Sermon Manuscript . . .
How to deal with disappointments
Letdowns from People in the midst of Faithfulness from God
2 Timothy 4:16-18
At the end of the last century, I had to have my neck fused–two crushed disks needed to be dug out and parts of my hip bone would replace them. I’d lose a little mobility, but I would regain the use of my right arm and stop the pain. But the doctor warned me–1 in a 100 lose their voice from this surgery. And with the odds ever in my favor, I lost the use of my voice–I couldn’t preach.
Talk about a disappointment. I could speak with a buzzer, which I chose not to do. I could talk in a whisper. But when I chose to talk normally, it sounded like a choking elk–not very pleasant. It was definitely distracting, which stopped me from preaching completely. I was disappointed. So–what do you do when life turns south?
What happens when your health crumbles, your family falls apart, relationships betray, a job terminates, when expectations fail, and life sours into one big disappointment? What do you do when you’re tempted to ask, “Lord, why did this happen?” The answer is found in 2 Timothy 4:16 to 18, as Paul, bound in chains in a dark Roman cell, writes Timothy battling external persecution from Rome, while struggling with internal pressure correcting false teachers and shepherding misled believers in Ephesus.
Turn in your Bibles and follow along in your electronic or paper outline, for from that outline, we will read aloud verses 16 to 18. “At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. 17 But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
What does Paul say here? Simply, the secret to overcoming disappointment is to rest in the Lord’s current providence, and hope in the Lord’s future promise. Do not focus on people who have let you down. Don’t blame them or their sinfulness. Do not focus on your tough trial or difficult circumstances.
Trust the Lord–why? No disappointment is by accident. No trial is unplanned. All hardships are on purpose. All difficulties are designed. If Jesus is your Lord, then everything in your life has a designed purpose driving it. Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Turn your focus onto Christ and His providential plan for your disappointment and hope in the future promise that one day soon you will never be disappointed again.
Did you observe what Paul told his precious son in the faith in verses 16 to 18? Verse 16 is the past, verse 17 is the present, and verse 18 is the future. Verse 16, the Lord does permit disappointments in your life, but He is presently, verse 17, providentially working out His perfect plan in your disappointments. And verse 18, the Lord promises to remove all your disappointments in the future.
Paul is motivating Timothy with the way he, Paul, deals with disappointments. Paul is in prison, and in the recent past as Paul faced the court, no one came to support him. Paul stood alone before the Roman leaders, possibly Nero, in verse 16. But Paul doesn’t focus on the believers who let him down.
No, in verse 17, the Lord comforted Paul with His presence and the Lord empowered Him so that in that courtroom, the Lord amazingly allowed Paul to accomplish God’s purpose. In fact, shockingly, Paul fulfilled the very purpose Paul was created for. And added to that blessing, like Daniel in the lions’ den, the Lord temporarily preserved Paul’s life, giving him the opportunity to write this very letter to Timothy.
And regardless of what happened in the future, verse 18, Paul has God’s promise that one day Paul will be freed from all this unjust Nero evil as he arrives home in God’s perfect, sinless, glorious Kingdom and glorifies the Lord forever. You see, the secret to overcoming disappointment is to rest in the Lord’s current providence, and hope in the Lord’s future promise.
You all know what is going on in 2 Timothy, unless you are new with us today. We are working our way through Paul’s final letter, verse by verse. Empire wide persecution has begun against Christians, and Paul is on trial for his life. He has already stood before a dreadful Roman tribunal, possibly Nero himself. The court was probably jammed with people, much like trials of famous people are today.
I am convinced there was unspoken tension in the room. Some of the senators, and some who were present, knew the fire which killed hundreds and destroyed a large part of the city was not started by Christians, but started by Nero himself so Nero (who fancied himself an architect) could rebuild the poorer sections of Rome and build a palace for himself. Nero had blamed Christians to escape the rage of his own people against himself.
