“I thank God, whom I serve with a clear conscience the way my forefathers did, as I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day, longing to see you, even as I recall your tears, so that I may be filled with joy.”
2 Timothy 1:3-4 NASB
Reading this today, I wondered, why did Timothy shed tears? It’s easy to assume that Timothy just cried tears of sadness in missing Paul. And that’s probably true; yet I felt the Lord led me down a profitable line of inquiry by asking, “what kind of tears did Timothy shed?” Because he’s not the only one who is described as crying with Paul.
Others Cried, But For Different Reasons
“When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they were accompanying him to the ship” (Acts 20:36-38).
The elders in Ephesus enjoyed extensive time with the Apostle Paul, just like Timothy did (Acts 20:31). Yet the scriptures reveal that they were different in a fundamental way: by the end of the record, the church in Ephesus had reached a perilous state of danger (Revelation 2:4-5), whereas we have every reason to believe that things ended well for Timothy (Philippians 2:19-22), and that his path kept getting brighter and brighter till the end of his life (Proverbs 4:18, 2 Corinthians 3:18).
So why the difference in destination, given the same starting point, and even the same emotions in relation to the Apostle Paul? I believe the difference between Timothy and the Ephesian elders is how they responded to the Holy Spirit’s warnings through his ministry — we see this in what caused them grief.
It says in Acts 20:38 that what caused the Ephesians elders to be grieved was the Word that they wouldn’t see Paul’s face again.
I believe they grieved over the wrong word!!!
There was certainly cause for the elders in Ephesus to grieve upon Paul’s departure, but it wasn’t over the prospect of his absence that they should have grieved. What should have grieved them was his word that, “...from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:30).
They didn’t grieve over his warning! They were only sad he was leaving them. Yet I picture Timothy grieving over seemingly “elementary” warnings like “flee the love of money” (1 Timothy 6:10-11), “avoid worldly chatter” (1 Timothy 6:20), and “flee youthful lusts” (2 Timothy 2:22).
The Danger of Discarding God’s Warnings
As we walk with the Lord, and as we consistently hear God’s Word proclaimed in power, we can be in danger of dismissing instruction, of discarding warnings as “not relevant to me.” If we don’t see that subtle snare, we can be in the same danger as the Ephesian elders.
We see this danger throughout the scriptures. At the end of Joshua’s life, after a lifetime of victories according to God’s power, Joshua warns the people who have gathered in order to pledge their allegiance to God that, “You will not be able to serve the LORD, for He is a holy God...” Their response? “No, but we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:19a, 21). And thus, upon the heels of such self-confidence, begins the grievous cycle of defeat and decline chronicled in the tragic record of the Judges.
The same thing happens in the New Testament, amongst even the disciples, when Jesus tells them, “You will all fall away because of Me this night...” Amazingly, Peter responds, “Even though all may fall away because of You, I will never fall away.” What presumption! What disregard for the Lord’s warning! So Jesus lovingly corrects his self-righteous thoughts, “Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, youwill deny Me three times.” Yet Peter still insists, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You” (Matthew 26:31-35). And thus begins Peter’s backsliding to the point of denying the Lord.
What is the proper response to such warnings? What should Peter have said to the Lord? How should the Israelites have responded to Joshua?
They should have grieved! “I’m going to deny You?!?! What shall I do to be saved?!?” “What do you mean, we ‘will not be able to serve the Lord’?!? What must we do to continue living with Him?!?” And the Ephesian elders should have likewise grieved! “Some of us are going to lead disciples astray??? What can we do to avoid that?!?” But instead, they simply ignored this incredibly strong warning, and instead only took to heart the sad reality of a physical separation. The great and tragic irony is, they may very well have suffered an eternal separation because of their concern with the physical!!
What About Us?
I can’t help but compare myself to these two. Like the elders in Ephesus, and like Timothy, we at NCCF have had the privilege of having a godly man in our midst these past few months. Surely, we are sad to see him go. But to whom will we be compared in the final day? That will be a function of what causes us grief: is it the coming departure, or is it the sober reality of the warnings we have been given?
Have we grown so accustomed to the strong teaching we hear that we’re eager to forward messages along, just like water runs off of a duck’s back, or are we allowing the water to soak in, to penetrate our hearts, to cause us to run out afresh to God for mercy and deliverance and power.
Let the message be for us. Let us be the needy ones like Timothy, who grieve over the warnings given to us, and not the self-righteous ones who say, “No, but we will serve the Lord. Even if all fall away, we will not...”
“For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God,” here, at NCCF.
1 Peter 4:17 NASB