Abandoned, But Not Alone

16 At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! 17 But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

19 Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. 20 Erastus remained at Corinth, and I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus. 21 Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers.

22 The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you. 2 Timothy 4:16-22 ESV

Since his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul had developed the unique ability to view the events of his life through a Christ-centered lens, and his life had been far from easy. In his second letter to the church in Corinth, he provided them with a rather lengthy and disturbing catalog of some of his “sufferings” on behalf of Christ.

I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.

Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches. – 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 NLT

And Paul was not ashamed to label this list as a form of bragging or boasting – but of his many “weaknesses,” not his strengths.

If I must boast, I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am. – 2 Corinthians 11:30 NLT

In the very next chapter of that same letter, Paul shared how he had prayed repeatedly that God would remove “a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud” (2 Corinthians 12:7 NLT) But God chose to answer his requests with the simple statement: ““My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT). 

This led Paul to adopt the attitude he carried with him for the rest of his life.

So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:10 NLT

Paul’s words reveal a mindset that seems counterintuitive to most of us. Even as Christians, the thought of someone “boasting” about their weaknesses sounds a bit unstable and psychologically unhealthy. But Paul was far from crazy. He was a man who had learned to view his life on this earth and all that happened to him and around him as temporary in nature. That is why he could tell the believers in Philippi:

I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

Several times in his letter to Timothy, Paul has mentioned those who had abandoned him or compromised the truth of the gospel.

Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me – 2 Timothy 4:10 ESV

Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm – 2 Timothy 4:14 NLT

Hymenaeus and Philetus…have left the path of truth, claiming that the resurrection of the dead has already occurred; in this way, they have turned some people away from the faith. – 2 Timothy 2:17-18 NLT

And as he wraps up his letter, Paul adds a new detail that almost sounds as if he is having a pitty party.

At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. – 2 Timothy 4:16 ESV

In preparation for his trial before the emperor, Paul had been given a preliminary hearing. It is likely that this was intended as an opportunity for the facts of the case to be presented and any witnesses for the prosecution and the defense to be called. But Paul reveals that “no one came with me. Everyone abandoned me” (2 Timothy 4:16 NLT). No one came to Paul’s defense. There were no witnesses who spoke up on his behalf. But rather than responding in bitterness and self-pity, Paul expresses his desire that these individuals receive grace from God.

May it not be charged against them! – 2 Timothy 4:16 ESV

And then he reveals the Christ-centered perspective that allowed him to view even the darkest days of his life positively, rather than negatively.

But the Lord stood with me and gave me strength so that I might preach the Good News in its entirety for all the Gentiles to hear. And he rescued me from certain death. – 2 Timothy 4:17 NLT

When no one else showed up, the Lord was there. When it looked as if Paul was all alone and on his own, he knew his Lord and Savior was with him. Paul, who was a student of the Hebrew scriptures, seems to have had the words of King David in mind.

Even if my father and mother abandon me, the LORD will hold me close. – Psalm 27:10 NLT

And this was not the first time Paul had expressed to Timothy his strong belief in Christ’s presence in the midst of his sufferings.

You know how much persecution and suffering I have endured. You know all about how I was persecuted in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra—but the Lord rescued me from all of it. – 2 Timothy 3:11 NLT

Paul was able to see the hand of the Lord in every situation and circumstance of his life. Rather than viewing suffering as a sign of Christ’s absence, Paul chose to see it as a reminder of Christ’s strength in the midst of his own weakness. He tried to see trials and difficulties as nothing more than opportunities to witness the hand of God in his life. But Paul didn’t expect his earthly life to go on forever. He knew that there was a divine timeline in place that dictated the length of his stay on this earth, and he looked forward to the day when he could go to be with the Lord. That’s why he was able to say, “Yes, and the Lord will deliver me from every evil attack and will bring me safely into his heavenly Kingdom. All glory to God forever and ever!” (2 Timothy 4:18 NLT).

Even if his trial before Nero ended in his conviction and execution, Paul viewed it as a victory. He was completely confident in his eternal future and so, any suffering he might have to endure in this life was “nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later” (Romans 8:18 NLT).

Paul didn’t have a death wish, but he wasn’t afraid of the prospect of dying either. He expressed to the Philippian church how he constantly vacillated between a desire to continue his earthly ministry and a longing to be with Christ.

My confident hope is that I will in no way be ashamed but that with complete boldness, even now as always, Christ will be exalted in my body, whether I live or die. For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. Now if I am to go on living in the body, this will mean productive work for me, yet I don’t know which I prefer: I feel torn between the two, because I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more vital for your sake that I remain in the body.– Philippians 1:20-24 NLT

In Paul’s mind, either option was a win, because whichever one happened, he would be well within God’s sovereign will and would enjoy unbroken fellowship with his Savior.

Paul concludes his letter with a request that Timothy convey his love to his old friends, Priscila and Aquila, who were living in Ephesus. It seems quite evident that Paul is reminiscing about his life and ministry, recalling names from the past, as he faces an uncertain future. He longed to see Timothy. He obviously missed his many friends and associates and knew that he might never see any of them again. But he was not melancholy or morose. He doesn’t exhibit the characteristics of someone suffering from depression. He is at peace and ready to face the future with confidence and a calm assurance that “the Lord will deliver me from every evil attack and will bring me safely into his heavenly Kingdom.”

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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