Most people want to avoid suffering. Yet, in this fallen world it is a reality of life. Suffering is a significant theme in Paul’s second letter to Timothy. Commentator, William Mounce, writes, “the theme of suffering ties almost all of the epistle together” (Pastoral Epistles, 474). Each chapter of the letter has something to say about suffering. The suffering Paul writes about is suffering for the gospel associated with persecution.
Shame is often associated with suffering, but Paul exhorts Timothy not to be ashamed when suffering for the gospel (2 Tim. 1:8). How is it possible to suffer for the gospel without shame? It is by the power of God. Timothy’s sincere faith (2 Tim. 1:5) together with fanning into flame his spiritual gift (1:6) empowers him to not be ashamed. God has given us “a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (1:7). Timothy can suffer for the gospel without shame because God’s power is displayed in the gospel. Paul writes to Timothy:
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me. (2 Timothy 1:8-12 ESV)
Paul is not ashamed to suffer for the gospel because of his faith in Christ and his confidence that Christ has the power to guard him. Suffering for the gospel does not bring shame because God’s eternal purpose and grace is revealed in Christ Jesus. Christ has abolished death and brought life and immortality.
We avoid shame while suffering by looking at the future eternal glory (2 Tim. 2:10). Paul used three metaphors (soldier, athlete, and farmer) to encourage Timothy to share in suffering (2:4-6). These metaphors point to future reward that follows hardship and suffering. In chapter three Paul writes about enduring persecutions and the Lord’s rescue. Then he makes a statement that :
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Timothy 3:12 ESV)
This verse is challenging for many of us in North America. The persecution that we have experienced is rather mild compared to what our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world experience. But the issue is not the level of persecution. This issue is that we should not be ashamed and not allow even mild persecution to silence our witness.
Suffering for the gospel is to be expected. We should not be ashamed to suffer for the gospel. It is to be endured with our eyes focused on the future eternal glory that will be ours in Christ.