"He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything."
Colossians 1:18

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Grim Specter of Abandonment

Demas, Phygelus, Hermogenes, John Mark, the Corinthian church, the believers in the Asian province, the church in Rome, and even Barnabas - all of these at one point or another, for one reason or another, deserted the apostle Paul.  Some would return later, sparking immense joy, while the fate of others is lost to antiquity.  What would happen later was, in a way, immaterial - they abandoned Paul in the midst of a kingdom campaign, creating immediate and saddening reverberations throughout his ministry.  The workers dwindled, but the work was always there; the road always stretching longer before his eyes. 

Paul, in the dimmest twilight of his life, delivered these devastating words to Timothy:  "At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them." (2 Tim. 4:16) Paul stood trial in Rome before the highest levels of government, and he was obliged to do so entirely alone.  None of the countless converts who had been introduced to Christ by his bold proclamation, none of the brothers and sisters who had labored alongside him, none of the believers in all that city stood at his side.  Many of his dearest brothers and sisters were scattered across hundreds of miles and countless settlements, but Paul's words suggest that there were saints near at hand who pointedly chose to dissociate from the weary and manacled apostle.

The apostle follows this heartbreaking statement with something rather surprising, though.  "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 Tim. 4:17-18)

Lord, grant it us to respond in this manner!  A tenacious hold on the truth, as well as a desire to minister for the Lord in some capacity, will almost certainly see us lose a friend or two along the way, sadly.  Truth divides, as it must, and sometimes the effect of earnest faithfulness in one believer is the exposure of subtle unfaithfulness in another.  The convicted believer (or an offended unbeliver, for that matter) may well recoil, and what then is our recourse?  We check our own lives and hearts for sin, of course, and for issues of Christian liberty - anything that might have offended our brother or sister.  If any fault is uncovered, we deal with it strongly and humbly.  If, however, we are in the right, what can we do?  Our hands are clean, but our hearts are baffled.

(To be continued in Grace in the Midst of Abandonment)


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