A Call To Persecution
2 Timothy 2:1-13
By Paul Robison

In 1974, the Harding College Chorus took a tour in Europe.  One of the countries that we sang in was Poland.  When Sunday arrived, a preacher named Bro. Davidow asked our group to come worship together with the Polish brethren.  Now remember, at this date, Poland was a communist country, and such religious assemblies were illegal, so Bro. Davidow suggested that we come in pairs ten minutes apart so that it wouldn't look like a large crowd was coming to the meeting place, which was Bro. Davidow's home.  The chorus director asked Bro. Davidow through a translator if he was sure he wanted to take this risk.  Bro. Davidow replied: “I have been in jail for Jesus before, and I am ready to go again.  In fact, I am ready to die for Him if need be.”  Those statements really made an impression on me.  Here was a Christian brother who was willing to risk his own personal security and even his own life if necessary in order to have American and Polish brethren spend time together in worship.  The whole worship service took on a new meaning to me knowing that my actions could possibly cause another brother great hardships.  Thankfully, God heard our prayers and kept us all safe.  There was no raid nor any arrests.  Years later, the Polish government gave our brethren the freedom to worship every Sunday.  Bro. Davidow had been praying for such freedom for over 40 years!  How would you react to persecutions as a Christian?  As we look at our text, there is more about the situation in Ephesus that we wish were clearer.  But let's try to go from the known to the unknown, and then see if a another interpretation might be acceptable, given the situation.  In 4:9, Paul urges Timothy to come to him quickly.  In fact, Timothy should leave Ephesus and travel by boat to Rome before the winter comes (4:21).  When winter comes, travel by sea will be impossible.  Paul wants John Mark and Timothy to come to him because he knows his days are numbered, and he wants to see them and to encourage them one final time before his death.  Of course, their coming to Rome will subject them to possible persecution as well.  They could be arrested, imprisoned, and also put to death because they could be seen not only as enemies of the State but also as associates with the criminal and subversive Paul, who had been found guilty of turning the world upside down (but actually he was turning it right-side up).  In fact, it is interesting that we read in Hebrews 13:23 that Timothy was set free, so Timothy suffered imprisonment of some sort.  With this situation now in mind, let's notice how chapter 2 provides some considerations for Timothy and for us when we must face persecutions.  These considerations will encourage Timothy as he prepares to make his dangerous and risky visit to Paul.  One brother who has written a commentary affirms: “Paul's summons to Timothy to take his share of suffering by coming to Rome is clearly the main burden of this letter” (Spain).  Now let's examine Paul's considerations.
First of all, remember how Paul praised Brother Onesiphorus at the close of chapter one because he had sought Paul out and was not ashamed of Paul's suffering for Christ.  By providing this good example, Paul is indirectly urging Timothy to do the same thing when he arrives in Rome.  Timothy should not be ashamed to suffer persecution for Christ as well.
Now notice how Paul provides a great motivator to endure persecution in 2:1: “You, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.”  Paul is saying, “Timothy, think about Jesus' grace, and let that strengthen you in your resolve to come to me.”  Isn't Jesus' grace a wonderful motivator for us as well?  Jesus has shown us His love, even when we were very unlovable.  We enjoyed His forgiveness, even when we didn't deserve it.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.  Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world [Now that sounds pretty bleak doesn't it?  But now notice the contrast and hope.]  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:8-13)!  Harvey Penick began carrying a red spiral notebook with him in the 1920s and started jotting down observations about golf.  About 70 years later, he shared these observations with a local writer and asked him if he thought they were worth publishing.  The writer read it, shared it with a publisher, and then called and told Penick's wife that Simon & Schuster was willing to advance him $90,000 dollars.  When the writer saw Penick again, he was not happy but troubled.  Penick told the writer that with all his medical bills, he could not pay Simon & Schuster the money they had asked for.  The writer then explained to Penick that he wasn't having to pay the money, but that he would be receiving the money, plus the royalties from the book's sales!  The book sold more than a million copies, the biggest sales in the history of a sports book!  Many people often react towards grace like Penick did toward the publisher.  They think that they must earn Jesus' grace by doing fantastic deeds, but the reality is that God graciously gave Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb, and Jesus generously wants to give salvation to all.  An old hymn has it right: “Wonderful grace of Jesus, greater than all my sin.  How shall my tongue describe it?  Where shall His praise begin?  Taking away my burden, setting my spirit free; for the wonderful grace of Jesus reaches me.  Wonderful the matchless grace of Jesus, deeper than the mighty rolling sea, higher than the mountain, sparkling like a fountain, all sufficient grace for even me.  Broader than the scope of my transgressions, greater far than all my sin and shame.  O magnify the precious name of Jesus, praise His name” (Lillaneus)!  When we must face persecutions, let's remember the wonderful grace of Jesus!
