At my first defense 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)
This morning I was lingering over these magnificent and heartbreaking words. Paul is in custody in Rome. So far as we know, he was never released. His last letter comes to an end like this.
Consider and be astounded!
He is deserted: “no one came to stand by me.” He is an old man. A loyal servant. In a foreign city, far from home. Surrounded by enemies. In danger of death. Why? Answer: So he could write this precious sentence for our discouraged, or fearful, or lonely souls: “But the Lord stood by me!”
Oh, how I love those words! When you are deserted by close friends, do you cry out against God? Are the people in your life, then, really your god? Or do you take courage in this magnificent truth: “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20) — no matter who deserts you? Do you strengthen your heart with this inexorable oath: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5)?
Then let us say, “The Lord stood by me!”
Question: What was threatened in 2 Timothy 4:18? Answer: that Paul might not attain the Lord’s heavenly kingdom! But over against the threat Paul cries, “The Lord will . . . bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.”
Question: How was Paul’s attaining the heavenly kingdom threatened? Answer: “evil deeds.” “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.”
Question: How could an evil deed threaten Paul’s attaining the heavenly kingdom? Answer: by tempting him to forsake his allegiance to Christ through disobedience.
Question: Was this temptation the “lion’s mouth” from which he was rescued? Answer: Yes. “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith” (1 Peter 5:8–9).
Question: So who gets the glory that Paul did not yield to this satanic temptation, but endured to the end in faith and obedience? Answer: “To him [the Lord] belong glory and dominion forever and ever” (1 Peter 5:10). “To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen” (2 Timothy 4:18).
Question: Why? Wasn’t it Paul who stood firm? Answer: “The Lord stood by me and strengthened me!”