catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 13 :: 2004.06.18 — 2004.07.10


One is the loneliest number

Sometimes, I can be a real jackass. This is no unique phenomenon, I?m sure ? it?s part of the condition called being human. But, in this regard, I?m afraid, I?m a bit more human than most of my peers. I?ve been this way since I remember, having the potential to ruin a reputation or taint a good time with the roll of my tongue.

When I was six, I wanted to go live in the woods with the Velveteen Rabbit and all his friends. At twelve, I wanted to build a tower overlooking Yankee Stadium and secretly broadcast games to anyone who would listen. At eighteen, I decided that I would move to the mountains of Idaho, build a log cabin, and anonymously write children?s books. Then I was converted, and in the ensuing nine years, my desire to run off and be alone has struggled mightily with Jesus? personal summons to me to be part of a body.

As a writer-in-training, I am learning the power of words, which means that mostly I am recognizing how much my heart wants (and how easy it is) to use them to demolish. People encourage me to use words, not knowing that they could be the next victims. During my fourth year in seminary (the year I was given the Homiletics Award, celebrating my handling of words/Word), I said something in class to one of my professors, and with that one flick of the tongue managed to offend or hurt 75 people at-once, most notably the man who had both filled and modeled for me the role of Christian father as much as teacher. I began to think about Idaho again. When I sin against the Christian community, or anytime I feel conflict with the church, even when I?m sinned against, I feel the overwhelming urge to be anywhere else. More than just a general dislike of conflict (which was surely part of my pre-conversion escapist fantasies), my desire to avoid conflict in the church is the main reason for my running. I think it would be better to avoid it altogether. I default to alone.

I often think that The Lone Ranger must have been awfully lonely. He had a traveling companion, but one who thought this pale-face?s ways were strange. Behind the romanticism of being mysterious and unknown, did the Lone Ranger (what was his name?) ever wish he was the Communal Ranger? Was he always alone, and so never knew what non-lone life was like? Or was it really all it was cracked up to be?

I have yet to run off and live alone, separated from the body, and thus, separated from the disappointments and discord and donnybrooking inherent in an already-but-not-yet family of believers?I don?t know what it would be like. But when I begin to think fondly of such a life, I detect the faint stirrings of individualism and gnosticism unfolding the map of Idaho in my heart. I read the Scriptures through the lens of individualism and think I can go do great things for the Kingdom without the pressures and agendas and disappointments of others to deal with; I read through the lens of a fleshless pseudo-spirituality and think that if I could just escape the rough edges of human beings, then my walk would be so smooth.

I like to think that Paul is my patron saint of lone rangering. He seems like such a loner, always upsetting people, always on the road, so focused on spiritual things. Then I pick a small paragraph from one of his letters, thinking that it will be an easy way to read my Bible without having to think too much, and Paul looks me in the face, sympathizes with my disappointments and loneliness, then tells me that the church is the right place to be. In leaving Timothy a legacy, he leaves me the same one; he tells me that orthodoxy, and, thus, orthopraxy, are completely divine and thoroughly human. Along with Timothy, he sits me

down, places his palms on my cheeks, and says, ?The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others? (II Tim. 2:2). And, before reading 4:9-18, he pulls me off to the side, places that worn, warm right palm on top of my head, and says, ?The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses, and now read of my doing in the presence of none, entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.? And in doing so, he teaches me about loneliness through his legacy:

Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, loving the present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Pick Mark up and bring him with you, for he is of great help to me in ministry ? I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left in Troas with Carpus, and bring the books, especially the parchments.

Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. So you, also, guard against him, for he opposed our message with vigor. At my first defense, no one stood by me, but all deserted me ? may it not be held against them.

But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be proclaimed and the nations hear; and I was delivered from the lion?s mouth. The Lord will deliver me from every evil deed, and He will carry me safely to His heavenly kingdom ? to Him be the glory forever and ever, amen.

Cotton-mouthed and sore, Paul has finished the race, and now, being poured out like a drink offering (4:6), he is ready to die. Part of getting his affairs in order means leaving a final charge to his disciples; indeed, the burden of the pastoral epistles involves instruction, warning, and charge for those who will run the next leg of the race. But this section (4:9-18) issues such matters somehow more intimately and personally than the rest of the epistles. Truly, Paul is still concerned with legacy, but instead of merely marking out orthodoxy, he is manifesting orthopraxy. And this present Paul?a tender, frail, fully human Paul?speaks legacy to me in a way that the rest of the pastoral epistles don?t.

This is not the Paul I?m used to, but it is Paul, truly. It?s not the Paul most are used to, either, as evidenced in commentary on this section. Many commentators attempt (unintentionally, I trust) to suade me of its marginality, referring to it as the ?chatty little section? at the end of the epistle.

