“All who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” – 2 Timothy 3:12
The apostle Paul lowered his eyes as the words came rolling off his tongue. After a few moments, the amanuensis lowered his pen and scroll, waiting in silence. Apart from the crackling of the fire, Paul’s prison cell was eerily quiet. For some time, he remained in silent contemplation, occasionally glancing out of the window into the cloudless night sky.
For Paul, these words were not mere suggestions or passing remarks. He knew the reality which they signified all too well. For he had suffered much for the sake of Christ – sleepless nights, shipwrecks, famine, persecution… but that was for another letter. More regrettably, he had also been the cause of much suffering. He knew what “a godly life in Christ Jesus” looked like, not simply from his experiences as a Christ-follower, but also from his experiences as a persecutor of Christ-followers. This too had been a kind of suffering; however, it was a suffering which had resulted from his own inward, hell-bent madness.
The room remained silent. Having just laid out the fiery future of all Christians this side of heaven, a strew of memories passed before his mind’s eye. He remembered Stephen, that first martyr who, with an otherworldly boldness, had gazed upward to heaven and cried out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” (Acts 7:54-60). He remembered the terrified cries of children as they watched their parents being dragged away to prison (Acts 8:3). He remembered carrying letters of condemnation to those near and far, letters bearing undeniable witness to this reality: “All who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
After some time, Paul regained focus and continued speaking: “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you, and you know that from infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).
Wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
This is the gospel message, the euangelion (Gk. ‘good news’), which had transformed Paul’s entire life, including his view and experience of suffering. What he once viewed as the meaningless sufferings of the confused, he now saw as necessary birth bangs of a new world, the very means by which this present creation would be set free from its bondage to decay (Rom. 8:18-22).
In the light of his confrontation with the risen Lord Jesus, Paul could no longer view the suffering of his followers as a sign of folly or weakness. How could he? After all, the all-powerful Lord who confronted him on the road to Damascus had himself endured the worst form of punishment in the Roman world: crucifixion. Furthermore, and as Paul would later understand, Christ had endured far more than Roman hammers and Jewish mockery upon the cross; he had endured the very wrath of God against sin (Rom. 8:3-4).
The Great Reversal
For Paul, this tragic moment in human history – Christ the Lord upon the tree – had proven to be the very moment in which the God of Israel, the Creator himself, would reveal his eternal and unchangeable love to a sinful, dying, and hell-bent world. What a paradox! What reversal of wisdom! What divine love!
All of this flowed through Paul’s mind as he finished verbalizing his second letter to Timothy. He knew that he himself was about to follow in Christ’s footsteps. “The time of my departure is close,” he said. And then, with eyes wet from the tears of a deep and abiding joy, he asked his assistant to write one more thing.
“The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you all.”