A Holy Calling

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, 12 which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. 2 Timothy 1:8-12 ESV

Paul’s letter to Timothy, while personal in nature, is global in its scope and impact. Originally written with Timothy in mind, Paul’s words are applicable and appropriate for any child of God who understands their calling as an ambassador and servant of Christ. The decision by the early church fathers to include this letter in the canon of Scripture is evidence of their belief that it was Spirit-inspired and, therefore, its message was intended for a larger audience than one.

In a way, Timothy serves as a model or representative for the rest of the body of Christ. He was a relatively new believer who was privileged to have the apostle Paul as his personal mentor and spiritual guide. And although it seems clear that Timothy was commissioned for the gospel ministry and had received spiritual gifts commensurate with that responsibility, the instructions he received from Paul apply to each and every Christ-follower.

If we read this letter with the perspective that we’re eavesdropping on a personal conversation between two close friends, we will the vital truths contained in it. Paul’s admonitions and instructions, while directed at Timothy, have a much broader application intended for a much larger audience. They span the boundaries of time and continue to speak to all those who share Timothy’s “sincere faith” (2 Timothy 1:5 ESV) and who desire to “fan into flame the gift of God” (2 Timothy 1:6 ESV).

Paul issued the same challenge to all Christ-followers: “imitate me, just as I imitate Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NLT). He intended his life to be a model of Christlikeness and he expected every believer to be mentored by his example. So, when Paul declares himself to be an ambassador for Christ entrusted with “the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19 ESV), there is a sense in which he expects all followers of Christ to share in that responsibility. When he tells the Corinthian believers, “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20 ESV), he is including them as fellow ambassadors whom he expected to share the same divine invitation: “be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20 ESV).

There is a sense in which all believers are being mentored by Paul as they read his letters and allow the Holy Spirit to apply God’s truth to their hearts. We are to read Paul’s words to Timothy with an eager expectation that we will discover personal applications that will radically alter the spiritual trajectory of our lives.

So, when Paul tells Timothy, “do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord” (2 Timothy 1:8 ESV), his words apply to us. As believers, we should never find ourselves ashamed to tell others about God’s message of reconciliation made possible through faith in Christ. Paul knew that Timothy was having a difficult time reconciling the imprisonment of his mentor. He was probably having to field difficult questions from the believers in Ephesus who wondered what they could expect if the apostle Paul had been imprisoned for his faith. How could that be part of God’s divine plan? Would they be next? And Paul knew that Timothy was probably embarrassed by his mentor’s untimely and inexplicable confinement and struggling to explain what was going on.

But rather than making excuses for his predicament, Paul invited Timothy to “share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:8 ESV). Paul wasn’t ashamed of his imprisonment. He viewed it as a privilege and something to be understood as good rather than bad.

I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:10 NLT

And Paul saw his life as exemplary rather than as some kind of anomaly. He even pleaded with the believers in Corinth to see every aspect of his life as worthy of emulation – highlighting the good along with the seemingly bad.

…we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. – 2 Corinthians 6:4-10 ESV

And, in his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul reminded them that suffering for Christ was to be expected because they were all caught up in a spiritual war.

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have. – Philippians 1:29-30 ESV

And the apostle Peter shared Paul’s recognition that suffering was a non-negotiable aspect of the Christian life.

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are.

In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. – 1 Peter 5:8-10 NLT

So, Paul reminds Timothy (and by extension, us) that he had been saved and “to a holy calling” (2 Timothy 1:9 ESV). Timothy had been set apart by God for a divine purpose and, like Paul, had a responsibility to live up to his calling. Paul acknowledged his own appointment as “a preacher and apostle and teacher” (2 Timothy 1:11 ESV). And he knew that calling was the reason for his imprisonment. That’s why he could “take pleasure” in it. He knew he was doing exactly what he had been commissioned to do and if his faithful carrying out of his job resulted in suffering, he saw himself as sharing in the sufferings of Christ. He was simply getting a small taste of what His Savior endured on his behalf.

And Paul found no shame in his imprisonment. In fact, he boldly proclaimed, “I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me” (2 Timothy 1:12 ESV). Despite his less-than-ideal circumstances, Paul remained confident in the faith he had placed in Christ. The presence of difficulties had not caused his faith to waver or his trust in Jesus’ saving work to diminish. Paul was not looking for heaven on earth. He didn’t expect his belief in Christ to result in a trouble-free life marked by health, wealth, and prosperity.

He knew that the salvation Christ died to provide was eternal in nature, not temporal. Jesus had not sacrificed Himself so that Paul could live a comfortable, pain-free life in the here-and-now. He died so that Paul, Timothy, and every other individual who placed their faith in Him could one day experience an eternity free from sin, pain, suffering, and sorrow.  As Jesus Himself said, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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