Near the end of the film The Cowboys, John Wayne, who has been trying, unsuccessfully, to teach a group of fifteen pre- to mid-pubescents what it means to be a cowboy, finally gains the hearing he has been after all along. The reason they?re finally listening is that Wayne, having been sucker-roughed by some varmints, is on his deathbed. Even garrulous greenhorns recognize that a man?s last words demand silence, that such words, regardless of their content, demand solemnity and sobriety. Last words are important, and these, Paul?s last words, despite their departure from the norm, demand sober reflection.

This last act of Paul?s life affords us a glimpse behind the veil of Paul?s tears. I see a personal Paul that I access only by inference and speculation otherwise. Indeed, reading the two epistles to Timothy through the lens of this intimacy reveals that the two epistles have been building to this moment. Most of the first epistle deals with specific problems at the church in Ephesus, and the first three chapters of the second epistle turn to Timothy?s character in the face of false teaching, character flaws (his own and others?), and, in this last section, Paul?s own death. Even in his dying, Paul is leaving Timothy a legacy, and in doing so, he uses a hermeneutic of humanity.

Paul is lonely. In Paul?s day and in mine, we expect relatives and close friends to visit loved ones on their deathbeds. But Paul?s plea for Timothy to come speaks more than mere custom. Paul?s life to this point has been devoted to the personal Christ, spent on the people of the churches he has founded, filled with joy as he prays for people he loves. Now, for various reasons, Paul is estranged from them all (except Luke). Paul, using the imperative ?spoudason? (v.9, again in v. 21), wants Timothy to come to him as soon as possible. But why the need for companionship? Isn?t this the same apostle whose hope and strength is Christ Jesus, who hopes in the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ (v.8)? Is not the longing for Christ incompatible with the longing for man?

In my musings on independence, I have liked the sound of ?if my heart is full of Christ, there will be neither room nor reason for anything or anyone else.? But Paul, whose heart, having ?fought the good fight , . . . finished the course , . . . [and] kept the faith? (v.7), surely set on Christ as it ever was, longs for a friend.

Paul doesn?t divulge the details of Demas? leaving, but he seems to have cared for Demas enough to take it personally. He uses the same verb root (?poreuomai?) to mention Crescens? and Titus? leaving (presumably by Paul?s directive), and he has sent Tychicus off to Ephesus. After asking Timothy to bring Mark with him, Paul asks him to bring his cloak and parchments, as well. Then, in what seems unrelated to clothes and books, Paul mentions Alexander the coppersmith. Perhaps, as Donald Guthrie comments, the mention of the wanted items or of Troas triggered the thought of Alexander, but regardless of the reason, it?s clear that Alexander is a human source of sorrow. Whereas the previous men are occasion more for disappointment, Alexander is an occasion for distress. And finally, in his list of human let-downs, are those who failed to stand by him at his trial. So here, in his final trial, he is calling on Timothy to come and stand by his side. Here, in his final trial, he also confesses that the Lord stood by him the whole time, strengthened him, delivered him (v. 17), and expresses confidence in future deliverance (v. 18).

Why would Paul mention all these people if he were convinced of the Lord?s past, present, and future companionship? Is Paul finally breaking down after all these years, deserving of one big, whiny outburst? Or is Paul merely declaring the demands of humanity? The temptation is to say that Paul, who is convinced of Christ?s companionship, needs nothing else. But Paul himself confesses his need for his friends, and in doing so, he reveals an important aspect of what it means to be human: we need people. Paul feels no disparity between claiming Christ and craving human companionship. Indeed, if we read II Timothy through the lens of this dual need, we see that Paul regards human companionship as a means of grace.

This is the teaching that Paul is passing on to Timothy and me. Paul is using these last moments, moments filled with people, to leave a legacy. And the way that Paul responds to and regards these people is his final lesson. Cold, bored, friendless, and vulnerable, Paul is using this intimate disclosure to minister to Timothy, and, of course, to me.

Paul has been imprisoned, disappointed, and assaulted, all at the hands of men, some very dear to him. And his response to this conflict spells the themes of his legacy. Hunched over on a cold stone floor, no garment to hide his hands, possibly no utensils for writing, Paul would not garner my complaints had he decided to just turn his thoughts inward, escape from all of his problems, and die. But he doesn?t. In fact, even in his desire for Timothy, his beloved son, to come see him, he is seeking out ways to continue ministering to others, Timothy included.

Along the way, Paul asks Timothy to bring Mark with him, for he is ?useful in ministry.? Why this interests me is that he already has Luke, a fully capable caretaker, with him, and ?diakonia,? the word for ministry, lends itself more to gospel ministry than personal service. So asking Mark along, the same John Mark who had previously deserted Paul on a missionary journey, is an act of ministry to Mark.

