Monday, 14 May 2018
At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them. 2 Timothy 4:16
Paul has just finished speaking of Alexander the coppersmith, and the harm that he did against him. It is apparent that this means he openly spoke against Paul, accusing him of violating the law through his gospel presentation. He then added in the words, “May the Lord repay him according to his works.” With that understood, he now says, “At my first defense.”
This is often assumed to be a defense made in Rome, and from there he is being held for a second defense. That seems unlikely though. What seems more likely is that he was accused somewhere, found worthy of further trial, and then sent to Rome. This occurred in the past when he was held in Casearea for a hearing. During that hearing, he appealed to Rome based on his Roman citizenship. From there, he was sent to Rome for a ruling on his situation. Rome is the place of final appeal for trials of Roman citizens. The same is probably true here as well. Unfortunately, Paul states that during his defense, “no one stood with me.”
This is a common theme in the Bible. Job had troubles, and he was all but abandoned (see Job 19:13-17). In the psalms, being left alone in times of troubles, being repaid with evil for having done good, and etc., is noted several times, such as in Psalm 35:12-16, Psalm 41:9, and Psalm 55:12-14. Zechariah 13:6 shows that the Messiah would be wounded in the house of His friends, and such prophecies are clearly seen as fulfilled in the gospels. Paul endured this treatment as well. He says that instead of being defended, “all forsook me.”
This continues to show that the defense Paul made was at a different place and time. He has already said that Luke is there with him. And so wherever his defense was, the people of that area were not faithful to stand with him. However, it needs to be understood that if they were to stand with him, it could have meant their own imprisonment or death. By this time, things were taking a sour turn for Christians, and to stand in defense of one would mean being looked at with suspicion as one of this group, or one sympathetic to it. Paul understood this and he then says, “May it not be charged against them.”
Because of the serious nature of standing with Paul, he felt it was a thing not to be counted as unworthy of the title of Christian to not stand with him. They could remain effective Christians by having their freedom. They may have had families to support as well. If they had come to Paul’s defense, the lives they lived might very well have been denied them. With this in mind, the scholar Bengel notes the structure of the Greek here. It reads, “Not to them may it be charged.” The words “to them” are thus in the emphatic position. Though he sees no guilt in those who did not come to stand with him, he sees guilt in those who intimidated them to not do so. Surely he is thinking of Alexander in particular, and also to the whole system which caused this situation to arise. Paul sees their guilt as worthy of being charged.
Life application: Paul’s words do not indicate that he was completely abandoned. As noted before, Luke was there with him, and Timothy’s presence was being requested. However, in his time of need, he was not supported by those around him. We all must choose when, and under what circumstances, we are willing to step forward and provide assistance to those in need. It may not always be clear when it is appropriate and when it isn’t, and so we should seek the Lord through prayer and act when we feel truly led to do so.
Lord God, You are all-knowing; we are limited in knowledge. Help us to seek Your infinite understanding of matters that arise through prayer and petition. Those things which are unknown to us, but important to act on if needed, cause us stress until we know which way to turn. And so hear our prayers for guidance, and then lead our feet to act in accord with Your will. Help us to always turn to You, and to trust that You are guiding according to the infinite supply of wisdom You possess. Amen.