“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.”
(2 Timothy 1:8-12 ESV)
This was the passage that I recently had the privilege of preaching on for RGC’s LEAD ministry for the men in the church. I thought it would be good to summarize some of the key points from the sermon and share them with the rest of the church.
Upon the initial reading of 2 Timothy 1:8-12, it becomes apparent that the main theme of the passage is suffering for the sake of the gospel. In our day and age, the topic of suffering on behalf of Christ and for the gospel is something that we don’t talk about too often. Or when we do talk about suffering, we might be talking about things that happen to us that make us grieve, such as a death in the family, or illness, or other difficult circumstances in our lives that we call “trials.” To be sure, these trials are legitimate topics for us as Christians to talk about and to encourage one another about. These experiences are real and legitimate instances of suffering in our lives that we are called to respond to in faith. But what we see in this passage is something a little different. In 2 Timothy 1:8-12, we see three components of Paul’s instructions to Timothy regarding suffering: the exhortation, the essence, and the example.
But before we jump into the main passage, we must consider its textual and historical context. Second Timothy was written by the apostle Paul while he was imprisoned in Rome. It was addressed to his spiritual son Timothy, who was the pastor at the church in Ephesus. Paul wanted to encourage Timothy in his ministry, as he saw his own ministry and life on earth coming to a close. As we read through the opening verses of 2 Timothy, we can really see and feel Paul’s affections for Timothy, how he cared for Timothy and how Timothy cared for him as well. Paul says that he longs to see Timothy, that he may be filled with joy.
The historical context in which Paul wrote the letter is also significant. By the time Paul wrote 2 Timothy, the persecution of Christians had begun under the rule of the Roman Emperor Nero. Christians were getting arrested, beaten, tortured and even killed for their faith and for preaching the gospel. Ephesus, where Timothy was located, wasn’t immune to all the persecution that was taking place, so there were reasons for Paul to desire to encourage Timothy and to exhort him as his spiritual father figure.
1. The Exhortation
In verse 8, Paul’s exhorts Timothy in two ways: “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God…” First, Paul exhorts Timothy not to be ashamed of the gospel or of Paul. Typically, to be ashamed means to be shy or embarrassed. But in the context of this passage, it goes beyond just the emotional aspect. What Paul is referring to here is not only feeling embarrassed, but allowing that embarrassment and shame to cripple us into inaction.
Given the historical context (as mentioned above), Timothy may have felt fear, embarrassment, and shame creep into his soul as he witnessed all those who were being persecuted for their ministry. He may even have been tempted to dissociate himself from Paul, as he was but a lowly prisoner, in chains. This is why Paul exhorts Timothy not to be ashamed. Paul recognized that Timothy’s timidity could be detrimental to the effectiveness of his ministry and charged him to be bold.
Paul’s second exhortation to Timothy is for him to share in suffering for the gospel. As mentioned above, the kind of suffering that Paul refers to here differs from what we are used to. Here, Paul is talking about actively obeying God’s will when you know fully well that it may bring you physical, mental, or even spiritual, pain or distress. To Timothy, this meant that he was to continue to teach, preach, and live out the gospel as the pastor of the Ephesian church, even as his physical wellbeing and life were being threatened in the midst of the persecutions. There was no doubt in Timothy’s mind what Paul was calling him to; there was no sense of sugarcoating or watering down from Paul. The Lord can use us in truly great ways when we are willing to obey Him even in the face of immense suffering.
2. The Essence
Second component of Paul’s instruction to Timothy is the essence, found in verses 9 and 10:
“9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…”
The essence found here is God’s grace. God’s grace is the essential component in our experience of suffering for the gospel; without it, we would have neither any motivation to suffer nor the source of strength to endure.
In this section, Paul reminds Timothy of the grace of God that was given to him. By His grace, Jesus Christ was given to us so that He would die on the cross as a sacrifice on our behalf. It is by God’s glorious grace that He saved Timothy. Paul calls Christ the manifestation of God’s grace in verse 10 because on the one hand, we have God’s desire to save mankind. That is His nature; He didn’t create us just to see us be condemned to suffer eternally in hell. But on the other hand, we have God’s wrath toward sinners, His perfect and righteous judgment toward those who oppose Him. And those two things are seemingly irreconcilable. Our sinfulness, and thus God’s righteous wrath, stands in the way of our salvation.
But Christ is the key piece to this puzzle that completes God’s plan of salvation. His sacrifice on the cross was the perfect payment on behalf of us sinners, so that the gift of salvation we receive would not only be possible, but completely free. This is what it means for Christ to be the manifestation of God’s grace. Christ completed the crucial work that was needed in order for us to be saved. Because of Him, we have the free gift of eternal life.
So how does all of this relate to suffering? To sum it up, to be saved means that we have received grace from God, through Jesus Christ, and that grace is the essence that motivates and strengthens us in the face of suffering. In light of the glorious truth that is the gospel, we understand that God so loved us that He saved us, giving us His Son as a sacrifice. As we place our faith upon Christ, we not only trust Him for forgiveness but also follow after Him as our gracious Lord who leads us. Our understanding of God’s love as well as our faith in Christ leads us to live obediently to God, with the hope that our lives may be glorifying to Him. We are compelled and convicted to obey His commands even when we know it would entail trials and suffering because we can look to Christ, our hope of eternal life (this is what the phrase “by the power of God” refers to in verse 8).
3. The Example
Lastly, in verses 11 and 12, Paul gives us the example of suffering from his own life.
“11 For which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, 12 which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.”
We know that Paul suffered greatly due to his ministry of preaching the gospel. In 2 Corinthians 11:24-29, Paul describes how he was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, and in constant danger. Further, he was imprisoned at least twice and ultimately martyred for his faith. Paul was in no way unacquainted with suffering. Yet he declares to Timothy that he is not ashamed and that his confidence is in God alone. Paul knew that even if people could take his earthly life, God would protect his heavenly inheritance of eternal life. At the end of verse 12, the ESV footnote tells us that the same phrase can also be translated as “what I have entrusted to Him”. That is how NASB translates it, and I do believe it makes more sense that way. Paul has faith that God will protect his life, which he has entrusted to Him. Not in the earthly sense, but in the eternal sense. He knew he would never lose his salvation, even if he were to lose his life on earth. The gospel was at the center of Paul’s heart and ministry, and it’s what fueled him to preach and suffer for Christ. As he says in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” To him, no suffering or trials was great enough in comparison to the grace that was given to him and was still to be revealed to him in heaven.
As I was preparing for this sermon, I myself was convicted and challenged to obey God’s command for me to suffer for the gospel. We know that we are blessed to be living in this country, where our right to profess and practice our faith is pretty well protected. But this doesn’t mean that this command by Paul to suffer for the gospel is irrelevant to us. We are all called to suffer for the gospel, even if the degree to which we suffer might be different.
For some of us, it might mean obeying God’s call to go on missions, to the parts of the world where persecution still takes place. For others it might mean obeying the great commission in school or in the workplace and facing hostility and opposition. Or some of us might be convicted to give to the church and give to missions organizations and give for the cause of the gospel until it hurts. I’m not necessarily advocating that all of us would get up and go on long-term missions or go sell all of our possessions. Obedience to God does not necessarily mean choosing the most radical option we can think of. But as we truly ground our lives on the glorious gospel and entrust our lives to God to use us for His kingdom, who knows what He’ll call us to do? The bottom line is, it’s not about the degree to which we suffer, but whether or not we’re obeying the call to share in suffering for Christ.