If the truth were told, I am sure I would rather write about the sovereignty of God, or the glory of God, or the sufficiency of Christ, or the anointing of the Holy Spirit. If the truth were told I would rather write about the victory we have in Christ, or the living hope that is irrevocably perched upon the horizon of our faith. If the truth were told I may not choose to write about those people in the Bible whose lives were altogether tragic shipwrecks. If the truth were told I may not choose to write about such nefarious individuals as Nadab and Abihu, or Ananias and Sapphira. But, if the truth be told, those stories are placed in the pages of Scripture for our benefit.
Such is the case of 2 verses placed in the second letter of Paul to Pastor Timothy. You see, in the final years, even in the last months of his life Paul was writing to his protégé pastor in Ephesus, and near the end of his letter (2 Timothy 4:14-15), inspired of the Holy Spirit as a word of caution, he wrote these words:
“Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching.”
As Paul is alone in prison, facing death, pouring out his heart to his dear brother, it is interesting that some of the last few words he would ever commit to “paper” would be these words of admonition. Couldn’t Paul have written of the joy in Christ, the throne of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, or the fruit of the Spirit? Obviously not, as he was directed by the Holy Spirit to write about this man–Alexander.
Ever heard a sermon on Alexander the Coppersmith? I would suspect not. Ever pondered him? Umm, doubtful. Ever read a book on him? Even most biblical commentaries are surprisingly lacking. Yet, in the Word of the Lord, which lasts forever, the caution of Alexander has found a home… forever. But, why? There may not appear to be a whole lot there, but let’s look at it a bit.
Who was this Alexander fellow? Well, about the only certainty we glean here is that he was one who worked with metal, and that he did harm to Paul. Paul is likely not referring to any metal work he may have commissioned Alexander to do. Rather, as Paul is speaking to Timothy in the context of how to minster effectively in Ephesus, he is referring to harm caused in Paul’s own ministry, particularly in opposing the Spirit-filled teaching of Paul. We do not know if Alexander was a pagan heretic, or an apostate Christian (1 Timothy 1:20). Whether Alexander refuted the teaching, inhibited it, or simply denied it; he stood in opposition to its content and proclamation. Perhaps, some think, that he indicted, or falsely accused Paul. Or, he could have been a feigned convert altogether–a wolf in a fleece. In any case he fervently tried to kill some element of the gospel seed.
What Paul desires to communicate is information that will help Timothy in the administration of his own ministry. So, first of all, the communication is informational; this is what Alexander did.
Second, Paul is communicating the sovereign divine position of God to be the sole adjudicator over those actions of Alexander; “The Lord will repay him according to his deeds.” Paul is not harboring resentment, he is not asking for a vigilante group to thwack Alexander. I get the sense that Paul realizes that he still has work to do for the Kingdom of God, and thus, in light of his quickly diminishing number of days on this earth refuses to be bogged down in the mire of an ugly street fight. His words are doxological; they serve to allow God to glorify Himself in whatever capacity He sees fit as sovereign judge.
Finally, his words are admonitional; they seek to warn Timothy about this hindrance to the Gospel. Worthy of note here is the idea that Paul fears that Timothy could come into contact with Alexander, and therefore experience the same adversity. Likely then, this Alexander is in Ephesus, or likely to be in route to wherever Timothy will travel.
So, what’s the takeaway for us in the 21st-century church?
Some two thousand years removed from the actual missive, we must conclude the ambiguity regarding Alexander is not without intent to the modern church. Alexander was a very real soul who opposed the Gospel, stood against the work of the Spirit, and sought to hamstring the church; a jackal to the faith if ever there was one. Yet, like jackals “Alexanders” still cavort today nipping at the heels of the elect, and the Gospel. Inside the walls of the church. Outside the walls. “Be on guard!” Paul says. Keep your eyes open. Be Aware. Beware.
The Gospel is the best thing going for mankind; the opportunity to be set right with God through the work of Christ. Therefore, Satan will be at work with any who are at his disposal: false prophets, false teachers, false shepherds, false believers, he even relies on the actions of some unwise true believers. And it’s going to be that way for a while.
Alexanders. Be aware that they are out there. Do what you can to combat their influence. But in the end… sometimes… we can only surrender them and their works to the Supreme Sovereign, and keep on task.
[The Shepherd’s Echo is a previously published TheShepherdsPen]