2 Timothy 1:7, 11-12

. . . for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.

I.

There are various kinds of suffering.

There is innocent suffering. Just this week I have interfaced with many people experiencing innocent suffering.

There is a friend just diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the deadliest of them all. Friday night, he described to me his anxiety, his fears in the face of medical treatments. He knows they will be both painful and futile, as he even now describes the feeling of strength being stripped from his body.

Another is a prominent and successful businessman I visited on Thursday night at Hoag. How he wants to come back with his wife to their seats in the balcony, to see the refurbished sanctuary, to worship the Lord. His chemotherapy has stripped him of his capacity to walk and he lies there, deepening in his faith as he faces medically life-changing circumstances. I prayed for him, and he insisted on praying for me.

Wednesday of this week, we laid to rest another one of our long-term members in this week in which we honor our veterans. My prayers of committal were followed by the flag ceremony and the sounding of “Taps” for a covenant brother who had suffered so much. His family now suffers his loss.

Who of us is not touched by innocent suffering?

Then there is the suffering we bring on ourselves.

Anne and I were deeply moved by the movie Ray. We will probably never forget the poignancy of that early scene in which he was traumatized by the horrifying accidental death of his brother and then, soon after, debilitated by his childhood onset of blindness. How he and his mother struggled with innocent suffering, the observance of which can’t help but break your heart.

Then you observe the odyssey of little “Ray Charles” Robinson as he discovers his gift for music and begins to feel and hear his way into life, trying to hide his deepening addiction to drugs and promiscuous sexual activities on the road, while maintaining a stable family life at home. For a while, he pulled it off with minimal side effects to himself, insensitive to the heartbreak he was bringing to others. Finally, his world tumbled in on itself. No longer could he live in denial. It does happen to all of us. The consequences of his innocent suffering, for which he bore no responsibility, began to be eclipsed by the consequences of the suffering he brought on himself and others. He had to take action.

It is amazing how the things I do and the attitudes I express can not only hurt others but, ultimately, circle around and clobber me–the suffering I have brought on myself that I justly deserve.

There is also voluntary exposure to suffering.

When a Christopher Reeve becomes a horseman, he knows there is a potential of injury, but he calculates the percentages, as does everyone who takes up that hobby, measuring the pluses of its attractiveness against the downside of life-altering injury.

Every athlete exposes oneself voluntarily to tremendous sacrifices, pain, even suffering, for the thrill of entering the competition and the possibility of being a winner.

Paula Radcliffe carries the hopes of her nation with her to the Olympics in Athens, only to falter twice in front of the whole world. But she continues on, and just, last Sunday, won the New York City Marathon.

Vanderlei Lima went to Athens to do what no other Brazilian had ever done–win a medal in the Olympic Marathon. This race was special. The runners would retrace the 2,500-year-old route of Phidipedes, the original marathoner. When Lima neared the last leg of the race, he was in first place. Throngs of flag-waving spectators cheered him on. It was one of those moments when people of various backgrounds put their differences aside. The joyful celebration turned to bewilderment, however, when an eccentric spectator, a defrocked Irish priest wearing a red, white and green kilt, bolted from the crowd and tackled him. There was no injury, but the delay dashed Lima’s hopes of the gold medal, as in the ensuing chaos he lost twenty minutes, and two other runners sped by him to win the gold and the silver. This world-class athlete expressed this reaction: “I’m not going to cry forever about the incident, although it broke my concentration. But I managed to finish, and the bronze medal, in such a difficult marathon, is also a great achievement.”

One can live a self-protected existence, merely surviving at life, refusing to take any risks. But one who tackles life with exuberance exposes oneself to the potential of physical and emotional suffering. As persons of all walks of life know, the very “entering of the arena” exposes one to the possibility of defeat, suffering, misunderstanding and pain.

There’s a fourth kind of suffering. It is our theme of today. It is innocent voluntary suffering for Jesus Christ.

Paul now is writing a second letter to his young, pastor friend, Timothy, who accompanied him in many of his travels and now was pastoring the church in Ephesus. Both Paul and Timothy were experiencing suffering.

