The grace of courtesy and sympathy are character traits that every Christian should cherish because these were the prominent character traits of Jesus Christ. Although we should manifest these graces toward everyone, there is a class of people who has an even stronger claim to our sympathy.
The followers of Christ cannot be expected to be thought of by the world any differently than their Master. Jesus said, “It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household” (Matthew 10:25)!
Jesus warned that “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also” (John 15:18–20).
So, Jesus predicted that His followers would be having the same kinds of problems and no more favor in the world than had their Master. The Christian faith involves not only hope, but it involves bearing our cross, following Jesus. Paul’s labors had been blessed with the conversion of many, many souls, but on his arrival at Rome, he was placed in the charge of the captain of the Imperial Guards. After a time, this man was replaced by another man who was infamous because of his vice and tyranny, and the apostle Paul had no hope for clemency or favor from this slave of lust and cruelty.
At this same time during his first imprisonment, the Jews were more active than ever in their efforts against Paul. They had found an able helper in the profligate woman whom Nero had made his second wife, and who, being a Jewish proselyte, would lend all her influence to second their murderous designs against the Christian champion. Paul had little hope for justice from Caesar to whom he appealed. Nero was more debased in morals and more frivolous in character, and capable of more cruelty than any Caesar that had preceded him. The reins of government could not have been given to a more unfit person.
The first year of his reign had been marked by the poisoning of his young step brother who was the rightful heir to the throne. Following that, Nero had steadily descended from one depth of vice to another, until he murdered his own mother, and then even his own wife. There was no atrocity that he would not perpetrate, no vile act to which he would not stoop. There were many people who held him in abhorrence and contempt, and the details of iniquity that were practiced in his court are too degrading and horrible to describe. His abandoned wickedness created disgust and loathing even among many who were forced to share in his crimes.
People were in constant fear about what he could suggest next, and yet, even such crimes did not shake the allegiance of his subjects. He was acknowledged as the absolute ruler of the whole civilized world. More than this, he was made the recipient of divine honors and worshiped as a god. From the standpoint of human judgment, Paul’s condemnation before a judge like this was certain. But the apostle, fearing not, trusted in the Lord as to whatever should happen. His trust and faith were in God, and he knew that God could overrule even what Nero could decide, just as He can overrule any human decision.
God shielded Paul at His faithful servant’s examination before Nero and the charges against him were not sustained. With a regard for justice wholly at variance with his normal character, Nero declared that the prisoner was guiltless and contrary to the general expectation, Paul’s fetters were struck off. He was again a free man.
However, during this period of time, the converts to Christianity had become so numerous that Paul’s imprisonment had attracted the attention and aroused the enmity of the authorities. The ire of the Emperor developed especially against the conversion of members of his own household. Nero was a person who still thirsted for blood; he was one of the most wicked men that has ever lived. And he soon figured out a pretext by which he could kill off most of the Christian population in the city of Rome.
A terrible fire occurred in Rome that consumed nearly one half of the city. Nero himself had caused the flames to be kindled, but to avert suspicion, he made a pretense of great generosity to assist the homeless and destitute. However, Nero was accused of the crime and the people were excited and enraged, so to clear himself and also, at the same time, rid the city of a class of people that he feared and hated, he decided to charge the act of burning the city of Rome upon the Christians. This Satanic device succeeded. Thousands of the followers of Christ—men, women, and children—were put to death in a most cruel manner.
This monster in human form amused the public by painting the victims in pitch before burning them to death while exhibiting them in their dying agonies at the circus. He took the keenest delight in the misery of others. To take delight in the misery of another human being demonstrates that you have developed a Satanic character which will exclude you from the halls of bliss that the Lord is preparing for those who come to Him.
God does not want any human being to suffer one hour of pain that can be averted or avoided. If sin had not come into the world, no human being would ever have suffered pain. Pain is a result of sin. In Revelation 21:4, the Bible says that when God recreates this world again at the close of the millennium, not only will there be no more sin or death, but there will be no more pain. The desire to cause pain to another human being is satanic.
Paul, having been set free was no longer in Rome, but working among the churches, knowing full well that this would be his final work. The Jews were still his enemies and still trying to figure out a way to get Paul killed, because so many tens of thousands of Jews all over the world, as well as Gentiles, had become Christians as a result of the work of this man.
Finally, another satanic idea was conceived. They would fasten upon Paul the crime of instigating and burning Rome. Although they knew that that wasn’t true, they figured if they could show any cause of probability or plausibility to this charge, it would seal his doom. An opportunity was soon provided to execute their plans. Paul was seized while he was in the city of Troas in the house of a disciple and again taken by ship to Rome for his second and final imprisonment.
Not all who heard Paul’s message of the Gospel received that truth, and he made some bitter enemies. Such a one was Alexander the coppersmith, a man who was not able to defeat the apostle in debate, so he worked to see that Paul was imprisoned and finally killed. In 2 Timothy 4:14, Paul says about him that he “did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works.” Again, Alexander is mentioned to Timothy as one of those who had rejected the good warfare. He said, “… of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered to Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Timothy 1:20).
Reformatory action is always attended with loss, sacrifice, and peril. Why? Because it always rebukes the love of ease, and selfish interests, and lustful ambition. Therefore whoever initiates or prosecutes such reformatory action must encounter opposition. This is why Jesus was opposed and why He was so hated. The majority were not willing to submit to the conditions of reform. Jesus showed that a change must happen in a person’s early life if they are going to have eternal life, but most are not willing to submit to this change. They want to live the way they please and still have eternal life. The Lord said, “That’s not possible.” The apostle Paul said, “That’s not possible.” All the prophets and apostles said the same thing.
