How would you encourage a timid Christian? What kind of words of counsel would you offer to a believer who was struggling with staying strong in the face of potential persecution? I think you might be surprised to see what Paul says to Timothy in such a case.
2 Timothy 1:8 – 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…
In 2 Timothy 1, Paul, writing from his final prison cell, has just reminded Timothy that God did not give Timothy a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and self-control. Clearly Paul is trying to encourage Timothy away from timidity and toward boldness.
So, what is Paul’s first bit of advice? Paul does not try to encourage Timothy to pray that he not go through hardships. Nor does he offer Timothy empty words of a false hope. Paul does not tell Timothy, “God loves you so much he would never let you suffer.”
Instead, Paul tells Timothy to join him and to share in suffering for the gospel. Rather than telling Timothy to hope not to go through hardships, Paul actually tells Timothy to get to them. Timothy is to expect suffering. And somehow, expecting suffering is to help Timothy to have courage.
How can expecting suffering bring about courage for the Christian? It is actually a simple thing. When we think that suffering is only a possibility, our cowardice is in danger of flaring up. If we think that we, by compromise or through deceit, can avoid suffering, we well might do so. But if we know that we cannot avoid the suffering, that it is coming no matter what we do, Christians with God’s Holy Spirit living in us will tighten up and face the hardship.
Paul is not telling Timothy to seek out suffering. God is not telling us to go look for trouble. But the word of God is clear that, if you are a true follower of Jesus, you are likely to face hardships because of that faith. And God’s counsel for us is that we should expect it. When we know that this is the road that God has for us, we will rely on his word and his Spirit to walk us through the hardships for his glory.