The last part of Paul’s second letter to Timothy is what’s often called the personalia section of a letter. I like to call it “epistolary shrapnel.” It’s the bit you don’t want to have to preach on because most of it seems very specific to the first-century situation, there’s often little in the way of a unifying theme, and it’s full of foreign names you have to pronounce like you know what you’re doing. And that’s where we’re at today.
But take heart: I think there is a unifying theme. It’s just a bit of a depressing one, in one sense, in that it shows Paul being let down by his fellow Christians. But it also reminds us not to allow the behaviour of other people in our church or in our ministry team to determine how we minister, or how we evaluate our ministry, or whether in fact we endure in ministry.
Other Christians will sometimes let you down
Because other Christians will sometimes let you down.
Remember, this letter has been an appeal for Timothy’s loyalty – his loyalty to Paul, to the truth of the gospel, and ultimately to Christ. This appeal for loyalty particularly poignant given the number of people who have let Paul down during his ministry – who have been disloyal. And we have to realise that if people let Paul down, they will probably let us down, at some point, too. For various reasons:
Some will lack an eternal perspective2 Timothy 4:10a Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica.
This is another Ps 22 allusion (remember yesterday?). “Deserted” is the Greek word we translate “forsaken” in the Psalm. “…why have you forsaken/deserted me.” To the psalmist, things are so bad it feels like God has deserted him. Paul knows this is not the case. God could not have forsaken him! But unfortunately, the same can’t be said for his co-workers.
Demas “loved this world.” That is, he forgot about focusing on the future reward that lies in store. Maybe he got caught up with pleasure, success, popularity, family, wealth in this life. Or maybe just the security of not being different. We don’t know what about “this world” that caused him to desert. But it’s clear that he didn’t have an eternal perspective.
So firstly, we should make sure that we don’t desert the cause like Demas did. That we don’t lose our eternal perspective. And that’s so easy to do, at least on a surface level where your day-to-day thinking exists.
But secondly – and this is crucial to long-term endurance in Christian ministry – realise that some people in the church won’t live with an eternal perspective. In fact, if you do have an eternal perspective, it will be the curse of your life. Once you “get it,” there’s no going back. It’s like the choice Neo is given in the Matrix – take the blue pill and it will be like nothing ever happened, or choose the red one and the present “reality” will begin to fade away, and the true “reality” will become clearer. You’ll begin to see things from outside the Matrix, from God’s perspective. You’ll make decisions and live your life with an eternal perspective.
And the downside of this is that other Christians who don’t get it will frustrate the life out of you! They’ll let you down, and let the kingdom down by not doing what they said they’d do because they ‘got busy’; by putting their secular calling ahead of their spiritual calling; by caring for their own comfort in the here-and-now more than the eternal destiny of others; by whining and complaining that things aren’t the way they want them instead of pitching in for the sake of the gospel; by focusing on themselves rather than on the glory of God amongst the nations.
This will happen. Putting it bluntly, we should “get used to it.” It happened to Paul, it will happen to us. Our task is to get on with the job, lead by example, and gently help others to see with that eternal perspective God wants for all of us.
Some will actively oppose you
But not everyone will simply lack that perspective, others will actively oppose you!2 Timothy 4:14-15 Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.
We don’t know much about Alexander, although it is likely he was the cause of Paul’s arrest this time around. He actively opposed Paul and the gospel. Again we have echoes of Psalm 22, with the psalmist in a similar plight, faced with great opposition:Ps 22:16 Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet
Know that people who claim to be Christians will oppose what you do. Be “on your guard” against them. Do your best to avoid yourself and the gospel message being harmed by them. But, like Paul, leave God to settle accounts with them: “the Lord will repay him for what he has done.”
Some will be ashamed to support you
Still others will let you down by being ashamed to stand up for the gospel:2 Timothy 4:16 At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them.
The “first defence” is probably the first part of the trial – what we’d call the arraignment. Paul was deserted by the Roman Christians out of fear. But like Jesus on the cross, he doesn’t want it held against them. (“Father forgive them…”)
Firstly it should go without saying that we ought not be afraid ourselves to stand up for the gospel. But secondly, realise that not everyone will back us up. We may be left on our own, deserted by our fellow believers. Yet don’t hold it against people who fail that test out of fear. After all, each of us has failed to stand up for Jesus at some point in our lives.
A bit depressing? Don’t worry, we’ll finish more positively tomorrow when we look at how other Christians can be a great support – and of course, how God will never let you down.