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9. Standing Firm in Difficult Times (2 Timothy 3:10-15a)

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You, however, have followed my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, my faith, my patience, my love, my endurance, as well as the persecutions and sufferings that happened to me in Antioch, in Iconium, and in Lystra. I endured these persecutions and the Lord delivered me from them all. Now in fact all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But evil people and charlatans will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived themselves. You, however, must continue in the things you have learned and are confident about. You know who taught you and how from infancy you have known the holy writings, …

2 Timothy 3:10-15a (NET)

How can we stand firm in difficult times?

In 2 Timothy 3:1-9, Paul warned Timothy of the difficult (also translated “terrible”) times that would happen throughout church history. People would be lovers of themselves, lovers of pleasure instead of God; they would be abusive, unforgiving, and having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof. There would be many false teachers that would lead people astray. Just as Paul warned Timothy, Christ warned his disciples as well. Satan would plant tares among the wheat and yeast in the flour (Matt 13)—the church would be full of false believers and false doctrine.

Because of this reality, many have become angry at God, bitter at the church, and some have fallen away from Christ all together. These are very important realities to be aware of in order to protect ourselves and persevere. How can we stand in these times?

Paul says to Timothy, “You, however,” or “But, you” (v. 10) and he calls him to “continue” in what he had learned (v. 14). Timothy was to be different from those with an empty religion. He was called to “continue” being faithful, even while others went from “bad to worse” (v. 13). In this text, we will see four principles about standing firm in difficult times—not only do these apply to difficult seasons in the church but ultimately bad times in our lives.

Big Question: What principles can we discern about standing firm in terrible times from 2 Timothy 3:10-15?

To Stand Firm in Difficult Times, We Must Remember the Faithful

You, however, have followed my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, my faith, my patience, my love, my endurance, as well as the persecutions and sufferings that happened to me in Antioch, in Iconium, and in Lystra. I endured these persecutions and the Lord delivered me from them all.

2 Timothy 3:10-11

After sharing with Timothy about the ungodly people and the false teachers in the church (v. 1-9), Paul encourages Timothy with his example. He says, “You, however, have followed my teaching, my way of life …” It can also be translated “you ‘know’ all about my teaching, way of life…,” as in the NIV. Though there were dark times and evil people in the church, Paul was faithful and his faithfulness was meant to encourage Timothy. Similarly, when Elijah was depressed and no longer wanted to live, he cried out to God, “I’m the only one left!” However, God reminded him that he had preserved a remnant that would not bow down to Baal (1 Kings 19), and God has done the same today. Satan often tempts us to feel alone and hopeless, but we are not, because God has faithfully preserved his saints, even in these dark times. We need to recognize this to stand firm.

First Peter 5:8-9 says,

Be sober and alert. Your enemy the devil, like a roaring lion, is on the prowl looking for someone to devour. Resist him, strong in your faith, because you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are enduring the same kinds of suffering.

We should resist and stand firm against Satan’s attacks because we have a family of believers around the world enduring suffering as well. Though many in the church possess only a form of Christianity but no reality in their lives (2 Tim 3:5), there are many who follow God faithfully. And if we are going to stand in terrible times, we must remember them.

In Hebrews 12:1, the author says something similar to persecuted Hebrew Christians: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us.”

The “therefore” points back to chapter 11 where the author describes many heroes of the faith—Abraham, Noah, Moses, David, and others. He essentially says that remembering these witnesses helps us get rid of sin and run with “endurance” the race before us. “Endurance” means “to bear up under a heavy weight.” When we feel like giving up during terrible times in the church or life in general, we must remember godly examples. We must remember how God allowed Joseph to suffer betrayal from his family, slavery, and prison before God exalted him to second in command over Egypt. We must remember how God allowed Job to suffer various tragedies, but how God’s ultimate purpose was to bless him.

