A Profile of Enduring Faith - Opposition|
"Standing Firm against the Opposition"
(2 Timothy 4:9-10, 14-18)
Almost from the time the apostle Paul came to faith in Christ, he faced opposition. From his dramatic conversion, all the way to the finish line of his execution and home going, the hurdles of opposition placed in Paul's path were both constant and cruel. Paul was constantly heckled, rejected, cursed, hunted like prey, abandoned, beaten with rods, whipped, stoned, lied about, ridiculed, hounded, arrested, and imprisoned. Yet, despite all these, he finished faithfully. He endured to the end.
It was near the finish line, in view of his beheading, that the apostle penned his second and final letter to Timothy. In the closing of that letter and his life, we get a glimpse of two men who opposed him, two who made his difficult endurance race, even harder.
In the third chapter of his letter he told Timothy that anyone who desired to live a godly life, anyone who wanted to live the kind of a life that pleased God would face opposition from time to time. He could count on it! But, Paul went on to tell Timothy that he could train himself to overcome it.
Count on It!
By the way, you and I can count on the same thing as well. If you are growing in godliness, growing in your relationship to living the kind of life that God has for you, you can count on facing opposition every now and then. But, the other certainty we can count on is God's help to overcome the conflict. What can we do about it? Today we're going to identify three measures the apostle Paul took that helped him through his tough situation.
In your Bible turn to 2 Timothy 4:9-10, 14-18:
2 Tim. 4:9-10 - "Make every effort to come to me soon, (v. 10) for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica, Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia" (NASB).
2 Tim. 4:14-18 - "Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. The Lord will repay him according to his deeds. (v. 15) Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching. (v.16) At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them. (v. 17) 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. (v. 18) 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." (NASB)
Paul took three measures in order to stand firm against the opposition. If you're going to stand firm you need to take these three as well.
I. Identify the Resistance
I want you to see what is going on here in this passage. Even though Paul was Timothy's mentor, and Timothy had also become one of Paul's closest companions - traveling together as missionaries, facing many dangers, and helping each other overcome numerous obstacles - yet, there were still two hurdles about which this missionary veteran felt he should forewarn his young protg.
Paul identifies the resistance he faced in two ways - one was by name and the other was by method.
A. By Name
Read 2 Timothy 4:9-10 and 4:14-15. In these passages we can see that others had forsaken Paul before. But, here he names a number of them and at least two of these in particular had really hurt both him and God's work. The first was a deserter by the name of Demas. The second was an adversary by the name of Alexander. Alexander the coppersmith was one who deliberately set out to destroy both Paul and his ministry.
Now you may be new enough to the Christian faith or naive enough to think that this type of thing is something that would never happen today. But, you would be wrong.
Both of these guys represent opposite ends in the spectrum of opposition by demonstrating how we can be opposed as we live for God and engage ourselves in His work. Demas' and Alexander's methods of opposition contrasted so much that we don't think of both of them as opposing the gospel ministry. Let's take a look at their methods.
B. By Method
The method Demas used to oppose Paul was what we might call "passive disagreement" - he deserted Paul. He abandoned him. He left him in the lurch. He let him down. All of this happened right when Paul truly needed him because he was going through a time of crisis.
I don't think it would have hurt Paul so much if Demas wasn't someone Paul had counted on or had been close to. Look at Philemon 22-24:
Philemon 22-24 - "At the same time also prepare me a lodging, for I hope that through your prayers I will be given to you. (v. 23) Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, (v. 24) as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke my fellow workers." (NASB)
Having Loved This World
What happened? What would cause a once faithful friend and co-laborer to abandon the apostle? Paul uses one short but damning phrase back in 2 Timothy 4:10 - "having loved this present world." Some way or another, Demas had taken his eyes off the Lord. He stopped walking with the Lord and ended up being intoxicated and infatuated with the things in this world that were opposed to God and His work.
Take note of it. Because, I believe God has included this here for us to learn from so we don't become spiritual fugitives like Demas. Demas is only mentioned three times in Paul's letters. In Philemon he's mentioned as a "fellow worker." In Colossians 4:14 he is only mentioned by name as if out of politeness. Then in the book of Timothy, he's mentioned in a context of shame. I'm sure it didn't happen all at once. It almost never does. The collapse happens bit-by-bit. That is usually how spiritual collapse comes about.
In contrast to Demas, Alexander's opposition was aggressive. He attacked both Paul's person and his teaching. Paul describes it with two vivid phrases.
1. First, he says that "Alexander did me much harm." This little phrase means that Alexander was pointing out information about Paul. It didn't necessarily have to be true. Alexander was more than likely making up and spreading half truths about Paul's character and background that did him much harm.
