“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution,” Paul writes to Timothy as if it were the most self-evident thing in the world, requiring no explanation as to why.
But in our present day, when Christians are likely to mirror the general population’s interest in avoiding suffering and alleviating it where time and resources permit (these are the twin pillars of most modern Christianity), Paul’s statement sounds anything but self-evident. Why would anyone other than the occasional suicide bomber want to persecute us? We may not be seasoned to people’s taste, but it hardly seems like a matter worth going to blows over–especially when those blows are directed at us, as Paul says they shall be.
Lord permitting, I am planning to write a book on this subject next year, but in the interim here is my outline that seeks to supply several of the premises that Paul assumes would be commonly understood by Timothy which he thus omits from his letter.
Here, in other words, is why those who seek to live a godly life in Christ Jesus are persecuted:
- God creates the world so that humans bear his image in it and to it, manifesting in creation the grace they continually receive from God so that his character might be continually revealed to all. This is “doing the word.”
- “Doing the word” is thus the original and only vocation of each human being. When we do the word, we manifest God’s character, power, and love, not our own.
- Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy. He seeks that something other than the word be done in and through human beings so that God’s image might be marred and God’s character impugned.
- From the beginning of the Bible, in the Garden of Eden, when God’s character, power, and love are manifest, Satan always appears in order to steal, kill, and destroy that manifestation.
- Because of the fall, humans do the work of the enemy, not the word.
- This has remained true throughout human history: every manifestation of God’s character, power, and love is opposed by the forces of Satan and those amenable to those forces. It is the nature of life in a fallen world.
- Christ’s life, death, and resurrection effect the beginning of the end of the fallen world and the dawning of the new creation.
- Through his son, God did his word fully to us, thus enabling us to be saved through the hearing of this word. We are saved, in other words, by his doing the word to us and our receiving rather than rejecting it.
- By means of the Cross, we are restored to the vocation of bearing his image and manifesting his character, power, and love through performing his word into creation, i.e., doing the word. This is made possible only by his dwelling within us and continually doing his word to and through us.
- Our doing the word does not save us. But it is our sole vocation as Christians and as human beings. It is the work prepared for us from before the foundation of the world. As we do the word, we bear his image and re-present his word in the fallen world to our fellow human beings for their reception or rejection. How our fellows respond to our faithful re-presentation is a matter of salvation, as those who receive us receive him.
- While the fallen world remains, Satan and his forces will continue to oppose and distort every manifestation of God’s character into the world. Therefore, every time we carry out our vocation of doing the word, we face an increasingly less restrained and progressively more desperate opposition.
- It is in doing the word in the face of mounting suffering that God’s character is fully manifested, as the Cross demonstrates. Persecution, though attempting to deface God’s character, reveals it ever more fully when we permit Christ to progressively reveal his Cross through us.
Laid out this way, persecution is not a side note to the Christian life. It is the soundtrack of the Christian life in a fallen world.
More next year.