“At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.” 2 Timothy 4:16 NKJV
Have you ever felt alone as a believer in Christ? While most of us might say certainly, because believers are outnumbered by unbelievers and most of them are hostile to hearing the gospel, it might surprise you to know that Paul in this verse is talking about being abandoned by fellow believers! If I were to ask you “who killed Paul”, I am sure most would say Caesar Nero and you would technically be correct. Yet it can easily be asked, and justifiably so, how big of a part did Paul’s fellow believers play in his death because of their attitude towards him and their refusal to even acknowledge his presence in Rome?
Just how bad was it? Did you notice that in this passage Paul says that “all forsook me”? The Greek word for “forsook” is egkataleipō, which is translated to mean, ”abandon, desert, leave in straits, leave helpless, totally abandoned, utterly forsaken, to leave behind among, to leave surviving”. Frankly I find this truly hard to believe. Not only were the believers in Rome unwilling to come to Paul’s defense or to stand beside him with a show of support, if we look even closer at what Paul tells us about this situation we see that the believers there probably denied even knowing he was there.
“The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but when he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very zealously and found me.” 2 Timothy 1:17 NKJV
The word translated here as zealous is also translated as “very diligently”. Have you ever wondered why Onesiphorus had to work so hard to find Paul? It was certainly no secret to the believers in Rome that Paul was there, and I find it hard to believe that they had no idea where he was being held. That said, the logical conclusion is the no one was even willing to tell Onesiphorus where Paul was! Picture this man travelling all that way to support Paul and then finding out that every believer he asked knew nothing. Paul who? Sorry. Never heard of him.
Is this beginning to sound too harsh of a criticism of the believers in Rome? Clement of Rome was one of the early church fathers, and is believed to be one of Paul’s converts and the Clement mentioned by Paul in his letter to the Philippians. One of the things he is most known for is his letter to the church at Corinth, which, outside of the New Testament, is one of the earliest Christian documents in existence. While the letter was written to address problems pertaining to authority within the church, in it he lists seven examples of how jealousy and envy among believers resulted in trouble, as well as death and destruction to others. One of the examples he wrote of was Paul.
At first I found this incredibly hard to believe, yet as I began to consider the possibility of Paul suffering at the hands of fellow believers the thought occurred to me that there was no reason he would not suffer the same as many believers in the church today. Jealousy and envy are not new problems within the body, and there are certainly those who preach today who have suffered at the hands of others. The closer we get to the end of this age; it would seem that those who choose to stand on the principals of the gospel as taught by the Word of God are subject to much the same treatment as Paul endured.
“Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel.” Philippians 1:15-17 NKJV
Envy and jealousy are self-explanatory but what about the “strife” that Paul mentions here? It is the Greek word for “wrangling” which would seem to indicate that there were those who were jealous of Paul’s ministry and decided to attack his positions on doctrine by preaching something different than the gospel Paul taught. Obviously that is certainly nothing new within the Church today as there are many disagreements among believers on doctrinal issues, with the results often approaching the level of what Paul reveals to us that he had to endure. Yet the response of Paul to this type of treatment from fellow believers is not only what most of us would expect from him, it is what we should strive for as well should we ever suffer the same as he did.
What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice. For I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayer and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Philippians 1:18-21 NKJV
Paul taught and defended the Gospel of Christ to the very end. It did not matter to him what others thought of him, nor how he was treated as a result of their jealousy or envy, but only that the Gospel was preached to an unbelieving world. Many believers today are being ridiculed and attacked because of their beliefs or positions on what the Word of God teaches. The temptation is always to either strike back or withdraw to a safer position but as Paul shows us by his example, our response should always be to rejoice in our affliction and continue to share what God has laid on our hearts and preach the Gospel just as Paul did. Paul knew his time was short, and wanted only for Christ to be glorified by his suffering, and the Gospel be preached with boldness. Doesn’t that seem to be where we are today? By most accounts, our time on this earth is just about over. We should all follow Paul’s example and share the Gospel boldly with anyone who will listen.