We need to remember the faithful if we are going to persevere during hard times. Hebrews 12:1 explicitly reminds us of the importance of reading the accounts of the Old Testament. These are not just stories for children; they are for us. They help us get rid of sin and persevere in difficult times.

But, also, it reminds us to look at the faithful around us. We must watch them—how they maintain their integrity and faith during hard times. Their example will help us to stand. Like Timothy, we need to intimately “know” other faithful believers so we can draw strength from them.

Who are you watching to draw strength from in times of difficulty? Often in times of difficulty, we tend to focus on the storms of unfortunate circumstances or difficult people, which only further discourage us. However, we need to focus both on God’s faithfulness and his faithful ones so we can persevere.

Application Question: Why is it so important to remember the example of the faithful when going through difficult times? Who are the faithful around you that you can watch during the storms of life?

To Stand Firm in Difficult Times, We Must Follow the Faithful

You, however, have followed my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, my faith, my patience, my love, my endurance, as well as the persecutions and sufferings that happened to me in Antioch, in Iconium, and in Lystra. I endured these persecutions and the Lord delivered me from them all... You, however, must continue in the things you have learned and are confident about. You know who taught you

2 Timothy 3:10-11, 14

Not only must we remember the faithful to stand in difficult seasons, we must follow and imitate them. Kenneth Wuest says the word “followed” in verse 10 means “to follow a person so closely that you are always by the person’s side, conforming your life to the person.”1 It was literally used of “following a person as he goes somewhere and of walking in his footsteps.”2 Timothy wasn’t just aware of Paul’s example, he had been imitating it for decades.3 In addition, other teachers imparted into Timothy’s life—enabling him to stand. This is clear from verse 14, as he calls Timothy to continue in what he had learned because he knew “who” he learned it from. “Who” is plural meaning that Timothy owed a great deal to many teachers who imparted into him (v. 14).

This is true for us as well. If we are going to stand in terrible times, we need to follow the godly examples of the faithful. In Philippians 3:17, Paul said: “Be imitators of me, brothers and sisters, and watch carefully those who are living this way, just as you have us as an example.” In 1 Corinthians 11:1, he said: “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” We must keep our eyes on godly people and imitate them if we are going to stand in difficult times.

Often Satan uses the same technique of holding up an example, as he seeks to corrupt the world and the church. But instead of godly examples, he parades and promotes ungodly examples in the media. If you look at those who get the most attention in our cultures, it’s usually ungodly TV stars and actors, musicians and athletes—with no morality or conscience—or TV preachers who focus on money and prosperity but don’t preach the Word. They are paraded and promoted to affect the culture in a negative manner—leading others into similar pathways.

If we are going to stand in difficult times, we must walk closely with the faithful and follow their footsteps as Timothy did Paul’s. Proverbs 13:20 says, “The one who associates with the wise grows wise.” We must allow them to invest in our lives through their examples and their teaching.

Observation Question: What are characteristics of the faithful as demonstrated through Paul’s characteristics?

1. The faithful live transparent lives.

Again, Paul said to Timothy, “You, however, have followed my teaching and my way of life…” (v. 10). As mentioned, it can also be translated to “know” Paul’s teaching, way of life, etc. (NIV). The implication is that Paul lived a life of transparency and invited others to watch. This wasn’t because Paul was perfect; he wasn’t. He said, “The things I wouldn’t do, I do, and the things I would do, I don’t do. Who can save me from this body of death?” (Rom 7, paraphrase). He wasn’t perfect, but he was pursuing perfection, and we need examples like that.

One of the results of sin is the loss of transparency. When Adam and Eve sinned, their first response was to hide from one another and from God. However, the more that we come to know Christ—the more we begin to live in the light and walk in the light with others. First John 1:7 says, “But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”

We are far from perfect, but we follow a perfect God who can use even our imperfections to encourage others who are similarly imperfect. While an ungodly example practices hypocrisy and puts on a charade to appear holy, a godly example lives a transparent life, which includes both his successes and failures. Christ said this, “‘I have spoken publicly to the world’.… I have said nothing in secret” (John 18:20).

