Second Timothy is almost certainly Paul’s last letter. In the opening words, Paul referred to himself as a prisoner (1:8) and as being in chains (1:16). As the letter closed, Paul acknowledged that “the time of my departure is at hand” (4:6, NKJV). Enough information is given to help us imagine the difficulties he faced in his final days.
His saddest statement is found in 4:16: “At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.” The sadness is lifted somewhat by the words that follow: “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me” (4:17). There is no uncertainty in that statement. Paul seemed absolutely sure that the Lord was with him.
But how did Paul know it? Nothing is said of a vision or a voice from heaven. In what other way could Paul have known that Jesus was with him when no one else was?
(1) Paul could have known it by Jesus’ ability and willingness to sympathize. Hebrew 4:15 points to this fact: “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” As Paul stood before his accusers with no human help in sight, did he not think of how Jesus was also abandoned?
(2) He could have been assured of the Lord’s presence by divine promises. The final words of Matthew’s gospel present such a promise: “lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Did Paul reflect on Jesus’ promises in his last days? He assured us that he did: “For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that day” (2 Timothy 1:12). Faith in the promises of the Savior kept Paul strong until the end.
(3) Reflection upon his circumstances assured Paul of the Lord’s help. After stating that “the Lord stood with me”, Paul went on to write how he “was delivered out of the mouth of the lion” (2 Timothy 4:17). Was Paul faced with the prospect of facing lions in the infamous Coliseum? Whether he was speaking literally or figuratively, the danger was the same and Paul knew he had escaped it against great odds. A coincidence? Hardly. It was another reminder that “the Lord stood with me”.
We may not be called to face the extreme situations this apostle faced. But times come into every life in which we need to know whether or not the Lord is with us. We’re not likely to hear a voice from heaven or see a vision. But we can be assured of divine assistance in the same ways that were true for Paul.
“So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?'” (Hebrews 13:6)
How can we know the Lord is with us?