There are many reasons why I respect and, yes, love the Apostle Paul. His words near the close of his final letter in the New Testament, 2 Timothy, reveal the stalwart character of the man who loved his fellow believers, and the man who loved the Lord Jesus.
“At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
2 Timothy 4:16-18
Standing alone and deserted, Paul forgave those who had fled. He knew the depth and reality of the forgiveness that God had extended to him, and Paul extended it to those who had left him in his time of need. Paul lived his words:
“Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”
His forgiveness of others gives us a glimpse of how, close to the end of his life, his trust and his focus remained on Christ. And as he wrote to Timothy of Christ’s strength and his trust in Christ for his future, we see the reality of Paul’s faith in God in the crucible of a Roman prison.
Paul’s words and Paul’s life have sustained me. I have known desertion by many of those I counted as friends, but never have I known it as Paul knew it. My faith falters and wavers, but in my moments of weariness, when I have no other words that comfort, Paul’s focus on Christ and his faith in God give me encouragement to trust and persevere.
“The Lord GOD has given Me the tongue of disciples,
That I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word
He awakens Me morning by morning,
He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple.”
John Calvin, in his commentary on this verse writes:
“Our faith wavers, if we suspect that a man speaks from himself; and the condition of that people was so wretched that no human arguments could induce them to entertain the hope of deliverance….
“Hence we infer that the most important duty of the ministers of the word is, to comfort wretched men, who are oppressed by afflictions, or who bend under their weight, and, in short, to point out what is true rest and serenity of mind, as we have formerly seen. (Isaiah 33:20.) We are likewise taught what each of us ought chiefly to seek in the Scriptures, namely, that we may be furnished with doctrine appropriate and suitable for relieving our distresses, He who, by seasonable consolation, in afflictive or even desperate affairs, can cheer and support his heart, ought to know that he has made good proficiency in the Gospel….”
Paul never spoke from himself and his own strength; he spoke of Christ, and because he did so he has strengthened the faith of all believers who read his letters. Paul made good proficiency in the Gospel, and throughout the years he has been a minister to all Christians—including us Gentiles whom he so dearly loved.
“When the morning was up, they had him to the top of the house, and bid him look south. So he did, and behold, at a great distance, he saw a most pleasant mountainous country, beautified with woods, vineyards, fruits of all sorts, flowers also, with springs and fountains, very delectable to behold. Isa. 33:16, 17. Then he asked the name of the country. They said it was Immanuel’s land; and it is as common, said they, as this hill is, to and for all the pilgrims. And when thou comest there, from thence thou mayest see to the gate of the celestial city, as the shepherds that live there will make appear.”
John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress
The Lord will rescue us from every evil deed, and will bring us safely to His heavenly kingdom.
Emmanuel’s Land Window at Emmanuel Church in the City of Boston
(depicting Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress): ElizaJR, Public Domain.
John Calvin, Isaiah.
John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress, The Third Stage.
Original content: Copyright ©2010 Iwana Carpenter