We don’t know the full extent of that which was facing Timothy. We do know that pastoring a church is difficult at any time. For the pastor at Ephesus, one of the great cities of the first-century Roman era, it was no easy task to deal with the multi-cultural dynamics of Greek, Roman and Hebrew culture with the complexity of religious, political and social customs, which would present challenges to the most sophisticated of persons. Here was a naturally-timid, young pastor, immersed not only in the cultural diversity of that great port city, but also having to deal with the horrendous challenges of a radical new faith that brought together into one church, as brothers and sisters and equals before Jesus Christ, Jews, Gentiles, male and female, slaves and masters. His plate was full, his stomach churning, as he had taken on more than one person could possibly handle.

As for Paul, he was a rugged veteran of such voluntary sufferings. Decades before, he had been the persecutor, bringing suffering and even martyrdom to fellow Jews who had repented of sin and put their trust in Jesus Christ as the Messiah. When he came to faith on the road to Damascus, the tables turned. He voluntarily became the brunt of such persecutions. In the eleventh chapter of his second letter to the church at Corinth, he describes his imprisonments, countless floggings, stonings, shipwrecks, hunger, thirst, cold, heat, sleeplessness, nakedness and multiple near-death experiences, all entered into voluntarily for the sake of Jesus Christ. Now he is in prison in Rome, with the ominous specter of his own future martyrdom weighing heavily on him.

In this context, he addresses, as the mentor to young Timothy and a mentor to you and me today, that there is a dimension of voluntary suffering for those who are followers of Jesus and that God gives His strength in that suffering.

II.

Today’s passage and sermon is a repudiation of the prosperity Gospel!

Too often, we provide cosmetic surgery to historic Christian faith, selling Jesus as the bringer of financial, physical and emotional success. Too often, we forget that there is such a thing as voluntary suffering for the sake of Jesus Christ.

When we do pause momentarily to acknowledge that there is such suffering, our minds go to martyrs of the past and contemporary Christians in persecution-infused settings such as China, the Sudan, India, and the Islamic world. Yesterday, two more Christian churches were blown up by terrorists in Iraq.

We forget that right here in the Harbor area one pays the price to be a genuine, authentic disciple of Jesus Christ.

In fact, I go so far as to say that if there is not some impact of voluntary suffering in your life brought about by your faith in Jesus Christ, check out the authenticity of that faith! I am not suggesting that any of us in this sanctuary are risking our very lives for faith in Jesus Christ. We are not being beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, imprisoned, are not thirsty or hungry for our faith. Our sufferings are much more subtle.

Tuesday morning, I was sitting at home, licking my wounds after reading the latest edition of the Daily Pilot, feeling misunderstood by those who are dedicated to not allowing St. Andrew’s to have a youth and family center. I read the first chapter of 2 Timothy and realized this kind of misunderstanding and hurt simply comes with the territory. I began to look back on my own life, one that has been very blessed in so many ways, and yet I realized that from my earliest childhood, as a follower of Jesus in a family of Christians, I had to pay a price.

I remember being a minority of one in my class as an evangelical Protestant Christian, going through grade school and junior high in Arlington, Massachusetts. There was one other Protestant girl in my class. She went to the liberal Unitarian church. She and I were the only two who, on Ash Wednesday, didn’t have ashes on our foreheads. I remember feeling so “different.”

This week I thought back to some of the financial struggles my parents had as I was growing up. Dad pastored a small church, directed a Saturday night rally for an organization called “Youth for Christ,” and was on the radio every morning, six days a week, preaching and teaching the Bible. There never was enough money to support these ministries. Dad’s salary was modest and often delayed.

I remember the moral pressures on me as I moved into my teenage years. Yes, there was alcohol abuse, premarital sex and all kinds of psychic brutality practiced by the kids against each other, practices and attitudes so alien to genuine Christian faith.

And I knew what it was to be a pastor’s kid, constantly teased and pressured. It is no surprise why so many pastor’s kids rebel. All the pressure is there to do that.

Then there came the intellectual questions. At this time, we moved from New England to the Chicago area. In my mid-teens, I learned what it was to think, to doubt, to question whether or not there was a God, whether Jesus Christ was God come in human form to die for the sins of the world. Those high school and college years were, in many ways, good years because I was in a Christian high school and college and had friends of common faith, as distinct from my school days in New England. But my education exposed me to a bigger world and intellectual challenges to that faith.

