A year ago my grandpa passed away just shy of his 90th birthday. As my extended family gathered around His grave, different individuals shared the final words exchanged between the two of them. You see, when my grandpa knew his time on earth was coming to an end, so he intentionally sought out last conversations with loved ones. He offered his children comfort and guidance for continuing on in life without him.
When we open our Bibles to 2 Timothy, we find the Apostle Paul facing a similar situation. Even though God saved Paul from the brink of death multiple times, he knew this time was different. His imprisonment would surely end in death. So he wrote to Timothy, his “beloved son” in the faith, to give final words of encouragement and guidance for the future.
And what were those all-important words? Stand firm in your faith during persecution.
Paul knew all too well the pain of persecution. But he also knew it wasn’t about him, but about Christ within him. This meant, anyone who follows Christ will be hated and rejected.
“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12 ESV)
Therefore, Paul’s final letter is not just for Timothy and the church at Ephesus, but for you and me, right here, right now.
So let’s take a closer look 2 Timothy, and learn how to stand firm in our faith in a world that hates us.
How to Respond to Persecution
1. Place your confidence in God.
Rejection and persecution easily leads to shame. When someone doesn’t like us, we assume there must be something wrong with us. I think this is why Paul begins by saying:
“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.” (2 Timothy 1:8 ESV)
Shame silences. We don’t post on Facebook about things we feel ashamed about. Nor do we share our shame with friends over coffee. Shame invites us to hide or change part of ourselves, which is exactly what our enemies want.
Yet, Paul reminds us, we have nothing to be ashamed about. We are set apart because God saved us and gave us a holy calling according to His own purpose and grace (2 Timothy 1:9).
Of his own suffering, Paul states; “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 1:12, emphasis added) Confidence in God comes from knowing God and trusting in His promises.
2. Guard your faith.
In Paul and Timothy’s day, false teachers caused big problems for the church. They spread doctrine which contradicted the teaching of Jesus. Unfortunately, not a lot has changed, and we still need to heed Paul’s next piece of advice:
“Hold fast the pattern of sound words, which you have heard from me in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.” 2 Timothy 1:13-14 NKJV
Commentary writer Matthew Henry explains “hold fast” means “remember it, retain it, adhere to it.” And “the pattern of sound words” refers to a catechism, or a brief summary of the Christian faith. Essentially, Paul urges us to hold on to sound doctrine, and not allow false teaching to penetrate our beliefs.
If we are going to stand firm in our faith, we better know what we believe. The good news is the Holy Spirit will help us. So when our persecutors mockingly ask, “Do you really believe…” we can answer confidently with the truth of God’s word.
3. Do not retaliate.
When someone says mean and hurtful things to us, we usually want to say mean and hurtful things right back (that’s our sinful nature rearing its head). Yet, retaliation is not very Christ-like.
So how should we respond when someone picks a fight with us about our faith? Choose not to engage. “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil,” 2 Timothy 2:24 ESV
Not engaging looks like walking away, remaining calm, and showing kindness even when we receive none. But make sure you don’t miss the three words right at the end, “able to teach.” Those three words are the next piece of guidance Paul gives us.
4. Continue sharing the gospel.
With the same breath Paul tells us to be kind and not to quarrel, he says we are to gently correct our opponents:
“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” 2 Timothy 2:24-26 ESV
The difference between correcting and quarrelling comes down to motives. An argument is all about who is right, but the gentle correcting referred to here, is about pointing someone who is lost to only one who saves. We share the truth of the gospel out of compassion.
Continuing Jesus’ ministry of reconciliation means sharing the truth and power of the gospel with all people, including those who persecute us.
Paul knew persecution is inevitable for every believer, which is why these lessons from 2 Timothy are taught throughout Paul’s epistles. So today I want to leave you with a short and simple verse to memorize from Romans.
Even though persecution for our faith looks different for each of us, we must be prepare ourselves for when it comes. We must place our hope in God alone, patiently endure evil, and continue seeking God’s will.