Proved by Persecution

2 Timothy 3:10-13

14 November 2010

Blenheim Free Church, Maidenhead

Morning service


But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.ref

Thi is the context Paul sets for our passage back in verse 1 - there will be terrible times in the last days. And that, of course, means now. The times are terrible because we are at war.

Its good to remind ourselves of this on Remembrance Sunday of all days. We rightly remember today the fallen and veterans of many wars, especially the two world wars. But we also mustn't forget that we are at war as well. All earthly wars are consequences of the one great war that is constantly raging, which we are caught up in whether we want to be or not: the cosmic spiritual battle between good and evil.

We've seen this theme already in 2 Timothy. Back in chapter 2, Paul invites Timothy to Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesusref. And in his letter to the Ephesians, Timothy's church, Paul writes about our struggle... against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realmsref. We are at war.

Now, we know that evil was defeated at the cross of Jesus, but the war goes on until Jesus comes again. In Bible language, the days between the cross and the return of Jesus are the "last days".

In the Second World War, the D-Day landings on 6 June 1944 were a turning point in Europe. From that moment on it was clear who was going to win. Yet the war itself was not over until almost a year later, and perhaps the most ferocious fighting of the whole thing occurred during that year.

In the spiritual battle in the heavenly realms, that is the period we are in now: The war is won but not over, and the fighting is fierce. Revelation 12:12 says that the devil is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is shortref. Hence verse 1, There will be terrible times in the last days.ref

So, that's the background as we pick up the text at verse 10. And what Paul is concerned with in these verses is, how do we know who is on which side? Nobody is wearing a uniform: how do we know who are the bad guys and who are the good guys? And how do we make sure we are on the right side?

In verses 2 to 9 he's been looking at how to identify the enemy: they will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive,ref and so on.

In our passage, from verse 10, he turns to the good guys. How can we tell who is on the right side? How do we know whom we should be fighting alongside?

Well, as he so often does, Paul holds himself up as an example. We find that the good guys, the godly, first practise what they preach and second, they are proved by persecution.

Paul practised what he preached

So, first, Paul practised what he preached, verse 10. He appeals to Timothy, You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings...ref

Here, Paul is holding himself up in contrast to the false teachers of the previous verses.

You might expect him to be content with simply defending his teaching: "Hey, Timothy, you know my teaching, you know it makes sense. Can't you tell it's right?" After all, it is false teachers whom he is opposing.

But Paul doesn't stop with his teaching: he holds up his whole life before Timothy as evidence of his godliness, as evidence that he is one of the good guys.

Timothy has travelled with Paul, he's worked with Paul, he's lived with Paul. He's seen Paul in action in every circumstance.

So Paul challenges him: this is what godliness looks like! It embraces the whole of life; it can't be confined to this corner or that corner. Paul invites Timothy to recall his way of life: how does he live? how does he spend his time? how does he spend his money? what does he read? what does he eat? how hard does he work? is he honest? In every aspect of his lifestyle, godliness shines through. Believing in Jesus touches our whole way of life.

Then Paul invites Timothy to look at his purpose in life: what drives him? what motivates him? what are his ambitions and priorities? The goals of the godly are utterly different from the goals of the ungodly. Becoming a Christian radically re-orients our purpose in life. If our ambitions are not changed, if our ambitions look just like those of the rest of the world, then we need to ask if we are on the right side or not?

Next Paul says, "look at my faith, how I trust in God for everything instead of trusting in myself". What does his prayer-life look like? Then we are to look at his patience and his love. These are fruit of the spirit: they only grow in us if the Holy Spirit is at work. Are our lives marked by patience and love?

The point is that true godliness is displayed in all of life. In our lifestyles, in our ambitions, in our characters.

We had a good question come up in home group last week: If someone came to live with you and observe your life, what is the most convincing evidence they would find that you are a Christian? And what is the least convincing? I was alarmed by how many people said "my driving" in answer to the second question!

Would you be worried about that prospect? Of someone moving in and observing your life - your work, your devotions, your downtime, your driving? How would you stand up to scrutiny? Could you say with confidence to someone who was investigating the Christian faith: come and live with me, come and watch me, then you'll know what it's all about?

Well, the Apostle Paul has no hesitation. He wrote to the Thessalonians You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed.ref He wrote to the Philippians Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.ref He wrote to the Corinthians I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I have sent to you Timothy... He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church.ref

The godly person is not an armchair general, he is not a theorist, he practises what he preaches. He is out there, doing battle with the enemy in all of life.

Paul was proved by persecution

So Paul, practised what he preached. My second heading is that Paul was proved by persecution.

At the end of verse 10, Paul continues his list with, you know all about my... endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.ref

The false teachers were not prepared to suffer. They were, verse 4, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of Godref. True godliness is prepared to suffer for the sake of Jesus. True godliness knows that Jesus is the greatest treasure in the world, worth giving everything for.

