The Lord Is Always There
Paul's “quarantine” was a lot worse than ours. As grueling as his first imprisonment was (Acts 21-28), he seems to refer to a second imprisonment and trial in II Timothy. Though details of the latter end of Paul’s life are sketchy, it appears that he had a preliminary hearing before Roman officials before his final conviction and execution. It is this to which he refers in II Tim. 4:16-18.
Paul reports that “at my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them” (II Tim. 4:16). Luke’s testimony in Acts and Paul’s epistles indicate that he had a host of brethren (Epaphroditus, Onesimus, Epaphras, Tychicus, Aristarchus, Luke, etc.) assisting him during his first imprisonment in Rome. But things changed, and this time “no one stood with me.” What a sad statement.
Conybeare and Howson offer this observation: “It was dangerous even to appear in public as the friend or advisor of the apostle. No advocate would venture to plead his cause, no procurator to aid him in arranging the evidence, no patronas ... to appear as his supporter, and to depreciate, according to ancient usage, the severity of the sentence. ... He evidently intimates that he spoke before a crowded audience, so that ‘all the Gentiles might hear;’ and this corresponds with the supposition ... that he was tried in one of those great basilicas which stood in the Forum. ... The basilicas were buildings of great size, so that a vast multitude of spectators was always present at any trial which excited public interest” (quoted in Patton, Truth Commentary on 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon 238).
How lonely this must have been – surrounded by people yet no one standing by his side. Paul evidently considered this dereliction rather than circumstance, for he prays for their forgiveness.
“But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me” (II Tim. 4:17). We may have in the past dismissed this passage as not applicable to us, but our present battle with COVID-19 brings it home in a different context. Due to social distancing, we have heard of those who have spent their final days in this world alone. A friend of mine tells of going to the nursing home to see her mother-in-law. She and her husband sit outside her window in lawn chairs and talk to “Granny” on the phone just so she can see their faces.
With his days on earth dwindling and his friends nowhere in sight, Paul confidently looked to the future: “And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen!” (II Tim. 4:18).
The thought of death is repugnant, but it is really obnoxious to think of dying alone. But it is now happening daily. And it presents another of many reasons why the Lord should be so important to us. If He is shepherding our souls, we are never alone, even in prison, in the nursing home, in the intensive care unit or even in our last moments.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me.” (Ps. 23:4). I don’t know about you, but I want a shepherd like that.