How to Endure Persecution

2 Timothy 3
10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

There is a great deal of narrative in the New Testament and Old Testament regarding persecution, hardships, and suffering. In this book that we are going through, we see language that tells of Paul’s trials and suffering. We even read, as we just did, that as followers of Jesus we should expect persecution. Now, I’ve got to say that many would pick up this book, the Bible, and read such things and say, “If that is what Christianity is all about, then no thanks!” Some would say, “You can have that, I’ll keep my life,” which is not free from suffering, but it is a life of relative ease. And really, from a strictly pragmatic view, if the focus of Christianity is on suffering, trials, and persecution then we can see how many would be turned off. And if we are honest, we can probably all admit that upon reading of great suffering in the Bible, we too can cringe and think, “Wow, is this what my life will be?”

We can think of people like Joseph in the Old Testament who was terribly mistreated by his family, by his employer, was falsely accused and imprisoned for years, and we can wonder how he endured, how he held up, and we may even wonder, was it worth it for him to be a follower of God?

We read a couple of weeks ago about Paul’s long list of trials from 2 Corinthians and asked, how could anyone endure such things? Even our Lord suffered greatly, more than anyone else as He died for our sins. All this suffering, the Bible speaks much about suffering!

I’m wondering if that gets you down. I’m wondering what you think of this. Are you fearful, wondering about what your next trial will be? Do you become anxious about the future because of verses like we read this morning that say explicitly that we should expect persecution? Is the Bible just a book about hardship?

Well, I would say that if we read the Bible and that is what we get from it, then we are missing out on the main points of it. If we read the Bible and we just get depressed over suffering that will surely come, then we need to refine our thinking. And if we view suffering or persecution as a Christian from a strictly human perspective then we have forgotten what it really means to be a follower of Christ.

This morning, though our passage is about persecution of Christians, I don’t want us to miss out on what this means for us. There are two words in this passage that if we take them out, we may be easily down and depressed over life, but with these two words we can face what may seem hard with joy, with peace, with even grand expectations of what lies ahead. We don’t want to miss these two important, key words. Do you know what these words are? Look at verse 12. The words are “in Christ.”

We see this phrase often which defines us as Christians, it is sprinkled all thoughout the New Testament. And since we encounter it so often we may be tempted to just, well, almost ignore it. But these are two powerful words, key words for us, words that describe who we now are. Who we now are makes every difference in how we not only face life but how we face difficulties in life. It makes all the difference.

One of the greatest problems we have is facing life as the world does. Facing life almost as if we are not even Christians at all. Facing life as if things happen randomly or that we are on our own, or that our own strength is all the strength we have. As Christians we can do this, we can deal with sickness, disease, broken relationships, hurtful words, financial distress, we can face these things just like our neighbor who knows nothing of God, and this is shameful. We are not like the world, for we are “in Christ.”

2 Peter 1
3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.

Matthew 11
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Philippians 4
19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Romans 8
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

John 14
27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Ephesians 1:1-15 is another place we can look to see what it means that we are “in Christ.”

We don’t live, we are not to live like the world lives, think like non-Christians think. We are not like them, we are in Christ. And as those in Christ we have access to His love and His power, we are secure in Him, we will be with Him forever, He will never leave us, never. And so when we read of persecution or we face persecution, we have to do so as those who are in Christ. This is how Paul endured, how Timothy endured, and how we can endure as well.

Now let’s take a quick look into Paul’s life and learn of his endurance in Christ. He commends Timothy with these words:

2 Timothy 3
10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness,

Then he goes on to say:

11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

Paul was very open about his persecutions. They were a part of his life. He names three particular places where he faced persecutions: Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. Timothy may have been with Paul during each of these. If not all of them, he would have heard about them. Paul met hostility just about everywhere he went. He was an outspoken preacher of the gospel and was most interested in making Christ known, and this got him into all sorts of trouble.

He said it was persecution that he endured. Persecution here is an organized effort to harass someone. It is an effort designed to oppress. Paul was persecuted by Jews and Gentiles. People knew of Paul and organized efforts to try and destroy him through physical violence, by trying to discredit his words, by trying to just make him look foolish. This was organized persecution, this was of the same quality that Jesus faced, and it is what we can expect even in our day.

Paul was not complaining, but was encouraging Timothy by the fact that he was able to endure such things. He endured and God rescued Him from them. This reminds me of the Psalmist’s words in Psalm 34.

Psalm 34
19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the Lord delivers him out of them all.

One commentator said of this verse: “The Lord ever rescues his people, frequently from death, sometimes by means of death. Either way, nothing ever separates them from his love” (Lea, T. D., & Griffin, H. P.. 1, 2 Timothy, Titus (Vol. 34, p. 231).

This is the key to suffering persecution well. If our love is for Christ, we must know we will never be without Him – whether He delivers us to live another day or whether, through death, we reach His presence. Either way we are delivered, either way we are in the Lord’s loving hands. Do you see how this changes everything about facing persecution? The Lord is always our rescuer. And so we don’t have to fear when we read verse 12: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” We don’t have to be afraid of this because we are in Christ as we face persecution. We share in His persecution and He will rescue us from it.

Listen to what Jesus said in John 15.

John 15
18 “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.

How do we face these things? As those who are in Christ or those who are not? Because persecution will happen, and it will increase in frequency most likely. How do we know?

2 Timothy
13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

There are evil people, God haters around today just like in Paul’s day, just like in Jesus’ day. There is a plan, a system that, if successful, would like to destroy every mention of Jesus’ name. This makes us the enemy of many. Our message of good news, we know it is good news, and it is good news to those who are being saved, but to the rest it is offensive. So as long as we preach it, there will be trouble. But our trouble is light compared to the eternal weight of glory, our affliction is temporary. How is this so? It is because we are “in Christ.” He is ours and we are His, and there is nothing greater than this!

If you struggle with facing persecutions, trials, suffering, then I want to urge you to spend some time focusing on who you are and all that you have as a Christian, in Christ. Read Ephesians 1, 2 Peter 1:3-4, Matthew 11:28-29, Philippians 4:19-20, Romans 8:37-39, John 14:27, and other passages that are rich regarding your position in Christ Jesus as a believer. You don’t have to be consumed with your suffering nor fear future suffering and persecution. You can instead glory in your Lord and Savior and all that you are and have in Him.

This changes how we face difficulties. We never face them alone, we always face them in Christ. We don’t have to insist on knowing all the why’s of suffering. Maybe someday we will have those answers, but for today we can trust God in them and rely on Christ through them. If persecution is to be a staple in our lives, then facing it in a godly way should be as well.

I love the story of Stephen, the first martyr of the church.

Acts 6
8 And Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people. 9 Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), and of the Cyrenians, and of the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and disputed with Stephen. 10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking. 11 Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, 13 and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, 14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” 15 And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

Stephen then went on to preach a message starting in the Old Testament and leading through the coming and death of Christ. He faithfully preached to them the gospel message, even indicating their role in the murder of Jesus. After his message we read more from Acts.

Acts 7
54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

This was severe persecution of a godly man, and what did Stephen do? What did he see in it? The glory of god, the face of Christ. Not an end, but a beginning with Christ in the heavens. Being in Christ was everything to him and sustained him this last tumultuous day even unto death!

Are you in Christ? If so, is that everything to you? Do you believe He will sustain you and keep you? If so, don’t fear persecution – live for Him.

2 Timothy 3
10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.