The trial against Paul was a mockery of justice–a hypocrisy, a complete lie. But at that trial, the tension of that lie hung in the air because Nero’s blame was an assertion that could not be challenged, except to sign your own horrible death certificate. So here is Paul, standing alone before the court, deserted by the believers who could be there in support of him. But that disappointment was overcome by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ, who stood with Paul and strengthened him to accomplish his greatest passion, his created purpose, along with delaying his execution long enough for Paul to write this letter and make important closing plans before going home to Heaven.
Paul has been commanding Timothy to be courageous, to train men, to rely upon and preach God’s Word alone. Paul has now asked Timothy to hurry to Rome with Mark to meet with him, so they can finalize all these Christ glorifying ministry and missionary plans. For Paul, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Some of you right now, today are facing great difficulties. Certain aspects of your life have gone south and you are shocked by what you’re facing. How should you as a believer deal with these disappointments? Learn from God’s Word through the example of the Apostle Paul–how to deal with disappointments.
1 God’s PAST permitting Disappointments Verse 16
Don’t focus on PEOPLE or circumstances
God permitted the disappointments. Verse 16, “At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them.” Paul says to Timothy, no one came with me to my trial. “But” Paul says, using a very strong contrast–but with no exaggeration, but as a fact, no one stood with me.
Paul is describing something familiar. In the Roman judicial process, this is called the first action–the prima actio. It is a preliminary defense hearing before the emperor or a magistrate, roughly equivalent in purpose to a grand jury hearing. Sadly, Paul had no witnesses on his behalf–not a single one. Alexander, from verse 14, was probably there accusing and fabricating evidence against Paul, but no one was there to defend Paul at all.
Paul uses the same Greek word, “deserted,” he used to describe Demas deserting him in verse 10–which is the same Greek word the Lord used on the cross to described being forsaken. Paul tasted the same bitterness his beloved Lord had tasted when, abandoned by all, the Lord stood alone before Caiaphas, Pilate, and Herod. Christians, expect to be forsaken–if Christ was forsaken, you will be forsaken. You can’t become like Christ unless your life walks the same road as Christ walked.
We can picture the scene when Paul first appeared before the Roman tribunal, with Nero possibly in attendance. There sat the emperor in his robes of state. What did Nero look like? Bronze coins of his reign depict him as a bull-necked, beetle-browed, flat-nosed, and tough-mouthed man. Other writings tell us his eyes were grayish blue. He was potbellied and spindly legged, and he suffered from bad skin and body odor.
Standing around him were his counselors and cronies. Members of the imperial praetorian guard kept a close watch on everyone. There Nero sat, the master of the known world–despicable and dangerous, with many crimes on his conscience. Even as he interrogated Paul, Nero’s agents were combing the hills of Rome for men, women, boys, and girls who followed Christ. In their hideouts, God’s blood-bought people, dreading discovery, were watching and praying. Was Nero the Antichrist? Some believers thought so.
Paul had been hauled up from the prison pit, cleaned, clothed and under guard as he now stood before Nero. Paul was a Roman by citizenship, a Jew by birth, and a Christian by regeneration. He was a saint, but he was anything but attractive in appearance. Paul’s enemies in 2 Corinthians 10:10 said Paul’s personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible.
We know Paul had been badly battered during his missionary years. Some scholars think Paul had a disfiguring eye disease. Others think Paul was an epileptic. Yet Paul was possibly the most brilliant man in the world at his time, and added to his God-created mind, the power of the all-knowing, indwelling Spirit of God, and Paul was unstoppable. Not a man in Rome could have beaten Paul in debate. Nero, in spite of his decadence, was not without talent, but he was no match for Paul.
Along with his intellect, Paul was fearless. Acts 23 showed us Paul would be courteous, but he would not cringe. I am confident he had a smile which was humble, but knowing. The sycophants and weaklings surrounding Nero were scared to death of the emperor, but Paul had no fear of anything Nero could do to him. And with Nero, Paul simply saw an unhappy, unholy man in desperate need of Christ.
