The Christian life is not a 100-yard dash; it’s a marathon. It’s easy to begin a marathon well and it’s not too difficult to run a few miles. The test comes over the long haul. Will you endure to the finish? In the Christian race, will you be faithful through all of the hardships, even unto death?
Every Christian wants to be able to say with the apostle Paul, as he thought about his own death (2 Tim. 4:7), “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” While God promises that He will keep all that He saves, the process is not automatic. We must endure hardship as good soldiers, disciplined athletes, and hard working farmers (2:3-7).
Paul is exhorting Timothy to embrace hardship for the sake of the gospel (1:8; 2:3). Timothy was under pressure to compromise the gospel. His timid personality shied away from conflict and controversy. Many were turning against the imprisoned apostle and at the same time, abandoning the gospel that he preached (1:15; 2:17-18). So Paul is exhorting Timothy to persevere. He is showing him how to endure when he feels tempted to drop out.
In our text, he adds three more illustrations of how suffering hardship for the gospel now results in eternal glory. Jesus Christ died, but He is risen forever (2:8). Paul himself is imprisoned and facing death, but he endures for the sake of God’s elect, so that they may obtain salvation and eternal glory (2:9-10). Third, Paul cites a hymn from the early church (2:11-13), which makes the point that faithfulness now results in future glory with Jesus Christ, because God’s promises are trustworthy. In these verses, Paul reveals four strategies for enduring to the end of the marathon:
To endure hardship, remember:
Jesus Christ the risen Savior;
that His Word is powerful;
that God’s sovereign purpose in saving His elect will succeed;
and that His promises are trustworthy.
It seems odd for the apostle to write to his younger pastor friend (2:8): “Remember Jesus Christ….” Was Timothy in danger of forgetting Him? This sounds like something you might write to a new believer, but not to a man who has some years under his belt as a pastor! Why would Paul say this to Timothy?
Keep in mind Paul’s counsel in 2:7, “Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” We have to think about these matters, leaning on the Lord for understanding. Verse 8 gives us some clues as to why Paul tells Timothy to remember Jesus Christ.
First, notice the word order, Jesus Christ. So far, Paul has referred to the Lord as Christ Jesus six times (1:1, 2, 9, 13; 2:1, 3). He will go on to refer to Him as Christ Jesus four more times (2:10; 3:12, 15; 4:1). But in 2:8 alone, he reverses it to Jesus Christ. Surely there must be a reason. I believe that he is calling attention to the humanity of our Lord, born as the man Jesus, who suffered and died on the cross for our sins. As Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:36), “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.”
So Paul is making the point that because Jesus in His humanity suffered shame and death on a cross for our sins, God highly exalted Him (Phil. 2:8-11). His point is the same as Hebrews 12:3, “For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
A second clue that helps us understand why Paul tells Timothy to remember Jesus Christ is, “risen from the dead.” The verb tense means, “He was raised from the dead in the past and He continues now as the risen One.” Jesus’ resurrection is the main support of the gospel. Paul says that if Christ is not risen, our faith is worthless (1 Cor. 15:14, 17). Everything hangs on the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. As the risen Savior, He also promises to give us the victory over the grave. So even if we suffer and die for the sake of the gospel, “Jesus Christ, risen from the dead,” is the grounds for our hope. Be steadfast!
A third clue is, “descendant of David.” Why does Paul use this unusual phrase here (used elsewhere only in Rom. 1:3)? This validates Jesus historically as the Messiah or Christ, who was promised to be of the seed of David. And it shows that He will return as the conquering King who will reign on David’s throne, ruling the nations with a rod of iron (Ps. 2:9). So the application for Timothy and us is, when you go through suffering now as a Christian, remember Jesus Christ, descendant of David in fulfillment of God’s promise, who is coming back to reign as the King of kings and Lord of lords. Endure hardship for the gospel now so that you will be on His side when He returns.
The final clue is in the last phrase, “according to my gospel.” That does not mean that Paul invented the gospel, but rather that the gospel was revealed directly to Paul from the risen Lord Jesus and entrusted to him as the treasure (“good deposit,” 1:14), which he had to guard. The crucified, risen Lord Jesus Christ is at the heart of the gospel. Note also that Paul viewed the gospel as his personal treasure. He was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violent aggressor (1 Tim. 1:13), but God in His great mercy laid hold of Paul through the good news that “Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all” (1 Tim. 1:15).
If you want to endure to the end of the marathon, to stand firm for the truth through hardship and even persecution, you must be able to say with Paul, “my gospel.” God saved me from my sins by His abundant grace. To endure hardship, “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel” (2:8).
