suffering, persecution, endurance, 2 Timothy
We are pursuing a simple goal as we study 2 Timothy: we want to develop a legacy of faithfulness that we can pass on to our children, grandchildren and all who know us. Last week (2 Timothy 2:1-7) we looked at the life of a Christian illustrated by analogies of a teacher, a solider, an athlete, and a farmer. This week we continue the same theme in 2 Timothy 2:8-14. In our text this morning Paul uses the illustrations of our Lord, Paul’s own experience and then draws conclusions for every believer.
Paul does not pull any punches in these verses. He is not writing a brochure that is meant to draw in customers or fill seats; he tells us the straight truth of what it means to be a true Christ-follower. It is a truth many do not want to hear. We want to hear of blessings, abundance, and victories. Paul talks about sacrifice, persecution, and even suffering. So, hang on and let’s listen as Paul tells us what enduring faithfulness really looks like.
8 Always remember that Jesus Christ, a descendant of King David, was raised from the dead. This is the Good News I preach.
Paul starts with an interesting command: Always remember . . . We are tempted to ask: who would forget the gospel? The answer is that we forget all the time. We get distracted from the message of the gospel by other things. How many people do you know who profess to be a “Christian” for awhile and then they drift away? How many people attend church faithfully for awhile and then they lose interest? How many people profess faith but live as if that faith had nothing to do with their daily lives? In each case it is a case of forgetting (or not actually knowing) the gospel.
We may become distracted by our job, hobbies, or even family activities. These are not bad things; they are good things that distract us from the BEST thing: pursuing Christ!
We can actually be active in the church and forget Jesus! This happens when we turn our focus to health, wealth, social justice, being hip, great music, building a large church, marketing our “name” and so forth. None of this is what the church is about . . . it is about Jesus. It is about honoring Him and submitting to Him as Lord of our lives.
The Lord was well aware of this tendency. This is why He commanded us to remember the Sabbath. This is why He established the local church. This is why we are told to celebrate communion. We are to do these to remind us of who we are, how we got here, and where we are headed!
What specifically are we to remember? First that Jesus was a descendent of David. We are not simply to remember this genealogical fact, we must rememberi the significance of the fact. It points to the fact that Jesus was the One promised throughout the entire Old Testament starting way back in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15). We must remember that Jesus is the King and Messiah who was promised through all time. Jesus is the King all creation was waiting for.
Second we are to remember that He rose from the dead. In the context of this passage the implication is that we need to remember that to save us He had to give up His life. He sacrificed His life to make it possible for us to have life in His name. But with this fact we must remember He rose victorious from the grave. Jesus is our King who conquered sin and death.
If Christ did not rise, then He is no different from other great teachers and martyrs. He was a good man who did and taught great things and then he died. If we forget that He rose from the dead to never die again, it is easy to view Jesus like the dead Presidents we honor on President’s Day; historical figures who made a great contribution, but are now gone. We remember them briefly but it does not change the way we live.
Jesus rose from the dead and was seen by many people. At one point He was seen by over 500 people at one time (1 Corinthians 15). This means that He is unlike anyone who has ever walked the earth! Jesus is worth following because He is the One who is Lord of All! If we remember this, it reminds us that the things of this world will fade and dim but life with Him will go on forever and ever.
Remembering this helps us to endure the hard times of life. We can face suffering because we know we too (because of Christ) will conquer death. Every day we must remind ourselves that we are saved not because we are good, sincere, or anything else. We are made new because Jesus paid for our sin and conquered death. He opened the door of eternal life for us. Now He promises that nothing will ever separate us from His love.
Jesus teaches us that suffering is not the end of the story. Suffering was the way Jesus gained victory over the grave. When we shrink from suffering, we close the door to a rich blessing from God! We can endure whatever life throws at us because Jesus lives . . . and we will live too because of Him.
9 And because I preach this Good News, I am suffering and have been chained like a criminal. But the word of God cannot be chained. 10 So I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen.
Paul illustrated the life of Faithfulness by referring to his own experience. Because He was faithful to the Lord he was put in prison. In fact, he wrote this letter while he was in chains. He was treated like a criminal because He would not stop telling others about Jesus.
This is still happening in our own day. Most of us have heard about Saeed Abedini who was arrested and imprisoned in Iran on September 2012 because he preached the gospel. That was the ONLY reason he was imprisoned. He was released after much public outcry on January 16, 2016 in a prisoner exchange. Stories say Pastor Abedini was viciously beaten and told that the only way the beatings would stop was if he would deny Christ. He refused to do so.
Those who are being persecuted because of their association with Christ understand things that we often do not understand.
First, if you live for Jesus it will often bring persecution. In our country persecution takes the form of threats, lawsuits or firings. It may be ridicule or people who call you intolerant because you say Jesus is the only way to right relationship with God. Increasingly we are seeing mass murderers target professing Christians. In other countries many more people than we can imagine have lost their lives because they belong to Jesus.
Second, we may be chained but the Word of God will never be chained. Bibles can be burned and banned but the Word of God still stands. The world can kill His followers but it cannot silence the truth that we are sinful people who are lost apart from Christ. People can make all kinds of charges about the Bible but the truth of God’s Word remains undiminished. We need to remember that if we try to save our lives by turning away from the truth, we have denied the only thing that can save us.
Third, because of these truths we would rather surrender our lives than our faith in Christ. These are strong words. They are easier to say than to practice. However, if we remember the truth of the gospel and the reality of the resurrection we should have a faith that knows that our lives exist only to honor Him. As Paul said in Philippians 1:21 “for me to live is Christ, to die is gain.”
