Sometimes You Go It Alone
At my first defence no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:16-18)
Sometimes you have to go it alone. The old spiritual teaches us to sing, ‘You gotta walk that lonesome valley, you gotta walk it by yourself, oh, nobody else can walk it for you, you gotta walk it by yourself’.
There are such times:
When you are in the MRI or CAT scan machine.
When you are the only Christian at the family gathering.
When you are the only believer in the office.
When you are in deepest distress and have no comforter.
When, as John Henry Jowett put it, “life tumbles in”.
Your first nights alone in the house after the death of a spouse.
When you walk the last steps through the valley of the shadow of death.
Paul tells us his own experience of having to go it alone. From his account we can find help for our times of going it alone.
I. The Reality
At my first defence no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me.
Many make the mistake of thinking Paul did not love people or need them in his life.
– Because he was a scholar and an intellectual.
– Because he was a strong-willed leader.
But that is too simple and superficial reading of the apostle he shows here that he keenly felt it when he did not have human support and encouragement.
Paul is describing his ‘first defence’ this was something like a ‘preliminary hearing’ before the full trial a defendant was allowed to have supporters present and even to have people speak on his behalf.
He was in Rome and in Rome there was a significant church that had received perhaps the greatest of all Paul’s letters and with which he had established a relationship during his first imprisonment. Where were the Christians who were members of the church in Rome when Paul needed them? Not there. Why? We don’t know. Perhaps it was nothing worse than fear. These were ‘Nero times’ and the Neronian persecutions had commenced. But they did not come to Paul’s defence.
It is hard and painful to have to face trial alone. It is even harder when people could be there for you but are not. It is even worse when the people who could be there for you, but aren’t, are Christians. Perhaps you have experienced one or more times facing a trial when you longed for a defender, or at least a companion, and you found yourself utterly alone. People said to you, as it were, or perhaps to your face, ‘You’re on your own this time.’
But notice how Paul is not vindictive about their failure from fear he asks that the Lord may not hold it against them in this he shows the spirit of the Lord Jesus who prayed for forgiveness for even his persecutors and showed understanding of his closest friends’ sleeping when his soul was troubled unto death and he was sweating as though the drops were blood from a head wound.
When we have to go it alone we are not alone in that experience, for we know that Paul has been there. Moreover, Paul was not the first to go through it. Joseph in the pit. Elijah confronting the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. Daniel in the lions’ den. But supremely the Lord Jesus in Gethsemane. ‘Jesus walked that lonesome valley, He had to walk it by Himself, nobody else could walk it for Him, he had to walk it by Himself.’
II. The Resources
The Lord stood with me . . .
That is a remarkable statement. No one was standing by Paul as the charges were read, and he made his defence. But Paul was not alone, for, though unseen, the Lord himself was standing there.
The promise of the Lord to be with us is the fundamental promise and blessing of the Bible. He was with Adam and Eve in the Garden. But they forfeited his presence by their sin. Yet he was determined to redeem them and to grant them his presence again. The distinguishing feature of Israel’s life was that God was with them. Ultimately God comes to be with us in Christ. He is Immanuel. When Paul speaks of the Lord being with him he means the Lord Jesus Christ.The Lord is always with his people. Sometimes they feel it and are comforted by the sense of it. Sometimes they do not feel it, but even then the Lord is with them. Our fickle feelings are not gauge of the Lord’s presence. He says. ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ Jesus’ last promise: ‘I am with you always even to the end of the age.’
The Lord strengthened me.
The Lord helped Paul. ‘The Lord is my helper. What can man do to me?’ The Lord’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. When my Dad was diagnosed with cancer, I was considering a call to another church. Turmoil without and within. Talked to him on Sunday morning before going to church. Asked, ‘Do you feel the Lord is helping you?’ He replied, ‘There’s never been any doubt about that.’
The Lord was with Paul and strengthened him ‘so that through me the message might fully be proclaimed and all the Gentiles hear.’ The ‘defence’ was an occasion of preaching the gospel for Paul. Your hard times and alone times can be for you an occasion of proclaiming the gospel by life and word.
III. The Rescue
So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.
This was temporal deliverance. Paul felt as though at the hearing he had his head stuck in a lion’s mouth and his head was about to be bitten off. But the Lord delivered him. No fellow Christian helped, but that did not hinder the Lord. The Lord acted to grant Paul deliverance, extension of life, and further opportunities for ministry. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – the Lord was with them in the fiery furnace and he saved them from it. When you are facing hard times and you are alone the Lord can yet deliver you. ‘How oft in grief hath not he brought thee relief, spreading his wings to o’ershade thee?’
The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom
The ‘health and wealth’ gospel can offer only temporal blessing. Only the ‘full gospel’ can offer something when all, even life itself, fails. We will go through the valley of the shadow safely and arrive safely in the heavenly kingdom. I pray at deathbeds sometimes, ‘Lord, grant a safe journey through the dark valley and a happy arrival in the heavenly kingdom.’ At death we will enter the kingdom of God that, though hid from our eyes, is real and in heaven. And there we shall await the final revelation of the kingdom when even our bodies will be saved.
To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
William Smith is a PCA Pastor in Mississippi.
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