Endure Hardships

2 Timothy 4:5 - But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Read all of 2 Timothy 4.

"What does the future hold for me?" Perhaps a lot of you are asking that question right about now in view of the end of the school year and graduation. Some of you know what you're going to do this summer and next September, and some of you don't have the faintest idea yet. Well, regardless of the timing and details of God's plan for you individually, we can be sure of one thing about God's future program for every growing Christian. There will be hardships! Now this statement is not meant to be a wet blanket on your enthusiasm but rather it is meant to be a stabilizer. Knowing that hardships will come in our lives should help to preserve us from the trauma of "hardship shock". It is especially important for growing Christians to realize that hardships are a definite part of God's plan for our lives.

In 2 Timothy 4:5 the apostle Paul encouraged Timothy to endure the hardships which would continue to come in Timothy's future. This was part of the overall charge (see v1) that Paul gave to Timothy as he prepared himself for martyrdom (vs6-7). Soon after Paul penned this last letter from prison he was with the Lord. The hardships were finally over for Paul. In view of "that day" (v8), Timothy was to endure hardships as part of his earthly ministry. The charge to endure hardships until the Lord's return is for all Christians (v8).

The hardships that Paul specifically had in mind when he wrote verse 5 were not the average kind of day-to-day hassles that confront us. Christians and non-Christians alike have these--like losing an important homework assignment or ripping a pair of good jeans or blowing it big in front of everyone. No, the hardships in view here are those difficulties that particularly affect Christians who are trying to be faithful to the Lord. It is possible to be a Christian without going through any more hardships than the average "man on the street". But it's a different story if we want to meet the Lord as a "good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25:21). In this case there are additional hardships that come our way because of our open and verbal identification with the Lord Jesus. And the Bible leaves no doubt that these kinds of hardships will come to the faithful Christian. (See 2 Timothy 3:12 for example.) We are not to be surprised if the going is tough in this world (see 1 John 3:13). These "extra" hardships are all part of what it means to "bear His reproach" (Hebrews 13:13). We are not to try to escape these hardships by running from them or compromising our testimony. We are to endure hardships!

What are some of these special hardships that a faithful Christian may be called upon to endure? In verses 9-16 of our chapter the apostle mentions several "beyond the call of duty" hardships that he was experiencing as a result of faithfulness to Christ. Perhaps the Lord will call on us to undergo similar hardships in the near future. Will we be faithful and endure?

In verse 9 we detect the hardship of loneliness. Paul was lonely in that Roman dungeon. Because of his faithful witness for the Lord, Paul was even deprived of normal Christian fellowship. Doctor Luke was in the area (v11), but Paul yearned for the fellowship of Timothy, his close companion and son in the faith. (See also 1 Timothy 1:2 & 4.) God may permit us to go through the hardship of loneliness. Although the availability of lots of fellow Christians is the norm in our Christian experience, there are times when God takes us through the valley of loneliness. Here we learn to appreciate the value of Christian fellowship. Here we experience (maybe for the first time) the reality of the Lord's constant and comforting personal presence. Loneliness may come in military service when you are the only Christian in your unit. You may experience loneliness in the new job or location where you're headed. College and graduate school can be very lonely places if no Christian fellowship is immediately available. Are we willing to undergo the hardship of loneliness for the sake of Christ--even the absence of fellowship with those Christian friends who have meant so much to us in the past?

The hardship of desertion is mentioned in verse 10. Demas had been one of Paul's fellow-workers (Colossians 4:14 and Philemon 24). But Demas could not resist the appeal of what this world had to offer and he deserted the apostle Paul. Maybe it was a lucrative job offer in Thessalonica which was just "too good" to turn down. Maybe Demas was feeling "burned out" in the ministry and just wanted to settle down and live a "normal" life. In any case, Demas became a deserter because he "loved this present world". (Notice how this "love" is put in contrast to the "love of His appearing" at the end of verse 8.) What a disappointment for Paul! It wasn't that Demas had given up the faith or defected doctrinally like Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Timothy 2:18). No, it was that Demas had let the values and attitudes of this world system govern his lifestyle more and more. What a difference between Demas and the other fellow-workers mentioned in verses 10-12. Crescens, Titus, Luke, Mark and Tychicus were all hanging in there and faithfully serving the Lord in various parts of the Roman empire.

