Suffer, Think, Remember
In 1952, Florence Chadwick attempted to swim the 22 miles from Catalina Island to mainland California. She had already swam the English Channel both ways, but this would be a new challenge. After battling the cold and fog for over fifteen hours, she finally gave up and was pulled out of the water—less than half a mile from the shore.
The next day at a news conference she said, “All I could see was the fog.…I think if I could have seen the shore, I would have made it.”1https://www.epm.org/resources/2010/Jan/21/florence-chadwick-and-fog/
She tried again two months later, and though it was foggy again, she made it. The difference, in her words? “The first time all I could see was the fog. The second time I kept a mental image of that shoreline in my mind while I swam.”2https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-eternal-shore
What we think about, especially when going through something hard, makes a huge difference. Whether we think about the fog or whether we think about the shore makes all the difference, doesn’t it?
In today’s passage Paul continues to exhort Timothy to stay faithful. Being strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, like he said last week, Timothy needs to “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 2:3).
That’s not exactly a new idea. In 1:8 Paul wrote, “share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God.” So what Paul says in verse 3 here is not a new idea. Paul was suffering for the gospel, and likely others were as well, and Timothy was probably feeling the temptation to run from that suffering. And Paul says, “Don’t run. Come, share in this suffering for the gospel with me.”
And the rest of this section, down to verse 13, is designed to help Timothy do this—it’s written to help him share in suffering. It’s written to help him understand why he needs to share in suffering, and what his mindset needs to be, and how to actually stay strong in his faith as he does this.
This section breaks down into two main sections. In the first section, Paul gives Timothy some things to think about. This section is summed up by the words “think over what I say” in verse 7.
In the second section, Paul directs Timothy’s attention to Jesus in order to stir him up and help him share in suffering. And this section is summed up by the words “Remember Jesus Christ” in verse 8.
And what we need to see here is that “think over what I say” and “remember Jesus Christ” are just two ways of helping Timothy share in suffering. Just like Florence Chadwick thinking about the shore in order to keep on swimming, these are the realities which Timothy needs to think about and remember in order to keep on suffering.
Think Over What I Say
So let’s explore the first section together, from verse 3-7. This section is summed up by the exhortation that comes at the end, in verse 7—“think over what I say.” The point of this section is that, for Timothy to share in suffering, he needs to adopt a certain way of thinking. He needs to think about himself in a certain way. Because if he doesn’t, it’s going to be too easy to bail out and quit.
And we see this encouragement to thinking show up already in verse 3. “Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3). Paul is encouraging Timothy to think about himself in a certain way. As he shares in suffering, he needs to think about himself as a soldier. He needs to adopt the attitude and mind-set and approach of a soldier as he thinks about his suffering.
The metaphor of a soldier is further developed in verse 4 and pictures Timothy like a professional soldier, with Christ as his commanding officer.
And this word-picture is really helpful, because soldiers suffer, don’t they? They suffer through the pain of training. They suffer the pain of battle. And processional soldiers, like verse 4 points to, suffer the pain of not being able to enjoy a normal life like everybody else. Especially in the Roman army, a professional soldier couldn’t just do what he wanted—he had to be ready to follow orders 24/7. He couldn’t “get entangled in civilian pursuits.” He couldn’t start a small business or plant a garden or go hang out with his friends any time he wanted to. He’s a soldier, he follows orders, and a good soldier aims to please his commanding officer.
Now just try to imagine a soldier, in the middle of basic training, going to his commanding officer and saying “um, my back is getting a little sore, so, I’m taking the afternoon off to go get a massage to loosen things up.” Or booking a few days off in the middle of a war so he can go spend some time on his side hustle or hobby. Or, in the middle of a battle, being like “Hey guys, careful with those swords! Someone’s could get hurt around here!”
That would be nuts. A soldier embraces suffering because a soldier knows that suffering is part and parcel of their job. And that’s how Timothy needs to think about himself. He should not be surprised by his suffering. He should not be surprised that it’s getting hard to believe the gospel, hard to stay loyal to the Apostles’ teaching, hard to keep going. That’s all normal because he’s a soldier and this gospel work is war.
There’s also some encouragement here. Soldiers suffer, but most of the time, they don’t suffer alone. They suffer together. And its through that shared suffering that soldiers build some of the deepest and most profound relationships known to men. I think of that line from Shakespeare: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.”
History has proven him right again and again, and I’ve tasted this in ministry so often. Those with whom I am the closest are those with whom I have suffered the most.
And so there’s a warm encouragement in Paul’s words to come “share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” He will suffer, but none of this should surprise him if he comes with the mindset and attitude and approach of a soldier. He’ll embrace the suffering, give up anything to please his commanding officer Jesus, and along the way find joy and deep relationships being formed with those with whom he suffers.