It is no easy matter to overcome sinful habits and practices. In fact, these changes can only be made with divine help. But there are many people, even Christians today, who, instead of bringing themselves up to meet the standard of God, seek to lower the standard to their own level of “righteousness.” God’s standard does not change. When people are severely dealt with or rebuked for their sins, which endanger the purity of the Christian’s walk, instead of accepting the reproof and changing their life, they continue in sin. When those of Paul’s day were excommunicated or disfellowshipped from the church because of their unwillingness to reform, they became Paul’s enemies. Instead of changing their lives to come into harmony with the gospel, they wanted the gospel changed to come into harmony with what they wanted to do. Such is still the case, even in the Christian world today.
There are many people not willing to accept the standard given by the gospel in the New Testament. The Bible is very clear that you cannot have eternal life if you do not love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37, 39). Many people claim to love God, but notice what it says in 1 John 4:20: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?”
John also says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). The person who says he loves God and does not keep His commandments is also a liar, adding sin to sin.
When Paul came to Rome the second time, thousands of Christians had been killed for their faith and many had left the city. Those who were left in the city were greatly intimidated because of persecution. On this arrival there were no warm-hearted disciples to meet Paul and his companions as there had been on his first imprisonment. There was no one like a courteous and kindly Julius to say a word in his favor, no statement of favor from Festus or Agrippa to attest to his innocence. This time, the apostle Paul is not put in a rented house, but he is put in a gloomy Roman prison where he will live until he is taken to be martyred.
To visit the apostle Paul during his second imprisonment in a Roman dungeon was not at all the same as to visit him during his first imprisonment when he was in his own rented house. At his first imprisonment there had been no charge that had been sustained against him. Not only that, he had won favorable opinions from princes and rulers such as King Agrippa, Felix, and Festus. But this time, if you were to visit him, it was to visit a person who was the object of universal hatred because he was accused of instigating one of the basest and most terrible crimes against the city and nation. So, anyone who even ventured to visit him to show him kindness or attention, thereby made himself subject to suspicion and endangered his own life. This was because at that time, Rome was filled with spies who stood ready to bring an accusation against any person on the slightest occasion which could advance their own interests.
Nobody but a Christian would visit a Christian, for no other would incur the risk, the odium of a faith which even intelligent men regarded as not only contemptible, but treasonable. And so, one by one the apostle Paul saw his friends leave. To Timothy he wrote, “Be diligent to come to me quickly; for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica—Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. And Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come—and the books, especially the parchments. 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” (2 Timothy 4:9–15).
Then he says, “At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever” (verses 16–18).
So, the apostle was still able to communicate with the world outside through Luke and his secretary, and he was able to send and receive messages from the different churches. But at this time, when he was in such a dire situation, he received an unexpected encouragement by a visit from an Ephesian Christian by the name of Onesiphorus. Now this person had come to Rome not long after the apostle Paul had arrived in his second imprisonment. He knew that Paul was a prisoner somewhere in the city of Rome and he decided that he was going to find him. This was not easy to do because the city was crowded with prisoners and suspicion was everywhere and had only to fasten itself upon an unfortunate victim to consign him to prison and perhaps to death.
In spite of all these difficulties, Onesiphorus kept searching for Paul until he found him. Not satisfied with just visiting him one time, he went again and again at the risk of his life to Paul’s dungeon and he did all in his power to lighten the burden of his imprisonment. The fear of scorn, or reproach, or persecution was powerless to terrify this true hearted Ephesian Christian because he knew that his beloved teacher was in bonds for the truth’s sake, while he in every respect far less worthy, was free.
The apostle Paul writes about this visitor in 2 Timothy 1:16–18. He says, “The Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but when he arrived in Rome, he sought me out very zealously and found me. The Lord grant to him that he may find mercy from the Lord in that Day—and you know very well how many ways he ministered to me at Ephesus.”
At the close of his letter to Timothy he says, “Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus” (2 Timothy 4:19). Paul appreciated the attention from this Christian who came at the risk of his life to help him during his final imprisonment. The desire for love and sympathy has been implanted in the human heart by God Himself. Christ in His hour of agony in Gethsemane, while bearing the guilt of sinful men, longed for the sympathy of His disciples. And Paul, although he seemed almost indifferent to hardship and suffering, yearned for sympathy and companionship as well. God wants His people, all Christians, to cherish love and sympathy for one another.
Humanity, which is elevated and ennobled and becomes God-like through the Christian religion, is worthy of respect and esteem. The sons and daughters of God should be tender hearted, pitiful, and courteous to all men, but “especially,” Paul says, “to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
Paul was bound to his fellow disciples by a stronger tie than Christian brotherhood, because the Lord had revealed Himself to him in a special manner and had made him the instrument to bring salvation to thousands and thousands of people all over the world.
Many churches could truthfully regard him as their father in the gospel. And such a man, which had sacrificed every earthly consideration in the service of God, had a special obligation upon other Christians for their sympathy and love and support. The apostle Paul in his final letter to Timothy, just before his martyrdom, says, “Do your utmost to come before winter” (2 Timothy 4:21).
Friend, how is it in your life? Is there someone to whom you owe a special debt of sympathy and regard, courtesy, kindness, and support, that won’t be there sometime in the future? What if Timothy did not get there by wintertime and missed him?
Paul knew that his days were numbered and shared the urgency, “Come, before winter.” Who is a person in your life that you need visit before winter comes, or because at some time in the future, it will be too late?
O friend don’t wait until it’s wintertime and you regret what you have failed to do. If there is somebody in your life that you need to give special sympathy, and support, and help to, remember, come before winter!
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.