Paul’s gospel was the reason that he suffered “hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal.” Then he adds the triumphant note, “But the word of God is not imprisoned.” The word “criminal” is used elsewhere only of the two thieves on the cross (Luke 23:32, 33). Paul didn’t deserve to be treated that way. He had been arrested on trumped up charges, made no doubt by enemies of the gospel. He was being held in a filthy dungeon, chained to a guard day and night. It wasn’t fair. But, rather than complain, Paul rejoiced in the fact that no one can imprison the power of God’s Word. With Luther, Paul could have sung, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still; His kingdom is forever.”
Often God puts us in difficult trials for the very reason that He wants the power of the gospel to shine through our joy in Him in circumstances where the world can only complain. Maybe you are imprisoned in a hospital or in a body that is sick and dying. If you grumble and complain, you’re missing the opportunity for the power of the gospel to shine through your life. But if, through the pain and the tears, the joy of the Lord shines forth, the same powerful gospel that saved you may transform others. So to endure hardship, remember the power of God’s word!
Paul explains (2:10), “For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.” Paul means that through his sufferings in preaching the gospel, God’s elect would come to salvation and inherit the eternal glory that is in Christ Jesus.
Many Christians get nervous when they hear the word “elect” and try to minimize or explain away its plain meaning. If you do that, you will miss a key truth in understanding your salvation and a key component that you need to endure hardship for the sake of the gospel. Don’t dodge the doctrine of election by saying, “That’s just Calvinism!” What you need to ask is, “Is it taught in the Bible?” Paul easily could have said here, “I do all things for the sake of those who will believe,” but he did not. If you believe that the very words of Scripture are inspired, you’ve got to grapple with why he said “the elect.” As believers, we have to submit to what Scripture says. Let’s look at just a few texts (there are many more):
John 3:27: “John answered and said, ‘A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.’”
John is asserting what all Scripture teaches, that the natural man cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:14; see also, Matt. 13:11). God grants spiritual understanding to some and He withholds it from others. That is His sovereign right.
John 6:37, 39: “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out…. This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.
Jesus says that there are some whom the Father has given to Him (He elsewhere calls these “the elect,” Matt. 24:22, 31). Clearly, the Father does not give all to the Son, because all do not come to Jesus. Jesus says that everyone the Father gives to Him will in fact come to Him and He will not lose any of those. Their eternal destiny is secure.
John 6:44, 65: No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day…. For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”
Jesus repeats the truth that no one is able of his own ability or “free will” to come to Christ, unless the Father has granted it.
John 8:43: “Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My Word.”
Jesus again makes the same point, that the natural man is incapable of understanding spiritual truth.
John 10:26-28: “But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.”
Jesus’ sheep are identical with those whom the Father gave to the Son or, the elect. If someone is not of that group, he does not believe. If someone is of that group, Jesus gives them eternal life.
John 17:2, 9: “even as You gave Him authority over all flesh, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life…. I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given Me; for they are Yours.”
Jesus claims to have authority to give eternal life to all whom the Father has given Him. The emphasis is not that He gives eternal life to all who will believe of their own free will, but rather that He gives eternal life to all whom the Father has given Him. He prays on their behalf, not on behalf of the whole world.
If we had time, we could go to many other texts that clearly spell out the same truth, that before the foundation of the world, apart from anything that God foresaw in us, by His grace alone, He chose to give a people to His Son (Eph. 1:4-5). If He had not done so, none of us would have believed. You must believe in Christ to be saved. But, no one can believe unless God first opens their blind eyes (2 Cor. 4:4). The reason that you believed in Jesus Christ is that God first chose you for salvation. That way He gets all the glory (1 Cor. 1:26-31).
People react against this by saying, “If God has already chosen everyone who will be saved, then why witness? If they’re ordained to be saved, then they be saved apart from anything that we can do.” Not so! God, who ordained the salvation of His elect, also ordained that they would be saved through the preaching of the gospel. Paul had to suffer hardship and preach so that the elect would obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus.
Paul was in Corinth and was afraid that he was going to be harmed. Jesus appeared to him and said (Acts 18:9-10), “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.” Paul didn’t know yet who God’s people in that city were, but God knew. Paul was to go on preaching so that those in that city whom the Father had given to the Son would come to salvation. That is exactly what Paul is saying in 2 Timothy 2:10.
Our only hope that our efforts to evangelize will result in the salvation of any is that Jesus has purchased with His blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Rev. 5:9). He did not purchase every person in the whole world, but some from every people. None that He purchased will be lost. All whom God predestined to salvation will be glorified (Rom. 8:30): “and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” In other words, those whom God saves, He keeps. They persevere unto eternal glory.
If you have not embraced this great biblical truth, you are missing the basis for assurance of your own salvation. Salvation rests in God’s sovereign purpose and might, not in your feeble, fallen will or efforts. And, you are missing the main motivation to proclaim the gospel in the face of hardship and rejection, namely, that God will save His chosen ones through the gospel.
