The Anatomy of Suffering

Posted on October 22, 2014


By David Ettinger

Introduction: The Call to Suffering
prisonAs the apostle Paul draws ever nearer to the end of his life, he awakes every morning to the darkness of his dank and dreary Roman prison cell, chains, fetters, and stocks his only companions. Yet, the man is driven. There is much work still to be done, work which he cannot – must not – allow his restrictive circumstances to impede. So he soldiers on, using words as his weapons of warfare.

What is the great apostle’s crime? What is the villainous danger he poses to the Roman world that the government chooses to keep him in shackles rather than allow him to roam the streets a free man? The answer is simple: the apostle Paul is a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 3:6-7), and the flourishing religion he promotes – Christianity – is a definite threat to the foundation of the empire.

Yet, that Paul finds himself incarcerated is hardly a surprise to this enemy of the state. After all, during the long, harsh years of his ministry, Paul has frequently been imprisoned, severely flogged, brutally beaten, precariously in danger from both Jew and Gentile, at risk on the open sea, and deprived of sleep, food, and drink (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). Furthermore, Paul has been stoned and left for dead (Acts 14:19), and was the target of a covert plot to take his life (Acts 23:12-14). To Paul, suffering for doing the work of Christ is not just something to be expected on a bad day, but an act of worship that is essential to the ministry. Just as thunder accompanies lightning, so suffering must accompany the work of the Gospel.

It is A.D. 66, and Paul’s days are dwindling to a precious few. He must now turn to others to carry on his holy work, and the man he chooses to succeed him is his beloved young charge Timothy, the overseer of the sprawling – though divided – church at Ephesus. It is Timothy’s responsibility to warn the church against false doctrines and dissention (1Timothy 1:3-7). Yet, Paul knows full well of the suffering that awaits the young man, and it’s the apostle’s job to prepare him for it.

Suffering for the Gospel (2 Timothy 1:8)
“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God.”


Key word: “Sufferings,” from the Greek sunkakopatheo, meaning, “to suffer hardship.”

Paul’s message: It is dispiriting that Paul has to tell Timothy not to be ashamed. The reason Paul tells him this, of course, is that Timothy is indeed ashamed. The question is, Of what is Timothy ashamed? For one thing, Timothy appears to be ashamed “of the testimony of our Lord.” Paul, too, was once wrongly accused of the same thing (Romans 1:16). Regarding Timothy, however, the city in which lives, Ephesus, is a metropolitan area full of philosophers who masterfully champion a myriad of religious views, none of which support the Christian God, Jesus Christ. More importantly, Ephesus is home of the goddess Diana (or Artemis, in the Greek) (Acts 19:28). The massive statue of Diana is housed in a great temple and is revered by the Ephesians, who believe Diana fell from heaven and took up residence in their city. Though Christianity has to this point made great strides in Ephesus, the worship of Diana is far more prevalent. The young Timothy finds himself shackled by the daunting task of having to defend his faith in such a zealously heathen community.

Paul also tells Timothy not be ashamed “of me his prisoner.” Why would Timothy be ashamed of the man he has witnessed boldly and courageously defending the faith time after time? The answer could be that his mentor is now in prison, which Timothy finds difficult to explain to doubters and skeptics. In other words, where the leaders of the Diana cult live in luxury, the leader of the Christian faith is in chains. Timothy no doubt has difficulty rationalizing that to his critics.

In admonishing Timothy to “share with me in the sufferings for the gospel,” Paul is practically assuring his young friend that he, too, will suffer a similar fate. And this, Paul says, is nothing to be ashamed of because Timothy’s suffering will not simply be the result of man’s fury, but will come about “according to the power of God.” In essence, to Paul, suffering for the Gospel is a blessing, not a curse.

Suffering for Christ (2 Timothy 2:3)
asia minorVerse:
“You therefore must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.”

Key word: “Endure,” from the Greek kakopatheo, meaning, “to suffer evil.”

Paul’s message: In verse 2 of this chapter, the apostle tells Timothy that the things he has heard and seen Paul teach, he must now take and teach others. And there is plenty Timothy has witnessed. Timothy first encountered Paul in Lystra (Acts 16:1), a city of Lycania in Asia Minor, located about 40 miles west of Iconium. From there, Timothy traveled with Paul through Phrygia (Acts 16:5), which was another province of Asia Minor in the region of Galatia; Troas (Acts 16:8), a seaport of Phrygia Minor; and on to Macedonia (Acts 16:10), a region north of Greece. Timothy also served as Paul’s ambassador to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 4:17), the Philippians (Philippians 2:19), and was a companion to Paul during his imprisonment in Rome (Philemon 1). Therefore, Timothy is about as close to Paul as any man and can probably recite verbatim the great bulk of Paul’s teachings.