Are you living a transparent life or practicing a secret life?

2. The faithful teach God’s Word.

Paul points out that Timothy knew his “teaching” (v. 10). One of Paul’s goals was to teach “the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27). He didn’t avoid difficult texts, soften their tone, or change them to not offend the church or the culture. He preached the Word of God whether it was popular or unpopular. Paul soon warns Timothy of how many in the last days, instead of preaching the whole counsel of God, will ‘itch people’s ears’—trying to make them feel good (2 Tim 4:3 ESV).

This faithful teaching doesn’t only refer to public teaching but also private teaching. These godly models challenge us with God’s Word when we’re in sin. They encourage us with it when we are down, and they affirm us with it when we are doing right. We must follow these kinds of people; we must become these kinds of people.

Are you studying God’s Word so as to teach it to others?

3. faithful practice what they preach.

Paul said Timothy knows his “way of life” (v. 10). There are many who are orthodox in their doctrine but unorthodox with their life—they don’t practice what they preach. This visible hypocrisy only serves to push people away from God. Timothy was keenly aware of how Paul used his time, his recreation, his work life, his devotion, his prayer life, and his ministry. All of that was open before Timothy and all of it matched Paul’s teaching. We must model these types of people to stand in terrible times.

Are you practicing what you preach?

4. The faithful focus on knowing God and pleasing him.

Paul said Timothy knew his “purpose” (v. 10). In Philippians 3:8 Paul said that he ‘counted everything a loss’ to know Christ (paraphrase). That was his primary goal in life. Even his ministry was driven by this unflinching goal of knowing Christ and pleasing him by completing the mission the Lord gave him. Philippians 3:12-14 says,

Not that I have already attained this—that is, I have not already been perfected—but I strive to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have attained this. Instead I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

The faithful are not driven by money or the applause of men, but only knowing and pleasing God. Is your goal to know Christ and please him?

5. The faithful bear the fruits of the Spirit.

Paul then names several fruits of the Spirit that were prominent in his life (v. 10): faith, patience, love, and endurance. These were divine characteristics that were born out of his relationship with God (cf. Gal 5:22-23).

  • Faith probably refers to faithfulness before God—he was faithful to the tasks God had set before him. It also may refer to faith—a growing trust in God.
  • Patience probably focuses on how he responded to difficult people. He was patient and forbearing with them.
  • Love refers to an increasing love for God and love for others. It is amazing to consider that right after Paul’s conversion this love was radically demonstrated in his love for Christ and Christians—whom he previously persecuted. He also loved Gentiles who conservative Jews, like himself, typically hated. He also exalted women which Jewish teachers wouldn’t normally teach and in fact held in disregard. Timothy witnessed this love, and we should see very clear characteristics of this love in us and those we follow.
  • Endurance means to “bear up under” something difficult. His ministry opened the door for criticism, mocking, poverty, and many other hardships, including imprisonment; however, Paul endured them all.

Paul was a man of character worth modeling. We must model those who are clearly filled with the Spirit and demonstrating it through their lives. Are the fruits of the Spirit evident in our own lives?

6. The faithful willingly accept suffering for Christ.

In verse 11, Paul adds various sufferings he endured of which Timothy was aware: “persecutions and sufferings that happened to me in Antioch, in Iconium, and in Lystra. I endured these persecutions and the Lord delivered me from them all.” He mentions three specific sufferings in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra:

  • In Antioch, Paul was thrown out of the city for preaching the gospel (Acts 13:50).
  • In Iconium, Paul was almost executed by stoning (Acts 14:5).
  • In Lystra, Paul was actually stoned and left for dead, but God miraculously healed him (Acts 14:19). Through all these, God delivered him.

