Wednesday, June 2, 2021

210530 Called to Suffer

Paul’s second letter to Timothy was, very likely, the last letter he would write before he was executed by the Romans. In 1st Timothy he wrote to Timothy as Pastor in order to strengthen the church. Now he writes to the man Timothy and to all those he ministered to. We can see the clear direction in, 2 Timothy 2:1-3 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 entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.

Paul had met Timothy at Lystra during his 2nd missionary journey. Timothy was already a disciple who had been taught by his grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice.  Paul had only to enlist him in the cause. We can learn a great deal from the disciplining process Paul used. In their travels, the fellowship had worked their way back to Berea. There Paul left Silas and Timothy. The Christians at Berea were “more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” (Acts 17:11) Leaving Timothy with Silas was a sign of the confidence Paul already had. When word came that Paul needed them in Athens as soon as possible they responded immediately. To be needed by the Apostle Paul must have been a humbling honor.

With that background, let’s look at Paul’s instructions sent to Timothy from jail some 10 or 12 years later. Paul was amazingly disciplined when we consider what he faced —death, the end of his ministry, abandoned by most of his friends (As he tells us in 2 Timothy 4:9-13) Do your best to come to me soon. 10 For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. 12 Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. 13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. In spite of all this, Paul faithfully directed his spiritual son Timothy toward the hope that is in Christ. As he exhorted Timothy to boldness, endurance, and faithfulness in the face of false teaching, Paul showed his customary concern for sound doctrine.

By the way, these words to Timothy were not suggestions. None of the Apostle’s letters were anything less than authoritative. We can compare Paul’s instruction to other churches to aid our understanding of his instructions to his spiritual son.

Paul encourages Timothy to teach faithful men what he had heard.

Well, what had he heard? I will point you to the foundation of Paul’s instructions. 1 Corinthians 15:3-9, For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

What did Paul teach? Most importantly he taught that Christ died for our sins, He was buried and raised again on the third day. All backed up by the Scriptures! The Scriptures were the Old Testament beginning with the five books of Moses and continuing through the prophets. Exactly the same teaching Jesus gave to his two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Then Paul would have gone through a list of people who could testify to Jesus being alive. Peter, his disciples, there was a gathering of more than 500 people and He appeared to James (his step brother). All of these would be good eye-witnesses proving that Jesus had fulfilled the promises of the coming Messiah.

This summary of the gospel might well have been used in the churches as a worship song as well as instruction in spiritual growth and in the grace of God.

From 1 Corinthians 15:10, we can see that Paul depended on the grace of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

 “Grace” was a part of Paul’s greeting in many of his letters. I am sure “grace” was also a common spoken greeting. Paul had been a persecutor of the church and God’s grace had delivered him. We are able to serve Christ because of the gifts of grace that are given to us.

After his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus Paul had come to see himself as the chief of sinners. God’s grace had delivered him from the condition of “Chief of Sinners” yet he still held the record.

For example go into any high school gym. On the wall will be banners proclaiming any records the team held. They may not have achieved that honor again. And no one else had broken the record. No matter how many years had passed they still held that record. For Paul, “Chief of Sinners” is proclaimed by him for all to see. No one had surpassed him.

This gospel had been developed by God’s Holy Spirit through the Apostle’s heart and from him to Timothy and then to many other men and women who continued to expand the gospel message and plant new churches by passing it on to generations of faithful women and men.

In his first letter Paul had laid out the groundwork for the expansion of the gospel. 1 Timothy 1:18-20, This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.

Paul refers back to a time when elders had laid hands on Timothy and he had received a spiritual gift. I believe that gift was the ability to teach and/or the ability to share the gospel in an effective way. Later in the 2nd letter he would touch on the subject again. 2 Timothy 4:5, As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Note how Paul brings up the subject of suffering to be shared –As a good soldier.

Paul had been on his way to Damascus with arrest warrants. Previously he had held the coats while his fellow Pharisees executed the first martyr, Stephen. On that journey he was blinded by the light that surrounds the risen Lord Jesus. The prophet Ezekiel had seen the glory of God that he called “brightness”. The Apostle John, when he received the Revelation, had seen the Lord Jesus and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. (Revelation 1:12-16) Remember, we are not supposed to look directly at the sun. Paul had faced the shining glory of God in the risen Lord Jesus and was immediately blinded by it. As a result he fasted and prayed for the next three days. God sent an answer to Saul, later called Paul.  Acts 9:10-16, Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

The theme of suffering pops up again, and again. Normally we think of drawing people to faith in Christ by showing them God’s kindness. In fact, Romans 2:4 affirms that truth. Many times it is necessary that sinners be put in a bind in order to get their attention. After salvation life does not necessarily get better. Paul was promised suffering. When we look at his record we can see that Paul was qualified to warn Timothy, and us, about suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.

We can ask, “What suffering did Paul experience?” For one list we look at 2 Corinthians 11:24-28, Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25Three 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; 26 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; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches”. 

The Old Testament Law prescribed 40 lashes as the maximum. So to cover themselves they stopped at 39. It would have been the Romans who beat him with rods. We have a report of his having been stoned. No, that does not refer to drugs instead that is the Jewish form of execution. Luke recorded the event in Acts 14:19. He said that his enemies caught up with him in a place called Lystra and they stoned him, assumed he was dead and threw him out of the city. Those people knew what death was! I believe the church gathered around him and prayed and God brought him back to life. All of this suffering qualified Paul to teach on the subject.

How did Paul respond to suffering? In his own words:  Romans 5:1-5, Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us..

Paul had learned to rejoice in suffering. He could do that because he knew, from experience, that suffering is effective in our lives. Suffering produces endurance – a steadfast patience. Having obtained endurance we will have a positive character that gives the glory to God.

Paul taught the value of suffering in Romans 8:18-19: For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.

Suffering is a large part of the elements which stimulate growth in grace.  

Philippians 2:17-18 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

Even death, for the faith of the faithful, was something Paul could rejoice in. Especially when such suffering and death produced powerful results. Remember, Paul was in prison in Rome when he wrote this final letter. Part of his confinement included being chained to one of Nero’s personal guards. He was a Roman citizen who had appealed to Caesar and, as such, he would be Caesar’s problem. The last words in the Philippian letter reveal the final results of his imprisonment.

Philippians 4:21-23, Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household. 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

You see it? They of Caesar’s household, His guards had become saints!

All scripture quotes are from: The Holy Bible: English standard version. 2016. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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