The spirit of Alexander the Coppersmith
Robert Wurtz II
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. (2 Timothy 4:14–15 ESV)
Paul penned his last words to young Timothy, knowing that his time was short. The sheer strength of this passage demands that we ask, who was Alexander the Coppersmith, and what was he doing that warranted Paul warning Timothy? Why did he pronounce judgment towards him? More importantly, why did the Holy Spirit give the churches this record? These questions are the focus of this entry.
First, it is uncertain precisely who this Alexander was though it is likely he is the same man, along with Hymenaeus, whom Paul delivered unto Satan in 1 Timothy so he would “learn not to blaspheme.” Hymenaeus taught that the resurrection was past overthrowing some peoples’ faith, so it is plausible that Alexander shared in this blasphemous doctrine. Some scholars suggest he even testified against Paul before the Roman authorities because of the context of this warning.
A Personal Vendetta
Whoever Alexander was, it is certain that he “did great harm” to Paul and probably harmed Paul’s companions after he died. The late renowned Greek scholar A.T. Robertson suggested that he did this harm or evil mainly for personal reasons. Having been “delivered unto Satan” (similar to the concept of being excommunicated see 1 Tim. 1:19-20), he didn’t repent but became more antagonistic to Paul and his message. Notice that Alexander did “me” much evil, said Paul. He had overthrown other Christians’ faith before, but now he is vexing Paul.
If A.T. Robertson is correct, it was a personal vendetta that drove Alexander the Coppersmith to oppose Paul and cause him much evil. Alexander may have done these things believing he was doing God a service. Like a bull in the proverbial china shop, it is not uncommon for people to do great harm to the cause of Christ while pushing their agenda or grinding an ax with a fellow believer or minister. One of the greatest and most harmful scandals in church history happened in the late 1980s when a famous preacher tried to take down another preacher and ended up being outed for his own sexual sins. Millions worldwide were disillusioned, and the church was disgraced by a preacher who regularly wept while using terms like souls, the blood, the cross, and sin while working behind the scenes to destroy a fellow preacher. Although this fallen preacher has seemingly repented, Alexander, as far as we know, never did.
A Root of Bitterness
Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled. (Hebrews 12:15 KJV)
Paul warned Timothy to be aware of Alexander. Whatever antagonism and bitterness Alexander had towards Paul was sure to spill over onto Timothy. It was as if Alexander wasn’t content to see Paul dead; he wanted his legacy and message wiped out. It makes me wonder if he was envious of Paul like the Pharisees were envious of Jesus? Envy (Gk. phthonos), unlike zeal (Gk. zelos), is incapable of good and is always with an evil meaning. It’s defined as pain felt and malignity conceived at the sight of excellence, blessing, or the happiness of our fellow man. Envy is a bitter poison that has destroyed many great men and women.
Envy rarely shows its true colors and is usually disguised by something else. Bitter people don’t usually admit, “I did _____ because I was envious.” Some don’t realize it’s envy — they are just carried along by it. Alexander blamed a difference in doctrine as his excuse to attack Paul but it was likely good old-fashioned envy at the root. God will bring these things to light in the great judgment.
Regardless of the motivation, Paul viewed Alexander as a serious threat to the ministry, and the Lord would repay Alexander according to his deeds. Paul didn’t wish evil on Alexander; he tried everything to get him to repent. He was making a statement of fact. The Lord is going to repay him. Paul told young Timothy that there was no need to avenge any evil this man was committing; vengeance belongs to the Lord, and He will repay. The emphasis in these verses is on the Lord. Paul was saying in effect, “Watch out for this man but don’t fight Him. The Lord will deal with Him in His proper time.”
The Disposition of an “Alexander”
When I use the phrase “the spirit of Alexander the Coppersmith,” I’m not suggesting that this is a demonic spirit, although Alexander was probably moving in the demonic and thought it was the Holy Spirit. I’m referring to people who share in his disposition and tendencies. There will always be people like Alexander the Coppersmith, whom the enemy uses to vex those who labor in the Gospel, so there will always be a need for the grace necessary to respond rightly to such people. We can’t lose our testimony by responding in the flesh to a bitterly envious “professing believer” or “minister” who is moving in the earthly, sensual, and demonic (James 3:15).
Alexander was a metal worker and used that approach to change Paul and those around him. It takes hard blows with a hammer to shape metal. Alexander was true to form and hammered Paul and the churches. Being a good metalworker takes patience and persistence, so he kept hitting and hammering, hoping Paul would eventually yield to his will. It never happened. His evil is now legendary, and we have the record of it.
A.T. Robertson suggested that Alexander must have been a Christian because you don’t deliver sinners to Satan. Alexander was a man who professed Christ and yet caused “much evil” among the churches that Paul and Timothy labored in. He did his own thing and defied anyone to stop him. He wouldn’t accept correction no matter what happened to him. Therefore Paul stated, “the Lord will repay him according to his deeds.”
Sheep don’t always recognize wolves until it’s too late. Understand that the Alexander’s of the world are not always known to the people because they do their evil deeds behind closed doors while fooling them publicly. Without Paul’s warning, there is no telling what may have happened. Timothy might take matters into his own hands. The natural reaction of a shepherd is to think, “Stop him!” Why? Their sense of protection kicks in. What did Paul do? He gave Timothy Alexander’s name. That’s what we have to do. Put people on notice that there is a trouble maker on the loose and provide the trouble maker’s name. Beware of them; avoid them; work to minimize their evil effects; and leave them to God.