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Suffering and Blessing (2 Timothy 2:8–13)
Supporting Idea: Paul wanted Timothy to realize that nothing of value is gained without hard work and suffering, even in the ordinary endeavors of the soldier, the athlete, and the farmer. Now he illustrated this point by focusing on particularly Christian examples—Christ, himself, and all believers.
2:8–9. Paul had challenged Timothy to stay focused and face harsh conditions like a soldier; to live honestly and endure the difficulties of training like an athlete; and to labor with patience like a farmer. Now he gave the great motivation for all he had written, telling Timothy to remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead.
Thinking on Christ and his resurrection helps in two ways. First, he is our example in times of difficulty. He suffered extreme agony and death for us. Yet he endured. We should be willing to suffer on his behalf. Second, his resurrection provides hope and courage, for we are promised the same resurrection he experienced, if we continue in faith.
Paul also told Timothy to remember Jesus as descended from David. Christ, being fully human, understanding and experiencing pain and rejection just as we do, strips away all our excuses. His obedient submission led to his great victory over death, his triumphant resurrection.
This is my gospel, Paul declared, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. Just as Jesus suffered, so will his servants. Like his Lord, Paul’s hardships resulted from the natural conditions of human experience—the unspiritual world in opposition to the spiritual. Paul’s offense to Rome was that he preached the crucified and risen Jesus. But the apostle also understood that suffering was part of commitment; it is in difficulty that true commitment shows itself.
For Timothy, the possibility of Christianity advancing and the church rooting itself in society must have seemed dim. Discouraged by the general apostasy throughout Asia, abandoned by many in Ephesus, his teacher and friend imprisoned in Rome and facing death, Timothy had little to grasp in hope. Yet, Paul provided it in these words: But God’s word is not chained. The power of the gospel resides in the living Christ and the ongoing work of his Spirit in the world.
Election is a difficult theological concept to grasp, but it remains unalterably part of the gospel. Clearly, God has direct involvement in those who consecrate their lives to him. Just as clearly, each individual is responsible for his or her response. To Timothy, Paul emphasized the crucial task of believers to extend the gospel to all people. God has ordained that the dissemination of his message and life will take place through people who are faithful to him. His followers must be willing to do whatever it takes to enlarge his kingdom throughout the earth.
The elect are those who trust Christ Jesus; they are the ones who invest themselves in Christ’s saving grace and kingdom. These followers of Jesus affirm God’s call upon their life by responding in faith. For these people, some of whom are yet unknown, Paul was willing to suffer any hardship, so that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.
2:11–12a. Once again Paul shared another trustworthy saying. Typically, he used well-known hymns or folk wisdom which the readers recognized, in this instance, he used couplets written as contrasts: if this … then this. The first two couplets reinforced the theme of suffering as normative to Christian living, contrasting this present life with the eternal future. The second two couplets paired human failings and God’s response.
Paul resounded the Christian doctrine of life from death: If we died with him, we will also live with him (see also Rom. 6:8). These words are reminiscent of Jesus when he said, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.… The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24–25).
When we identify with Christ through abiding trust, we die to sin, to the world, and to self. God then raises us to a new kind of life as part of his wonderful work of regeneration (Rom. 6:1–4; Gal. 2:20). But Paul also recognized that the glory of our resurrection comes in the future; we have yet to realize it fully. In this present life we still suffer the effects of a world dominated by death.
The second couplet provides a slightly different slant on the contrast between the difficulties of life now and the rewards to come: if we endure, we will also reign with him. Western Christianity has often adopted one of the most damaging values to true Christian faith—the pursuit of comfort and ease. Christ is frequently presented as the answer to our problems or the fulfillment of our needs. Yet Paul understood the Christian life as one of continual struggle, suffering, and hardship—to bring glory to Christ. Christ brings to the believer the supernatural ability to persist, to endure, and to respond with, joy and thanksgiving (Col. 1:10–12).
2:12b–13. Paul’s tenor changed in the next set of couplets. Recalling the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:32–33, he wrote, if we disown him, he will also disown us. Paul had in mind those who profess Christ and then turn away, denying the faith they formerly claimed. Paul issued a warning that denial of Christ has eternally damning consequences.
But God is gracious when we are feeble. Paul offered this encouragement for the times when we fail: if we are faithless, he will remain faithful. If we belong to Christ, we are his completely. In the midst of difficulty, he holds on to us if we stumble. He lives within us, sharing his life with ours as we take from his life—and so he cannot disown himself.