There’s a second metaphor or word-picture that Paul gives Timothy to think over here. It’s that of an athlete. Verse 5: “An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Timothy 2:5). This verse encourages Timothy to think of himself, and to adopt the mindset, of a dedicated athlete who is aiming at victory.
Now there’s many aspects of an athlete’s life that include suffering. In the ancient Olympics, an athlete could not compete unless they had completed ten month’s of required training beforehand. That’s ten months they could have been relaxing and having fun but instead were undergoing gruelling work, ending every day sweaty and sore.
And this could be one of the “rules” that Paul is thinking of in verse 5 here. His words also point to the discipline and focus and suffering required by an athlete as they compete. They don’t win unless they stay on track and actually cross that finish line.
And this is the approach that Timothy needs to take to his ministry. Don’t quit, don’t flake out, don’t take the easy road. Be disciplined, be focused. Aim for a reward.
The third word-picture here is that of a hard-working farmer. “It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops” (2 Timothy 2:6). Notice Paul doesn’t say just to think like a farmer, but a hard-working farmer—just like he talked about being a good soldier, and an athlete aimed at victory. Now, a hard-working farmer.
I don’t think I need to say a whole lot more about this one, because so many of you know what this is all about. You know that hard-working farmers doesn’t work when they feel like it; they work when there’s work to be done. All other needs, including sleep, take a backseat to the work that needs to be done. A good farmer shows incredible resolve and discipline and dedication to doing whatever they can, and suffering whatever they need to, to make sure that their ground can produce a solid crop.
And that’s the same approach that Timothy is going to need to make it in his ministry. Commenting on this verse, Denny Burk wrote that “Lazy people make bad farmers. They also make bad Christians.”3Denny Burk, “2 Timothy,” in Ephesians–Philemon, ed. Iain M. Duguid, James M. Hamilton Jr., and Jay Sklar, vol. XI, ESV Expository Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 469.
This metaphor of “hard-working farmer” also reinforces the idea of a reward. The “hard-working farmer out to have the first share of the crops.” It’s the reward of the crops that keeps him going and gives him something to aim for, just like the athlete aims for victory and the soldier aims to please their commanding officer.
Now there’s so much more we could say about all of this, and that’s kind of the point, because verse 7 says “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” Paul urges Timothy to think. To think about these word-pictures of soldier, athlete and farmer. To think over these words. As he thinks, God will give him understanding. He doesn’t get the understanding himself. But God is not just going to dump that understanding into his brain as he watches TV one night. God will give him understanding as he thinks.
Now right here I want to stop and preach a whole sermon about thinking. John Piper wrote a whole book called “Think” based mainly off of this verse—it’s in our library, and it’s excellent.
Thinking has a very important place in the Christian life. Try, sometime, opening the Bible app on your phone and searching for the word “think” in the New Testament. Or the word “know,” like k-n-o-w. Or the word mind. We are to love God with all of our minds, and knowledge and thinking have major roles in the Christian life.
And in this particular context of 2 Timothy 2, Paul urges Timothy to think over his words about soldiers and athletes and farmers—all people with hard jobs who suffer for a reward. Paul wants Timothy to understand that his own suffering is not strange, it’s not unusual. Just like a soldier, just like an athlete, just like a farmer, so he too suffers for a reward.
And this is the kind of mindset that Timothy needs to have if he’s going to make it in ministry. The mindset of a soldier, an athlete, a farmer. If he’s going to keep suffering for the gospel, this is how he needs to think and what he needs to think about.
And so we can sum up verses 3-7 with the word think.
As we turn to verses 8-13, you’ll remember that these verses are summed up by the word “remember.” That word comes right in verse 8—“Remember Jesus Christ.” And what we need to see is that this isn’t a new topic. Paul is still urging Timothy to share in suffering. In verses 3-7 he helped Timothy share in suffering by telling him to think about his words. And here, he helps Timothy share in suffering by telling him to remember Jesus Christ.
Isn’t it true that when we are suffering, so often we forget? Our gaze drops and all we can think about is our pain. But Paul knows that Timothy needs to remember Jesus. And, particularly, what Paul draws attention to here is the way in which Jesus suffered and then was victorious over his suffering, and how through Jesus we will also be victorious over our suffering.
Let’s look at how Paul introduces Jesus in verse 8: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David”! Jesus, the offspring of David, who came just like God promised. Jesus, who suffered so much like his forefather David, and indeed far beyond anything David ever experienced. Jesus, who rose from the dead like David prophesied, and who now rules forever as king.
“Son of David” sums up both the suffering and the victory of Jesus. And Paul’s point in the rest of this section is that, just like Jesus, so to we will suffer, and yet, through Jesus and because of Jesus, we can look forward to victory over our suffering.