Now, however, Timothy can no longer stand on the sidelines while Paul preaches, since Paul himself has been sidelined. Despite this, Paul knows that Timothy cannot do it alone. Therefore, the apostle instructs his successor to take those things Paul has taught and “commit” them “to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:23). Paul’s admonition is twofold. On the practical side, the more Christianity spreads, the greater the need for teachers to instruct the swelling body of believers. On the much more personal side, Paul knows with certainty that the enlarging of the faith will enrage Rome, which will come down forcefully on those promulgating it. With Timothy the leading proponent in Ephesus, Rome will be aiming its sword of retribution his way. Timothy, if he is faithful to Paul’s command, will kakopatheo, or “suffer evil,” for Christ’s sake, and Paul is warning him in advance.

However, Paul also assures Timothy that though he is very likely to suffer at the hands of Rome, he will do so as “a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3), suffering in the line of duty.

Suffering for the Word (2 Timothy 2:8-9)
in chainsVerse:
“Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel, for which I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not chained.”

Key word: “Suffer,” from the Greek kakopatheo, meaning, “to suffer evil” (same word as 2 Timothy 2:3).

Paul’s message: Paul makes clear to Timothy that the great apostle is in prison, or “to the point of chains,” because of “the word of God.” Knowing Timothy faces the same fate for his testimony, Paul assures him that hope is not lost, in fact, far from it. By using himself as an example, Paul tells Timothy that imprisonment cannot hinder the Word of God. Though the man who preaches and abides by God’s Word can, and often will find himself in chains, by contrast “the world of God is not chained.” This is intended to be a great source of comfort and encouragement to young Timothy, knowing that even though he faces inevitable suffering, the work he has done and will do – the teaching of the Word of God – will continue on after him.

Timothy, doubtless, is also aware of Paul’s wonderfully reassuring words to the Corinthians since, as stated earlier, Paul had sent Timothy to them as an ambassador. Contained within the many instructions to the Corinthian church is this gem, which most certainly would brighten Timothy’s outlook: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58). How inspiring! Even if the result of his preaching and teaching is death, Timothy is assured that his efforts will not go to waste; they will bear fruit.

This is a truth the young, intimidated pastor needs to hear. Yes, Paul assures him, kakopatheo is inevitable, but his work will survive. Though the uplifting and powerful words were originally written to the Corinthians, Timothy can take them very much to heart. It is as if Paul is saying to him: “Though you will be bound in chains, the Word of God is never bound in chains; therefore, your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

Suffering for the Elect (2 Timothy 2:10)
“Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.”

Key word: “Endure,” from the Greek hupomeno, meaning “to abide under,” or “to bear up courageously.”

Paul’s message: Paul changes tack here, extending the scope of suffering from something very personal to something intended for the good of many. That Paul suffers so willingly, patiently, and courageously for the sake of the “elect” is a magnificent commentary on what makes him tick. That he endures beatings and imprisonment for the sake of others is what keeps him pushing on. In the book of Romans, Paul exposes the innermost secrets of his heart, which is the great anguish he feels concerning his fellow Jewish people: “For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brothers, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites” (9:3-4). In essence, Paul says he is willing to surrender his own salvation (if such a thing were possible) in order to bring salvation to the entirety of his Jewish brothers and sisters in the flesh. Therefore, Timothy could well surmise how much more Paul, and ultimately Timothy himself, is to hupomeno “all things” for those whom God “chose … before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame” (Ephesians 1:4).

In other words, Paul tells Timothy that he should be graciously willing to bear up courageously under persecution because it will serve to strengthen the body of Christ. What Paul is so determined to get across to Timothy is that the sufferings of one man, as great as those sufferings are, are worth it manifold times over in light of the masses who will reap the benefits of it. This, too, is another favorite theme addressed by Paul to another church: “But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you” (Philippians 1:22-24).

Paul’s message to Timothy is clear: “Either way, Timothy, you win. If you die, you go to be with the Lord; if you live, you greatly enhance the body of Christ.”

Suffering for Future Glory (2 Timothy 2:12)
“If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us.”

Key word: “Endure,” from the Greek hupomeno, meaning “to abide under” or “to bear up courageously” (same word as 2:10).

Paul’s message: Again, Paul hammers home the truth that though Christians can well expect to suffer for Christ, we do not do so in vain, or for the simple sake of suffering. There is far more to our work for Christ and the ensuing affliction than just the heavenly benefits, as great as they are. Paul has already made clear to Timothy that his suffering is for the sake serves multiple purposes, specifically, the Gospel, Christ, the Word of God, and the elect. Paul now identifies another reason for suffering, one that will reap personal, eternal rewards: “we shall also reign with him.”

In the book of Revelation, written about 30 years following Paul’s death (and possibly Timothy’s), the apostle John adds greater breadth to the truth of reigning with Christ:

And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years (1:4).

