Trophimus and Our Need for Resilient Faith

Trophimus and Our Need for Resilient Faith
Tony Cooke

trophimusIf you ask most Christians about the identity of Trophimus, you will probably get a blank stare or a shrug of the shoulders. Some, though, will remember him as Paul’s valued team member who was unable to continue journeying due to illness. We don’t know whether he died from his sickness, or if he recovered shortly after Paul’s departure. All we know is what Paul said in one passing reference.

“Trophimus I have left in Miletus sick” (2 Timothy 4:20).

Opponents of divine healing have been quick to point to this example (along with Job’s boils and Timothy’s stomach problems) to bolster their arguments against God’s willingness and desire to heal. There are five things I notice about this passage:

  1. Paul did not offer the slightest hint as to why Trophimus had gotten sick or had remained in a physically impaired condition.
  2. Paul ascribed no fault or blame upon Trophimus. Such as:
    1.   “He must not have had enough faith.”
    2.   “There must have been sin in his life.”
    3.   “He must have missed it somewhere.”
  3. Paul felt no need to defend the doctrine of healing or his own ministry. He didn’t express the idea that he had “failed” to get Trophimus healed.
  4. Paul did not try to make this into a theological or philosophical issue at all.
  5. Paul simply stated the fact of Trophimus’ illness as it existed at that moment.

I am addressing this topic because many believers have faced great anguish when someone they love has not recovered or even died in spite of much prayer. Some surviving loved ones have even been victims of judgmental attitudes and condescending remarks by rigid and insensitive believers.

Regardless of one’s theology about the role of faith in healing, I think that all believers will agree with Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 13:13, “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Notice that Paul placed love, not faith, at the top of the list. If there are times when we don’t understand why something did not occur according to one’s faith, the least we can do is to make sure that we are walking in love toward those that are hurting, and release compassion, care, and concern—not speculative judgement—toward them.

A friend of mine, Pastor Larry Millis, once remarked, “The faith message is a very easy message to teach, but a very difficult message to pastor.” I think most pastors would agree with Larry. A traveling minister or a TV minister can present certain “ultimate” truths (absolute best-case scenarios), but they don’t have to live with the results of their teaching, or lack of results, as the case may be. They move on to the next town (or drive home from the studio), but pastors have to live and work with people through residual problems on a day-to-day basis. It’s easy to rejoice with folks when they experience the wonderful results of faith and answered prayer, but it is far more challenging to answer the tough questions when best-case scenarios do not occur, especially when we simply don’t know “why” or have satisfying answers.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m all for seeing the power of God intervening in every area of our lives, and I know first-hand that God is a healing God. But we’ve all seen situations where we simply had to “trust in the Lord with all of our heart and lean not to our own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).

One situation that seems a bit mind-boggling pertains to John the Baptist. John, as you know, was the forerunner of Jesus, the one that Jesus said was “more than a prophet” (Matthew 11:9). Having been imprisoned, John heard of all the miracles and healings that Jesus was doing. It makes me wonder if John was a bit bewildered, thinking something like, “It’s wonderful that all of these other people are getting set free, but I’m still in prison. It’s great that everyone else is getting their miracle, but I haven’t received mine.” 

Could those or similar types of thoughts have contributed to John’s decision to send representatives to Jesus with the question (Luke 7:19), “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” I realize I’m speculating a bit here, but was John’s faith shaken when he saw everyone else seemingly getting their prayers answered while he remained in bondage?

Jesus’ response (Luke 7:21-23) is most interesting. “And that very hour He cured many of infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits; and to many blind He gave sight. Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.’”

This makes me wonder if Jesus was saying, in essence, “John, don’t be offended because many others are getting blessed while you’re still in prison.” Just like Paul offered no explanation as to why Trophimus remained sick in Miletus, the Gospels offer no reason as to why so many were receiving miracles while John the Baptist remained in prison and was ultimately beheaded by an evil king.

If Zacharias and Elizabeth (the parents of John the Baptist) were still living, can you imagine how tempted they might have been to be offended themselves? Would Elizabeth have been inclined to think, “Jesus, how could you not set my son free after he introduced you and publicly promoted you? We are relatives of yours, and you didn’t even go visit John in prison!” Holding to a certain doctrine or theology is one thing, but when something so personal as the death of a loved one happens, a person’s trust can be greatly challenged.

What about Salome, the mother of James? Two stark verses (Acts 12:1-2) describe his death: “Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword.” Nothing flowery about that remark; just a plain statement of fact. Most Christians never give much thought to those two verses, but we celebrate the next seventeen verses (Acts 12:3-19) which gloriously describe the deliverance of Peter from Herod in vivid detail.

Did you ever stop to ask yourself the question: “Why did Peter get delivered right after James was put to death? Why did one person get a miracle and the other did not?” Of course, there are thoughts we could present about the plan of God for Peter’s life, etc., but regardless of how theologically correct those answers might be, I doubt they would have done much to comfort the pain and agony that Zebedee and Salome would have experienced when their son was murdered.

If James’ parents were still alive at that time, I can only hope that the church (who rightly celebrated Peter’s deliverance) was as effective at “weeping with those who weep” as they were in “rejoicing with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15). I certainly hope no one came up to them and suggested that James (or that his parents) simply didn’t have enough faith.

The Bible simply does not explain why Paul left Trophimus sick in Miletus, why John the Baptist died in prison after hearing of the miracles received by others, or why Peter was miraculously rescued from prison but James was not. As much as people sometimes don’t like to hear it, there are still “secret things” that belong to the Lord our God (Deuteronomy 29:29).

There are instances in Scripture that clearly show us where the faith of certain individuals was an integral part of desired results being realized in the here-and-now:

  1. The woman with the issue of blood (Mark 5:34)
  2. The centurion (Matthew 8:13)
  3. The lame man in Lystra (Acts 14:9-10).

But there are also examples given in Scripture where faith seems to be more of atranscendent faith, an over-arching faith in God Himself that stood strong in spite of specific results that were not realized or experienced.  Habakkuk, the prophet of the Old Testament, described an unconditional faith in God; a faith that transcended specific results (or lack of results) and yet still looked confidently and expectantly toward the future.

Habakkuk 3:17-19
Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls—Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills.

May I propose a paraphrase to the prophet’s words? “When everything that could possibly go wrong does, and anything that could possibly go right doesn’t, I’m still going to keep my faith in God Himself. Trusting God, for me, is not restricted to certain results nor deterred by any lack of results. My faith transcends any and all circumstances and rests only in Him. I will continue to rejoice in Him, and am confident that He will still make me victorious in the long-run.”

Does any of this mean we should not pray for specific results? Absolutely not! We should never forget that Jesus said (Mark 11:24), “What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” We need to feed on these types of promises and keep our confidence strongly built up. We should expect great things from God!

But we must also have resiliency in trusting God.  Many of God’s choice servants (such as Trophimus, John the Baptist, and James, along with their loved ones) faced opportunities for discouragement, disappointment, and even disillusionment.  You and I may not know why certain things turn out the way they do, but we know that God doesn’t want us condemning others or condemning ourselves.  The greatest of these is still love!  We rejoice when outcomes are what we want, but if our desired outcome is not what we experience in a given situation, it does nothing to change the fact that He loves us with an everlasting love, that He is still good, faithful, and worthy of our trust, our devotion, our worship, and our praise.