2. The second phrase Paul uses is in verse 15: "he vigorously opposed our teaching." In other words, he actively assaulted the truth being taught by Paul. It wasn't enough for him simply to reject the message personally. No, he felt he had to undertake a personal and somewhat public crusade against the gospel.
How do we respond when these types of hurtful things happen? How will you who are hurt respond to the sting of opposition? Perhaps another person you know is attempting to undermine your testimony for Christ or your ministry. Maybe a family member of loved one is opposing your following Christ. Perhaps it's a teacher at school who is opposed to Christianity. Or, it's a fellow worker who gets their jollies by attacking your Christianity in public.
This brings us to the second measure Paul took.
II. Handle the Opposition
Look at how Paul handled the opposition. If there is one truth we could glean from Paul's life thus far, it is that we cannot expect to make any kind of an impact for Jesus Christ without expecting some kind of opposition. It may be passive or all out aggressive, or even something in between. But, it will come, and we've got to train ourselves to be able to overcome or it will cripple us.
How do we do it? And what do we need to do? If you will look closely at Paul's comments about these two guys, you'll see three important principles that he puts into practice.
A. State the Truth
Without reading the verses again I think you can remember that Paul didn't mess around when it came to naming his opposers and the facts about them. He is very direct, unafraid, and realistic about what has happened and the damage that has been done. That takes guts! It is much easier to let it go and try to ignore the pain. But interestingly, that was not Paul's way.
B. Take No Revenge
Look at verse 16:
2 Timothy 4:16 - "At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them" (NASB).
Paul handles the opposition in a very positive way. What an incredible statement of grace and compassion. Paul makes a statement that is reminiscent of Jesus' words on the cross, "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).
God is Your Avenger
Even for Alexander, Paul says, "The Lord will repay him according to his deeds" (v. 14b). Now there have been times when you and I have been there, haven't we? I know personally that the natural tendency is to want to call down fire out of heaven! But notice that Paul trusts the Lord to handle his opposition. That, beloved, is the right response when you are being wronged. You can only do that when you draw close to god, and keep your eyes on Him. God is always going to do what is right in His time. One day, because God is holy and righteous, He will exact a terrible punishment on all the "Alexanders" of this world.
C. Don't Drop Your Guard
Many of us who trust Christ as our Lord and Savior have the mistaken idea that just because God tells us not to take our own revenge we are supposed to be submissive doormats for our antagonists to wipe their feet on. WRONG!
Once again, look at how firmly Paul warns Timothy in verse 15:
"Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching." (2 Tim. 4:15, NASB)
Leaving vengeance in the Lord's hands does not mean we let down our guard. Listen to God's wisdom in Proverbs 22:3,
"A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it."
We need to be wise enough to not let our enemies have opportunity to do us harm. If they succeed, then we need to let God handle it in his own time.
I would list some practical ways that I could guard myself against my adversaries.
Paul identified his resistance
He handled the opposition
And we see that Paul did one last thing:
III. Claim the Deliverance
Amidst all the distractions, desertions, and attacks, one thing seems to stand out in Paul's life. It's one encouraging truth that we should learn and never, ever forget.
Paul always knew that Jesus stood by his side no matter what!
Look at verse 17-18 with me as we wrap this up:
"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. (v. 18) 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 Tim. 4:17-18, NASB)
I see two things here for us:
A. Claim Jesus' Strength for Now.
Just like Jesus stood by Paul, He will stand by you and me, offering us strength to accomplish his will despite the opposition. Claim His strength for today. Claim his strength for the "now."
B. Commit the Latter to Him as Well.
Fear of Future
Often times, the number one opponent to walking by faith is "fear" - fear of more attacks from the opposition, fear of our future in His kingdom, even just the fear of fear. Paul overcame both with a conquering faith that committed every future event into God's hands. He's willing to help us overcome our fears too, if we will learn to place our future in His hands.
Have you ever been deserted by a Demas in a time of crisis? Is there an Alexander in your life, whose sole mission is to misunderstand, misinterpret, and misrepresent you and your teaching?
If God is for us Who is Against Us?
You are not alone. Paul has been there - and Jesus was there with him. If you want to live to grow in grace and please God with your life, you'll be there too. But, remember that Jesus is there for you. He will do the same thing for you! The Lord has taken a stand with you. As Paul says so beautifully in Romans 8:31: "If God is for us, who can be against us?"
No matter how large or small, passive or aggressive the opposition that comes your way, never forget who stands with you. Never forget who is ready and able to strengthen you. Never forget who is for you…JESUS.
Draw Close to God
Fear may have your heart and mind on the run. But, you can end the retreat today. You can clear the confusion and turn the battle around by one simple step:
Begin to draw close to God today.
David said, "I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears" (Psalm 34:4). James said, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (James 4:8).