Paul was determined to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentile leaders of the world. Here they are, face-to-face, Satan’s man and God’s man–the most wicked man of Earth and the most godly. What did Paul say to Nero, if Paul was allowed to say anything at all? Possibly he told Nero what he had once told King Agrippa in Acts 26. If Paul was permitted to give his testimony and press home his point, he would have talked of God’s righteousness and judgment to come until Nero trembled as Felix had once trembled in Acts 24.
With Paul in front of him, this is the closest Nero would come to Christlikeness and the closest Nero would ever come to Heaven. Nero had met a few wise men, any number of clever men, and some brave men. Now Nero had met a genuinely good man, a man as much like Jesus as any man on Earth could be. Yet like the Jewish leaders did to Christ, Nero condemned Paul to death.
The one thing Paul told us about his trial is that he stood there alone. Verse 16, “No one supported me, but all deserted me.” We don’t know where Luke or Tychicus were. Possibly they were not permitted to attend the trial, or the trial was secretly scheduled, or they were off in the cause of Christ. But there was no one there. The Greek word supported, “no one supported me“–was used to denote the function of a person who came into court to defend the accused.
Paul had no legal counsel, no advocate–no one to counter the lies and distortions of men like Alexander, who doubtless had been summoned to aid in the prosecution. The root of the Greek word “supported” is to come alongside, to be next to, to be present to stand by you, which gives the next Greek word “deserted” a more painful edge–forsaken.
Next Paul adds in verse 16 an unusual side comment, “may it not be counted against them.” This doesn’t mean I forgive them–that wasn’t optional for Paul, of course. He forgave them. The verb, “may it not be counted against them,” uses a rarely used New Testament mood which indicates the lowest possible reality. Paul is saying they don’t have to answer to me–they will answer to the Lord Jesus, the Judge. And with little probability, Paul wishes, hopes and genuinely desires that their desertion and their unwillingness to stand with Paul may not mean the loss of reward. May they not be held accountable.
Paul doesn’t wish God’s retribution on them, like he did for his opponent Alexander in verse 14. Paul didn’t put these “no shows” in the same category as Demas, who loved the world, in verse 10. No, Paul wishes no ill will against these fearful ones in verse 16. There is no bitterness here.
Paul doesn’t blame anyone. Paul doesn’t focus on people. Paul doesn’t focus on the law. Paul doesn’t focus on Nero or those who should have been there. Paul knows Who is in charge. Paul echoes the words of Joseph in Genesis 50:20, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” God has a purpose for His children, even when people are evil against them.
2 God’s PRESENT Purposes for Disappointments Verse 17
Trust in God’s providential PLAN
Verse 17, “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth.” Hey, bad things happen to Christians–trials, suffering, persecution, disappointments. But Christ is always with you.
In the midst of commanding the commission of making disciples, Jesus says in Matthew 28:20, “And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The Lord also promises in Hebrews 13:5b, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” You are never abandoned. God has a purpose for you being in a tight jam or a difficult, disappointing situation.
First You can DEPEND on God’s presence and strength
Verse 17a, “But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me.” Hear what Paul is saying. In the most important way, Paul was not abandoned at all. Paul was not left to face the Roman judicial wolf pack alone. No, the apostle’s soul was comforted by the presence of the Lord–“the Lord stood with me.” I don’t believe Jesus was physically standing next to Paul. Paul was aware Christ was present with him in that judgment hall. Paul didn’t have to face Nero the cruel, and Alexander the coppersmith, alone.
Paul knew the promises of Scripture, right? Psalm 139:8 and 9, “If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. 9 If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea.” What need did Paul have for legal counsel or fellow Christians to support him? The One who was Paul’s Advocate with the Father stood by his side. The One who sacrificed his very life for Paul stood with Paul as his life was on the line. The King above all kings, above Nero–the Lord above all lords, above Nero, stood with him. Christ was in Paul and Paul was in Christ.
Just like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego 600 years earlier, Paul was ready to respond to Nero the way those three did to Nebuchadnezzar’s threat to throw them into the fiery furnace. Daniel 3:17, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
In the midst of this legal showdown shame, Paul knew the Lord was at his side. And Paul says the Lord was giving him strength–verse 17, “and strengthened me.” Strengthen is the same word used in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” And Acts 9:22, “But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.” Then Ephesians 6:10, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.”