It is clear that those who will reign with Jesus during the Millennial Kingdom are those, just as Paul tells us, who suffer for the Gospel, for Jesus, and for the Word of God.

The promise of future glory is critical for Timothy to cling to if he is to boldly lead the Ephesian church. After all, Roman emperor Nero (who reigned from A.D. 54 through 68) ruthlessly rules his domain with violence and bloodshed. Under his jurisdiction, Christians are hated, hunted, imprisoned, tortured, and killed. Timothy has every reason to believe that his fate will one day be the same. However, Paul tells Timothy to hupomeno, or “bear up courageously” under suffering, for he will one day reign with Christ in glory.

Suffering for Godly Living (2 Timothy 3:12)
“Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”

Key word: “Suffer,” from the Greek dioka, meaning, “to run quickly” or “pursue.”

Paul’s message: Again, Paul puts a positive slant on suffering. Applying the Greek word dioka, it seems as if Paul is actually telling Timothy to “run quickly” to obtain and “pursue” persecution. This is true in a sense, but not completely. It is doubtful that Paul would instruct anyone to joyfully leap into the arms of his persecutor and say, “Do with me as you wish.” However, Paul is confirming to Timothy that once his ministry comes into full bloom and he is actively preaching the Word, persecution will quickly follow. When Paul admonishes Timothy to “live godly in Christ Jesus,” he knows that such living will come at a price. To live godly means to take stands against the sins and evils of society, and doing so in A.D. 66 means direct opposition to Nero, a sure prescription for a certain and painful death.

Rome, under Nero, is indeed a den of iniquity, and the one who chooses not to participate in the depravity of the day is easy to spot. To live godly means to be the target of society’s wrath. The apostle Peter describes the hostility toward godly people this way: “… they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you” (1 Peter 4:4). Paul knows this full well, and undoubtedly, Timothy is about to learn it as well.

Paul’s teaching to Timothy also sharply contradicts the false teaching that is so prevalent in the twenty-first century that those who live “godly” lives and “trust” God will be rewarded with wealth, health, prosperity, and success. How Paul and Timothy would have disdained such heretical teaching. Instead, Paul makes absolutely clear that those who choose to live their lives for Christ will “suffer persecution.” The question Paul has for Timothy is, “Knowing that you will suffer, Timothy, will you fear it or will you dioka – run quickly – to it, pursuing it with all of your heart and soul?

Suffering for Ministry (2 Timothy 4:5)
devin 4Verse:
“But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

Key word: “Endure,” from the Greek kakopatheo, meaning, “to suffer evil” (same word as in 2:3 and 2:9).

Paul’s message: Interestingly, Paul includes the inevitability of suffering as one of the items on a “to do” list for evangelists. In other words, Paul tells Timothy, “Don’t view suffering merely as the end result of being a minister of God’s Word, but embrace it as one of the requirements of the job. Just as Timothy is to “be watchful in all things” (or to keep his head in all situations), he is to “endure [kakopatheo] afflictions.” Just as Timothy is to “do the work of an evangelist,” he must “endure afflictions.” And just as Timothy is to “fulfill” (properly discharge the duties of) his “ministry,” he must “endure afflictions.”

Paul’s progression in this list of instructions makes perfect sense. First, he tells Timothy to “be watchful in all things.” Why? Because the young man needs to be aware that at the very outset of his ministry he will be called upon to “endure afflictions.” This warning does not come at the end of Paul’s list, but at the beginning. Paul’s message is clear: If you preach, you suffer. If you minister, you suffer. If you discharge your duties properly, you suffer. For Paul, kakopatheo is a way of life and will be for Timothy as well. Paul has long ago come to accept it, and his great concern is whether or not Timothy will accept it.

Paul also wants to make clear to Timothy that the time of suffering will never cease until he goes home to be with the Lord in glory. In all of Paul’s admonitions and warnings to Timothy, never once does he tell him that the time of suffering will come to an end on this earth. Suffering will be a part of Timothy’s daily life so long as he is properly carrying out the requirements and responsibilities of his position. In essence, kakopatheo, or “suffering evil,” is never an option for the man or woman of God, but a requirement.

Conclusion: Are You Ready to Suffer?
Though suffering for the cause of Christ is prevalent today throughout Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, it is all but a foreign concept to western Christians. The prosperity doctrine, so popular in America’s leading (attendance-wise) churches, is sinfully and recklessly contradictory to Paul’s clear and plain teaching. True living for God always includes some degree of suffering.

As we race toward the end of the age, the world will continue to oppose Christ to such a degree that a man, the Antichrist, will arise and make it his purpose to obliterate Christianity from the face of the earth (Revelation 13:7). If we are the generation that enters this final era of world history, will we simply lament the suffering that will afflict us, or will we embrace it, knowing that glory is close at hand?

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