I’ve never known what to make of 2 Timothy 3:12-13 which reads:
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. (ESV)
In a very matter of fact way, Paul tells Timothy that those who follow Christ will experience persecution. A part of me wonders if my lack of being persecuted means I am not living godly enough. Another part of me wonders if I experience persecution but just don’t recognize it.
What does it mean to be persecuted because of righteousness? For many around the world it means imprisonment or death on account of their commitment to their faith. For us in America, perhaps it takes gentler forms. I remember feeling much more persecuted in high school than I do now because in high school my decisions for righteousness seemed more out-of-place. As someone who now works in a church in the South, I don’t know that I experience a great deal of persecution.
Our passage for today raises another question: how should we respond to persecution? Many people become enraged and begin railing about rights and equality. However, if we were to expect and accept persecution, then perhaps we would welcome it as we see how it helps to grow and refine our faith. As we read in James 1:2-4:
2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
We should never forget that the message of the Gospel runs counter to the way of the world. It is natural for people to react negatively to the ideas of the Christian faith. Living as a follower of Christ is counter-cultural. Proclaiming our belief that all people need God and cannot save themselves is shocking to many people. Telling people that there is a need for them to be saved is offensive to many people. No one wants to be told they are wrong. In fact, it is a testament to the work of God and the Holy Spirit that people come to faith at all.
We are called to be in the world but not of the world. It is likely there are areas in our lives where we would do well to be bolder in our faith. Perhaps it would bring about some form of persecution. It’s not that we should pursue persecution with some type of martyr’s complex, but we should be willing to experience it if it means advancing the Gospel and following the will of God.
Spend some time today asking yourself if there are areas of your life where you downplay your faith in order to make your life more convenient or comfortable. Are there people who you have hidden your faith from? Do you hold back on expressing your faith because you fear what others may think or do? Is your life being lived in and of the world so that you can blend in or are you in the world as a light for Christ? We must never let our fears and our insecurity override our faithfulness to sharing God’s word through our words and our deeds. Ask God to reveal areas in your life where you can grow in faithfulness.
I would also ask that you spend time praying today for those who experience intense persecution everyday. Voice of the Martyrs is a great website resource for you to use to learn more about the persecuted church of today.