Paul reminds Timothy of some events that happened back in Acts chapters 13 and 14 as he travelled around what is modern-day Turkey: through Antioch, Iconium and Lystra. Timothy came from Lystra and would have known these events well.

In Antioch, Paul and Barnabas had been quite well received by the people, and had gained some converts. But we are told that the Jewish religious leaders were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was sayingref, and they stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their regionref.

So Paul and Barnabas move on to the next town, Iconium, where a great number of Jews and Gentiles believedref. But opposition arose again: There was a plot afoot among both Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, where they continued to preach the gospelref.

In Lystra, amazing things begin to happen, but soon, some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derberef.

So Paul has been stoned almost to death—this is persecution indeed. Perhaps Timothy had been among the disciples who gathered around and prayed for him.

After an experience like this, I imagine we would be sympathetic to Paul packing things in, or at least taking it easy for a while. But no! In the next verse, when he gets to Derbe, we read They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God," they saidref. Having been driven out of these cities, they went back!

Paul was proved by persecution. He was prepared to suffer for the Kingdom of God.

It is a mark of genuine Christianity that it provokes opposition. John Calvin observed that "The gospel cannot be published without instantly driving the world to rage".

This follows from what Jesus said to his disciples in John 15: If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.ref 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you alsoref.

The fact that Paul endured persecutions for the sake of Christ is a mark that he is the real thing, that he is on the right side. But not only that, he goes on to say Yet the Lord rescued me from all of themref. This is a slightly strange thing to say after he's been recalling being stoned almost to death. In what sense did the Lord rescue him from persecution? Clearly, God did not rescue Paul entirely from suffering, but he did save his life, and he did keep him faithful even in the midst of suffering.

We shouldn't always expect God to rescue us from suffering by removing it: enduring suffering is a mark of true godliness. But we can depend on him to bear us up and carry us safely through to the end.

So here are two marks by which we can evaluate our Christian leaders, by which we can find out whose side they are really on in the great war between good and evil. Do they practise what they preach? That is, do their whole lives reflect what they are teaching? And, are they proved by persecution? Are they prepared to suffer for their faith?


But it's not only in our Christian leaders that we should look for these things. In verse 12, we read that it was not just Paul who was proved by persecution, it is expected of all believers. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecutedref.

I have to admit that I have struggled with this verse. It is quite absolute: everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

It is estimated that 1 in 10 Christians world-wide lives under some form of persecution, as we were looking at earlier, some of it very severe indeed. But that leaves a vast number of believers, including pretty much the whole church in this country, living completely free of suffering for the name of Christ. I don't really buy the argument that not being allowed to wear a cross to work amounts to persecution. The time may come in this country when people truly suffer for following Christ, and it may come soon, but it is not yet to any great degree.

Whilst we can be grateful for our lack of persecution, we should note that we are missing out on some serious blessing. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before youref.

I'm worried that, compared with the real centres of action in the world-wide church, we face a lack of opposition simply because we are not truly engaged in the fight. We are not vigorously seeking to live godly lives in Christ Jesus. We are not actively confronting evil with the gospel. We are not taking up our crosses daily.

I'm going to share with you an image that has been troubling me as I've meditated on these words. I hope it will be helpful, provocative and not too wide of the mark. Do you remember the television show Dad's Army? It ran from 1968 to 1977 and has been repeated endlessly since. In case you've been out of the country, it was about a group of volunteers in the Home Guard during the Second World War. For various reasons they couldn't join the army for real military service, so they formed their own band of amateur, part-time soldiers to protect Walmington-on-Sea in case of invasion. They were well-meaning but quite incompetent, with entertaining results, and they never once faced any real danger.

Well, when it comes to the cosmic spiritual war, I'm concerned that you and I, along with most other Christians in this country, are less like soldiers in active duty on the front line and more like a kind of spiritual Dad's Army.

What do you think? Is that fair? Are we engaging in daily battle with the enemy? Or are we too far from the front-line? Do we live our lives like disciplined, well-trained, self-sacrificing soldiers? Or are our lives a spiritual shambles? Is the devil content to leave us alone simply because we're so ineffective it's not worth troubling us? In short, are we well-meaning but incompetent part-timers best kept a million miles from any real action? A spiritual Dad's Army?

Well, I don't know what you'll make of that, but it's worth reflecting on.

In the face of a challenge like verse 12, Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecutedref, we've got to ask ourselves questions like these.

Let us, like Paul and Timothy, be people who practise what we preach, and who are proved by persecution.


By way of a word to close this Remembrance Day service, I'm going to read a quotation from John Chrysostom, a fourth-century archbishop.

it is impossible for man, in his warfare with the wicked, not to be exposed to tribulation. One cannot be in combat and live luxuriously, one cannot be wrestling and feasting. Let none therefore of those who are contending seek for ease or joyous living. Again, the present state is contest, warfare, tribulation, straits, and trials, and the very scene of conflicts. The season for rest is not now, this is the time for toil and labour.

Let us go forward and join the battle for godliness over evil. Amen.