In 2 Timothy, Greek scholar A. T. Robertson renders strengthened as, “poured power into me.” It was as if a pair of jumper cables were attached to Christ and then to Paul, so that Jesus’ voltage poured into Paul–super-charged, unlimited power. The Lord is with you and empowering you through your difficulties, but more.
Second You can TRUST in God to accomplish His purposes (in your disappointments)
Verse 17b, “so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear.” This is so powerful, so exciting, so encouraging–you had better grab onto your chair. Paul tells Timothy, “The Lord has a purpose for my disappointment.”
Look at how the phrase begins–“so that through me.” That’s a purpose statement. While I am standing in the court, all alone, with no support–I have to defend myself. So what is God’s purpose in all that? Through Paul, verse 17b, “the proclamation is fully accomplished.” “Proclamation” means preaching or announcing–and “accomplished” is fulfilled or completed.
What preaching is fulfilled–see it? That all the Gentiles might hear. This is unbelievable. Why is Paul here in jail about to die? Why is Paul all alone? Paul is here in jail so he can stand before Nero and the Roman leadership and fulfill his mission, his life’s passion–to proclaim Christ where Christ is not heard. To share the Gospel where it hasn’t been heard. Remember Romans 15:20 where Paul says, “I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named.”
This was Paul’s life mission, his personal passion, his want to–so here he is, preaching to those who have not heard the Gospel so his work can be complete. The verb accomplished means entirely carried out. And why is Paul alone? So that no one will mess up the message and the Gospel message will be clear. If others were there, the message might appear to be about defending Paul. But Paul being alone, his message will not be about defending Paul, but about proclaiming Christ and His work on the cross for sin.
Come on, family–how else is a Jew going to stand before the ruler of Rome to share the truth about Christ, except to be unjustly blamed for a fire, arrested as a leader of the Christians? And how else will Paul be able to clearly proclaim the good news of Christ to the most powerful leaders in the known world–so that, as Paul says, that all the Gentiles might hear? The only way the Gospel would not be lost or confused would be for Paul to be alone. His disappointment has all been pre-arranged.
God has a purpose for Paul’s disappointing circumstances. John Calvin (with some edits) writes, “Even when the entire world foamed with madness against Paul, and all human assistance failed Paul, Paul saw God’s purpose and went through the door opened to him to share the truth of salvation to leaders of Rome.” Paul is completing his calling of being the apostle to the Gentiles–so he gave them both barrels of Gospel truth. This was Paul’s final sermon. In your disappointment, will you trust God to accomplish His great purposes?
Third You can RELY on God to be furthering His will
Paul wraps up verse 17 with, “and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth.” Paul was so compelling, it may have resulted in a temporary delay of sentencing. The Greek verb “rescued” is passive, telling us God rescued Paul out of the lion’s mouth. The lion’s mouth is an idiomatic way of saying, “I was saved out of a blazing fire or delivered from the jaws of death.” But this phrase is also descriptive of his immediate situation.
History tells us Nero murdered his own mom, and kicked one of his wives to death. Nero was capable of having Paul scourged to the bone, Roman citizen or not. Nero could have sent him to the arena. Nero could have defied law, and sent Paul to a cross. Nero could have had him executed right then and there. But Paul’s hour had not yet come. Paul was immortal until his work was done.
And I am thankful, because we have this second letter to Timothy, because by this delay God was furthering His will, allowing Paul to strengthen Timothy and keep ministry moving. In your disappointments, you can trust God to be furthering his will. You can trust God to accomplish His providential plan. Your Lord loves you and is in control. Psalm 115:3, “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”
1 Don’t focus on PEOPLE or circumstances
2 Trust in God’s providential PLAN
First You can DEPEND on God’s presence and strength
Second You can TRUST in God to accomplish His purposes
Third You can RELY on God to be furthering His will
3 God’s FUTURE removing Disappointment
Hope in God’s future PROMISES
Verse 18, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” Verse 18 is pointed and pleasant.
