And we sent Timothy, our brother and God's coworker in the gospel of Christ, to establish and exhort you in your faith, that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this.
1 Thessalonians 3:2-3
“The Gospel calls us to endure what only faith in the Gospel can console.”
– Patrick Lafferty, “The Gospel according to Timothy”
Last Sunday, Patrick Lafferty spoke about fears Christian have—not the universal fears of all human beings—but the unique fears that come only to believers. The Bible repeatedly says that we, as His dear ones, are sent to testify to who Jesus is and the repentance He requires that leads to unsurpassed joy. This specific “sending” causes fears, and while these fears don’t surprise us, or God, and therefore need not be shunned, they must be uprooted by Christ in His word and in the hearts of His believers.
Believers who look like Him and talk like Him will suffer as He did. And it is they who will provide the encouragement to displace fear. When you are comforted from a Bible passage, do you realize that it is Jesus Himself comforting you—with a solace He speaks from in His own knowing heart? And when you read from the Apostle Paul or Peter and also from Corrie Ten Boom, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or Helen Roseveare, do you realize you are indirectly hearing from Jesus when they pass on His intimate comfort and power that they received from Him in their suffering?
It is a pattern God set in place when He sent His Son to die for our sins. Jesus continues this pattern for His disciples as He sends them to suffer and die. Today God continues the pattern with us as He sends all Christians into a world that will have two responses: receive Him or reject Him, and therefore, receive us, and our message in His name, or reject us.
If you didn’t catch it in the sermon text, 2 Timothy can be summarized like this:
Paul: “Timothy, I love you. I am praying for you all the time. I have given you a great gift from God, the Holy Spirit. Your calling is going to be shaming. It is going to hurt. But my joy and vindication comes in Jesus and His resurrection. So will yours!”
Paul learned this pattern from Jesus, who spoke this way to His disciples (see Matthew 10, Mark 8, and John 14-16):
Jesus: “Guys, I love you. I pray for you all the time and will never stop. I give you a great Helper and power, the Holy Spirit. Your calling is going to be shaming. It is going to hurt. Take heart, you stand loved and will one day be raised with Me before the Father.”
It’s also what God said to Jesus at His baptism, death, and resurrection:
God: “I love, love, love you, my Son. Here is an anointing by the Holy Spirit to give You power. Don’t stop praying. Your mission will hurt. You will be tested by Satan, mocked and rejected by men, then ultimately by Me. I will forsake You for the sins of the world, which You will bear. But after three days in the tomb, I will raise You to life and crown You with glory and honor, putting everything in subjection to You under Your feet. I love You and all my children You bring to me.”
For those who are in Christ, God continues this pattern:
God: “I love you. Jesus lives to intercede for you. I have poured my powerful Holy Spirit into your hearts. He brings you power and joy. I send you to make my Son known. It will hurt. It will shame. But like my Son, you are beautiful as you bring Good News to those who receive Him and are hated by those who don’t receive Him. I will love you always. Comfort one another with these truths.”
Sadly and profoundly, many today deny that God sends His children into suffering, so the idea that a Christians suffer from a unique fear is misunderstood if not lost. In Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, sociologist Christian Smith writes that one of the five religious beliefs of most teens and adults is that God’s purpose for us is to be fulfilled and happy. Smith quotes a young Catholic teen who says, “God is a Spirit that grants you anything you want, not anything bad.”
Smith reports that today’s “Christianity” has no holiness, divinely inspired Torah, no cross, no literal ascension from the dead, nor giving of the Holy Spirit to bring about God’s righteousness and loving justice. “Christianity in the United States is actually only tenuously connected to actual historical Christian tradition…and it isn’t being secularized but is degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or it is actively being colonized and displaced by quite a different religious faith.”
It is sobering to realize that few people who call themselves Christians understand that God sends Christians into Christ’s same suffering. More sobering still is that the more this truth is lost, the more Christ’s suffering will be made manifest in us who believe. May God have mercy on us all, and may we joyfully encourage one another with the encouragement Christ passionately gives.