In addition to Mark, Paul wants his cloak and books. Surely, in the midst of his accusations and trials and sufferings in prison, Paul found his strength in his Savior. Is his desire for people and things, then, an indication of his not being filled by Jesus? Or is this desire his way of teaching Timothy something about the way that Jesus Himself ministers? I prefer the latter; specifically, I think Paul is expressing his confidence in Jesus? use of means to minister grace to His people. Paul doesn?t despise people (or clothing/parchments) as a means of grace, and neither should Timothy. And neither should I. And it?s not just the pleasant people that the Lord uses to instruct Paul?s soul.

For some reason, possibly just to warn Timothy, Paul mentions the harm that Alexander the coppersmith did to him. The harm is not the interesting part, as personal injury has become standard operation for those opposing Paul and his message. Paul?s reaction to his opponents is the locus of legacy. Though we can?t be sure exactly the nature of the harm, we can be sure of the nature of Paul?s response: Paul trusts his Lord to vindicate him. This sounds so simple, but it is so contrary to my standard operation. When people offend or harm me, my instinct is sometimes to fight back (if I feel that I can win), usually to run. I?d rather be in the presence of nothing (and no one) than in the presence of conflict. But Paul gives me a third option: run into the arms of a just God. When people injure me, I do not have to fight back, but I do not have to run, either.

When someone I don?t like offends me, I can find a way to shake it off, but when someone I care for offends or disappoints or lets me down, that?s when the wheels fall off and Idaho begins to beckon the loudest. Whether he knew about Idaho or not, Paul recognized this tendency, and his mention of those who abandoned him when he needed them the most is just what I need to hear. Though Demas? desertion was probably painful, it is those who still ministered with him whose abandonment had to hurt the most. Paul mentions their failure to support him at his trial not to castigate them or to complain, but to use it as an opportunity to teach Timothy about disappointment in the church. People will let us down, and the reason they will let us down is that they are people. Loving them doesn?t mean looking past their faults (surely Paul didn?t have to mention this incident); truly, it hurts to be let down, and it is a false, un-human spirituality that claims to be unaffected by such disappointment. But Paul neither groups them with Demas nor delivers them over to the Lord?s vindication. Instead, Paul expresses love and compassion and patience with them, fellow sinners, by saying/praying, ?May it not be counted against them.?

Paul?s willingness to forgive shames me. I imagine Luke in the cell with Paul, and I remember his account of the two debtors, and I am struck with the truth behind ?he who is forgiven little, loves little.? This forgiveness is concerned, mainly, with Jesus and man, but, as Jesus uses other people to minister to us, surely this forgiveness applies to people. And how will I ever learn to forgive without first being forgiven? And how will I be forgiven if I am separated from those with the grace to forgive me? By running away, wanting to avoid conflict in the church, I am running away from the opportunity to be forgiven, and, thus, to learn, myself, how to forgive.

I am tempted to say, regarding the final verses of this passage, that ?despite all of this,? Paul places his confidence in the Lord, but I think, given all that has come before, the more appropriate phrase would be that ?through all of this,? Paul places his confidence in Jesus as the friend who never disappoints, who stands by him and strengthens him in his trial. And in doing so, He strengthens Paul for ministry, and, ultimately, for unbroken fellowship in ?His heavenly kingdom.? I suppose there will be no Idahos in heaven.

Up to this point in my life, I have been giving heed to Paul?s doctrine, but it?s now, as a single 29-year-old with almost no attachments, that I find the ease of running away from the church (which has let me down and hurt me [and I have done the same in return]) so tempting, that I am learning from the legacy of Paul?s life. Paul has served the Lord faithfully, and here, in his last moments, he is imprisoned, deserted, and without comfort. And this, the out-of-season moment to end all moments, is Paul?s most timely sermon yet. Surely he would bemoan his naivete and trust in people, eschew them and thank God for their desertion?who needs them anyway? Instead, he is concerned with the Gospel of Jesus, and he asks for more people to be means of grace to him as he fulfills what it means to be a very human follower of Christ. This man, fully human and fully needing other humans, is by his very actions passing the torch on to Timothy, and the torch, if it is not passed on in the context of community, will surely die out with the one who keeps it to himself. That, or it will burn him up?this flame is too much to handle on my own.

Works Consulted

  • Carson, D.A., Douglass J. Moo, and Leon Morris. An Introduction to the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992.

  • Fee, Gordon D. 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus. New International Biblical Commentary. New Testament Ed. W. Ward Gasque. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1988.

  • Guthrie, Donald. The Pastoral Epistles: Revised Edition. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Gen. Ed. Leon Morris. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999.

  • Keener, Craig. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1993.

  • Knight, George W. The Pastoral Epistles: a commentary on the Greek text. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992.

  • Minor, Eugene E. An Exegetical Summary of 2 Timothy. Summer Institute of Linguistics

  • Stott, John R.W. Guard the Gospel: The Message of 2 Timothy. Downers Grove: IVP, 1973.

  • Thomas, W.D. ?Demas the Deserter.? The Expository Times 95 (March 1984): 179-80.

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