The word of the day is “stood.“ St. Paul closes his second letter to Timothy in our reading of 2 Timothy 4:9-22. The passage is a collection of requests and reports of what has happened to Paul and his companions. There seems to be no clear order to these topics. Paul brings them up as he thinks of them. However, the most dramatic of Paul’s news is his account of his first trial before the emperor.
The apostle writes, “At my first defense no one stood with me. But the Lord stood with and strengthened me” (vs. 17). This short comment is the only account in the scriptures of what occurred when Paul was put on trial in Rome. Paul states that he stood in court with no one beside him. He draws a direct comparison between his ordeal and Christ’s passion. Like the disciples of Christ who “forsook him and fled” (Mark 14:50), Paul’s companions “forsook him” (vs. 16). But they did not have to “abandon” him (Strong’s #1459, 75). The apostle’s prayer that their desertion should not be “held” against them (Strong’s #3049, 152) indicates that they could have supported him before the emperor.
No One Stood With Me But the Lord
Yet Paul was not alone during his trial. He says that the Lord “stood with me” (vs. 4:17). God, Paul testifies, was “at hand” (Strong’s #3937, 193). The prophet Jeremiah stated, “But the Lord was with me as a mighty warrior” (Jeremiah 20:11). Likewise, the Lord was “with” Paul as his invincible defender. In this way, the words of the Psalmist applied to him, “I have set the Lord always before me; Because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved” (Psalm 16:8).
Paul goes on to say that the Lord “strengthened” him in the sense of “empowering” him (Strong’s #1743, 88). The word “empowered “ is an apt term because Paul reports that by the Lord’s empowerment, he was able to preach the message of faith “fully.” The Greek text implies that the Lord gave him boldness to give a full and convincing testimony (Strong’s #4135, 204) for “all the Gentiles” in the court to hear (vs. 16).
Snatched Out of the Mouth of the Lion
What was the result of his daring witness? Paul says, “I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion” (vs. 4:17). We might suppose that somehow the Lord saved Paul from facing the savage lions in the arena. But as a Roman citizen, Paul would have been exempt from such cruelty. It would also be strange that Paul would not elaborate on how the Lord snatched him out of the claws of the ferocious beasts in the arena. Rather, many Bible scholars suggest that the “delivered from the mouth of the lion” is a figure of speech to describe his acquittal or his release as a result of undisclosed court proceedings. In that case, Paul is saying obliquely that the Lord saved him from the “lion” of Nero, the decadent emperor who later was to put Paul to death.
This speculation of scholars agrees with church tradition. In about 313 AD, the church historian Eusebius recounted, “Thus after he [Paul] had made his defense, it is said that the apostle was sent again upon the ministry of preaching and that upon coming to the same city [Rome] a second time he suffered martyrdom” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book Chapter 22). Regardless of the exact history and chronology, Paul counts his rescue as a confirmation of his faith in the merciful protection of the Lord. This episode of Paul’s trial is the climax of the letter. Its conclusion is Paul’s statement of his sure confidence in God’s Almighty power to redeem him from all evil and “preserve” him, that is, to bring him safely into the “heavenly kingdom” (vs. 4:18) (Strong’s #4982, 245).
In today’s readings, we learn the source of Paul’s boldness to proclaim the Gospel even in the court of a pagan and godless emperor, even at the risk of his life. That foundation was his firm conviction and secure confidence that the Almighty God stood by His side, preserving, defending, and empowering Him. What would happen if today’s Church took Paul as its example? What courage would Paul’s story rouse in us to engage the world with the truth of Christ? What would happen if we would witness that true joy, peace, and love are not to be found in holiday cheer but in the holy worship of the Incarnate Son of God?