2 Timothy 4:16

‘all left me’
(2 Timothy 4:16)

It’s good to have supportive friends, a blessing we should especially experience as Christians, in real ‘fellowship’(Acts 2:42) together, both giving and receiving. As Jesus said: ‘“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”’(John 13:35). He went on to demonstrate the heights of that love, since ‘we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers’(1 John 3:16). So it’s a real spiritual kinship, involving sacrificial commitment to one another. We might not always live up to this ideal, in our weakness and sin, but Paul, as he wrote this letter to Timothy, his ‘beloved child’(2 Timothy 1:2) in the faith, did know such love and support much of the time, and gave it too. As he wrote the letter, ‘Luke’(2 Timothy 4:11) was a support to him in ‘prison’(2 Timothy 1:8), apparently in ‘Rome’(2 Timothy 1:17). Others were expected soon, including Timothy ‘before winter’(2 Timothy 4:21).

Sometimes however, God allows such blessings to be withdrawn for a time, yet always with our ultimate ‘good’(Romans 8:28) in mind, and often that of others too. Reminiscent of Jesus, following His arrest at Gethsemane, when everyone ‘left Him, and fled’(Mark 14:50), it seems Paul had recently experienced something similar. He’d been arrested by the Romans, but at his ‘first defence, no one came to help’(2 Timothy 4:16). As he poignantly puts it here, ‘all left me’.

He must have felt abandoned, even let down. Perhaps some, like Timothy, simply couldn’t get there in time? No doubt fear of the authorities kept others away, when it came to the crunch, as with ‘Peter’(Mark 14:72) and ‘all’(Mark 14:50, cf.31) the other disciples following Jesus’ arrest, showing the truth of Jesus’ earlier warning that the ‘“spirit… is willing, but the flesh… weak”’(Mark 14:38).

However, throughout this letter there seems to be a wider sense in which Paul faced standing alone too, which he was keen to prepare Timothy for, to be cascaded down to ‘others’(2 Timothy 2:2), and by implication to all who’d follow afterwards, even us. He mentions a large group of people who’d ‘turned away’(2 Timothy 1:15) from him, possibly because they were ‘ashamed’(2 Timothy 1:16) of his imprisonment, and associated with their not holding to ‘sound’(2 Timothy 1:13) teaching. Certainly some had ‘erred concerning the truth’(2 Timothy 2:18) or ‘left… having loved this present world’(2 Timothy 4:10). Moreover, he warns that times would come when people, nominally Christian even, would listen only to teachers who permit the indulgence of ‘lusts, and… turn away… from the truth’(2 Timothy 4:3-4). Such would ‘grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived’(2 Timothy 3:13), ‘lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding a form of godliness, but…’(2 Timothy 3:4-5).

True children of God could easily become quite alienated and ostracized by such developments, perhaps feeling alone, even on trial, at least metaphorically. Nevertheless, we’d be in good metaphorical company too, standing with Paul, Timothy and others who have remained ‘faithful’(2 Timothy 2:2) before us. If and when feeling like this, it’s instructive and comforting to know that it’s expected and even Paul experienced something similar.

Even more however, we literally stand with Jesus, who is with us ‘“always, even to the end of the age”’(Matthew 28:20), our closest and most comforting friend. Standing alone, Paul knew His awesome presence too, adding in the very next verse, ‘the Lord stood by me and strengthened me’(2 Timothy 4:17), i.e. ‘the Spirit of Jesus’(Philippians 1:19), who’d helped him in prison before. We can know and feel this comforting and strengthening ‘“Spirit of truth”’(John 14:17) as well, never feeling alone, or ‘“orphans”’(John 14:18), God not just with us but ‘in’(John 14:20) us.

So Paul would encourage us, as with Timothy, to hold fast to and defend ‘sound’(2 Timothy 1:13) teaching, strengthened ‘through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us’(2 Timothy 1:14). We’re to proclaim God’s ‘message’(2 Timothy 4:17) of truth even when standing alone, even in threatening places, religious or secular, like to the Roman ‘palace guard’(Philippians 1:13).

Finally, we should note Paul’s perspective as well, which can help us when feeling alone in this ‘“world”’(John 15:18-19). On writing to the Philippians he expected to be released, rightly it seems, but in this letter, apparently his last, Paul saw that the time for his ‘departure’(2 Timothy 4:6) had come. Nevertheless, his focus was trained on God’s ‘heavenly Kingdom’(2 Timothy 4:18), fully ‘persuaded’(2 Timothy 1:12) that our close and faithful friend could lead him there, to a ‘“place”’(John 14:2) amongst the ‘great multitude’(Revelation 7:9), alongside our eternal ‘“friends”’(John 15:13-15), forever.

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