2 Timothy 4:16-17 “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.”
Paul was no stranger to court rooms or jail cells: Philippi, Jerusalem, Caesarea, Rome. This time was different. This time the trump card of Roman citizenship was not going to get him out of trouble. This jail cell was the end of the line for Paul.
His Roman citizenship still provided him a public hearing in a court of law. He tells Timothy that they had already held his first defense. Paul used it as an opportunity to preach the gospel. That was his mission. But in the process, all his defenders had deserted him.
I think we understand the temptations that being left all alone present. There is the temptation to cave in, to sing a different tune. At school you let slip your Bible-based beliefs about traditional marriage, or a relatively recent creation of the world, or salvation only through faith in Jesus. As you talk, the group becomes strangely silent. It’s clear that no one else here shares your conviction. At best, they think you are a little backwards. At worst, they think you are hateful. What do you do now–try to back-peddle, spin your words a different way, abandon your convictions?
The dread of being alone, of becoming an unpopular little minority rejected by most, is a powerful motivator to give up the courage of our convictions. If it doesn’t get us to change our message, we may try to hide it. We play it safe by keeping our mouths mostly shut. We don’t feel so much like telling others what we believe anymore.
But Paul would have us know that this sense of being alone is largely an illusion. “But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.”
Paul’s experience of the Lord’s support was no different than our own. This was not his “Road to Damascus” experience in a jail cell. The Lord Jesus didn’t appear to him in some kind of visible spectacle. His eyes were not opened to see something no one else in the courtroom could see.
Paul found the Lord standing by his side and giving him strength where every Christian does: in the words and promises of God. Do you remember the little autobiographical testimony Paul had given toward the beginning of his first letter to Timothy? “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy, so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.”
Paul looked at the Grand Canyon sized contrast between his sin and Christ’s forgiving grace, and he had no doubt that the Lord was on his side, and by his side. Yet it didn’t make Paul feel small and incapable. It gave him strength to work all the harder.
Isn’t this a theme, a connection, that runs all through his life and work? What drives this man? Are his thoughts ever far from God’s grace at the cross when it comes to the tenacity with which he serves? Again and again it is Christ’s love, his cross, his death, his grace that occupies Paul’s thoughts and captivates Paul’s heart. That’s why he lives and serves and endures as though God himself were working through him–which, of course, he was.
God has given us a different mission than he gave Paul, at least in the details. But strength to accomplish that mission works no differently. If we want to know that the Lord is standing by our side, if we want to find his strength to love others every time we open our mouths, if we want to be his hands and feet every time we go to work or school, run to the gospel. Run to God’s promises. Don’t stand and wait to be hit by a bolt of spiritual lightning. Don’t shrink and shrivel in the face of a world that thinks the Gospel is stupid at best and evil at worst. Christ Jesus loves you so much he died to save you. Christ Jesus loves you so much that he has driven all of world history to make sure that you would have a parent or friend or pastor or teacher who brought you the gospel and led you to faith.
You don’t think he stands by you, then? He is at your side to give you strength for the unique mission he’s given you for the short time you’re here.