, a Gentile, with him (Gal. 2:1-3) as an example of one accepted by grace without having to be circumcised. This fact was used to vindicate Paul’s stand on this issue (Gal. 2:2-5). It also appears that Titus worked with Paul at Ephesus during the third missionary journey. From there the apostle sent him to Corinth, where he helped that church with its work and with the collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem (see 2 Cor. 2:12-13; 7:5-6; 8:6).
After Paul’s release from prison in Rome in A.D. 62 and after his fourth missionary journey, during which he wrote 1 Timothy and Titus, Paul was again imprisoned under Emperor Nero in A.D. 66–67. It was during this time that he wrote 2 Timothy.
In contrast to his first imprisonment, when he lived in a “rented house” (Acts 28:30), he now languished in a cold dungeon, chained like a common criminal. He was a prisoner, and he was about to be executed. Paul knew that his work was done and that his life was nearly at an end. And there was a man who would be taking his place—his son in the faith, Timothy.
The Trustworthy Five
In Paul’s final letters to these two valued colleagues, he leaves us a unique collection of five truths or “trustworthy sayings” (as he terms them) that give us vital principles on which to base our faith. In labeling the five statements as “trustworthy sayings,” Paul is saying, to borrow from modern lingo, that these are truths that we can take to the bank.
Now, I am certainly no Bible researcher or theologian, but here is my translation of these five principles and how they are relevant to our lives:
- “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1 Tim. 1:5).
My translation: Jesus utterly saves sinners.
I am eternally grateful that this fact is indeed true. Given all the stresses and pressures of life, we tend to either forget this miraculous fact or take it for granted. Paul’s reiteration reminds us that every day God’s mercies—and grace—are fresh and new. Praise Him!
- “Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1).
My translation: It’s a true privilege and honor to be a pastor.
There’s nothing more satisfying and fulfilling—and, conversely, more frustrating and draining—than working with people concerning their soul’s salvation. The pastor, Bible worker, youth worker, or layperson who generally spends time ministering to others should never, never take the fact for granted that others feel comfortable enough to open up their lives and share them and their corresponding spiritual struggles. To represent God in such a way is indeed a privilege and an honor.
- “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance” (1 Tim. 4:8-9).
My translation: Godliness yields dividends, both now and for eternity.
Another word for “godliness” is sanctification. Years ago I heard an older, experienced pastor put it like this: “Sanctification means acting like what we know God has promised us we’ll be.” It is true that acting godly will make your life immensely better, both now and for eternity. You’ll notice that I didn’t say that it will be easier, but better. Life with God—even through the worst times—is infinitely better than life without Him.
- “Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Tim. 2:11-13).
My translation: Genuine salvation leads to suffering graciously.
This truth is an outgrowth of the one shared above. The fact is: in this life—Christian or not—there will be suffering. The only question is: How will we respond? A life infused and empowered by God will always show up in abundant, healthy fruit of His Spirit (compare the two at Gal. 5:16-25).
- “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying” (Titus 3:3-8).
My translation: We are saved not by, but for, good works.
God has saved us for a purpose—and it’s not so we can take up space and oxygen until He returns to get us. We are His representatives (2 Cor. 5:20) and people will literally read our lives like an open book (2 Cor. 3:2). The only question is, after people take a gander, will we bring God credit or give Him a black eye?
Take It to the Bank!
Eminent pastor, author, and theologian C.H. Spurgeon, in his practical devotional, Morning and Evening, urges:
Treasure up these faithful sayings. Let them be the guides of our life, our comfort, and our instruction. The apostle of the Gentiles proved them to be faithful, they are faithful still, not one word shall fall to the ground; they are worthy of all acceptation, let us accept them now, and prove their faithfulness.
Paul knew he didn’t have much time to transmit crucial truths of life and faith to his protégés, Timothy and Titus, so in his final letters he whittled down everything he knew and had experienced in his life with—and without—Jesus down to these five pungent principles.
Given Paul’s experiences, he knew without a doubt that God is faithful (1 Cor. 1:9; 2 Tim. 4:7-8), and he wanted to urgently transmit that same idea to Timothy and Titus. Paul wanted them, and us today, to never forget that no matter what happens in life, when it comes to God, you can take it—or Him, rather—to the bank!
 Bible texts are from the NIV.
 Accessed on October 27, 2015, from https://www.biblegateway.com/devotionals/morning-and-evening/