The television show Mythbusters has been popular for several years now, and it’s easy to see why. They take scenes found in movies or tv shows, they take popular ideas and then they give them a scientific test to see whether they could really happen or not. Sometimes the ideas are “busted” or proven false, and other times they are confirmed as true.
There are plenty of myths when it comes to our faith, too. There are a lot of sayings that a lot of people would say comes from the Bible, when in fact it doesn’t. “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” Nope, not in the Bible. “God helps those who help themselves.” Sorry. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Wait, yep, that one's there (Acts 20:35)! (Had to keep you honest.) Here's another: “money is the root of all evil.” The Bible does say that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10) but that’s a pretty different idea.
The point is that we want to be actually using God’s Word and growing in it, and not being sucked into myths about God or what he teaches, even if countless people might believe them. Well, there are some popular myths that our text for today shows to be untrue.
Here’s the first one: “God wants me to be happy.” That sounds pretty nice, doesn’t it? Sure, why wouldn’t God want me to be happy? And in a certain sense we could say it is true because God wants us all to be saved (1 Tim 2:3-4), and we will certainly be happy in heaven. But when people talk about God wanting them to be happy, it’s usually referring to their level of comfort in this life.
“God wants me to be happy,” someone will think, “so if I’m not happy, if I’m suffering, then God must either be angry with me or there’s something I should be doing to make myself happy.” And often, the thing that might make that person happy will turn out to be sinful. The truth is, God wants us to obey him. He wants us to follow his will, not our own whims as to what makes us happy on a given day. And here’s the thing, we’re going to have plenty of unhappiness because we live in a sinful world. We are going to face difficulties. It’s not a matter of if but when.
Which brings us to a very closely related myth: “If I do what’s right, things will work out for me.” This is the idea that if I’m doing my best to obey God, if I do follow his will, then everything is going to come up roses for me, more or less, in my life. Well, our text and the Apostle Paul’s life explodes this myth pretty quickly. The truth is, sometimes doing what’s right actually brings more difficulty into our lives. Sometimes living out our Christian faith will actually cause more suffering to tumble into our laps.
So what can we do? Where can we turn when we face the grim reality of life that can make us unhappy and that can slap us across the face even when we’re doing everything right that we can? There’s only one place to turn. To the cross. To your loving Savior-God. Remember Jesus Christ! He alone is our strength when we are weak and our joy in sadness. We endure suffering now, but he gives glory forever.
We endure suffering now
Our sermon text continues our series on the “last words of the Apostle Paul.” His letter that we’re studying — the book of 2 Timothy — is most likely the last thing we see him do before his death. But when we first see Paul in the Bible, his life was quite a bit different.
He was known as Saul then, and he was a persecutor of Christians instead of an Apostle. He was there when Stephen was stoned to death for his faith (Acts 7:58) He threatened Christians left and right to have them killed or renounce their faith. He traveled from town to town to round up Christians and arrest them (Acts 9:1-2).
But it was only after Saul — then going as Paul — became a Christian that he really started to suffer. In fact, it’s almost ridiculous the things he had to go through.
He got kicked out of cities he was preaching in (Acts 13:50). He was stoned nearly to death (Acts 14:19). He was thrown into prison (Acts 16:24). He was involved in a city riot (Acts 19:23ff). He was in a shipwreck (Acts 27:41). He was bitten by a poisonous snake (Acts 28:3).
And through all this he kept preaching. And though he went in and out of jail, by the time we get to our text he was imprisoned again. And it doesn’t seem he had the comfy house-arrest style imprisonment that he’d had in the past. This was rough. There were actual chains. He said, I am suffering even to the point of being chained like an criminal. (2 Tim. 2:9)
But one thing I want us all to realize — and this is what Paul realized, too — is that he was suffering not because he’d done something wrong. This wasn’t his old crimes from his persecuting days coming back to get him. He was suffering because he was doing exactly what God told him to do.
Remember Jesus Christ! That was Paul’s message and the reason why he suffered. Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering. (2 Tim. 2:8-9) The gospel is good news; the good news of Jesus, true man and true God, living and dying and rising for us! But Paul’s suffering came because of that good news!
And we suffer for it, too. Sure, it’s not usually in the same way. I don’t know anyone who has been chained like a criminal because they were a Christian. Here in this country today we’re not worried about being thrown in jail or even killed because we’re believers. But you can’t say that about every place in our world today. Nor can you say that we are guaranteed never to face that even here in the US. But we don’t face it now, thank God.