Next, Paul gives Timothy a duty before facing persecution.  In verse 2, he says: “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”  This is an interesting passage.  Four years earlier when Paul wrote 1 Timothy, he explained the qualifications for elders and deacons.  Now elders are supposed to be able to teach.  Since Timothy will be leaving Ephesus, Paul sees the need for getting more men involved in teaching others.  It looks like the elders can concentrate on teaching the flock while the faithful men in the congregation are to concentrate on teaching the lost.  It seems that Paul is wanting Timothy to get a personal work class going so that evangelism will continue after he is gone.  Whether you are training others to teach or are teaching others yourself, one of the best ways to face persecution is to be trying your best to keep reaching the lost.  Don't we still have the greatest message in the world to share?  Jesus is the King of kings, His teachings are everlasting, His grace is available, His forgiveness is sweet, and His church is His bride, who He is coming again one day to claim so all the saints can live forever in heaven with Him!  Another church leader once wrote: “We have the whole Christ for our salvation, a whole Bible for our staff, a whole church for our fellowship, and the whole world for our field, ready to be harvested” (Chrysostom).  Keeping the church's mission uppermost in your mind and on your tongue is a great way to face persecution.
Paul then encourages Timothy to face persecution with three images and an admonition in verses 3-7: “You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.  No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier.  And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.  The hardworking farmer must be first to partake the crops.  Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things.”  Living as a soldier is never an easy life.  It can be physically grueling, but maybe even more demanding are the mental challenges: keeping alert for the enemy, being watchful for attacks, staying devoted to the battle.  Then notice how Paul says the soldier's duty is to please him who enlisted him.  Interestingly, he does not say to please him who is over him.  Now who enlisted Timothy?  Wouldn't that be Jesus or Paul?  Could Paul be subtly saying: “Timothy, please me by coming to me!”  Now notice how the athlete competes according to the rules.  Weren't some of Jesus' rules that His disciples must bear a cross and that they must be willing to suffer, and possibly die, for His name's sake?  Then notice how he says that the farmer must be first to partake of the crop.  Notice this is not saying that a diligent farmer will produce a crop.  No, it says the farmer must be the first to partake of the crop.  Whether the crop is good or bad, the farmer is always the first one to taste those crops.  Now could persecution be one of the more bitter crops that following Jesus produces?  Paul then admonishes Timothy to give these images some good thought, and he prays that Jesus will give Timothy understanding.  What understanding?  The understanding that he must close up shop in Ephesus and accept the dangers that reconnecting with Paul will entail.  One commentator puts it this way: “... Paul is writing and praying that Timothy will comprehend the will of God for his life and be able to understand the meaning of the events that are pushing him toward Rome” (Spain). 
Next, Paul gives some great realities to help Timothy confront persecution.  Let's read verses 8-10: “Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel, for which I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not chained.  Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.”  The first and greatest reality is this: Jesus was a human being who was resurrected from the dead!   When you confront persecution and possible death, Jesus' resurrection provides you with the greatest comfort!  “So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory'” (1 Corinthians 15:54)!  The next reality is this: even though Timothy may have to be imprisoned and wear chains, the word of God will not be chained.  While Timothy may be suffering in Rome, other faithful Christians all over the world will be sharing the Gospel!  The Gospel messengers may be prohibited and limited, but the Gospel message will continue to be communicated and to be spread abroad!  The last reality is this: our persecutions will help other Christians to be stronger and to obtain their salvation.  Persecutions not only strengthen our own faith but also others' faith as well!  When we face persecutions, these three realities can strength us: Jesus' resurrection is the guarantee of ours; the Gospel will continue to be spread; others' faith will be fortified.  Persecutions can be personally difficult, but their effects can also be positive as these three realities show! 
