Sometimes we may be tempted to think that choosing to follow God will make the rest of our lives like a fairy tale ending; we will live happily ever after. But that’s pretty far from the truth. Not only will there continue to be difficulties as part of normal, everyday life, but the sincere desire to follow Christ will bring on hardship of its own.
In 2 Timothy Paul writes to letter’s namesake about how to fulfill his responsibilities in the church. He reminds him not only of the integrity with which the apostle lived, but also the persecution that the decision to follow Christ brought on.
But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
2 Timothy 3:10-12
The Greek from which the King James Version was translated indicates more clearly than the English that even wanting to live godly in Christ will lead to persecution. Many modern versions seem to make this more clear by translating it as “desire to” or “want to.”
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,
2 Timothy 3:12 (ESV)
That’s a little to clear. I don’t know how I feel about that!
So, in addition to the normal ups and downs of life, I can expect additional hardship and persecution specifically because I’m a follower of Christ.
We might be tempted to think that this doesn’t really apply in the USA today, that persecution is something that only happens overseas. But God wouldn’t have inspired this to be written this way unless it had a certain timelessness. We should expect that a decision to follow Christ will bring trouble our way.
Paul expected it. Timothy was told to expect it. Peter wrote of the same thing when he wrote to Christians at large.
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.
1 Peter 4:12-14
“Happy” could be translated “blessed” in this text. Which immediately brings to mind the sermon on the mount.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
Looks like it’s pretty unanimous. Part of following Christ is suffering specifically because we follow him.
If this strange to you, as it did once to me, you have some unlearning to do. It’s actually totally normal for a Christian. We can respond with joy and excitement when we suffer for his name, as the apostles did when they were beaten and commanded not to speak of Jesus again.
And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.
They knew what it meant.