2 Timothy 2:1-7 – Suffering in this life is normal

I am an optimist: the Lord Jesus Christ is going to come again to bring the Kingdom of God to this nation and to the world! I am also a realist: things are going to get a lot worse before then, according to the prophetic Scriptures concerning the end-times of the last days. Satan is still the prince of this world; therefore, from God’s perspective, this world will never be good enough. Only Yeshua can bring the righteousness and justice of God to the world that He created and made, after He puts away the final Antichrist, and the false prophet, and the Devil.

Paul writes by inspiration of the Holy Spirit that we must not fear, but live in the power of the Holy Spirit, with love, and a sound mind. There may be revivals here and there, but they are always only partial and temporary. Our blessed hope is the actual physical return of the Messiah, and the resurrection of the believers on that day. Not before; nor is our hope in a particular Prime Minister or a President of another country or in science.

Chap 2 exhorts us to stand strong in the grace that is ours in Christ Jesus in order to persevere and be overcomers in the face of mounting evil and opposition to the truth of the gospel and of who Jesus Christ is, the Son of David, and the promised heir to be the King of Israel.

Paul tells Timothy, his spiritual son, to pass on to faithful and capable others what he learned from Paul in the presence of many witnesses. Nothing was done in secret. Timothy did not have “special knowledge” or secrets of some cult. Paul spoke openly – as did Jesus – and what Timothy would pass on could be attested to by others. That would give timid Timothy confidence , but it also put a safe-guard on him not to teach some other doctrines as if from the Apostle, but not so.

This is what any pastor or teacher wants among those he serves: others who can be trusted to learn and to teach the doctrines of the Apostles, and to find successors for this responsibility and service to the Lord and to His flock. Church history shows us that this has not always been the case, even until today. Yet in these last days it is still a great need for the times that we live in. We need courage to stand against the opposition to the truth, and we need the Holy Spirit to make it effective in our lives, and in those who hear and observe us.

Paul gives three examples to demonstrate our willingness to suffer, even as Jesus Himself suffered in His ministry that He was sent by the Father to do: even before His tortuous flogging and crucifixion, Yeshua suffered from rejection within His own family, by His own people, by all kinds of false accusations against Him, being despised and hated without cause, by temptations from the Devil and religious and political leadership, by the little faith even among His own specially chosen 12 apostles. Paul speaks of soldiers, athletes, and farmers. We need to keep our focus on Jesus and His Kingdom; to fight and to play by the rules so that we honor the Lord and ourselves and others; and to be patient through the hard work until the harvest comes at the end, and then enjoy its fruits of that labor.

These examples which Paul gives are not spiritual, not religious, not cultural. They are common examples to most people everywhere at all times – Gentiles and Jews; believers and unbelievers. We can all relate to them, either personally or vicariously. Suffering is normal in this world, in this life. We suffer from disappointing losses or failures, from frustration, from illnesses, from heat and cold, from deprivation, from mosquitoes and flies, from natural disasters, from accidents, from sin and unrighteousness all around and within. The list goes on. We also learn to go on despite these common experiences, making suffering redemptive in the grace of God, whether we bless Him for it or not.

Soldiers know that at any time they may be called into service, at the risk of their lives, never knowing if they will return home, or in what condition, or if their life plans will be realized. For those in reserves who are called to active duty, they must leave work or families at short notice, not knowing whether or when they will return, and what state physically or psychologically. (This is also true of their families or work-places freeing them to go to war.) This is a real challenge to us as believers when Paul is speaking here of our being soldiers for the cause of the Kingdom of God, for the gospel, for the sake of the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. How much are we entangled with the affairs of the world that we are slow to respond, or our hearts are divided as to which is more important to us.

In the first parable about the mysteries of the Kingdom of God, Yeshua spoke of the heart that heard the word, but the thorns – the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches – choke the word, and the believer becomes unfruitful. Our priority must be always: seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. If we wage the good fight of faith for the gospel, we will always be engaging in “righteous wars”. Not all wars of the nations (including Israel) are just – sometimes too politically or economically motivated – but proclaiming repentance and faith in God is always just, and to call believers to repentance back to the Word of God and the doctrines of the Apostles, who by the Holy Spirit are teaching what Jesus taught, is always right. We are soldiers of the LORD of Armies/Hosts in this war.

Next, Paul gives the example of an athlete, who competes to win, not merely to “have fun”. To be crowned as a winner, you must train and compete according to the rules of that sport. To be respected, it does not matter if we are ever the champion, but that we have done our best according to the recognized norms of fair play. (All is not fair in love and war!) We see in recent years how many athletes have used illegal drugs to give them more strength. This is against the rules; it is cheating. It is very unfair to the other athletes, and should bring no joy or honor to the cheater. Now we even have men who say they are women, and want to compete in sports as a woman. This is very unfair to real women, whose bodies and strength are much different than those of men. And we see that some sports authorities are allowing this! But we live under a different King and in a different Kingdom. We want HIS approval and honor for our lives and conduct. When the world sins, the Holy Spirit who dwells within us helps us to continue abiding by the truth and righteousness of God, even if we lose according to the world. Yet we earn a crown of life from the Righteous Judge of all!  What grace to know that there is a cause and reason for the suffering in our ordinary and daily lives. If we are so able to bear up to it without any choice in the matter, how much more knowing why we are called to share in suffering with Yeshua/Jesus, especially for righteousness’ sake, for the gospel, for His name!

Thirdly, Paul uses the example of the farmer, who must with patience wait for the harvest of his crop, and having labored for it, be the first to eat of it. Let the laborer enjoy the fruit of his labor before others greedily or impatiently disrespect him. Every plant is a testimony to the resurrection required for life and fruitfulness: the seed must die in the ground before springing up unto its purpose. Yeshua had to die and to be buried before rising from among the dead unto everlasting life. Our hope is in the resurrection to fulfill eternally what God created and redeemed us for. For the believer in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the best life is yet to come; for those who choose not to believe, this life is the best that he/she will have.

I close today with Paul’s words in v 7: Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things.

This article originally appeared on Streams in the Negev, July 10, 2021, and reposted with permission.