Friday, May 25, 2012

Trophimus Left Behind (II Timothy 4:20)

Where did Paul leave Trophimus ill? Miletus (II Timothy 4:20)

Traditionally, II Timothy is considered to be Paul’s last letter. In the epistle, the imprisoned apostle corresponds with his protégé, Timothy (II Timothy 1:2), encouraging him to visit as soon as possible (II Timothy 4:9, 21). Timothy’s presence is all the more desired as Paul has been abandoned by his followers, with the exception of Luke (II Timothy 4:11, 16).

Paul concludes his letter with the customary list of his personal concerns (II Timothy 4:9-22), The embattled apostle includes a passing reference to a mutual friend: he has left Trophimus ill in Miletus (II Timothy 4:20).

Erastus remained at Corinth, but Trophimus I left sick at Miletus. (II Timothy 4:20 NASB)
Trophimus was a native of Ephesus (Acts 21:29) and had accompanied the apostle from Greece to Troas (Acts 20:4) and on his final trip to Jerusalem (Acts 21:29). In fact, Trophimus was the indirect cause of Paul’s arrest (Acts 21:29). Scholars have attempted to use Trophimus’ presence and presumed recent illness to retrace the apostle’s footsteps and date the letter, a difficult task which has produced an array of results.

Trophimus is said to be sick. The Greek term used is astheneo, a term with a broad range of meaning translated as either “sick” (ASV, CEV, HCSB, KJV, MSG, NASB, NIV, NKJV, NLT) or “ill” (ESV, NRS, RSV). George W. Knight III (b. 1931) diagnoses:

Paul left Trophimus at Miletus because Trophimus was ἀσθενουντα. The verb ἀσθενέω was used generally of the state of being weak. All its New Testament occurrences refer to physical illness (e.g., Matthew 25:39; John 4:46; Philippians 2:26ff; James 5:14). Though Paul on other occasions was the instrument through which individuals were healed (Acts 14:9-10, 19:11-12, 20:10, 28:8-9; cf. II Corinthians 12:12), he did not always heal: On this occasion he left a fellow worker “sick” (cf. II Corinthians 12:7-10). The implication of the verb “I left behind” (ἀπέλιπον) is that Paul was with Trophimus in or near Miletus when Trophimus stopped traveling. (Knight, The Pastoral Epistles (New International Greek Testament Commentary, 477)
The term “sick” is as broad in Greek as it is in English and encompasses the potentiality of Trophimus simply being exhausted. John Wimber (1934-1997) and Kevin Springer (b. 1947) acknowledge:
There is the possibility, based on the Greek word translated in this verse “sick,” that Trophimus had overworked and weakened his body...Indeed, the illnesses...could have been associated with...ministries...In other words, they may have been guilty of what many today: abuse of their bodies by disobeying the natural laws of health, which include good exercise, enough sleep, proper eating, recreation, and so on. (Wimber and Springer, Power Healing, 151)
Whatever the nature of his condition, Trophimus is too weakened to continue ministering and is left in Miletus, located on the Aegean coast of Asia Minor. Miletus was situated only 30-35 miles from Trophimus’ home and the church in Ephesus.

Trophimus is out of sight but clearly not out of Paul’s mind. There have been many suggestions as to why Paul includes his friend’s condition in his letter. Some suggest that he is merely informing Timothy of the plight of their mutual friend. Others see an implicit suggestion for Timothy to check on Trophimus.

Paul seldom worked alone and some have seen Paul as using Trophimus’ illness to accentuate why he is lonely – the absence of his team – in an effort to bring Timothy to him quicker.

The apostle is not blaming Trophimus for his desertion. In fact, the teacher can be seen as granting an excused absence. Raymond F. Collins (b. 1935) comments:

Six of the apostle’s seven companions are no longer with him. Demas, Cresens, and Titus have abandoned Paul, leaving Luke alone with him...Tychichus has been sent on a mission to Ephesus (II Timothy 4:12). Erastus remained behind in Corinth (II Timothy 4:20), and Trophimus, a sick man, was left behind in Miletus (II Timothy 4:20). The absence of these three is not presented as having contributed to Paul’s solitude. Their absence is the result of the apostle’s own initiative. (Collins, I & II Timothy and Titus: A Commentary (New Testament Library), 278)
Regardless of why Paul makes the reference, Trophimus’ illness is conspicuous. George T. Montague (b. 1929) observes:
That he was sick, and not healed by Paul, is one of the rare mentions of illness in the apostolic workers of the New Testament. Paul himself seems to have suffered from some kind of eye infirmity when he was in Galatia (Galatians 4:15), and the weakness, or “thorn in the flesh,” of II Corinthians 12:7-9 may refer to an illness. It can be consoling to modern ministers to know that early ministers were not supermen or superwomen, but as St. John Chrysostom [347-407] notes, were able to accept God’s plan for them even if this included illness. (Montague, First and Second Timothy, Titus (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture), 208)
Walter L. Liefeld (b. 1927) teases, “It may be significant in connection with Paul’s involvement in miraculous acts, including healing (Acts 14:8-10, 28:7-9) that Trophimus was left ‘sick in Miletus.’ (Liefeld, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus (The NIV Application Commentary), 302)”

