January 31, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – 2 Timothy 2:8-10 (NRSV)
Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.
Those who follow Christ are not immune to suffering, and can expect persecution. The way of the world is to grasp at power and wealth in order to avoid hardship. The way of Christ, by contrast, is not to pursue worldly power and comfort in order to avoid suffering, but rather to endure hardship and to see in suffering and persecution an opportunity for the spread of the Gospel. Christians today should also be more concerned for our witness than for our comfort: more concerned for the spread of the Gospel than for the avoidance of suffering.
In my previous devotion, I addressed the false teaching that Christians should expect a life of wealth and comfort, free from suffering. In his second letter to Timothy (and elsewhere), the Apostle Paul frequently references suffering, and encourages disciples of Christ to endure hardship for the sake of the Gospel. The chains that Paul endured certainly caused him suffering. And yet they were not a threat to the Gospel itself. Despite Paul’s chains, God’s word remained unchained. Indeed, Paul saw his endurance of suffering as an opportunity for witness. Like Paul, Christians today should also be more concerned for our witness than for our comfort: more concerned for the spread of the Gospel than for the avoidance of suffering.
For Christians living in the United States in the 21st century, this is not easy; it is counter-cultural. We live in the midst of affluence and comfort. Compared with much of history, and with many other places in the world today, American Christians have lived a life of relative ease, with extensive religious freedom to worship, and (comparatively speaking) little real persecution.
It is easy to forget the prevalent New Testament teachings and examples of Jesus, and of his followers like the Apostle Paul. It is easy instead to cling to comfort as a right, and to be fearful and angry when it is threatened. That’s certainly been the case with me. Living and working in a secular setting where I experience some hostility toward the Gospel, I often bristle with indignation at instances I witness or experience of what seems like unfair treatment of Christians. I want to fight back.
And I’m not alone in this instinctive reaction. Following the models of our culture, Christians are easily drawn to the pursuit of political power to ensure that we hold on to this freedom and comfort we have experienced. After all, we live not only in an affluent culture of comfort, but also a culture that worships power and wealth, and sees political power as the means toward accomplishing our ends. We can further justify our pursuit of worldly power by justifying all the good we can accomplish if we are in charge.
Except that isn’t the way of Christ, or the way taught and modeled by his Apostles in the early church. To the contrary, because of his faith Paul experienced “being chained like a criminal”. Being treated like a criminal—being chained and imprisoned— is about as far as you can imagine from being in a place of worldly or political power. Yet Paul willingly and repeatedly endured that, choosing a path of suffering for the furthering of the Gospel, that some might come to know Christ, and the salvation and eternal glory that come in relationship with Christ. Paul eschewed worldly power and chose instead a powerful witness.
Which shouldn’t be surprising, since that was the model of his savior, who accomplished his purposes not by taking over the rule of the government of Rome, or even of Israel, but by giving up all his power, and in humility suffering on the cross as a criminal. Counter-cultural? Yes. But also the way of Christ.
Do you experience any hardship at work or in daily life because of your faith? How do you respond to that hardship? Does your life look more similar or more different from those around you when it comes to seeking power or influence?
How is your attitude toward suffering similar to, or different from, the attitude or example of Paul expressed in his letter to Timothy?
What would it look like for you to live a counter-cultural life in imitation of Jesus, especially in the area of cultural, societal, or political power?
Paul’s letter and example to Timothy suggests that Christians should be more concerned for our witness than for our comfort: more concerned for the spread of the Gospel than for the avoidance of suffering. We should also be more concerned with the suffering of others than with our own comfort and individual rights. Consider one example of power or comfort that you could let go of today that might help your witness as a follower of Christ. Try letting go of that this week.
Lord, we praise you again that your Word is not chained even when your people endure persecution or hardship. We praise you that you can work through the perseverance of your people in order to accomplish your work of salvation: that my own endurance of suffering can help with the work of your Kingdom.
Lord, I confess that I have often been too concerned with my own comfort, my own rights, and my own power. This has sometimes led me to compromise my integrity in order to maintain my comfort or rights. I confess also that I can be more concerned with my own comfort and individual rights than with those around me who suffer or experience injustice.
Lord, help me to be more concerned with my witness than with my comfort, more concerned for the spread of the Gospel than with avoiding hardship or persecution, and more concerned with the suffering of others than with my rights. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Paul’s Suffering (Acts 20-28)
Matthew Dickerson’s books include works of spiritual theology and Christian apologetics as well as historical fiction, fantasy literature, explorations of the writings of C.S.Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkien, and books about trout fishing, fly fishing, rivers, and ecology. His recent books include: Disciple Making in a Culture of Power, Comfort, and Fear and The Voices of Rivers: Reflections on Places Wild and Almost Wild. He was a 2017 artist-in-residence at Glacier National Park. He lives in Vermont with his wife, dog, and cat, not far from three married sons, and is an active member of Memorial Baptist Church. Matthew is also a professor of computer science at Middlebury College in Vermont.