In 2 Timothy 4:14–15, Paul warns Timothy of an enemy of the gospel, someone who had caused him much pain. “Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message.” Who was Alexander the coppersmith? It is difficult to identify this man precisely. Alexander was a common name in the first century Greco-Roman world, and there are several possibilities concerning his identity. He may have been a man in Troas of whom Paul wanted Timothy to beware. Given that Timothy would be stopping in Troas to pick up Paul’s coat and books, he should be careful to avoid him (2 Tim. 4:13). Another possibility is that this was a coppersmith in Rome, where Paul was then imprisoned, or this may have been the Alexander in Ephesus who was involved in the infamous riot (Acts 19:33). It seems most likely, though, that this was the same Alexander whom Paul mentions in his first letter to Timothy, the man in Ephesus whom Paul “handed over to Satan,” along with Hymenaeus, so that they would learn not to blaspheme (1 Tim. 1:20).

Whomever this Alexander was, he had done serious injury to Paul. Paul does not specify the nature of this “great harm,” but it seems to have been linked to his arrest and trial. He says in the next verse that “at my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me” (2 Tim. 4:16). Alexander may have brought false testimony against Paul during the first stage of his trial (what Paul refers to as his “first defense”). Paul says this man “strongly opposed our message.” This was not a fellow Christian with whom Paul had a disagreement. Paul is not expressing an unforgiving heart toward a man with whom he needed to reconcile. Rather, he identifies Alexander as a fierce opponent and bitter foe of the gospel. That is why he warns Timothy to beware of him.

It would have been easy for Paul to complain about what Alexander had done to him. We could probably sympathize with the Apostle if he had written a few lines describing what a horrible person Alexander was and how he would like to pay him back. Instead, we see the grace of God at work in Paul, and Paul’s good example to Timothy. Instead of expressing his anger toward Alexander, Paul took comfort in the fact that vengeance belongs to the Lord, and that the Lord will have his justice in the end. “The Lord will repay him according to his deeds” (2 Tim. 4:14b).

Do you trust God to execute His vengeance, or do want to rob God of what rightfully belongs to Him by taking matters into your own hands?

There is no worse punishment than being repaid by the Lord according to our works. There is nothing more severe than the holy God’s satisfying His justice by paying us back for all the sins we have committed against Him. That is the reality of hell, and it is exactly what will happen to every human being who is not clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Hell is the final destination of every unforgiven sinner and the place where God will have His justice.

Paul was not saying that he wanted this judgment to befall Alexander, only that it would if Alexander did not repent. Paul knew perfectly well that he was just as deserving of hell as Alexander, and that it was only by God’s grace in Christ that he had been spared judgment. But he took comfort in the fact that God will have His vengeance, and no one will escape His justice. He was not breathing curses against Alexander. He was simply pointing out the fact that all the wrong done against the gospel, for which he was suffering at the time, will be made right in the end.

Perhaps you have been attacked by enemies of the gospel. Maybe someone has caused you great harm. Are you seeking revenge, or do you take comfort in the fact that the Lord will have His justice in the end? Do you trust God to execute His vengeance, or do want to rob God of what rightfully belongs to Him by taking matters into your own hands? We would do well to meditate frequently on Paul’s words in Romans:

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. . . . Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. . . . Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom 12:14, 17, 19–21)

When enemies harm us, instead of retaliating, let us remember that, unless that person repents, the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. As the Preacher of Ecclesiastes said at the very end of his book, “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Eccl. 12:14). It is only because of the certainty of God’s justice at the end of history that now, in this life, we can respond with grace and mercy toward those who hurt us.

Christ-Centered Friendship

The Simplicity of the Christian Faith