LOYALTY – A reflection from 2 Timothy four
The Apostle Paul sat in chains in a Roman prison praying that the small struggling fellowships scattered all over the Roman Empire might survive, grow and reproduce. In the same way that Jesus left the founding of the church in the hands of a few men, Paul was leaving the future of the church in the hands of a few men and women in each city. He knew they must hold on to Jesus Christ with such allegiance that the nature and character of Jesus would permeate these fellowships. Thus, one of the primary qualities he desired to see in them was loyalty: To Jesus Christ, to his message, and to the people who belonged to him.
Loyalty is our commitment that holds the Body of Christ together so the love that bonds us together can grow. Paul knew this was vitally important for his day and it is the same for us. At the heart of every division in the visible church is found the character flaw of disloyalty.
Thomas Kelly states this idea in these words:
“Within the wider fellowship emerges the special circle of a few on whom, for each of us, a particular emphasis of nearness has fallen. These bonds of divine love are the stuff of the Kingdom of God.” A Testament of Devotion by Thomas R. Kelly
What happened to the companions who had been with Paul in his Roman imprisonment?
Possible causes of Disloyalty
Paul sent Tychicus to Ephesus—but others left for reasons that suggest problems:
Demas deserted because he loved this present world. For those of us who live in North America the attraction of “the good things of life” can easily draw us away from Jesus Christ and his people. John Wesley wrote about some of his flock: “As many of them increase in wealth and worldly goods, the great danger I apprehend is their relapsing into the spirit of the world; and then their religion is but a dream.”
Paul sent Tychicus to Ephesus but Crescens and Titus seemed to be on unauthorized trips – perhaps choosing the visible activities of the work over the less exciting call to be with Paul in the dark days of his final imprisonment. So often the activities for Christ become more important to us than Jesus himself.
In the midst of these desertions Jesus stood with Paul and protected him. As with all of the virtues loyalty begins with God. The Lord stood by Paul. When all others forsook Paul, Jesus did not leave him. The promise all of us have is that God will never leave us nor forsake us. This has been a great encouragement to me over the years. Sometimes I have been in a “prison” imposed on my by others like when stranded in Lagos, Nigeria for several days; and sometimes I have been in a “prison” of my own creation because of one of the many unwise things I have done – But when I come to my senses I discovered that God is there – His loyalty is unrelenting!
But it is of great benefit to have someone who also stands with us. In chapter l of II Timothy Paul commends Onesiphorus because he searched diligently for him to stand with him. It might have cost Onesiphorus his life to be so identified with Paul but he was neither ashamed nor afraid to do so. The result was that Paul was refreshed by this kind of companionship. One of the powerful results of our loyalty to one another is that we bring new life and courage. Our loyalty to each other flows from our experience with the faithfulness of the Lord to us. Only then do we have the capacity to be a faithful friend in a world of covenant breakers.
We want to be Loyal
Is there such a thing as a totally loyal person? I think not. Proverbs reads that many claim to have unfailing love, but who can find a faithful man? In every relationship of intimacy we will fail one another even as we have failed Jesus. Then what do we do with this failure? Lewis B. Smedes suggests a change in our thinking:
“Why do people who keep their commitments feel like failures at commitment? For two reasons, only two, and simple ones to understand. For one thing, we measure our commitments against a fuzzy, globbish, impossible touchstone of perfection. For another, we shun the special grace God has for imperfect people committed to imperfect people in an imperfect world.” Caring and Commitment by Lewis B. Smedes
Perhaps a look at the disciples will help. Many of us look at their actions during the arrest and crucifixion and brand them as deserters. This is only partially true. Recall Thomas’ statement when Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Peter’s first response during the arrest in the garden was to pull the sword Jesus told him to bring and to fight to protect Jesus. Only after Jesus closed the door to this action did Peter turn and run.
My point is that the disciples had the desire to be loyal. They failed in their performance, but the desire to be loyal brought them to Jesus for forgiveness. The reconciliation of Peter, which is recorded, and the reconciliation which surely took place with all of the others, is Jesus’ answer to failure. Paul’s request to Timothy to bring Mark with him to encourage Paul (v ll) shows that the sharp division between them of Acts l5 was healed.
Too often I have failed to live up to the commitments I have made and that I desired to keep. But the grace of God has shown up over and over. If we desire to be loyal to Jesus he will always bring us back into relationship with himself and with our brothers and sisters. My desire is to stay loyal to Jesus Christ and to the people he brings into my life. As I deal with my failures by confession, he does will deal with my failures with the love of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Kent Hotaling – October l994