To endure hardship, remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead; that God’s Word is powerful; and, that God’s sovereign purpose in saving His elect will surely succeed. Finally,
Paul cites the words of a familiar hymn to remind Timothy that God’s promises are trustworthy and will not fail. He introduces it as a trustworthy statement (there are four others in the Pastoral Epistles: 1 Tim. 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; Titus 3:8). He probably breaks into the middle of the hymn, so that the opening word (“for”) refers back to earlier words that we do not know. It consists of four “if” clauses, followed by their consequences. The first two refer to those who are faithful. They attain to life and reigning with Christ. The last two refer to those who deny Christ or are faithless, and the consequences. The overall point reinforces what Paul has been saying, that if we endure hardship with Christ now, we will experience glory with Him in eternity.
There are a couple of interpretive difficulties in the hymn. Some take “if we died with Him, we also will live with Him” to refer to the truth of our identification with Christ in His death and resurrection, as Paul sets forth in Romans 6. The language is similar, but it seems foreign to the context. The verb (Greek aorist) may also be translated, “if we die with Him,” meaning, “if we die a martyr’s death, we will also live with Him eternally.” If that is the meaning, the hymn would have been an encouragement to those who were suffering persecution for the gospel.
The other interpretive problem is in the last line. Some understand verses 12 & 13 to be parallel, thus taking verse 13 to mean, “if we are faithless, He remains faithful to His threat to punish all unbelief.” In favor of that view is the parallelism and the present tense of the verb, “are faithless.” But, it seems to me to go against the concept of God’s faithfulness. His faithfulness is always mentioned to give encouragement to discouraged saints, not to warn unbelievers of His judgments.
Thus I prefer to understand the first line of the hymn to be connected by way of contrast to the third line, and the second line to contrast with the fourth line. The first and third lines then mean, “If we hold fast our confession faithfully unto death, we will live eternally in heaven with Him, but if we deny Him, He will deny us before the Father” (as Jesus warned, Matt. 10:33). The second and fourth lines contrast to mean, “If we endure hardship with Him now, we will be rewarded by reigning with Him in heaven. But if we are faithless by not enduring hardship, we will lose rewards, but because of His faithfulness to His covenant, we will still be saved, for He cannot deny Himself.”
Thus I would fit Judas Iscariot under line 3, as one who finally denied Christ and was lost. I would fit Peter under line 4, as one of God’s elect who momentarily was faithless, but he repented and was restored. So when we fail, we should confess our sins, knowing that He is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Our salvation ultimately rests on God’s faithfulness and grace, not on our perfect record.
Several years ago, Bible translators Bruce and Jan Benson and their 14-year-old son were driving down a mountainside in the Peruvian Andes. As they came around a switchback, they came bumper to bumper with a truckload of terrorist rebels known as The Shining Path. Men jumped out of the truck brandishing automatic rifles, surrounded the Benson’s car, and ordered them to get out. Jan thought, “This is it! This is the end of our lives.”
The terrorists took them to a nearby town. On the way, fearful and bewildered, Jan felt the need to pray and then to sing. She said, “It began as a trickle, a presence that said, ‘The Lord inhabits the praises of His people.’” She protested, “But Lord, I don’t know how to praise You right now.” “Sing,” came the answer. “At least you can sing.” So she began to sing, “You are my hiding place. You always fill my heart with songs of deliverance. Whenever I am afraid I will trust in You.” Other songs also flowed.
Suddenly, she felt as though she was the only person alive on earth, just her and God. She felt His all-encompassing love and His assurance that He was in control. Nothing, not even death, could remove her from His presence.
That night the rebels unexpectedly released the Bensons, but they confiscated their car, their portable projection equipment and film reels of the “New Media Bible” from Luke, the same film material that makes up the Jesus film.
One year later, the Bensons were living in the capital for safety. Jan received a phone call. One of their captors had become a Christian and wanted to meet with them. When they met, he told them that he was an experienced killer and that he and the others had planned to kill them that night. But, for some reason they just could not do it and released them instead. Then, the rebels set up the projector and watched the film, eventually many times. At one viewing, several hundred rebels were watching and listening to God’s Word in their own language. Many were so moved that they wanted to lay down their weapons right there and leave The Shining Path. Standing before them as a fellow believer, their former enemy said to them, “Please forgive me for my part in what we did to you that day.” The Bensons were able to go back to that village and finish the translation of the New Testament into that language.
God’s witnesses may be imprisoned, but His Word cannot be imprisoned. The gospel “is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). To endure hardship, remember Jesus Christ, the risen Savior. Remember that His Word is powerful, that His sovereign purpose in saving His elect will succeed, and that His promises are trustworthy.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2006, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation