Summary: How believers fearlessly face persecution.
I’ve been reading a book by an agnostic whose previous book chronicled his project to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. In his latest book he describes his attempt to live according to the Bible. To do so, he had to read it, and he admits, even as one with very little faith: “This is the book of books...no one ever was burned at the stake for translating the encyclopedia.”
Taking a stand for our faith in Christ can involve real sacrifice. In Saudi Arabia recently a teenage girl was killed by her father for converting to Christianity. Last month in Bolivia a minister was shot and killed by members of the military. In India, Hindu extremists attacked members of a Christian church during their worship. In China, North Korea, Vietnam, and Uzbekistan church leaders are being imprisoned.
Paul wants us to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of Christ. This is a charge similar to Ephesians 4:1, “Walk worthy of the professions to which you’ve been called.” This involves leaning on Jesus for support, relying on Him to get us through life’s tough times.
The word “conduct” has social implications; it’s the Greek word politeus, where we get our word “politics”. The verb indicates a civic duty to active in one’s community. Paul is stating that our faith needs to be public. We’re not secret believers, even in the face of persecution. We have responsibilities as citizens of Heaven--a high calling. We govern ourselves by the Gospel, our highest authority.
We’re to “stand firm in one spirit.” Paul urges us to maintain a united front. This phrase was used to describe soldiers remaining at their posts, who refuse to be deterred from their duty. This we do together, with a unity of purpose, as a community of faith, even across denominational lines. We share a common goal, to present a living, spiritual alternative, an answer to the secularism of society.
When Christian beliefs are attacked, we don’t stand idly by. Bill Maher’s mockumentary “Religulous” attacks faith as idiotic nonsense and ridicules religion in a condescending manner. Many of the people Maher interviews are on the fringe of faith, the oddballs; in other words, those who pose an easy target. Maher said in a recent interview:
"I’m crusading against magical thinking in general. I honestly believe that mankind will not survive unless rationality is enshrined and magical thinking is marginalized. And, yes, I would put heaven and hell and demons and angels and praying in that category." Bill Maher despises religious faith of any kind. Garrison Keillor has observed, “There’s nobody as humorless as a devout atheist.”
Don’t be surprised if people who know of your faith ask you your opinion of the anti-religious opposition. We’re shouldn’t be passive when our faith is attacked; however let’s “stand firm,” without appearing hostile or aggravated. It’s been said, “Christians do not strive ‘against’ anybody, but for the faith” (Karl Barth).
We’re to “contend for the faith” (still in verse 27). Paul is speaking like a military commander, directing his troops to take up their battle positions and defend against enemy assault. We line up on the forward edge of the battle area. We defend against attacks on our faith by how we live and by what we say, “whatever happens”.
In verse 28, Paul encourages us not to be “frightened” by those hostile to our faith and values. The word “frightened” could be rendered “intimidated.” It’s used to describe a horse that is startled and shies away. The image in my mind is a Christian young person attending a secular university where core religious beliefs are attacked as narrow-minded, archaic, anti-intellectual superstitions. Again, our recourse is not militant retaliation but standing firm with a clear witness and a consistent life when under attack.
Paul reminds Timothy that “God did not give us a spirit of fear but of power, of love, and of self-discipline” (II Tim 1:7).
According to verses 29-30, commitment to Christ may well lead to suffering. In fact, if we proclaim Christ and resolve to live for Him, we can expect persecution. We’re on a collision course with hostile forces; suffering is inevitable. Paul regarded this as a privilege. We’re willing to suffer because of our devotion for Christ.
Paul describes this as a shared “struggle.” The word could be translated “conflict”. In the original Greek the word is “agona” from which we get our word “agony” and is the same word used for Christ’s struggle in the garden of Gethsemene. Paul is describing the cost of discipleship.
Suffering for our faith doesn’t seem like much of a privilege or blessing…however, there are some distinct benefits of suffering:
• It takes our eyes off our material comforts;
• It strengthens the faith of those who endure;
• It weeds out superficial followers;