It must be noted that in those specific cases, it wasn’t God’s will to keep him from those persecutions. Instead, God gave him grace to endure them, and it’s often similar for us. There are many things that God keeps us from. As in the story of Job, there are many ways that Satan desires to attack us, but God says, “No!” and sets the limits. He says to the tempter, “You can only go this far.” God knows what we can bear and what we can’t. He also knows what trials we need to experience to know and glorify him more. Trials are part of the Lord’s sanctifying process in our lives, and we must humbly accept them (cf. Rom 5:3-4). Those who are godly examples typically have been through various trials that God used to build them up and help them to know Christ more.

Paul willingly accepted these trials without being angry at God or others. How do you respond when you go through trials? Do they draw you closer to God or away from him?

If we are going to stand in terrible times, we must not only remember the faithful, we must walk close beside them in order to imitate them. We must step in the same steps that they did, as we follow the Lord.

Application Question: Which characteristics of the faithful stood out to you most and why? What godly examples have made the most impact on your life? In what ways have you followed their steps?

To Stand Firm in Difficult Times, We Must Expect Persecution

Now in fact all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But evil people and charlatans will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived themselves.

2 Timothy 3:12-13

Interpretation Question: What types of sufferings will godly believers experience?

Paul not only shares his experience of persecutions, but warns Timothy that everyone living a godly life will experience them (v. 12). These persecutions come from outside the church as seen through Paul’s experiences in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra, but they also come from inside the church. This is implied by Paul’s reference to evil-doers and impostors going from bad to worse, immediately after mentioning his persecutions (v. 13). People in the church attacked Paul. In fact, 2 Corinthians is essentially a defense of his apostleship to a church he founded. Similarly, Christ was criticized (and killed) by the religious establishment of his day, and we’ll experience this in the contemporary church as well. There will always be people in the church without true faith who oppose the truth (2 Tim 3:5-9).

Not only will there be persecution from without and from within, but also spiritual warfare. We must remember that Job’s trials were attacks from Satan which came simply because he was righteous (Job 1:8-9, 2:3-4). He suffered financial loss, family loss, and physical suffering, which were all demonic in origin. Let us consider Paul’s words again, “all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (v. 12).

Interpretation Question: Why will believers be persecuted and what causes this animosity?

In short, John 3:19-20 says:

Now this is the basis for judging: that the light has come into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed.

MacDonald explains it this way:

The reason for this persecution is simple. A godly life exposes the wickedness of others. People do not like to be thus exposed. Instead of repenting of their ungodliness and turning to Christ, they seek to destroy the one who has shown them up for what they really are. It is totally irrational behavior, of course, but that is characteristic of fallen man.4

Calvin adds: “they who wish to be exempt from persecutions must necessarily renounce Christ.”5

Timothy needed to hear this, and we need to hear it as well: If we are going to stand in this evil age, we should expect persecution. It is coming, and it will only get worse, as we get closer to Christ’s return (cf. Matt 24). This doesn’t mean that we will be beaten, stoned, and crucified. It may be as simple as being thought strange or hated for our belief system (cf. 1 Peter 4:3-4). We must expect it, so we won’t become disillusioned and fall away (cf. Matt 13:20-21).

Application Question: In what ways is Christian persecution growing in the world and why is it growing?

To Stand Firm in Difficult Times, We Must Continue in God’s Word

You, however, must continue in the things you have learned and are confident about. You know who taught you and how from infancy you have known the holy writings…

2 Timothy 3:14-15a

Paul calls Timothy to “continue” in what he had “learned” and become confident about, because he knew “who” taught him (v. 14). The word “continue” can also be translated “abide.”6 Timothy needed to make his home in Scripture to stand firm. As mentioned, “who” is plural; it probably refers not only to Paul (v. 14) but also to Timothy’s mother and grandmother who are mentioned in 2 Timothy 1:5. They were believers who taught Timothy the Holy Scriptures from infancy (v. 15). “Holy writings” can literally be translated “The sacred letters.” This might suggest that Timothy learned the Hebrew alphabet through studying the Old Testament.7

As a side application, this is important for Christian parents to consider. The word for “infancy” literally refers to a “newborn child.”8 Parents should read the Bible to their children from birth. They may not be able to fully grasp it yet, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t hear it. Right after birth, parents should begin to saturate their infants with Scripture. Throughout early childhood, children are like sponges. It is then that they can most easily pick up languages and memorize things; it often becomes harder as they get older. Therefore, Christian parents should saturate those early years with reading God’s Word to them and helping them memorize it. When they are fed God’s Word as children, it will be easier for them to continue in it as they get older. Just like learning a language, it won’t be foreign to them. The Word will be their native tongue.