Look at verse 9, where Paul mentions his suffering—“bound with chains as a criminal” for the sake of the gospel. But that’s not the full story. Because “The word of God is not bound! Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.”
Paul knows that this gospel he preaches isn’t just a set of ideas, it’s real news about a real person who is really saving real people. And so Paul is willing to endure suffering because it’s through that suffering that Jesus is bringing the saving message of the gospel to these people.
This is a big theme in Paul’s life—that suffering was not a sidetrack to his ministry, but suffering was the way that his ministry actually happened. His suffering is what magnified Jesus and made the gospel look great. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Corinthians 4:7–10).
And so just like Jesus suffered and then entered in to glory, so Paul suffers so that God’s chosen people—his elect—will be able to share in that glory.
And as he does that, he knows that he himself will get to share in that glory, as verse 11 and 12 says. “If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:11–12).
What an encouragement to share in suffering: if we share Jesus’ sufferings, we get to share in His glories as well.
Once again, this is not a unique idea in the New Testament. Romans 8:17 says that we are “fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” Revelation 2:26 says, “The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations.” Revelation 3:21 says “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.”
And it’s that same truth that Paul points to here. If we die with Jesus, we will live with Jesus. If we endure suffering with and for Jesus, we will reign with him.
I just want you to take that in for a moment. King Jesus promises to share his reign with us if we suffer with him. This is not fantasy—this is reality. King Jesus, the son of David, is inviting you to be a part of his government. And the way you prepare is by suffering like Him, for Him, and with Him.
And this perspective changes everything. When you are suffering, to remember that Jesus suffered and is not experiencing glory, and so will you, changes everything. This is the picture of the shore that will keep us swimming when the waves are cold and incessant.
Or to use another picture, think about these words from Charles Simeon, a man who suffered immensely for the gospel: “My dear brother, we must not mind a little suffering for Christ’s sake. When I am getting through a hedge, if my head and shoulders are safely through, I can bear the pricking of my legs. Let us rejoice in the remembrance that our holy Head has surmounted all His suffering and triumphed over death. Let us follow Him patiently; we shall soon be partakers of His victory.” [H.C.G. Moule, Charles Simeon, London: InterVarsity, 1948, 155f.]
Do you hear that perspective there? Jesus has suffered and has gone into glory. We’re suffering a little bit now, but, just as Jesus is our head and we are His body, we shall soon share His glorious reign with Him. It’s going to happen.
And as we’re going to see again in 2 Timothy, this was the essential perspective that kept Paul going in ministry. Like we saw again and again in the Matthew series last year, its the promise of our best life later. As it was with Christ, so it will be with us. After suffering there will be glory.
Now before we finish up here we need to acknowledge that there is a flip side to this truth. If we suffer with Jesus, we will share His glory later. If we refuse to suffer with Jesus now, there will be a cost. As verse 12 says, “If we deny him, he will also deny us.” Paul is picking up here on something that Jesus Himself said in Matthew 10:32-33: “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32–33).
The language of “before my father in heaven” points to the final judgement, and so the idea here is that eternal salvation is in view. If we have been saved by Jesus, we will be loyal to him—publicly loyal to Him. If we break allegiance with Jesus we show that we are not saved and we will face his rejection on the judgement day.
This is a strong warning to people who might want to secretly follow Jesus, to get in on eternal life, but publicly pretend that they don’t believe in Him, so that they can live an easy life now. John 12:42 talked about these kinds of people when it says that “many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue” (John 12:42).
As the old saying goes, you can’t eat your cake and keep it, too. You can’t deny Jesus now for an easy life and then hope to be accepted by Him in eternity. And Timothy needs to be reminded of this. If we deny him, he will also deny us. And as verse 13 says, “If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.”
Now the meaning of this final verse is a little unclear. Is Paul saying that if we are unfaithful to Jesus, he will be faithful to keep his word and deny us on the judgement day, because, if He didn’t, He would basically be denying Himself? Or, is Paul saying that sometimes genuine believers in Jesus will temporarily be faithless, like Peter was the night Jesus was betrayed, but Jesus will be faithful to His promises and bring His true children back to Himself?
And the answer is that both are true. Those who are permanently, deliberately faithless to Jesus will face His denial on judgement day. Those who temporarily stumble, like Peter, can look forward to His welcoming grace.
But we need to be so careful that we don’t presume on that. When Peter denied Jesus, it was a temporary display of cowardice. He wasn’t planning on it. It wasn’t a calculated abandonment. He had every intention of following Jesus to death.
And that’s a big difference between the true and false followers of Jesus. True followers of Jesus might stumble in the moment, but our hearts are oriented towards bold allegiance to Jesus. Those who cooly calculate when and where they will act like Christians and when and where they will set their Christianity aside should ask if they really know Jesus in the first place.
