In the fourth chapter of the book of 2 Timothy, the reader is exposed to the last inspired words of the apostle Paul. In Paul’s final words he charges his son in the faith (4:1-5), looks introspectively (6), retrospectively (7), and prospectively (8) at his life and then provides personal, closing remarks (9-22). Found within the closing remarks to Timothy, is a rather sad statement from the apostle Paul, who had dedicated much of his adult life to the growth of the Lord’s church (2 Tim. 4:7). In verse 16, Paul wrote, “At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me” (16a). What an embarrassing statement about the faithful in Christ’s church at Rome! Where were they for a brother in Christ, an apostle who had done so much for them? Apparently, fear of persecution kept them away. Nero was waging a war against Christianity, and all had abandoned (“forsook”) Paul during his first defense (“answer”). Have your family, friends, co-workers, or fellow Christians left you feeling deserted during your current trial? What should you do? First, you should try to cultivate an attitude of forgiveness similar to Paul’s when he expressed, “I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge” (16b). Those who have failed us in a time of need may not be ugly, inconsiderate people; they may just be fearful of what the future may bring for you and them. Second, you must not lose perspective of your relationship with God. When a trial strikes and friends forsake us, it is easy to assign our current condition as a colossal failure by God. Much like Job, we may feel compelled to question God’s role or assign to Him a lackadaisical attitude toward our persistent state of suffering (Job 16:11). In reality, when health, wealth, friendship and other areas of life fail us, we should be compelled to run towards our heavenly Father – not run for the hills of despair.
In 2 Timothy 4:17, Paul wrote, “Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me” (17a). The word translated “stood” carries with it the idea of “stood by” (John 19:26; Mark 14:70), and in Romans 16:2 the same word is translated in such a way to indicate “help or assistance.” What a contrast between some of our earthly relationships and the relationship we have with God! When all had forsaken Paul, the Lord “stood by” to strengthen His struggling servant! As David wrote when his oppressors were waxing against him, “Behold, God is mine helper: the Lord is with them that uphold my soul (Ps. 54:4). Though the apostles had a special promise (Matt. 10:19-20) and Paul had a special purpose (Acts 9:15-16) which do not pertain to Christians today, God still helps Christians when they are suffering. To name a few ways in which God helps: He answers prayer (Jas. 5:16), providentially works (Rom. 8:28), places boundaries on temptations (1 Cor. 10:13), communicates His Will through His Word (2 Thess. 2:14), and gives hope of everlasting life (1 Cor. 15:19). He is the Christian’s helper in a time of need, not one to be questioned, accused or, even worse, forsaken.
Paul continued with an interesting statement in verse 18, “And the Lord shall deliver me from every evil work” (18a). Paul had been “delivered out of the mouth of the lion” and “shall” (future tense) be “delivered from every evil work.” Whether the Lord delivered Paul from the mouth of a literal lion as He had done for Daniel or from a figurative lion, namely, the jaws of death (Ps. 22; Jackson 297) is difficult to determine. Whatever the case, Paul was confident that “the Lord shall deliver” him “from every evil work.” What confidence Paul displayed in the Lord! History records that soon after Paul penned these words, he was beheaded. Did the Lord fail Paul? Should not the Lord have protected His faithful servant? No, Paul was delivered through death not from death. When we face extraordinary adversity the question we desire to be answered the most is, “why me?” And if we believe we are faithful, “how has God allowed this to happen to me?” Perhaps the better question to ask is, “why not me?” God did not shield Paul from all adversity (2 Cor. 11: 23-28), and He did not rescue (“deliver”) him from physical death. This being true, God did deliver Paul spiritually from “every evil work.” One of the great joys Christians possess is the knowledge that they are saved (“preserved”) when they obey the Gospel (Mk. 16:16) and will receive this salvation in full when the Lord returns (2 Tim 2:10).
Friends, I know that this passage of Scripture does not solve all of your fears, pains, and concerns you may be feeling. It has been over a year since being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and I am still struggling with the “why me?” on occasion. Yet I continue to remind myself that the Lord is with me, desires to help in every way possible, and will ultimately clothe my soul in a glorified, spiritual body (1 John 3:2) saving my soul on the day of judgment (1 Thess. 4:16-18). Yet I Trust.