Today’s Reading: 2 Timothy 4
Let me give you an apostle Paul timeline. Paul’s conversion is in Acts 9 around AD 34. Second Timothy is his last letter and that is in AD 67. He writes it thirty-three years after the day he met Jesus. Paul’s entrance into the ministry is in Acts 13, in AD 48—fourteen years after his salvation experience on the road to Damascus. So he has been preaching and in full-time ministry for about two decades. Now two verses before he is about to pen his last words ever, he throws in a sentence of mystery: “Erastus remained at Corinth, but Trophimus I left sick at Miletus” (2 Timothy 4:20).
Paul couldn’t leave well enough alone. He has to say something in regards to sickness and Christians. Only someone who has been in ministry for as long as the apostle can throw that sentence in his final letter. The Trophimus mystery is the mystery every Christian battles: why are people still sick when Jesus heals?
At some point in our lives we have asked those questions either for ourselves or others. Paul’s seven words leave us hanging, longing for the answer: But Trophimus I left sick at Miletus. The man who God used to bring healing to people’s lives leaves a seven-year companion sick in Miletus. Paul has healed people in Acts 14, 19, 20, and 28, but not 2 Timothy 4.
Paul heals others, but Trophimus he leaves sick. It doesn’t seem to make sense. Everyone he heals in the book of Acts he does not know personally, but Trophimus he does. So why has he left this one sick at Miletus?
There is much speculation but no definitive answer. Some say divine chastisement. Some say he might not have had faith to be healed. And some put it on Paul: “Paul healed in Lystra and cast out demons in Philippi and wrought miracles in Ephesus but he failed with Trophimus.”
We do not know the answer. Paul does a lot. But I like knowing that Paul’s track record isn’t perfect. There is a sick guy in Miletus.
Whatever the answer is, there are times we must leave Trophimus sick at Miletus. We may win many to Christ but not everyone. There is always one. There are scores of answered prayers but there are some for whom God says no, and the prayer is like Trophimus, left without an answer.
Miletus is one spot on the map where a man was not healed. We will have our Miletus too. I am rather glad for Trophimus here in the Bible. I am helped by the fact that we don’t have this unbroken record of successes and that everything Paul did was a success. I could not keep up with that. The great Baptist preacher Vance Havner said we must “leave room for Trophimus, allow for a Miletus to be somewhere along your journey.”
Some days are sick days. Some days are “I blew it” days. “One of the reasons why mature people stop growing and learning,” says John Gardner, “is that they become less and less willing to risk failure.” Because someone didn’t get healed doesn’t mean we stop praying for people. Just because they did not respond the right way when we shared Jesus with them doesn’t mean we stop telling people the Good News. I’m glad Trophimus is in the Bible. And we need to remember that Trophimus being left sick in Miletus does not diminish Paul or his work or his character.
Former figure skating Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton and his wife, Tracie, have four children, including two adopted from Haiti. While he was pursuing his success as a skater, he once said he dropped out of church involvement and started what he jokingly called “The Church of Scott.” But through the love of his wife and other Christians, he came to a sincere faith in Christ. Rooted in his faith, Hamilton had an interesting take on dealing with personal sin and failure. In a 2018 New York Times interview, Hamilton said: “I calculated once how many times I fell during my skating career—41,600 times. But I got up all 41,600 times. That’s the muscle you have to build in you—the one that reminds you to just get up.”
Trophimus in 2 Timothy 4 is a mystery. I really do think Paul prayed for his friend and believed for his friend’s healing. But Trophimus was not healed. And that’s okay, because I’m okay with having spots in my Christian walk with mystery. Evelyn Underhill said it like this: “If the Reality of God was small enough to be grasped, it would not be great enough to be adored.”
I think God leaves mystery moments in our faith walk, which means mystery in our faith walk doesn’t have to necessarily bring doubt but it can inspire adoration. Doubt comes when we feel as though we are owed an explanation. Adoration comes when we realize we are involved with Someone way bigger than we are. Let’s adore Him even in the mystery.