“ALL WHO DESIRE TO LIVE A GODLY LIFE IN CHRIST SHALL…” II TIMOTHY 3:12 PART 2
Dear Reader, (please remember to look up all Bible references and read them in their full context.)
Some months ago I began a study of persecution as presented in the holy scriptures and, admittedly, as a Christian, I focused on the New Testament. However, a study of the Old Testament supports and suggests the same themes. Jesus said that the servant is not above his master. He taught, “I have suffered persecution, so shall you.” Why would his followers face persecution? He answers that very question. In John 15:18-23. In these verses, Jesus gets quite specific with his answers. Our Lord says you will suffer many forms of opposition just like He faced because 1.) You are not of this world (v19).; 2.)”they” do not know His name nor the One that sent Him( v21). and 3.) since the Messiah has come in fulfillment of prophecy and opened this age of gospel and grace, they have no excuse for their sin. (v22) Just to be clear. Jesus bore a cross and its burden for us that we could not bear, but we each have a cross of service and duty to bear when we deny self and follow him. (Matt.10:38;16:24;Luke14:27;Acts14:22;IThess.3:3)
Now, to be sure, Jesus was talking directly to his disciples who would be preaching and continuing his ministry under a specific set of circumstances in their own time. However, Paul, working among the gentiles, a few years later would repeat the same truth in II Timothy 3:12 where we have these words recorded, “All who actively lay of the hold of life in Christ will be the recipient of a continued, focused opposition.” That is my free translation. Paul was facing all kinds of threats, mistreatment, misrepresentation, and ridicule. He Also faced imprisonment, torture, and assassination attempts. All these forms of opposition, from ridicule and insult to torture and imprisonment, fulfill the Greek verb form used by Paul in II Timothy 3:12 which is most often translated “suffer persecution”.
My premise is that the term “persecution” does not deliver the meaning of what our Lord Jesus neither Paul meant to say for the modern mind. Especially, for those of us who live in relative safety. Many Christians tend to think of persecution only in more extreme terms of imprisonment, torture, and death. Then, if I am not being tortured or threatened with death, many believers think, I am not facing “persecution”. This misunderstanding negatively affects the believer’s approach to the hard work of discipleship and their expectations regarding the reality of trials and difficulties from which we are to learn and for which we are also to give thanks.
Let’s take a closer look at that same Greek verb form used by Paul in II Tim.3:12 which is translated “suffer persecution”.(see KJV, NIV, ESV, NASB) The Greek verb form used in its English transliteration is “dioko”. There are numerous places where it is translated simply “to follow” or “pursue” in the New Testament. It carries the meaning “to pursue with continued focus or to press toward some object”. It is the type of pursuit and following after that should animate our commitment to discipleship. When this verb form is used, we must rely upon the context to identify the object of the pursuit and the subject that is acting out the pursuit. Read the Contemporary English Version for a more accurate rendering of our focus verse.
So let’s take a look at a few other places where this verb form is employed. See if you can identify who is doing the action and what the goal/subject of that action is?
First. The same word is used by Paul In I Corinthians 14:1a where it is translated this way: “…follow after charity/love…”. It is “follow after”. We could say “pursue” or “make it a continued focused priority” in modern-day parlance. Who is doing the action here? Answer: Followers of Jesus Christ. What is being pursued? Answer: Serving in love. It is commanded as a part of pursuing a godly life in Jesus Christ.
Turn to Philippians 3:12 in your Bible. Here Paul says he pursues and “follows after” Christ, but “not as one who has already attained”. Who is doing the action here? Answer: Paul. What is being pursued? Answer: A full life filled with all that Christ has provided. (read vv.7-14) Again, just two verses later in v 14, Paul says “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus”. Again, Paul is the actor. The goal is for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Notice the verb form translated “press toward” is the same verb form used in II Tim. 3:12 which is usually rendered “suffer persecution”.
What I hope you are seeing here is that the verb form does not mean persecuted in these verses nor in II Tim3:12. It only means to “pursue an object with intentional focus”. There are more than 40 other scriptures that employ this verb form in the New Testament which you can study. But, for our study today, let’s look at one more.
In I Thessalonians 5:15, Paul writes, “..see that none of you render evil to any man, but follow after that which is good…”. “Follow after” is the same Greek verb form. Again, who is being called upon to perform the action in this verse? Answer: Every believer. And, what is the goal being pursued? Answer? To do that which is good and to not respond to evil with evil.
I hope are you getting the picture? The verb form is helpfully descriptive in its emphasis on the pursuit , focus, and intent, but the goal or the subject being pursued has to be provided from the context. Both Paul In II Timothy 3:12 and Jesus in John’s gospel use this Greek verb form “follow after” to teach us that the godly will be opposed by those who love this world and do not know God. The opposition will “follow after” or pursue you as a result of your commitment to living a righteous life in Jesus Christ. It is sort of a natural, built-in reaction when “the light shines in the darkness”.
So, the verb form in II Tim 3:12 says the believer, seeking to live for Jesus wholeheartedly as Paul did and just as Jesus obeyed God, the Father, can expect continual eruptions of opposition and difficulties. What can it look like? There are myriad everyday examples. The days of our lives are riddled with them. Let’s consider just a few.
A young boy decides not to attend a party where he knows there will drinking and behaviors that would not please his Lord. He is made fun of and ridiculed by some of the guys when he tells them why.
A girl refuses to participate at school in an event that she knows will hurt the feelings of another student who is not popular. As a matter of fact, she even begins to befriend that same student to share the love of Christ. She loses a couple of friends and has to eat lunch alone. It hurts.
A man misses a promotion on the job which he deserved because he did not drink with the guys after work nor participate in their crude joking and behaviors. It costs. A college professor is continually overlooked for advancement in her department because she believes the Bible is historically reliable. A Christian wedding cake maker is sued in court and slandered in the media. He spends years of his life defending his rights because he saw his business as an expression of his faith in Jesus. Every Christian should see their business/work life in the same light. It costs.
Every time we choose to love God first and to act in faith instead of following the world/crowd; everytime we make the righteous choice; when we actively share our faith; and if our life is purposefully designed today to live for God, we will face episodes of pushback by the world because, as our Lord said, “they do not know my name or the One that sent me”.
How do we respond? Do we hide and make every effort to appease? Do we throw in the towel? When we face this pushback which can bring hurt, isolation, even death, and imprisonment, we find explicit instructions in the Bible. We rejoice that we are able to suffer along with Him who suffered for us. Listen to I Peter 4:13. “But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”.
This is why it so important that we learn this lesson. The importance that hardships and the rigors of true discipleship cannot be learned if we design our life to avoid discomfort and to maximize our personal pleasures. That is the Madison Ave version of the life. We don’t go looking for this pushback either or work to manufacture them.
I want to caution you at this point. Not all difficulties, hardships, trials, and sufferings fall into any category of persecution. But, difficulties, hardships, and sufferings that we call persecution to arise because of living out the hard work of “agape” love, making the righteous choices to please God and advance the “great commission” in our daily walk. It is a life we must get prepared to live out fully. That is what Jesus meant when he said: “count the costs”.
Remember the four soils? The seed that falls on good soil survives and endures doing the work to which we are called. We will talk more about that work and endurance in later blog posts.
Blessings to you in Christ.
Thank you for stopping here. Feel free to contact me with specific comments/questions about our shared life in Christ or these blog messages. contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org