Who Is This For?
So, that’s our passage today. The big idea is an invitation to share in suffering for the gospel. And Paul urges Timothy to share in suffering two ways. First, think over his words about soldiers and athletes and farmers. Second, remember Jesus. Remember that He suffered and entered into glory, and so will we as we follow Him.
Now an important question we need to ask is, can we apply these words to ourselves? Timothy was a specific man in a specific job, so are these words for all of us?
And my answer comes in two parts. First, Paul’s words to Timothy do have a specific application to people who are in positions like Timothy. Pastors, church leaders, missionaries, ministry leaders. There is a particular intensity to full-time ministry leadership and these words do have a specific application to those in similar ministries as Timothy.
I’m not actually going to say a whole lot about this angle this morning, except to say a few brief words to those of you who are interested or thinking about going into pastoral ministry or ministry leadership. Over the years I’ve seen way too many guys launch themselves into ministry leadership for all kinds of terrible reasons. Sometimes it’s because they really like theology and they like the idea of people listening to what they have to say. Sometimes it’s because they don’t know what else to do and working in a church seems like an easy career path. Sometimes it’s because they have dreams and ambitions of building a platform or a brand for themselves.
And I just want to wave this passage around today and say that you should never think about pastoral ministry or ministry leadership unless you’re prepared to suffer. And to use the language of the passage, you should not think about full-time ministry unless you’re ready to have the focus and courage of a soldier, the discipline of an athlete, the work ethic of a farmer, and the sufferings of Jesus Himself.
The kind of people who should be pastors or ministry leaders are the kind of people who could go into the military, or athletics, or agriculture, and do well. Not because they’re the most naturally gifted but because they know how to put in the work and they know how to suffer. And if that’s not you, then there’s lots of other jobs in the world you can do. But please don’t think about full-time ministry unless you’re ready to sweat and suffer.
Now I’ve just spoken some specific words to a very specific group of people. But let me widen it out a little bit. Because the truth is that what Paul says here to has more application to the rest of us than you might think.
Suffering for the gospel is not just for pastors or missionaries or ministry leaders. As we’re going to hear in the next chapter, “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). Paul wrote to the Philippians that “it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have” (Philippians 1:29–30).
Suffering for the gospel is for all of us.
Being a soldier is for all of us. Remember Ephesians 6 which tells us to put on the armour of God and stand firm against the schemes of the Devil? That’s for all of us. We’re all soldiers.
Approaching the Christian life like an athlete is for all of us. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2a).
Working hard like a farmer is for all of us. “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
And we’ve already seen that suffering with Jesus so that we might be glorified with Jesus is for all of us.
So yes, this passage is for us. The invitation is for all of us to share in suffering like good soldiers of Jesus. The invitation is for all of us to think and to remember that we might suffer well.
So let’s get really specific here. These words about suffering surely are an encouragement to those who are experiencing all kinds of suffering. We can even apply these words, in measure, to those who are suffering from sickness or broken relationships. But we should acknowledge that the particular focus of this passage is suffering for the gospel. Suffering for staying loyal to Jesus and His truth.
So let’s ask: where, in your world, are you tempted to avoid suffering by acting like you don’t know Jesus? Is it at school? In your workplace? Do you have certain friends or family members where you just set Jesus aside temporarily?
Where are you tempted to be disloyal to Jesus, to avoid hardship by just going with the crowd?
It’s always been easy to do that, and it’s getting easier and easier as the truths of Christianity get more and more unpopular here in Canada. It’s getting harder and harder to stay loyal and faithful to the gospel and the teaching of the Bible. “You seriously believe that?” is a question that we are going to get asked more and more. “You’re not allowed to believe that” is something we’re going to be told more and more.
As Josh Garrells sang a few years ago, “It’s gonna cost us everything to follow one Lord and King.” And those words are going to be truer and truer for us as time goes on.
So resist the temptation to shrink back. Resist the temptation to try to grab on to your best life now. Hear the words of Jesus: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10–12).
Friends, if we take Jesus’ words to heart, then we should look to the hard years ahead of us with joy, because all of this means that we have more joy in store for us in the years ahead. Like a soldier, we have the joy of victory, the joy of pleasing our officer. Like an athlete, we have the joy of crossing the finish line. Like a farmer, we have the joy of a rich harvest. And, following in Jesus’ footsteps, we have the joy of sharing Jesus’ very reward with Him. “If we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Timothy 2:12a).
And so we’re going to end this morning by singing together, “Am I A Soldier of the Cross?” This is an older hymn that many of you may not have heard before. And may God use these words to stir up our hearts to faithfulness and loyalty to the saviour who died and rose again for us, who offers strength to us today so that we might suffer with Him on our way to His glory.