“Now you followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of them all the Lord rescued me! Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:10-13, NASB).
With the commitment to follow Christ faithfully, the Christian sets upon a markedly different path than the rest of the world. It is within the confines of undeserved suffering for the sake of the gospel that we see a natural division; evil men and impostors will not suffer (in innocence), but proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived by their contemporary deceivers. They belong to their father, Satan; the father of lies.
Yet the one who suffers for Christ’s sake will not only find growth in godliness, but deliverance by the Lord from trials. However, this deliverance does not always mean the avoidance of a painful death, as we see that Paul even knows he will inevitably meet this end (2 Tim. 4:6).
Instead though, we find from many today the desire to avoid pain and suffering at all costs. Many who claim Christ even fall headlong into believing the foolish worldview that all suffering is evil, leading some to call the crucifixion “cosmic child abuse” because a truly loving God would not allow such atrocities to fall upon His Son.
For the one who truly follows Christ, suffering for His sake is unavoidable (Matt. 10:22-23; John 15:20). If we do not suffer in the least for professing His name, we ought to ask if we have truly followed Him, and not sought to “put our hand to the plow, yet look back” (Luke 9:62).
For any who are left wondering if we are called to prosperity and health, I would simply look at the life of those who profess and teach it. Have they grown in godliness through suffering – or – have they grown in wickedness, licentiousness, backbiting, adultery, deception, and any other practices of those whom cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:8-10)?
I have heard many who look at such teachings and teachers only to say, “I will do what God tells me to do” in response to any criticism. While we do well to “do what God tells us to do,” if what we believe He is telling us is not found within His Word in it’s proper context, we may well find that we are impostors, unwilling to suffer for the name of Jesus and inherit our reward in heaven, yet willing to “name and claim” our reward in this life. This belief is contrary to the gospel.
Cherry picking the scriptures in order to tickle our own ears will only lead to us rejecting sound doctrine and turning aside to myths and fables (2 Tim. 4:3-4). The deceived therefore turn into deceivers, heaping gasoline upon the stubble and hay that is their foundation already on course to be consumed by fire (1 Cor. 3:12-13).
One of the many issues on doctrines such as these is that they propagate a false view of Jesus Christ. They breed theologies that picture Jesus saying, Come follow me for your Beemer. Come follow me for your secure job. Come follow me for perfect health. Come follow me for your paid bills, stocked fridge, comfy bed, and children. Come follow me to be rid of any and all suffering on earth.
Yet Jesus did not promise freedom from pain and suffering in this life. He promised only that we would have freedom from the bondage of sin, and that this freedom would bring glorious joy in Him. Joy so insurmountable that when your daughter gets cancer, you can still say, the Lord is faithful, sovereign, and Lord over all, including my daughter’s cancer; that when your husband dies in a car accident you can say, The lord giveth, the Lord taketh. Blessed be the name of the Lord; that when you can’t feed your children lunch today because you’re living paycheck to paycheck to survive, you may plead, Lord, give us this day our daily bread.
We have become so fat and happy in our friendship with this world that we have believed many of the blessings we receive are what comes with following Jesus. We lack in contentment, seeking a new job every other couple months because we find something newer and better, only so we can amass more toys or buy a new home. We have delighted in building treasure on earth where moth and rust destroy. Is it any wonder then that even though we say we despise the prosperity gospel that we tend to believe it just a little bit ourselves?
Yes, all good things come from the Lord, in whom there is no variance (James 1:17); yet is it not amazing that immediately before James pens this, he urges for persevering and rejoicing in the midst of our trials?
Where is our treasure? Wherever it is, there the desires of our heart are also (Matt. 6:21). Is it Jesus? We know the good Christian answer is “yes,” but is it really Jesus? If it is, then we will desire godliness, and for the sake of this, persecution.
Now do not mistake that I mean we will outright seek to be flogged and beaten, but simply that to desire godliness is to desire persecution, for we know from Paul implication to young Timothy that they will go hand in hand. Christ even told us that if we follow Him, we will suffer as well. To desire to follow Christ is to desire to pick up the means of our execution and carry it to the place of our execution (Matt. 6:24). It is that radical.
Notice how closely in context here that we see Christ speaking about the desires of our hearts only to go on and say that if we desire Him, we will be willing to die to self – for He is the utmost treasure of our hearts. It is complete sacrifice. It is becoming the least of all men so that Christ may be made the greatest in the sight of those who look upon us. It is being willing to endure through all kinds of suffering and malevolent treatment for the sake of the gospel so that we may rejoice in it, counting every second as beautiful because the gospel has been evidenced and Christ has been exalted.
“God had one son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering” – Augustine