2 Timothy 1:8
So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner.
Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.
Accepting the ‘good news’ of the gospel is not necessarily fun or easy. The gospel of Jesus demands that I give up everything the world would say I am entitled to (Mark 8:34-35). It promises to bring hardship, trial, trouble, persecution, suffering, and even hatred (2 Tim. 3:12, John 16:33, Mark 10:22, Matt. 24:9). It can be very tempting to hide my new identity.
But, in 2 Timothy 1:8-10, the apostle Paul calls us to “…not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord and join with [him] in the suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.”
The concept of suffering for the gospel can be difficult to grasp, especially because I live with so many physical comforts and blessings. I live in a mostly peaceful country. I live in a nice, quiet suburban neighborhood. I have a comfortable desk job. I drive a nice car. So, am I really suf-fering for the gospel?
Thoughts on suffering in a Western context:
1. Don’t idolize suffering as the hallmark of being a Christian. I really appreciate Alan Noble’s article, “The Evangelical Persecution Complex”. Noble discusses the American Evangelical community’s near obsession with oppression and persecution. He exhorts Christians to be wise and discern accurately “when we are truly victims of oppression - and when this victimization is only imagined.” He warns against the danger of when “believers can come to see victimhood as an essential part of [their] identity”.
Let’s be clear, suffering for the gospel should not be your ultimate goal. Avoid the temptation to believe that if you aren’t experiencing “very public and very dramatic persecution”, you aren’t faithful enough.
2. Prepare for future suffering. Without trying to incite fear or conjure imagined persecution, the truth is, we do not live in an untouchable bubble. In our personal lives, we never know what tomorrow will bring. Our society might not always uphold religious freedoms.
Perhaps God will call you to leave your comfort zone and move to a foreign country where Christianity is not tolerated and is actively persecuted. How do you prepare for future suffering without becoming a perpetual pessimist?
- Read inspiring stories of fellow brothers and sisters, like the book of Job, or the apostle Paul, or other contemporaries.
- Hold onto God’s promises (examples: Rom. 8:16-18, 2 Cor. 4:16, John 16:33, Isaiah 41:10, Phil. 3:7-10)
- Remember to pray for our brothers and sisters around the world who are truly suffering for the gospel.
- Quit complaining. Do not mask your life’s inconveniences as “suffering”. Developing a habit of thankfulness in the midst of life’s inconveniences will help you respond appropri-ately to real suffering, especially suffering for the gospel.
3. Actively lay down your life for those around you and be ready to accept the consequences. 1 John 3 : 16 says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers”. John specifically refers to fellow believers in this verse, but we know that we are called to love everyone around us.
Remember, the fear of suffering is not a reason to hide from the world and our responsibility to love others. Actively and sacrificially loving others is hard, and may require you to sacrifice in small or large ways, which can lead to suffering. But in all of this, we can cling to the hope that Jesus’s ultimate sacrifice of love, which produced the most extreme suffering, led to the greatest reward - eternal life with our Father.
So what does it look like to suffer for the gospel in a mostly peaceful country? Don’t seek suffering. Instead, seek to pour out your life on behalf of those around you and suffering will most likely happen. And when it does happen, hold onto God’s promises, continue to be thankful, and look forward to our reward.
"…In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”