At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them.
2 Timothy 4:16 (NIV)
The final section of Paul’s letter to Timothy reads like a bullet list of miscellaneous thoughts. Paul languishes in Roman custody. He is in the homestretch of his life journey and he sees the finish line approaching. It’s time to do some housekeeping. Paul both provides Timothy with a thumbnail sketch of his situation as well as instructions for his protege´.
Among the rambling bullet points, Paul alludes to three sets of interpersonal conflicts:
- Demas, Crescens, and Titus have all left Paul. The departure of Demas, in particular, does not sound to have been a good situation.
- Alexander the metalworker caused Paul problems in Ephesus and he warns Timothy to be wary of him (the story is in Acts 19).
- Paul recalls that when Alexander stirred up trouble for Paul all of his friends deserted him and left him alone in his defense.
One of the things I noticed this morning was that the situation with Demas appears to sting. I could almost feel Paul’s bitterness in the subtext. While in the latter two situations, Paul specifically mentions that he has given the Alexander situation over to God’s judgement and he does not want his friends’ betrayal held against them.
As I’ve read Paul’s story and his letters, one thing has become clear to me. Paul was a temperamental man, and I’m not sure he was easy to be around or to work with. As with a lot of people who accomplish great things in their lives, Paul was a driver. He was passionate, focused, and intense. The history of the world was changed by Paul and all that God accomplished through him. At the same time, Paul’s story is littered with interpersonal conflicts in which good men walked away (or were driven away) from Paul.
So now Paul raises three of these conflicts in his final words to Timothy. The older situations Paul has processed and he has come to a place of letting go. He’s not demanding justice of Alexander, but has given the situation over to God’s justice and timing. He is not hanging on to resentment of his friends whom he felt abandoned him. With Demas, however, it would seem Paul’s feelings are still in process.
I am reminded this morning that interpersonal conflict is not always resolved in a moment, even by the greatest of saints. When our lives are troubled by relational problems with others, it often requires time and space to process the issues and to let go of our anger and resentments. We must, however, process and let things go. Refusing to do so will wreak havoc in our spiritual and emotional lives. The ripple effect of resentment seeps out into our lives with insidious consequences.