Choose Suffering

Hello to my fellow sinners/saints! From your friendly neighborhood preacher:) hope you all are having joy despite the circumstances.

Last week we had a preacher meeting over a conference call. I was given the opportunity to lead it (I signed up for it last year, who knew this would have happened!). But it went very well. We have been going through 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus. My portion of the study was 2 Timothy 2; we would talk about church activity (not much right now), I would bring some thoughts on the text, and we would discuss it. 

In preparation of the meeting I studied 2 Timothy. What an amazing letter it is. Paul writes 2 Timothy cycling through themes of preaching, where Paul encourage Timothy to preach and how to preach; enduring suffering, where Paul encourages Timothy to suffer in his ministry and gives examples of his own suffering; the Gospel, where Paul makes comments explaining and expounding on the Gospel message; and unfaithful/faithful people, where Paul lists names of people who have abandoned the faith or people who have commendably served by faith.

One of the huge themes in 2 Timothy is suffering, but Paul does not just mean suffering as a negative event happening to you. He frames suffering as a choice like the hard work done by a soldier, athlete, or farmer. In one of my read-throughs, I recorded every mention of suffering to learn about what suffering is and why we choose to suffer. Here are the verses about suffering in 2 Timothy. I encourage you to read them: 1:8, 1:12, 1:15, 2:3, 2:9, 2:10, 2:24, 3:11, 3:12 (Do not miss 3:12!), 4:5, 4:10, 4:14, 4:16-18. From each verse I put down the information into what suffering is and/or the reason Paul suffers. 

Why is Paul willing to suffer? the Gospel, 1:8, 1:12, 2:9, 4:17; God, 1:10-12; the promised reward, 1:10-12, 4:18; for the elect and so that they may obtain salvation, 2:10; he knows the Lord will rescue him, 3:11, 4:18; he knows the Lord will strengthen him to accomplish the task, 4:17. 

What is suffering? exists within God’s grace, 1:8; does not necessarily include shame, 1:12; could be rejection, 1:15, 4:5, 4:10, 4:16; does not hinder God’s word, 2:9; will necessarily be included in a godly life, 3:12.

Just some thoughts that came to mind on suffering: Paul tells use to “share in suffering,” effectively telling us to choose suffering (2:3-6). This is such a diametrically opposed view to the common Christian view. The world’s version of Christians, the immature Christians, and so on, their view of the gospel is to be free from suffering. Christianity in the world’s eye almost takes a Buddhist style to it. They see Jesus as freeing us from all suffering; the false prophets like Joel Osteen promising a life without suffering if you follow Jesus. All of this is so blatantly false. How surprising would it be if all Christians were shown these passages on suffering, especially 3:12! 

The call of a Christians is in part a call to suffer. Christ never promised we would be free from suffering on this planet. In fact, he promised the opposite. Christ himself said that if the world treated Christ that way wouldn’t they treat his disciples that way? 

Paul gives three examples of suffering: a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer. The word “suffering” usually denotes a negative and involuntary experience, like when someone insults you or when Paul was imprisoned. But Paul points to a more positive and voluntary side of “suffering” with these examples. So, a major point to note in these examples is, again, the voluntary nature of their suffering. A soldier, athlete, and a farmer, they all suffer by the nature of their voluntary work; they chose to work hard, they chose to suffer. Suffering is the choice for those who are going to live the gospel.

The images are clear: When soldiers fight in a war, should they be surprised when things get difficult? Should a soldier expect an easy lifestyle without any hard tasks without any difficulty? To be a soldier is to fight, is it not? What kind of soldier does not fight? The only kind of soldier that does not fight, is either dead or a traitor. 

            In the midst of a war, the soldiers that hide should be ashamed, the soldiers that desert the fight should be ashamed, but the soldiers that are loyal to the cause they fight. When a soldier fights, he exerts energy, he takes on the enemy, he accepts the exhaustion and the wounds, he struggles for his cause. Those who are hiding, they are not struggling. Those who desert the fight, they are not struggling. It is those who struggle, who are worthy of honor. Only those who are loyal are willing to struggle. 

I have come to realize something about life recently. Life is struggling and struggling is worthy of being celebrated. 

One recovering narcotic addict told me that he became more frustrated the longer he was sober. He went six months, then a year, then two years. But no matter how long he went, he still had that sneaking urge in the back of his mind. He was frustrated that he never reached a point in his recovery where he didn’t have the urge to relapse. There never came a point where he didn’t want to shoot heroin in his veins, even after five years. When he told me that, I was extremely surprised. Having never done anything even resembling heroin, I couldn’t quite empathize with him. Then he told me something I will never forget, he said, “I must choose between the feeling of sober struggle or the feeling of euphoric failure. As long as I want to shoot up, I’m sober.” 

For this recovering addict, he suffered day in and day out. But the suffering he experienced became a comfort to him because every time he suffered he was reminded that he had not given up the fight. The drug addict who is not struggling is giving into their addiction. Those who struggle are worthy of praise because their struggle is a sign they have not abandoned the fight. Those who are not struggling are the ones who are not working hard. 

The suffering is worth it. The soldier works to satisfy his superior because he is loyal to the mission. The athlete works hard to compete because he wants the medal. The farmer works in the land to harvest his crops. All the struggle put forward is a voluntary form of suffering that is worth enduring because of the mission laid before us. 

Paul said, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering…” (2 Tim. 2:8-9). When you keep in mind why you are suffering (or rather for whom you are suffering), you will be able to endure it. If you struggle, do it for Christ. When you suffer, let it be for Christ who died for us. 

 

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