Here is the question that we must answer: under what circumstances might you deny the message of the gospel?
- To preserve your social standing?
- To win an argument or an election?
- To save your life or the lives of your family?
- To gain riches?
- To get a promotion?
- To keep peace in the family?
- To save a marriage?
- To avoid a potential conflict?
What is the price tag of your faith? Paul argues that following Christ is the supreme allegiance. The person who understands the truth of the gospel knows that this truth is the ONLY truth for which it is worth it to sacrifice everything. If Jesus is who He said He is, then we should stand with Him without reservation and without compromise. And frankly, if is not who He said He was . . . we have no hope and it doesn’t matter.
Remaining Loyal Even in the Hardest Times
11 This is a trustworthy saying:
If we die with him,
we will also live with him.
12 If we endure hardship,
we will reign with him.
If we deny him,
he will deny us.
13 If we are unfaithful,
he remains faithful,
for he cannot deny who he is.
Most people believe Paul was quoting a Christian hymn that stated the truth accurately and forcefully. Paul affirmed If we are willing to die to self and even willing to die physically rather than turn from Him we have this assurance: we will live with Him.
If we are willing to endure whatever comes our way because of our faith, we will know His pleasure and we will enjoy eternity with Him. However, if we deny Him, He will deny us, If we go back on our promise He will still not go back on His . . . He will punish those who will not acknowledge Him before men.
It is easy to say we are His followers. The question is: do we believe enough to stand with Him even if it is unpleasant? Will we follow the path of the disciples who were martyred for the faith? Will we stand with our brothers and sisters around the world who are cast out because of their faith? Will we abandon our faith merely because of public pressure?
Paul admonished Timothy (and now us) to have a faith that is deeply anchored. He challenges us to stop playing at faith and get serious about our commitment. It is a message that all of us need hear.
It seems to me that if we were serious, we would,
- Spend much more time in prayer asking God to make us faithful. We would pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world.
- Devour God’s Word, hiding it deep in your hearts so even if our Bible was taken from us we would know the Word of God deeply.
- Worship reverently. We would see that worship is not about being entertained (in other words, it is not about US), it is about bowing our heads and our hearts before the Lord over all. We would bow before God willing to go and do whatever He desired.
- Proclaim persistently. If we truly believe the gospel message deeply we would stop cowering when it comes to sharing our faith. Instead we would lovingly, accurately, and unapologetically share our faith at every opportunity.
- We would support each other knowing God has given us each one another so we might be able to stand in difficult times.
Putting Things in Perspective
14 Remind everyone about these things, and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them.
After this intense discussion about the cost of discipleship it seems strange for Paul to add verse 14. But see how practical this is! There are two principles that I see. First, the battle is so fierce that it is foolish to attack each other over things that are really not very important.
You probably have known churches that have split because of disagreements. Some of those splits are necessary because it is over a major doctrinal issue like whether or not Jesus really was God; whether He really rose from the dead; whether the Bible is truly and fully the Word of God; or whether salvation is really by grace alone. These are core issues and when someone departs from these issues they are departing from the faith. When that happens we no longer are part of the same body.
However, when we divide over music, or a particular translation of the Bible or whether or not you put pews or chairs in the sanctuary we are arguing about something that is useless (in the eternal sense). We divide over the amount of water used in baptism, whether or not to use real wine for communion, how the second coming is going to happen and many other minor issues. Paul is not saying these discussions are irrelevant. He is saying that in light of the battle we are engaged in, they are not worth arguing about.
It would be like you were playing in a championship football game and the players kept arguing over whether the band should be sitting in the spot where they were sitting or whether the announcer was pronouncing names correctly. Any coach would say, “Who Cares? We have a game to play! This is not important!”
But there is a second dimension here. He says these arguments are useless and can ruin those who hear them. When Christian people act like non-Christian people it leaves a scar on the body of Christ. It wounds people. Church fights always result in some people walking away from the faith.
But it is not just church fights. Anytime we as Christians get overly worked up over things that bring division we hurt body of Christ. We are in essence alienating those who are on the other end of our anger. We cannot (and must not) separate times when we act like a believer and times when we do not. When you call yourself a Christian you represent Jesus (good or bad) in EVERY encounter you have! When we act in ways that are unbecoming the gospel we do not just alienate people from us . . . we are alienating them from the church and the Kingdom of God. Paul would argue that the price is way too high!
Paul wants us to be clear-minded. He wants us to pick our fights carefully and keep the purity of the gospel message at the forefront.
Jesus told us to “count the cost” before we agree to be His follower. He warned us that life would not be easy. There would be opposition, some of it fierce. The Lord is not saying to people: “Say a prayer and get to Heaven”. He says, “Follow me. Commit to Me. Give yourself to me and perhaps even your lives for me.”
Christians around the world are choosing to follow Christ even though it costs them their families, their jobs, and even their lives. They choose Christ even though it may result in prison and torture and martyrdom. And they do this because they remember and understand the gospel. They are convinced that Jesus the Christ is the One promised by God. They believe He is the Lord of life who alone makes it possible for us to be forgiven and have a relationship with God. They believe Jesus is the only One who can enable us to live even after we die. And they believe He proved it by his resurrection. They believe He is worth following and serving even of it should cost them their lives. This is a legacy we should literally be willing to die for.
May God help us to abandon “convenient and indulgent Christianity” and recognize and remember the true gospel so that we too might live with unwavering devotion and passion.