I. THE APOSTASY
In 1:15 Paul says, “This you know, that all who are in Asia turned away from me, of whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.” Asia here refers to the province of Asia. In this verse Paul indicates that believers in Asia who had formerly received the apostle’s ministry now forsook him. In spite of such desertion, the apostle grew stronger in the grace that was in Christ, who was the same and would never change. Without being discouraged, he exhorted his son in faith to persevere steadily in the ministry in the midst of failure and ruin of the churches.
It is difficult to say to whom the words “all who are in Asia” refer. Does it mean that every believer in Asia turned away from Paul? Paul specifically names Phygelus and Hermogenes, two who must have taken the lead to desert the apostle because of his imprisonment. But what about all the other believers in Asia? We cannot say that every one deserted Paul, for Paul mentions Onesiphorus as one who often refreshed him and who sought him out diligently in Rome and found him (vv. 16-17).
A number of expositors say that these verses point to an apostasy, a departure from the truth. But what was the extent of the apostasy? I believe that “all who are in Asia” points to the general situation among the believers in Asia without including every particular believer. Generally speaking, there was apostasy in Asia.
II. THE FAITHFULNESS
Second Timothy 1:15-18 indicates that we cannot be neutral. We are either a Phygelus or Hermogenes, or we are an Onesiphorus. Onesiphorus was an overcomer who resisted the general trend and stood against the down current to refresh the Lord’s ambassador in spirit, soul, and body, one who was not ashamed of Paul’s imprisonment for the Lord’s commission. Concerning him Paul says, “May the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord in that day! And in how many things he served in Ephesus, you know very well.” The words “that day” refer to the day of the Lord’s victorious appearing to reward His overcomers (4:8; Rev. 22:12).
The principle here is nearly the same as that at the time of Elijah. Elijah said to the Lord, “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away” (1 Kings 19:14). The Lord replied, “Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal” (v. 18). The principle here is that even during a period of decline, a downward trend when most of God’s people are carried away, there are always a number who remain faithful. There will always be an Onesiphorus to stand against the downward trend. Yes, Phygelus, Hermogenes, and others in Asia turned away from Paul. But Onesiphorus, an overcomer, stood against the decline, against the down current.
I am certain that both Phygelus and Hermogenes were believers. Otherwise, Paul would not have said that they turned away from him. Phygelus and Hermogenes were with Paul at one time. Probably they were not ordinary believers; they must have been either co-workers or leading ones among the saints. To be sure, they took the lead to turn away from Paul.
Those who turned away from Paul turned away not only from his person, but also from his ministry. Actually, it is not the person himself who is important; it is the ministry carried on by a person which is of extreme importance. When Paul said that certain ones turned away from him, he did not mean that they merely turned away from him as a person, but that they turned away from his ministry. In perilous times, genuine believers, even leading ones and co-workers, may turn away.
In relation to this matter, I would like to relate certain aspects of the history of the Lord’s recovery. During the years I was with Brother Nee in mainland China, I saw many who accepted Brother Nee’s ministry for a time and later turned away. Although the number of saints was not large, it happened again and again that some, perhaps just two or three, turned away from Brother Nee’s ministry.
We have also had many similar experiences from the time we were sent from mainland China to Taiwan in 1949. In the short period of six years, the number of saints in the Lord’s recovery in Taiwan increased from approximately five hundred to more than twenty-five thousand. One year we invited a very spiritual and experienced brother from England to minister to us. His first visit was profitable, for he ministered to us without touching the practice of the church life. But when, at our invitation, he came the second time, he did so with the intention of correcting us with respect to the practice of the church life. Actually, he wanted to convince us to forsake the ground of the church. According to his concept, whenever two or three believers meet in the name of the Lord Jesus, there is the reality of the church. He taught that during the era of what he called organized Christianity there could be in any city a number of groups meeting in the Lord’s name and that each would possess the reality of the church to a certain degree. Due to this brother’s influence, a small number of young people turned from the practice of the church life, declaring that they had seen a vision of what they called “the full Christ.” It is not clear what they meant by this expression. The Bible speaks of the unsearchable riches of Christ and refers to the fullness of Christ, but there is no mention of a “full Christ.”
(Life-Study of 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon, Chapter 14, by Witness Lee)