But we still do face persecution of some sort from other people. It’s usually more subtle than prisons and guns, but it can still be tough. For example, at your job there might be certain shortcuts you could take to make your job easier or even make yourself appear more successful, but those shortcuts might not be the right thing to do. Coworkers might pressure you to take those shortcuts or ridicule you if you don’t.
Or, you could speak up about something at your job that you don’t think is right or even refuse to do something your boss asks you to do that you don’t believe is right. And because you followed God’s way, you could suffer, whether it’s ridicule or even losing your job.
It can be the same with friends. When you can’t do something because of your plans to go to church, it can raise eyebrows to say the least. Sometimes even mentioning your faith — even in the slightest way — can bring laughs or stares or maybe just the fact that those people aren’t going to want to spend much time with you anymore.
This persecution can be subtle but powerful. And we can be tempted to do whatever we can to avoid it, whether that means hiding our faith or joining in on sin.
And that’s when you realize that some of our fiercest persecution comes from our own sinful hearts. The alarm goes off on a church morning and your heart says, Forget it! This is your only day off! You deserve the rest! Doesn’t God want you to be happy?
The chance to pursue something sinful offers itself and your sinful heart won’t keep quiet. You’re not going to be a goody-goody are you? Just this once isn’t going to hurt anything! This makes you happy, and doesn’t God want you to be happy!
But here’s the thing. Not only do we suffer when we’re tempted or when we go against that temptation. But we also suffer when we give in to that temptation. Whenever there is sin, there is going to be suffering.
We suffer when those around us sin, against us, against others. We suffer when we sin, as we deal with the consequences, physical and spiritual. We suffer even when we don’t give in to the sin but we want to.
And every one of those temptations, every minute of suffering is something that the devil wants to use to push us away from God. He wants us to throw up our hands and say, It’s just not worth it! I can’t follow God’s rules, and I can’t take the problems that come when I do!
And when we give in, when we seek temporary relief from that suffering, that’s when the worst suffering of all could come in. As our text says, If we disown him, he will also disown us. (2 Tim. 2:12) If we give up our faith, we’re not really sparing ourselves from suffering, we’re guaranteeing our suffering for all eternity!
And what can we do? Remember Jesus Christ. Remember Jesus Christ! Any hope we have has always been in him. Any true relief from suffering and true glory has always been from him. Remember Jesus Christ!
He gives glory forever
He’s the one who, as Paul said, was raised from the dead, descended from David. (2 Tim. 2:8) Do you realize how incredible those simple words are? Jesus is a true human being, descended from David. He is the long-promised seed of Eve who would crush Satan’s head. (Gen. 3:15) He is the Messiah who would fulfill all God’s promises.
He is raised from the dead, which means he had to die. He had to suffer, so much more than we ever could or ever will, and it was never for his sins; it was always for ours. Our mistakes. Our taking the easy way out. He suffered the ultimate price of hell and death. And he rose again anyway. And his rising means your rising. His life means your life. His perfection means your forgiveness.
This good news is Jesus’ glory, and it’s the glory he’s given to you. He gives it to you now and forever.
That’s the glory that Paul wanted for all of those churches that he started. It’s the glory that made it all worth it for him. I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. (2 Tim. 2:10)
That’s the glory that we have, even right now. As we live in Jesus’ forgiveness and fight temptation despite the suffering it might cause, we reflect God’s glory as a witness to others. We show that God’s glory as we live for him who died for us with all we are and with all we have.
Yes, we live as people who have already died. In one of his earlier letters, Paul wrote, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 6:11) Even as we suffer, when we remember Jesus Christ, we can keep going. When we remember Jesus Christ and his forgiveness, we can keep enduring, keep being dead to sin.
And we know that as we do that, as we rejoice in his forgiveness even through our sufferings, we know that his reward has been promised to us. He gives us glory forever. If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. (2 Tim. 3:11-12)
We look forward to all eternity when we will reign with him in heaven. And until then, yes, it’s true that suffering is not a myth. It will happen. But it won’t destroy. God can and will use it for our good, just as he has already given his Son to win us glory forever.
So remember Jesus Christ! Remember his love and glory that goes with all suffering we face! I close with Paul’s words from Romans: I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Rom. 8:18)
: http://sjtworivers.org/ “St. John's Lutheran Church | Two Rivers, WI” My congregation is doing a series on the readings from 2 Timothy during the month of October.