The Promise of Persecution
“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (v. 12).- 2 Timothy 3:10–13
One commentator has noted that Paul’s instructions to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:1–3:9 are largely given by way of a negative example in that the godless character the apostle describes is the antithesis of what Timothy is to be like. This is especially evident in 3:1–9, for Timothy and, indeed, all Christians must not be “heartless, slanderous,” and “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” With 3:10, however, Paul begins to instruct Timothy in a positive manner, that is, through telling him what to do instead of what not to do.
Like he does in his other letters (1 Cor. 11:1), the apostle presents himself as an example to be followed. Believers are to cultivate the virtues of faith, patience, love, and many others just as Paul did (2 Tim. 3:10; see also 1 Cor. 13:13), though doing so will bring persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). This was no less true for the apostle, as he reminds Timothy (v. 11). Paul’s young friend had known him for a long time and had heard of Paul’s suffering in Antioch, Lystra, and Iconium (Acts 13:13–52; 14:1–23). The pain he endured on those occasions would have made it easy for Paul to abandon his faith or to respond in a way irreconcilable with Christian love and patience. But Paul endured with faithfulness by the power of the Spirit, and so too must all who follow after him, whether they happen to be church leaders like Timothy or not.
Persecution, whether heavy or light, is inevitable for all Christians; after all, our Messiah was murdered. Leo the Great writes, “Persecution is to be reckoned not only as that which is done against Christian piety by the sword or re or by any torments whatever, for the ravages of persecution are also inflicted by the differences of character, the perversity of the disobedient and the barbs of slanderous tongues” (ACCNT 9, p. 267). Knowing this truth ahead of time will prepare us for any suffering we face and help us rely on the grace and power of the Holy Spirit to help us persevere. But if we are ill-prepared and try to endure in our own strength, we will do whatever we can to escape pain. This option is deadly to our souls, for as John Calvin says, “They who wish to be exempt from persecutions must necessarily renounce Christ.”
Persecution runs the gamut from being looked down upon by non-Christian friends or family to death at the hands of an evil government. But whatever form it takes, everyone who stands for Christ is bound to face some problems on account of their faithfulness. Let us not be discouraged by this fact but pray that the Holy Spirit would give us strength to persevere, and let us encourage one another to remain true to our confession even when it is difficult.
Passages for Further Study
1 Thessalonians 3:4
1 Peter 2:19–25