First You will be FREED from all evil actions against you
Verse 18a, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed.” Paul is confident of rescue. But it wasn’t an expectation of deliverance from death, but that no evil attack would undermine his faith or damage his courage. But an even better understanding is to note the verb “will rescue me“–it’s a future tense middle voice, telling you God Himself in the future will rescue you from all, every last one, evil works, wicked deeds, and sick actions.
Paul is looking at his death, which would deliver him once and for all from all evil. Paul was praying the disciples’ prayer–“deliver us from evil,” and was confident that would happen at his martyrdom. Are you sick of evil? Are you worn out by harsh disappointments? The day is coming soon when you will be freed from every single one of them forever.
Second You can have CONFIDENCE of a future home under God’s rule
Verse 18b, “and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom.” Paul had seen enough of earthly kingdoms ruled by tyrants–weak or flawed men. Paul longed for a heavenly kingdom ruled by the perfect, all-powerful sovereign. So Paul is looking forward to being brought safely to His heavenly kingdom–that’s literally, “and will save me into his heavenly kingdom.”
Paul had confidence in God’s Word from both Old and New Testaments. Christ would save him so he could live with the one who rules both Heaven and Earth. Paul was excited to worship and eternally serve the perfect King. And Paul knew 2 Corinthians 5:8, “to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”
Third You will want to give God all the GLORY
Everyone expects the sun to rise tomorrow. Yet there is coming a day when the sun will not shine. There will be a last time for the sun and a last time for this earth–it will burn and be reborn. But Christ and His Word will never change. Christ and His Word will remain the same forever. And Paul’s confidence in God’s Word is why Paul is thrilled.
Paul is not struggling with the disappointment over the Christians who didn’t show up at his trial, nor is he upset over his coming death by beheading. Paul is ready to depart because that means he arrives home. As Paul considers his death, his faith turns to sight of Christ. Being with Christ is far better–death is gain, mortal puts on immortality, temporary becomes permanent, sinful becomes perfect. Which is why Paul ends these verses with praise at the end of verse 18. Him is the Lord, Jesus Christ–“to Him [our Lord Jesus Christ] be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Get your eyes off of those who disappoint you. Trust in God’s providential plan–He will strengthen you, and you can trust He is at work accomplishing a plan you can’t see or understand immediately. The Lord does everything in your life for His glory and for your good. And when life gets hard, you can hope in the future He has prepared for you. You’ll be freed from this harsh life and be able to live eternally under the perfect one.
Remember my neck fusion and the loss of my voice for seven weeks? I trusted the Lord during that entire trial–no wavering in thought or speech for weeks, until the sixth week. I got sick with bronchitis, and I’ll admit to you, I whined to the Lord. I said, “Lord, I can’t talk, I can’t preach, my future is uncertain, and I’m trusting you–but now you give me bronchitis?” Whine (bronchitis does physically wear me down)–I became disappointed and for thirty minutes–not days, I was not trusting Christ in this trial.
And here is the kicker–God was working. Bronchitis was an important part of God’s purpose. Bronchitis was a big part of God’s plan. What I didn’t know is the Lord was loving me. By giving me bronchitis, it swelled my throat, which caused my vocal cords to rub together, which then caused them to work again, so I could actually speak normally again. The very thing I was whining about, the very point of my disappointment, the very sickness which was layered on the loss of my voice, was the very thing God used to restore my voice.
Trust God, the Lord, in your disappointments. Remember, as His child, He loves you and is working all things together for good. Know that His knowledge is all-knowing and yours is limited knowing. Remember His power is all-powerful and you and your worry is wimpy power. Admit that His resources are limitless and yours are vastly limited. He is all-wise, He is all-good, and He will accomplish all things for His glory.
But here is the warning–God only works all things together for good, Romans 8:28, “to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” If you are not in Christ, this life is the only Heaven you will ever know. If you are in Christ, this life is the only Hell you will ever know. Turn to Christ.