Summary: God calls His people to stand firm in the face of trials and suffering.

“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.” [1]

The call of Christ is not as is commonly presented in contemporary church life. We preachers do issue a call for our hearers to receive the freedom that is offered in Christ; and sinners will find freedom in the Lord Christ. In Christ we are freed from condemnation and freed from judgement; we are set free to come into the presence of Holy God. And while it is essential that we preachers stress the freedom that is ours in Christ, what is not often mentioned is that the call of Christ is not a call to an easy life. Christ calls His followers to do hard things; and the call of God often entails suffering. We who teach the Word are guilty before the Lord when we neglect to caution would-be disciples that God’s call is a call to suffer.

It is common among western churches to restrict the concept of suffering to physical ailments that afflict the whole of mankind. Reading the text for this day, it is difficult to believe that Paul is calling Timothy to suffer from gout, or to experience headache or muscle cramps. Reviewing the Apostle’s life, it is obvious that he experienced pain—real pain and heartache. Writing the Corinthian Christians, Paul was compelled to recite the opposition he had faced as an Apostle, together with the very real trials that accompanied the Faith.

“Whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman.” At this point, the Apostle begins his recitation of life as an Apostle of Christ. He begins with, “far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” All these things speak of physical trials and toil; they do not even begin to mention what a servant of Christ feels for the work he oversees. Therefore, the Apostle turns to the emotional toll of serving Christ. “Apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant” [2 CORINTHIANS 11:21-29]?

When Paul calls Timothy to suffer, it is evident that he is not inviting Timothy to endure an upset stomach, ingrown toenails or the pain of psoriasis. The context makes it quite evident that the Apostle is calling the younger minister to join in that particular suffering that arises whenever one stands with the Gospel. The suffering to which Timothy is called is the suffering that all who dare serve will experience; moreover, it is quite likely that all Christians can anticipate opposition, frequently being called to endure both physical and emotional suffering. Make no mistake, as the Apostle shall shortly attest, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” [2 TIMOTHY 3:12].

Paul has in view genuine assault against the faithful when he issues this warning. The Risen Lord of Glory used this precise term when He first confronted the enraged rabbi of Tarsus. Recalling the day he met Jesus, the Risen Master, Paul testified before an enraged Jewish mob, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.

“As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting’” [ACTS 22:3-8].

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