Ministry Monday: A Biblical Reminder About Loneliness (Help for Pastors)
Written By: Glenn C. Stewart
Life’s most significant lessons are learned during our greatest struggles.
The book of 2 Timothy is set in a context of crisis. It is a warm, personal letter to a struggling pastor named Timothy from his loved mentor – the apostle Paul.
Both Timothy and Paul are going through perhaps the most difficult time of their lives. The Roman Empire is the world power. Paul and Timothy live, move, and minister within the reach of Rome’s power. Just a few years before Paul wrote this letter to Timothy, Rome was in a time of turmoil that could be described as “hopeless wretchedness.”
The emperor was Nero and he was a man given to great cruelty. He ordered the murder of his brother. He had his mother assassinated. He divorced his wife and then had her murdered. People even suspected Nero had started fires that were destroying Rome. Some said they saw Nero’s men igniting the blaze and others said that Nero had ordered the fire so he could rebuild monuments of himself. Although no one could make the charges stick, and Nero denied them, still a cloud of guilt floated above his head. Nero needed to find a scape goat. The Christian church fit into his scheme. It was misunderstood and growing in number. It was even seen as a threat.
The Roman historian, Tacitus, fills us in on some details, “To suppress the rumors, he (Nero) falsely charged and cruelly punished those persons who were commonly called Christians… Their deaths were made crueler by the mockery that accompanied them. Some were covered with the skins of wild beasts and torn to pieces by dogs; others perished on the cross or in the flames, and others again were burned after sunset as torches to light up the darkness.”
So, the cultural climate is hostile and Paul ends up in prison. He is the prize catch of Nero. He was a Roman prisoner a few years before but that ended in his release. This time it would end in his death. So, in 2 Timothy 4:6, he explains, “I am now ready to be offered, the time of my departure is at hand.” And he writes from jail. A small hole in the ceiling is his source of light and air. The hole is damp, dark, and dismally lonely.
Paul tells us that his friends have deserted him. They are afraid to stand up for him. Only Luke remains faithful. What a dismal scene. It’s discouraging. He is alone, imprisoned, and facing death. We can imagine how he feels. Surprisingly, Paul doesn’t bemoan his situation. Instead his thoughts are on his younger, much loved fellow minister, Timothy.
And yet, Timothy has his own struggles. He has been plugging away as a faithful pastor in the city of Ephesus. But it has been an uphill struggle. Problems seemed to mount despite Timothy’s best efforts. Old heresies were gaining an audience. Some were mounting opposition to the apostle Paul. In addition to problems in the ministry was the increasing persecution from without.
Timothy had good reason to be discouraged. What would the future hold? For his friend Paul, it looked like certain death. How about Timothy’s future? And even beyond that – what about the future of Christianity? One commentator says, “Well might be (Timothy) have been shaken to the roof of his faith.” If you have caught something of the real-life situation, you can gain a deeper appreciation for Paul’s loving encouragement to Timothy. He wants him to remain faithful, to keep at the task, and to be bold amid persecution and personal pain.
From this we learn something for our own times of pain and loneliness. At times, our hopes have been dashed in the jagged rocks of harsh circumstances. We sometimes feel all alone, abandoned, and even rejected. Despair does not have to extinguish hope. Trouble does not have to make us drop out form trusting and serving God. We have a God of power who will see us through! Just as the life of a pastor could be filled with turmoil and loneliness in biblical times, the same is true today. But, we are not alone. God always stands with us and we have a community in Christ that will support us. Paul’s support to Timothy and reliance on God is such an encouraging example of faith and community in action.
Paul encourages Timothy in the present by reminding him of what lies ahead. He is to look ahead with hope – beyond death to life and immortality. In the darkest days of adversity on Earth, we are asked to look ahead to an eternity that is bright and blessed. God’s work for us is not finished in this life. Pain will give way to peace, sorrow to joy, and earthly rejection will give way to eternal acceptance. Therefore, keep at it even though it’s hard. Do not let isolation and loneliness win.