Paul’s firsthand testimony of surviving persecution has surely echoed in the hearts of suffering saints throughout the two thousand years of church history. He articulates three clear principles for Timothy to understand as he too, in the coming years, will have his furnace experiences.
Principle #1 – I may endure persecution
Principle #2 – God will sustain me through persecution
Principle #3 -Persecution is normal for every godly Christian
#1 Persecution’s Endurance
“…the persecutions I endured.” I recall years ago being on a missions trip to a country in which Christians have faced intense persecution. As I listened to the testimonies in an open church meeting, through the explanation of my translator, I discovered that only those who had ‘deliverance’ experiences were allowed to testify. Although mighty acts of deliverance provide occasions for praise, I find endurance to be a more common theme.
The apostle Paul endured persecutions. In a variety of communities he experienced open hostility to the gospel. God did not protect his faithful servant from these dark hours, but granted him grace to endure. Read through the New Testament letters to individuals and to churches and see this repeated experience.
Consider the written-to-be-sung testimony of John Newton. ‘Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come…. ‘This grace has brought me safe thus far and grace will lead me home….’
#2 God’s Deliverance
“…the Lord rescued me from all them.” Paul was still living. He had come through thus far with God’s help. Not all faithful leaders share his experience. James (Acts 12) is executed, beheaded by a wicked king, in an attempt to crush the growing movement of Christians. Peter is imprisoned. He is rescued in Acts 12, but later history drives us to confess that the Lord does not always rescue His people out of danger. I fear some of our contemporary songs, though sung with great gusto, generate a sense that the faithful are always rescued, always delivered.
We may well pray for God to rescue us, but ultimately bow our knee before a Sovereign Master who does as He pleases. Prayer is ultimately a call to surrender our will to Him, to His perfect will, though faintly understood this side of eternity.
#3 Worldy Resistance
“Is this vile world a friend of grace? The author of “Am I A Soldier of the Cross?” made this inquiry many years ago. How would Jesus answer? “In this world you will have tribulation….” The apostle John, last survivor of the apostolic band, in writing to the suffering churches of Asia Minot (Revelation), writes “I, John,, your brother and companion in the suffering/tribulation and kingdom …”
Mentors remind us that “I can’t feel at home in this world anymore….” “Everyone, yes EVERYONE who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”
The fakes and frauds may have it easy. The faithful will find resistance. Though not an easy truth, let’s embed this in the hearts of believers, young and old, so that opposition will not ‘catch us off guard.’ Let’s seek to be faithful to the One who remained faithful, “who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross.” That’s where my wandering eyes should gaze when the pressure’s too great!