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Op-Ed: Persecution Is Typical for Christians – Here’s How to Stand Firm

Where there is trouble, Satan himself is sometimes propagating the turmoil. This is the Apostle Paul’s message to his young co-worker Timothy. The epistle of 2 Timothy, the last epistle Paul wrote before his own martyrdom, is filled with intense emotion. The setting is this: Paul is writing a letter to Timothy, his disciple who is now pastoring the church in Ephesus, which had been overrun by false teachers (cf. 1 Timothy). Timothy’s mettle is being tested through persecution, so Paul writes to help him through the pressing matters he faces, sharing many of his own lamentations about stumbling blocks in the process of making disciples. In this week’s Bible study, “Weak-Kneed Believers: Surveying 2 Timothy,” we see through Paul’s teachings that real disciple-making is never accomplished apart from the trials of persecution. Persecution is a necessary ingredient in making disciples, even though few want to acknowledge it. Persecution is the ultimate test of our mettle. A weak-kneed believer will fail this test. Only when there is a cost to our faith — when God allows us to be tested — do we learn our true level of spiritual maturity, our level of faithfulness. We don’t know if we are loyal followers of Christ (legitimate, mature believers) until we respond faithfully to persecution. In teaching Timothy (and us), Paul repeatedly states that suffering hardship, persecution and trials is typical of authentic Christianity. What routinely occurs when persecution arises is that hordes of “believers” duck out of sight. Why? Because persecution is not what they originally signed up for! “I thought Christianity was supposed to prosper me, give me my best life now, and make me feel ‘spiritual’ — not cost me! Suffer hardship? What’s that? I’m outta here!” is summarily the conclusion of the unfulfilled expectations of the weak-kneed. Paul uses three metaphors in 2 Timothy 2 to describe and characterize real Christianity: the soldier, the athlete and the farmer. Paul is illustrating to full-time ministers such as Timothy, and by extension to all disciple-makers, their need to be undistracted (as is characteristic of soldiers), in this case by worldly, selfish pursuits. They are to be obedient (as is characteristic of athletes), in this case to the Word of God as it pertains to all ministry and ministry philosophy. And they are to be hard-working (as is characteristic of farmers), in this case toward the end goal of making disciples. What was true in the first century for the apostles is true for us today. What may be surprising is that some of the turmoil and persecution comes from other believers in the church, as was Timothy’s experience. Most believers who are actively attempting to fulfill the Great Commission find “church” folk to be their greatest problem. That has certainly been my experience, and most likely yours too. Paul’s response is to exhort his disciple to kindle afresh his spiritual gifts of teaching, preaching and evangelism and be like Paul himself. Sometimes past criticisms serve to paralyze future progress; Paul is saying the exact opposite should be true — even though the further manifestation of his spiritual gifts and devout commitment to the Great Commission would likely bring more personal suffering! Timothy — and you, my friend — should not be ashamed about moving forward to achieve your destiny; after all, the continual, industrious fulfillment of your calling best silences your critics. For more information about how to be a stalwart Christian in the face of adversity (which we all will experience), read the full Bible study. This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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