Even in seminary there were those challenges of the historic, orthodox understanding of the Christian faith. I remember many an exam in which I gave the answer the professor was looking for, and then would say that I myself disagreed with this answer. I was not prepared to accept the theologically liberal presuppositions about biblical authority, buying into the novelty of “situational ethics,” the “New Morality” and the “God is dead” movements of the 1960s and the early 1970s. Later, I quickly passed three of my four qualifying exams on my doctorate but twice did not pass the theology and ethics exam. Finally, on the third try, they reluctantly passed me with the notation that “Huffman has each time shown a knowledge of historic theology and ethics, but seems unwilling to embrace more contemporary understandings of both.”

This week, I reviewed other aspects of the decades of my life leading up the present time to be a sincere follower of Jesus Christ, not just a nominal Christian. One does pay a price. One is called to integrity when it is easy to cut corners. One is called to address the tough issues on a day when it would be easier to skirt around them.

As blessed as I have been in all of the churches I have served, I have always had to pastor in communities where someone else is always pastoring a bigger and more popular church than the one I served.

In mid-stream of life, I had to face the heart-wrenching torture of watching my own college-age daughter fight cancer for nineteen months in what was a losing battle. I experienced the ripping and tearing effect that had on the fabric of our family life and its impact on my wife and our other two daughters. There were those who thought they had all the answers and declared that Suzanne would be healed if only Anne and I had enough faith and there was no unconfessed sin in our life.

Every year, for the last 38 since I have been a senior minister of a church, I have had to deal with the year-end orgy of trying to help the congregations I have served end the year in the black, with all local and world commitments met, and for the next year to budget in a way that is not so small as to lack faith and not so large as to be foolhardy and presumptuous of God. Please know there is nothing I hate more than sweating out the last two months of the year, almost having to beg people to help.

Then there is the problem of having to deal with the denomination I love that has superb confessional statements — yet having to constantly struggle to hold the line against those who would lead us to depart from the doctrines and the ethical standards clearly taught in the Bible.

Add to that the worship wars between those who love traditional music and those attuned to a more contemporary approach. Trying to meet the expectations and tastes of all is nearly impossible.

My most recent struggles come now at the end of a heated election season. I never told you for whom you should vote, nor did I say for whom I would vote. I declared clearly that, as far as I understood, God was neither Republican nor Democrat. The issues raised were complex and one should study them, pray for wisdom and then vote one’s conscience. Now I find it painful to listen to the post-election dialogue that talks in derogatory terms about those who voted with moral issues being a significant factor. I find it painful to have blanket statements made against all of us who see ourselves as “Evangelicals,” accusing us of being anti-scientific, bigoted, homophobic, ignorant idealogues. I guess my three graduate degrees and commitment to lifelong learning mean nothing to those that want to belittle those of us who have a biblical faith and are committed to the historic ethical teachings of the Scriptures.

I linger in this autobiographical way to simply say that this is my stuff. You have yours. And being a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ brings with it the misunderstandings and sufferings that may not be equal to martyrdom, but certainly can cause us to need the encouragement of the Holy Spirit and the kind of mentoring that Paul gave to his young colleague, who faced many of the issues I have just described.

Our new parents take vows of faithfulness to Jesus Christ and vows to raise these little ones within the community of the church, to pray for them and encourage them so that someday they will confirm the vows taken for them in their baptism. This is the world in which you are raising these little ones, a world of temptations and pressures and even hostility to anything that goes beyond a politically correct expression of spirituality. Mention heaven, and people cheer. Mention hell, and they boo. Declare that all religious roads lead in the same direction, and the culture affirms you for your breadth and sophistication. Quote Jesus who says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me,” and they sneer at such narrow-mindedness, bigotry and insensitivity to present-day culture.

What Paul has to say to Timothy in the first century applies every bit as much to you and me today.

III.

In the time we have left, let’s explore what Paul shares as practical encouragements for strength in our voluntary suffering.

First, we see the promise of life that is in Jesus Christ.

Paul begins by declaring that he is an apostle of Jesus Christ, writing to his beloved child in the faith, Timothy. He writes in 2 Timothy 1:11: “For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do.” All of this high calling which is his in Jesus Christ causes him to open his letter with these words: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:1). We dare not minimize that promise of life.

There was a TV commercial offering a particular credit card as the key that can open the door to the good life. The phrase that flashed across the screen was, “Success is the freedom to live your life the way you want to,” and the scene shifted to a couple using their credit card in a Swiss resort. Paul was greatly traveled, although his accommodations were usually at the expense of the government in prisons. His definition of success was more like, “Success is to live your life the way God wants you to.”