The hardship Paul experienced when Demas deserted was not just the loss of much-needed help. It was also the discouragement of losing a personal friend and colleague and fellow-worker. Not only had Paul expended valuable time and energy in training Demas, but he had come to know and love Demas as a brother in the Lord. It hurts to have a faithful friend and disciple whom you have trained and worked with turn his back on you and desert you. It is disheartening to see a promising fellow-believer walk away from your counsel and teaching and go "do his own thing". And yet this is one of the hardships that we can expect along the way. Remember our Lord Jesus experienced this same hurt when one of His disciples deserted Him. In view of the many and varied opportunities that this world has to offer, we must be extremely careful not to become like Demas ourselves.

Another hardship is seen in verse 13. It involves the area of personal needs. Paul suffered from the needs of the body as well as needs of the mind. With winter coming on (v21), Paul needed his heavy cloak to keep warm in the cold and damp Roman dungeon. The apostle also desired the books and the parchments to meet the needs of his mind. Most likely the parchment scrolls were portions of the Old Testament Scriptures, and the books (papyrus sheets or rolls) may even have included some recently written New Testament portions. Paul never stopped studying even when he was in prison awaiting death!

This one verse alone should convince us that the life of the growing Christian should always include the dedicated study of God's Word. And this goes for Christians who have just graduated from school and are very excited about new opportunities and are very involved in new situations! Although the needs of our bodies and minds are usually more than adequately taken care of, sometimes the Lord calls upon us to go through a special period of testing in this area. Faithful Christians down through Church history have been deprived of personal needs because of their witness for Christ. The Word of God has even been taken away from some faithful believers. God may not call upon us to endure this kind of hardship for His sake, but let us at least remember to pray for our brothers and sisters around the world who are even now suffering personal need for the sake of Jesus Christ.

A further hardship that Paul mentions is open opposition (vs 14-15). Alexander the coppersmith took every opportunity he could to oppose the apostle and his teaching. He may have been the "Alexander" of 1 Timothy 1:20, and in view of verse 16, he may have been the main accuser of Paul before the imperial court. Opposition to our ministry and personal harm is not an indication that we are out of the Lord's will. It is a hardship which will inevitably come if we are faithfully verbalizing the gospel of Jesus Christ--on the job or on the campus. Opposition should not cause us to become bitter or frustrated or revengeful. Although we are to be on guard (watch and beware) against such opposition (v15), we are to leave vengeance to the Lord (v14; Romans 12:19).

One more hardship is given in verse 16. It was the matter of no support at the preliminary hearing of the trial. Apparently none of the Christians in Rome was willing to risk his neck to stand up for Paul. (Faithful Luke probably had not arrived in time for the first defense.) We too can expect the hardship of no support from fellow-Christians when risk is involved. In times of danger some Christians have a way of "doing the disappearing act" when you desperately need their support. After all, their reputation or position or security may be involved! We are to endure this hardship also, and even pray the prayer of forgiveness for those who don't support us (v16).

We can be sure that the Lord will support us when others leave us stranded (v17). It seems that Paul was supernaturally strengthened with enough courage to fearlessly proclaim the gospel before the Imperial Tribunal. Talk about guts! And Paul was supernaturally delivered from the "mouth of the lion"--most likely a figurative expression for Nero or Satan (see 1 Peter 5:8) or great danger in general. The Lord can make us gutsy for the gospel too--even in the presence of unbelieving professors or bosses! There really is no need to fear because God can bring deliverance in any situation, regardless of the support or non-support of other believers.

Ultimately the Lord will deliver us out of this earthly scene of hardships and bring us safely to Himself forever (v18). Until then we are to expect and endure hardships.  
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