With that said, Timothy needed to continue in what he had learned from infancy if he was going to stand firm in terrible times, and this is true for us as well. God’s primary way to make us holy, encourage us when we are down, and protect us is through God’s Word. It both makes us wise for salvation and trains us for every good work (2 Tim 3:15-17).

After Paul warned the Ephesian elders of these difficult times and how many of them would fall away into cults and become false teachers, he said this in Acts 20:32: “And now I entrust you to God and to the message of his grace. This message is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” It was the Word of God’s grace that would make them strong during those difficult times.

The Psalmist said, “In my heart I store up your words, so I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). Christ said, “Set them apart in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Apart from daily continuing in God’s Word, we won’t be able to stand in terrible times. Evil character will replace godly character; we’ll slip further and further away from the truth, and take others with us.

Application Question: How can we continue in God’s Word?

  1. We must believe it. Paul said Timothy had become convinced of it (v. 14). Many don’t believe it. They don’t believe in creationism. They don’t believe what the Bible teaches about practicing abstinence before marriage. They don’t believe what the Bible says about homosexuality. They don’t believe Scripture is inerrant, as it proclaims (John 17:17, Ps 19:7). We must be convinced as Paul and Timothy were.
  2. We must read it daily.
  3. We must meditate on it throughout the day (Ps 1:2-3).
  4. We must memorize it, so we can recall it when tempted or discouraged (Ps 119:11).
  5. We must obey it, even when we don’t feel like it (John 14:15).
  6. We must teach it, so we can better hide it in our hearts and also protect others (Matt 28:19-20).

Apart from continuing in God’s Word, we won’t stand in difficult times. Our house will be built on the sand of the world, and it will be destroyed when the storm comes (Matt 7:24-27). Are you building on the rock of God’s Word? Any other foundation won’t last.

Application Question: What are some major threats to Christians continuing in God’s Word? What disciplines have you found helpful in studying the Bible?

Conclusion

How can we stand firm in difficult times, especially those within the church (cf. 2 Tim 3:1-9)?

  1. To Stand Firm in Difficult Times, We Must Remember the Faithful
  2. To Stand Firm in Difficult Times, We Must Follow the Faithful
  3. To Stand Firm in Difficult Times, We Must Expect Persecution
  4. To Stand Firm in Difficult Times, We Must Continue in God’s Word

Copyright © 2017, 2018 (2nd Edition) Gregory Brown

Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the NET Bible ® copyright © 1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Holy Bible, New International Version ®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NASB) are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, and 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

Scripture quotations marked (KJV) are from the King James Version of the Bible.

All emphases in Scripture quotations and commentary have been added.

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1 Teacher’s Outline and Study Bible - Commentary - Teacher’s Outline and Study Bible – 2 Timothy: The Teacher’s Outline and Study Bible

2 Stott, J. R. W. (1973). Guard the Gospel the message of 2 Timothy (p. 93). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (p. 125). Chicago: Moody Press.

4 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believers Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2122). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

5 Accessed 11/26/2016, from https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-16-spiritual-faithfulness-2-timothy-310-15

6 Guzik, D. (2013). 2 Timothy (2 Ti 3:13–15). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.

7 Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 2, p. 252). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

8 Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W., Jr. (1996). Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Vol. 2, p. 48). Nashville, TN: T. Nelson.

Related Topics: Christian Life, Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Suffering, Trials, Persecution

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