A word to you parents who took the baptismal vows this morning: These will not be easy to fulfill. But, with God’s help, you can! You can ease off, go native, live nominal Christian lives, showing up on Christmas Eve and Easter, forgetting the seriousness of the vows you have taken to raise your children up within the community of faith in the church. It would be an easier life to neglect these vows. But, in the process, you lose the privilege of being able to take hold of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, which is available to you now. And, to your children, it can be the ultimate legacy that you give them.

Second, we see the spirit of thankfulness for the privilege of serving God with a clear conscience.

Paul writes, “I am grateful to God–whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did–when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy” (2 Timothy 1:3-4).

There is a wonderful continuity that we see as Paul writes to Timothy. This is not a letter written in a first-century vacuum. It is a letter steeped in over 2,000 years of Old Testament history, of men and women who have loved the Lord, served the Lord, suffered for the Lord. And it anticipates those of us in the next 2,000 years who will be part of the family of God. It is so much easier to look backward than to look forward, but both are important to enable us to live creatively in the now and in the spirit of thanksgiving.

Read Hebrews 11 if you want to discover the specific names of some of those ancestors in the faith for whom we can be grateful to God. These were people who never did fully see the promises of God in their time and suffered greatly for their faith. We are enriched with their heritage. The writer of Hebrews concludes his description of the challenges and sufferings through which they went with words of encouragement to us as he writes in Hebrews 12:1-2: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Third, we see the importance of family.

Paul writes: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you” (2 Timothy 1:5).

How grateful I am for a family heritage in the faith!

Thank God that God calls to himself those who have no family history of faith. They are first-generation followers of Jesus. Their family in the faith is the church. That’s why the church is so important.

We don’t know much about Timothy’s father. Apparently he was a Gentile, not as familiar with the biblical teachings. This is speculation on our part about him. But we do know that Timothy had a godly mother by the name of Eunice and a godly grandmother by the name of Lois, who nurtured him in his faith.

We see here an encouragement to be nurturers of our children and our grandchildren. Those times that you take care of your grandchildren are wonderful opportunities to not only play games with them, teach them arts and crafts, take them on fun outings, but to also include teachings about Jesus, with prayers and verbal and non-verbal witnesses to your faith. I am astounded at how much energy and time we give to getting our children to dancing lessons, to soccer games, to a whole host of cultural athletic and academic activities. How often they take precedence over the things of the faith, both in terms of the opportunities available in the church and also intentional teaching on our part, through prayer, Bible reading and sharing our own personal faith in Jesus Christ in age-appropriate manners. Paul built on the heritage given by Lois and Eunice as he communicates with Timothy.

Fourth, we see encouragement to fan the flame of faith.

Paul writes: “For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:6-7).

This is a graphic illustration he uses of rekindling. It literally means to “fan the flame” of the gift of faith.

I have always loved to sit around the campfire with a group of friends. I tend to be the one who goes and gets an extra log to keep the fire burning. I love to sit with a stick, poking at the fire, keeping it vital and alive.

We have a family room with a very large fireplace. We have already had a number of fires in the last month. I find myself almost unconsciously occasionally walking across the room, taking a poker and stirring up the fire to enhance the flames or throwing on another piece of wood. That’s what we need to do to enhance our faith. That’s what the church is all about. That’s why we have preaching. That’s why we have teaching. That’s why we have covenant groups. That’s why we have wonderful occasions like our “Adventure In Faith.”

Let me assure you parents: if you do not continually fan the flame of your own personal relationship with the Lord and the responsibilities you have assumed with regard to their spiritual nurture, years will fly by before you realize it and you will discover their singular lack of interest in the things of God. If they have not seen that interest in your life, they will grow up indifferent unless God brings some other influences along to do the fanning of the flame that was your responsibility from Day One.

Some years ago, a very prominent leader in the Orange County business community saw me at a social event and said, “John, I’d like to have you get my son active in your church so he can find a really wonderful Christian wife. He is now in his late twenties and hasn’t been to church in years. I was privileged to be raised in a Presbyterian church by ‘very religious parents.’ My son needs that influence in his life.” I looked this prominent businessman in the eyes and said, “Where have you been attending church the last 30 years?” He blushed and admitted, “Nowhere.” My response was, “I invite you back to the Lord and His church. What you will do with your actions and life will say a lot more to your son than imploring the preacher to drag him in.”