Lastly, Paul provides some more motivators to help Timothy face persecution.  Listen now to verses 11-13: “This is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him.  If we endure, we shall also reign with Him.  If we deny Him, He also will deny us.  If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself.”   In The New King James version, these verses are printed like a poem.  Many translators think Paul is quoting some kind of hymn.  “Must Jesus bear the cross alone, and all the world go free?  No, there's a cross for everyone, an there's a cross for me.  The consecrated cross I'll bear till He shall set me free, and then go home my crown to wear, for there's a crown for me” (Shepherd).  You see, I just introduced poetry into this sermon on suffering persecution.  Now notice what these verses affirm to help Timothy and us as we face persecution.  If we die from persecution for Jesus, then we will live eternally with Him.  If we endure persecutions, we will reign with Jesus in the future.  If we deny Jesus while under persecution, He will deny us.  If we become faithless, Jesus will continue to remain faithful to His promises.  One commentator affirmed: “Christ's constancy to His own promises provides the believer with the greatest security” (Gutherie).  By using a hymn, Paul is tugging at Timothy's heart to help him face persecution as he contemplates giving up his ministry in Ephesus and going to the risky situation in Rome.
One of the apostle John's converts was named Polycarp.  He was born in about 70 A. D. and lived in Smyrna, which is not too far from Ephesus.  Others from Smyrna probably heard Paul preach in Ephesus, and the apostle John moved to Ephesus when he was elderly.  One ancient source says that John appointed Polycarp as an elder.  Another source says that after Polycarp visited with an elder in Rome, a new persecution broke out in Smyrna, and Polycarp was hunted down and brought to the arena where Christians were killed.  An ancient document was written about his death, from which comes this text: “He was brought before the Governor, who asked if this was the man; and when Polycarp admitted it, tried to persuade him to recant. ... 'Swear an oath “By the luck of Caesar” -- Own yourself in the wrong, and say, “Down with the infidels!”  Polycarp's brow darkened as he threw a look round the turbulent crowd of heathens in the circus; and then, indicating them with a sweep of his hand, he said with a growl and a glance to heaven, 'Down with the infidels!'  The Governor, however, still went on pressing him.  “Take the oath, and I will let you go,” he told him.  “Revile your Christ.”  Polycarp's reply was: “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He has done me no wrong.  How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”  ... And all the time he was saying this and much else besides, he was overflowing with courage and joy, and his whole countenance was beaming with grace.  It was not only that himself was anything but prostrated with dismay at the threats which were uttered, it was the Governor who, on his part, now found himself completely at a loss.  What he did next was to send his crier to give out three times, from the center of the arena: “Polycarp has admitted to being a Christian!”  At the crier's words, the whole audience, heathens and the Jewish residents of Smyrna alike, broke into loud yells of ungovernable fury: “That teacher of Asia!  That father-figure of Christians!  That destroyer of our gods, who is teaching whole multitudes to abstain for sacrificing and worshiping them!”  Interspersed with shouts of this kind there were loud demands of the Asiarch Philip to let loose a lion at Polycarp.  However, he told them the rules would not allow him to do this, since he had already declared the beast-fighting closed; whereupon they decided to set up a unanimous outcry that he should have Polycarp burnt alive. ... It was all done in less time than it takes to tell.  ... So they left out the nailing and tied him instead.  Bound like that, with his hands behind him, he was like a noble ram taken out of some great flock for sacrifice: a goodly burnt-offering all ready for God.  Then he cast his eyes up to heaven and said: “O Lord God Almighty, Father of Your blessed and beloved Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have been given knowledge of Yourself; You are the God of angels and powers, of the whole creation, and of all the generations of the righteous who live in Your sight.  I bless You for granting me this day and hour, that I may be numbered among the martyrs, to share the cup of Your Anointed One and to rise again to everlasting life, both in body and soul, in the immortality of the Holy Spirit. ... Amen” (in Staniforth). 
Here is a real historical example of one who suffered persecution for Jesus.  How willing are you to suffer persecution for His name?  Timothy's decision to go to Rome was not an easy one, and your decision to make Jesus your Lord may not be an easy one either.  Bro. Polycarp paid the price, and Bro. Davidow was willing to pay it.  Are you?  “Must Jesus bear the cross alone, and all the world go free?  No, there's a cross for everyone, an there's a cross for me” (Shepherd).  Live and suffer for Jesus, and He will bless and reward you!  Make Him the King of kings in your life!