Remembering Jesus Christ In Our Suffering

Remembering Jesus Christ In Our Suffering

The gospel proceeds into the world through suffering, succeeds through suffering, and gives power to endure suffering. The gospel certainly will succeed, and Christ will lose none of his sheep; not a one for whom the Shepherd has died will fail to enter the sheepfold. But such certainty arises and is perfected in suffering: Christ suffered and died; the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church; and believers will choose eternal life in Christ even in the face of the threat of death for believing.

This article is part 5 in a series by Tom Nettles on Remembering Jesus Christ. (Part 1, Part 2Part 3Part 4)

Paul’s strong emphasis on the central points of Christ’s person and work is designed to elevate the thinking of Timothy above the concerns any might have for safety and acceptance in this life, if at the same time it means proving untrue to Christ. We must remember—see the eternal covenantal purpose of God as centered on Jesus Christ—so that nothing in this life can draw us away.

One specific concern that Paul has is the power of physical and political intimidation to make us forget. He already has admonished Timothy not to be “ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me his prisoner” (1:8). The “testimony of our Lord,” in light of this context could refer to the words of Jesus in Mark 8:38 where Jesus is explaining what is involved in denying oneself, or losing one’s life for the sake of Christ, in order to follow Christ. “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”

That Paul in this instance has in mind physical persecution for the gospel as the challenge to the professing Christian is clear when he states, “for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal” (9). His suffering was well-known by Timothy (3:10, 11). Paul admonished him, “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2:3).

Paul had a two-fold purpose in referring to his various sufferings for “my gospel.” One, his suffering sealed in his experience the absoluteness of the gospel. He was willing to lose all including life because of the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord for whom I have suffered the loss of all things.” He even desired to know “the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death” (Philippians 3:810). He was, in fact, at that moment contemplating that soon his life would be taken for he knew that “the time of my departure has come” (4:6). Nothing, therefore, could dissuade Paul from his clear and convinced proclamation of the finality, absoluteness, and consummate truthfulness of “Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, of a seed of David, as preached in my gospel.” He had come to believe, embrace, cast the very essence of his existence on the truth of the proposition that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). If the former enemy, willing to imprison and kill those who believed the gospel had changed so radically that he now gladly suffered imprisonment and the prospect of a martyr’s death, who could doubt the certainty of his conviction? Who, but the most irrational skeptic, could deny the truth of Paul’s message?

Second, Paul not only used his suffering to glory in the truth of the gospel, but also its power. “The word of God is not chained, imprisoned, or bound in any way” (9).

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