Apparently he didn’t like that deal. I have never seen him at church, and he has never brought the topic up again, although we have been together on numerous occasions.

Fifth, we see an exhortation to not be ashamed of our sufferings for the Lord.

At this point, Paul writes: “Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace” (2 Timothy 1:8-9).

It is important that we understand the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is important that we understand that God has given us His salvation.

I am the first person to be ashamed if I’m walking down the street and I see an unkempt person with a sandwich board that has “John 3:16” written on it and comes up with a tract and accosts people in the street, saying, “Are you saved, brother?” That’s embarrassing to me.

But I have to be honest to unpack my own resistance to the culturally unpalatable way in which that person is going around sharing his faith, from the reality of the truth that is there in his question. Although there are better ways to share the faith than buttonholing, in the final analysis, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the statement of God’s Good News, His salvation to free men and women from the bondage of sin and to offer new life, God-quality life in this life, and release from the specter of hell in the life to come, exchanging it for the promise of heaven–eternity in the presence of God. So truly, the most important question we can raise is, “Are you saved, brother?” but doing it in ways that connect culturally with our children, with our friends, with those persons with whom we engage in work and in our social lives.

I gave you a list of some of the sufferings I have experienced through the years. I must admit that, in the context of what others have suffered for their faith, they seem so small. But they were real to me at the time. I look back and count it a privilege to have had to stand up for what I believe and not just float through life, pushed by every contemporary movement, doctrine, cult and new-age spirituality.

Sixth, we see a call to guard the good treasure entrusted to us.

Paul writes: “Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us” (2 Timothy 1:13-14).

The church of Jesus Christ is always within one generation of dying out. It hasn’t in these 2,000 years, though crushed by persecution and hostility. The reality is that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

You and I are called to active participation in guarding this treasure. That is why Bible study is so important. We guard the Scriptures, not by putting them in a high-security museum, but by reading and studying them. We guard God’s Word by letting it guard us. Evangelist D. L. Moody once said to a young person, “This Book will keep you from sin — or sin will keep you from this Book.” It is the Holy Spirit who speaks to us through God’s Word, and the treasure of this word is worth guarding.

Seventh, we see appreciation of the “grace notes” of friendship.

One of the most devastating sufferings is to lose good friends for the sake of the Gospel. Paul had this experience. He writes:

You are aware that all who are in Asia have turned away from me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes. May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chain; when he arrived in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me–may the Lord grant that he will find mercy on that day! And you know very well how much service he rendered in Ephesus (2 Timothy 1:15-18).

Paul had been let down by these two men. If I were him, I probably would have written a little diatribe against them to Timothy. Instead of getting hooked on the negatives, he shifts gears to the positive, thanking God for Onesiphorus. Every one of us needs an Onesiphorus, a person who faithfully stands by us as a Christian brother in times of difficulty and suffering.

My good friend, Gary Demarest, refers to Onesiphorus as the “patron saint of the ministry of the laity.” He states that he is frequently asked, “What do you do if you don’t have an Onesiphorus?” His answer: “Become one!”The name Onesiphorus literally means “bringer of profit.” Identify those in your life who are bringing spiritual profit to you and thank God for them, and then ask yourself the tough question, “To whom am I bringing profit?”

Every life has its suffering, some innocent, some well-deserved. Every life worth living is willing to risk the possibility of suffering for the exuberant lifestyle that accompanies that risk. For the believer in Jesus Christ, there is the possibility, even the very privilege, of voluntary suffering for the sake of Jesus Christ. Don’t be surprised when you face it, and remember God provides the strength for you in it!

_________________

John A Huffman, Jr. is Senior Pastor of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA.

Read the other sermons in this series:

Mentored for Sound Doctrine & Godly Lifestyles (1 of 12)
Christ’s Power to Save (2 of 12)
Prayer and Worship (3 of 12)
Servant Leadership (4 of 12)
Believing the Truth (5 of 12)
Relationships (6 of 12)
Greed vs. Contentment (7 of 12)
Strength in Suffering (8 of 12)
Perseverance & Persistence (9 of 12)
Workers Pleasing to God (10 of 12)
Following the Truth (11 of 12)
What Jesus Came to Enable You to Say (12 of 12)

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