Dispensationalists have interpreted Trophimus’ sickness as the end of the age of miracles. John MacArthur (b. 1939) is an exemplar, writing:

It is important to note that Paul made no effort himself to heal Trophimus, who, incidentally, was present at the late-night service in Troas when the apostle miraculously restored to life Eutychus, a young man who went to sleep during the sermon and fell out a window to his death (Acts 20:9-10; cf. Acts 20:4). The sign gifts were coming to an end. There is no evidence that any of the apostles, including Paul, performed miracles of any sort during their later years. As more and more of the New Testament was revealed and made available to the church, God’s Word no longer needed the verification of miracles. (MacArthur, 2 Timothy (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary), 215)
Dispensationalists read too much into the text. The New Testament does not claim that Paul did not try to heal his friend and it certainly makes no claims that the age of miracles is over.

Do miracles still exist? Do you pray for them? Why didn’t Paul heal Trophimus? Does Paul reference Trophimus’ illness for his own benefit or that of his ill friend? Is there sadness or regret in Paul’s tone when writing of Trophimus? Which is worse, Trophimus’ illness or being left by his friend?

It is uncertain what happened to Trophimus. Tradition says that he did not succumb to his illness but rather to beheading at the command of Nero. It is difficult not to sympathize with his plight and wonder about his fate.

E. Frank Tupper (b. 1941) internalizes:

“Trophimus I left in Miletus.” Grace, but not grace enough. Ill, not healed. Ill, perhaps sustained? Ill, and left. Left sick, left behind, left out, left to somebody else, left to himself. Left, not healed. Left, not blessed. Left, not coping? Paul left Trophimus sick at Miletus: Abandoned? Abandoned broken? Abandoned bereft? Abandoned to whomever and whatever and whenever? We do not know. II Timothy 4:20 is only a fragment, a story untold, a story no one knows...It is a story...of providence that we would like to know. We, too, are fragments in the correspondence of others. (Tupper, A Scandalous Providence: The Jesus Story of the Compassion of God, 307-08)
It is interesting that Paul finds himself in the same lonely predicament as Trophimus. We do not know if Timothy ever it made it to see his mentor. Likewise, Jesus, was also abandoned by his followers at the end of his earthly life (Matthew 26:31; Mark 14:27).

Abandonment is a universal human experience. Yet Christians have the assurance that though they may feel abandoned, they are never truly alone. Our predecessors in the faith had the same experience and God is with us just as God was with them.

Why do you think that Paul left Trophimus in Miletus? Have you ever had to leave someone you love when they were ill? What abandoned person can you visit? What can you do for someone who is suffering when you cannot physically be with them? Have you ever felt abandoned? Do you realize that with God, you are not alone?

“I am not so different in my history of abandonment from anyone else after all. We have all been split away from each other, the earth, ourselves.” - Susan Griffin (b. 1943), A Chorus of Stones: The Private Life of War, p. 360

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Drinking a Paycheck (Proverbs 23:21)

Who will come to poverty according to Proverbs 23:21? The drunkard and the glutton.

Proverbs 23:19-21 is an earnest appeal from father to son (Proverbs 23:19) admonishing not to associate with drunkards and gluttons (Proverbs 23:20). The father’s rationale is quite practical:

For the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty,
And drowsiness will clothe one with rags. (Proverbs 23:21 NASB)
Midrash argues that a drunkard will eventually sell all of her possessions in the pursuit of wine (Leviticus Rabbah 12:1). This counsel stands in stark contrast to the opinion held by many that excessive comfort food and/or adult beverage relieve stress and lead to happiness.

While the motivation for abstinence or moderation here is pragmatic, elsewhere in Proverbs, drunkenness and gluttony are rejected on moral grounds. Tremper Longman III (b. 1952) notes:

Drunkenness and gluttony are here castigated. Elsewhere the rationale for criticizing getting drunk has to do with clouding one’s ability to think and make decisions. In other words, it disrupts one’s wisdom. The same can apply to overeating, which would lead to lethargic behavior, not the kind of diligent work so frequently encouraged in the book. However, the explicit motive given here against overdrinking and eating is that such overindulgence would lead to poverty. Spending too much money on too much food and too much drink would be foolish, not wise. For other teaching against overdrinking, see Proverbs 20:1, 23:29-35, 31:1-9. (Longman, Proverbs (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms), 428)
This utilitarian argument for abstaining from excess fits the book’s perspective on poverty. Timothy Keller (b. 1950) acknowledges:
Another cause of poverty, according to the Bible, is what we would call “personal moral failures,” such as indolence (Proverbs 6:6-7) and other problems with self-discipline (Proverbs 23:21). The book of Proverbs is particularly forceful in its insistence that hard work can lead to economic prosperity (Proverbs 12:11, 14:23, 20:13), though there are exceptions (Proverbs 13:23) (Keller, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just), 34)
Kathleen A. Farmer (b. 1943) summarizes:
The fourteenth “saying” (Proverbs 23:19-21) sees a relationship between overindulgences and poverty, as did several of the Solomonic sentences (e.g. Proverbs 20:12, 21:17). The drunkard, the glutton, and the chronically drowsy will all be clothed in rags, warns the sage. (Farmer, Who Knows What is Good?: A Commentary on the Books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes (International Theological Commentary), 111)
Here, extravagant drinking and eating are to be interpreted as a collective representing the epitome of overindulgence. The father’s message is that leading an extravagant lifestyle will eventually lead to poverty.

The Bible does not discourage drinking any more than eating. It is the excess that is frowned upon and this excess was a serious offense. The same words for “heavy drinker” and “glutton” are found in the Law characterizing a rebellious son (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). If found guilty, the stubborn child was to be executed (Deuteronomy 21:21)! Passages like these underscore how heavy a charge opponents levied on Jesus in deeming him “a glutton and a drunkard” (Luke 7:34 NASB).

Given this aggregate interpretation, the proverb is reminding that time, energy, money and opportunity are often wasted in the pursuit of indulgence . Leonard S. Kravitz (b. 1928) and Kerry M. Olitzky (b. 1954) conclude:

Overindulgence will prevent a person from making a living, and poverty will be the result. The author needs to warn the reader that self-control in all things is a prerequisite for those wishing to counsel those in power. Lose control and you lose your power and your job. (Kravitz and Olitzky, Mishlei: A Modern Commentary on Proverbs, 228)
What did your parents teach you about alcohol and gluttony? What is the connection between excess and poverty? Has this proverb been proven true? Who can you think of whose extravagant lifestyle resulted in destitution? Have you ever known someone who gave up a vice for financial reasons? Is alcohol consumption more a moral or economic issue? Why does gluttony receive so little press relative to drinking?

Though the verse makes no distinction between gluttony and drunkenness, Proverbs does what most modern readers do when reading about drunkards and gluttons - it abandons gluttony and follows with a discourse on the dangers of excessive drinking (Proverbs 23:29-35).

Duane A. Garrett admits (b. 1953):

Those who live like Shakespeare’s Falstaff soon exhaust their resources. Christians should note that both drunkenness and gluttony are condemned. We often eschew the former and practice the latter. (Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (New American Commentary), 196)
Many of the arguments against excessive drinking also apply to gluttony. Max Anders (b. 1947) deduces:
Modern Christians often focus on alcohol, forgetting verses like these that speak against gluttons who lack self-control and gorge themselves on meat. In each case, the problem is the urge to indulge too much!...Either problem leads to the same result. The alcoholic pours all his resources into his drinking habit and eventually lands in poverty. The laziness and drowsiness that accompany such behavior lead inevitably to financial embarrassment. (Anders, Proverbs (Holman Old Testament Commentary), 198-99)
For all practical purposes, most do not perceive gluttony to be a sin. A gluttonous preacher railing against the depravity of inebriation is commonplace. This has not always been the case. In fact, gluttony was one of the seven deadly sins.

Perhaps the Enlightenment’s emphasis on intellect led to a modern docetism in which we accept things that harm the body more readily than those that affect the mind. Francine Prose (b. 1947) recounts:

As the Renaissance and later the Industrial Revolution and eighteenth-century rationalism refocused the popular imagination from heaven to earth and adjusted the goals of labor to include the rewards of this world as well as those of the next, gluttony lost some of its stigma and eventually became almost a badge of pride. Substance, weight, and the ability to afford the most lavish pleasures of the table became visible signs of vitality, prosperity, and of the worldly success to which both the captains and the humble foot soldiers of industry were encouraged to aspire. (Prose, Gluttony (The Seven Deadly Sins), 3)
Culture’s perception of gluttony has clearly changed. Has God’s?

Do you feel gluttony is a sin? If you had to presume a hierarchy of sin, which is worse, drunkenness or gluttony? Why? What are other sins associated with drinking and gluttony? What is the connection between the body and soul?

“Our fear of hypocrisy is forcing us to live in a world where gluttons are fine, so long as they champion gluttony.” - Jonah Goldberg (b. 1969), “Booking Bennet”, May 5, 2003