Paul’s second letter to Timothy is an exhortation to stand firm in the face of suffering and opposition to the gospel. Paul wrote this letter during his final imprisonment, shortly before his death. He had traveled over 10,000 miles to share the gospel, endured numerous beatings, a shipwreck, and a public stoning that nearly killed him. He was well qualified to advise on suffering.
He does not suggest that suffering is to be avoided (as we do in our culture); rather it is to be shared in. How can one do this? With all the horrifying events taking place in the world today, I have to ask myself, “How much could I stand?” I find it easy to imagine proclaiming Christ as my Lord and Savior if someone had a gun to my head, but what if it were my child whose life was at stake? My parents?
Paul supplies the answer to the question of how this can be done in the first chapter of this letter: “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” (2 Tim. 1:8).
It is only through God’s sovereign grace that we are able to endure the trials and tribulations that we face. Paul reiterates this insight at the beginning of chapter 2: “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses . . . ” (2 Tim. 2:1). It is through knowledge of the truth of the gospel of grace that we can stand firm.
Ask any believer who has been through unimaginable suffering and he will inevitably tell you that it was not through his own strength that he survived, but God’s. How can we count on this?
There is a crucial statement in chapter 1 that points to the answer: “. . . 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 Tim. 1:12). We can endure only if we know whom it is that we believe in.
I’d like to suggest that it is possible to believe in the gospel message (Christ died so that we may be saved) without internalizing it to say Christ died so that I may be saved. Our God is a very personal God, and if we don’t get that, then trusting him with our very lives will be impossible.
Psalm 139 paints a beautiful portrait of exactly how involved God is in each one of our lives: “You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether” (Psalm 139:3-4).
It is very hard to wrap our minds around a God who is both bigger than anything we can fathom and closer to us than our own breath. Yet doesn’t it make sense that a God who would sacrifice his only Son would be intimately concerned with every aspect of our lives?
He really loves us THAT much. If we can rest in this knowledge, we can share in the struggle no matter what the outcome seems to be—all because of who He is, not because of what we can do.