By Michael E. Brooks
“Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works. You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words. At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them” (2 Timothy 4:14-16 NKJV).
In more than twenty years of mission work, I have occasionally been forced to disassociate myself from a coworker because of persistent sin for which he was impenitent. One such worker asked to meet with me and I agreed.
After more than an hour of unproductive discussion he finally threatened me with physical harm if I did not restore him to his former position of trust and service. I refused, and the threat was never carried out, yet the incident underscores the possibility of real danger in our work for the Lord.
Paul certainly was no stranger to this situation, and in his second letter to Timothy he gives us some insight into one incident, whose details are not recorded. Alexander did something against Paul. Whether he slandered Paul, accused him of wrong-doing, betrayed him to authorities, or even hurt him physically we cannot know. There is no doubt however that he made himself Paul’s enemy.
We are naturally curious about the actual circumstances of this and other incidents in the life of Paul. Our curiosity must go unsatisfied, at least in this life. However, we are given information that is much more vital to us in this story. We are taught by Paul’s example how to deal righteously and successfully with such enemies. When someone does us harm, how should we respond?
First, Paul left vengeance and justice to God. “May the Lord repay him” was the only curse or punishment that Paul expressed. He had previously taught, “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). Paul did nothing so far as we know against Alexander. He did not return evil for evil (Romans 12:17, 21), but trusted God the righteous judge to render true justice.
Second, Paul taught and admonished Alexander. “He has greatly resisted our words.” Whether Alexander was an unbeliever who refused to listen to the gospel or a fallen Christian who would not be restored, the principle is the same. He had the knowledge, or at least access to the knowledge, that would lead to forgiveness from his sins. Paul made attempts to save him before eventually recognizing Alexander’s incorrigible nature.
Third, Paul extended mercy. Though it is not clear whether Alexander is still in view in verse 16, the apostle’s willingness to forgive those who wronged him is plain. “May it not be charged against them.” His was the exact attitude demonstrated by Jesus on the cross, when he cried, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Whether our enemies are ultimately forgiven by God and saved is up to him, not us. We however have the power to forgive personal affronts and to choose not to harbor anger, vengeance or malice against them. Paul exercised that power.
Finally, Paul protected others from the sin of Alexander. His warning to Timothy is not gossip or an act of petty vengeance upon the coppersmith. It was a legitimate warning to one who was in danger from the same impenitent party.
We must never gossip. However there are times when someone else needs to know the dangers that are faced, or the truth about a situation that may be misrepresented by others. Paul’s love for Alexander and desire for his salvation were already well proven by his teaching and forgiving spirit. But he also had a duty to Timothy and other young vulnerable Christians. It was in the discharge of this duty that his warning was given.
Enemies of Christ and Christians exist. We cannot always escape their hatred. We can however respond to them in the spirit of our Lord. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21).
By Michael E. Brooks