In this article I would like to continue focusing on the process of Christian discipleship, a lost art in many of our modern, Western churches in the 21 Century. In the previous article, we covered the first 7 verses of II Timothy 1. In order to be a good disciple of Christ who retains the standard laid out in the Gospel, you must:
- Be ready and willing to serve the Lord by serving the people around you.
- Prayerfully thank God for your disciples and work to develop close, personal relationships with them.
- Challenge your disciples to action.
Whenever a person begins to serve the Lord by investing in others, he or she opens the door to persecution. This is natural and should not be a surprise. Jesus explained this to His disciples and He explained why they would be persecuted. The world does not hate you, it hates Jesus in you and the message of salvation. The world is entangled in sin and darkness and the message of the Gospel sheds light on that darkness. Men love darkness rather than light because we as people do not really like change. The Gospel changes us and so many are uncomfortable with it. Paul understood that because he was once one of the ones who persecuted the messengers of the Gospel. He then became a disciple of Christ and everything changed. He began to preach the message of the Gospel and become the one who was being persecuted. He writes to Timothy to encourage him to stay strong in the midst of persecution. Let’s quickly read over verses 8-12 of chapter 1 in Paul’s second epistle to his beloved Timothy.
8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, 10 but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher. 12 For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed ; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.
With this article, I would like to propose 3 ways to suffer for the Gospel according to the will of God and come out on the other side victorious. Suffering has a twofold benefit. As believers, our faith is tested and strengthened through enduring persecution. Also, the Gospel spreads quicker and more efficiently in the midst of strong persecution as a person suffers for the Gospel. All of church history gives an account of this, starting with the book of Acts.
I. While suffering for the Gospel, do not be ashamed of the Gospel. (8)
Paul preached the Gospel everywhere he went. While doing this, he usually faced opposition and many times found himself in prison, suffering for preaching the Gospel. Rationally speaking, you would think that Paul would stop preaching the very thing that got him in trouble but on the contrary, when he found himself in prison, he used the opportunity to preach to the “captive” audience (the other prisoners and the guards). He was very successful in his tactics. Paul encourages Timothy to preach the Gospel. He then says once the persecution comes, use those moments to preach the Gospel again. Timothy understood this principle because he witnessed it in the life of Paul. As a good mentor, I need to preach the Gospel as a good example for my disciples to follow. When persecution comes, my disciples are watching to see how I handle it. I must continue to preach so that the Gospel will spread and my disciples will be encouraged. I remember a time when we planned to do an evangelistic outreach in a village in Moldova. Many of the Orthodox priests are against Evangelical Christians so it is difficult to share the Gospel with people and not face opposition. Everything was going well until one of the priests of the village received word of us and what we were doing. I had a team from the States with us and we were doing Back yard Bible clubs for kids and teens. We were supposed to hold the meetings at a public auditorium but the manager kicked us out because the priest told him that we are dangerous people. We ended up having to do the event in the public square (which actually helped us because it made us more visible to the people). The priest came and confronted us and we had to make a choice, stop teaching the Gospel or use the occasion to witness to the priest. We chose to witness to the priest. We were threatened over and over again but the people were on our side. They defended what we were doing because we were actually helping the children of the community. It was an amazing opportunity for the Gospel. We had to make a choice, to stand for the Gospel and not be ashamed (we were also threatened by the police chief) or back down. Many of our disciples were there with us and watched the situation unfold. They went on to face similar persecution when they began ministering in other villages. Praise the Lord that we left a good example for them to follow. Do you use every opportunity to preach the Gospel to the people around you? Do you run away from suffering and persecution or do you face it and use the opportunity to preach the Gospel even more? What about those who are suffering for the Gospel, do you seek to help them or do you keep away from them so that you will not fall into their same “pit” of suffering? This leads us to the next point Paul makes.
II. Do not be ashamed of those who suffer for the Gospel. (8-11)
Many times, people want to pray for those who are suffering persecution because of their faith yet they are leery of joining them in that suffering. As believers, we do not seek out persecution and suffering. They come our way when we live for the Lord by preaching the Gospel and making disciples. If a friend who is serving the Lord invites you to take part in an event where the Gospel will be preached and you are invited to serve, would you go even if the event opened the door to persecution in your life? Paul had many disciples during his ministry and at one point, while he was suffering imprisonment for the Lord, no one wanted to come and help him because they were afraid of falling into the same hands of Paul’s persecutors. Paul explains why we should not be afraid. If we are prepared and know how to endure the suffering then we should not fear. Paul explains how to be prepared to endure suffering and persecution for the Gospel. (1) You have the power of God in you. You are able to endure all forms of persecution and suffering because the power source is God and it never runs dry. Your job is to stay connected to the source. Stay in God’s Word. Spend time in prayer. Work on your personal relationship with God and when suffering comes you will be ready because you are connected to the endless power source. (2) You have been saved by God. You have experienced God’s transforming salvation in your life and you want to share that with others. Proclaiming this message will bring persecution but it is worth it because you want your fellow man to experience what you have experienced. (3) You have been called by God. It is an amazing task. The God of the universe has a universal plan and He invites you to take part in it. Answer the call which gives you a very specific purpose in life. When persecution comes, you know exactly why it has come and you know what you need to keep doing. It keeps you focused as you endure persecution. (4) You have experienced the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Grace is getting what you do not deserve. We do not deserve salvation, or a calling, or God’s power. He gives it to us freely and we need to offer that to others, even if it means that we have to suffer. We look to Christ’s example of suffering for us to give us this gift and it challenges us to suffer for others. Are you ready to endure suffering to get the Gospel to the people around you? Are you ready to join those who are already doing this?
III. Follow your mentor’s example in suffering for and preaching the Gospel (11-12)
Paul knew what his calling was and what he was supposed to do to accomplish that calling. He was called to be a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher. The word preacher comes from the Greek word “Kerux” and it means “a herald or messenger vested with public authority, who conveyed the official messages of kings, magistrates, princes, military commanders, or who gave a public summons”. Paul had a message from the King of kings and he was to deliver that message to the world. For him, it did not matter if he were preaching to people on the streets, in schools, in the synagogues or even in prison. He had a message for all mankind and he delivered it whenever he was given the chance. The word apostle is a transliteration of the Greek word “Apostolos” and it means “a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders”. The difference between the preacher and apostle was not the message. They both have the same message. An apostle would be more of a church planter of today. He not only wants to proclaim the message, he also wants to disciple those who accept the message. In a way, we are all called to proclaim the message and we are all called to make disciples. Paul wanted Timothy to understand this and he wants us to understand as well. Paul did not let the persecution stop him from accomplishing his calling. He used the persecution in his favor. He wanted Timothy to do the same. We must learn from these men. We must follow in our mentor’s footsteps as Timothy did in Paul’s. We must be examples to our disciples in knowing our calling and accomplishing it no matter what. Are you ready to follow your mentor’s example? Are you ready to be an example for your disciples? How do you respond when facing persecution?