1 Kings 18:3-16; 2 Timothy 2:1-14

October 2, 2022

  • What we do for the sake of the gospel


What would you do if I were to get arrested?

Boy, that is a zinger to lead off a sermon.  Before you get too worried, though, I’m not trying to prepare you for scandal – neither the cops nor the FBI are on their way over.  I am not a fugitive from South America living in hiding, though that would probably make for a more interesting story.  My question is strictly theoretical for the foreseeable future.

So what would you do if your pastor were hauled off to jail?

Honestly, it is not even an easy question for me to ask.  I have always been a rule follower and a believer in pursuing the good and right and virtuous.  Hampden-Sydney with its insistence on honor was a good fit for me.  As an oldest child, I also try to respect those in authority, so this is not an easy topic for me to explore.  Nevertheless, I am exploring it today because Paul brought it up first.

To make sure we are all on the same page, the Apostle Paul, who wrote a good number of the books of the New Testament, was a true evangelist in that he went across the Mediterranean world spreading the gospel.  He established or supported worshipping communities around the Mediterranean Sea up into Italy and had plans to go further.  In his travels, he also made enemies.  Because he was working in the Jewish world for the sake of Jesus, he was considered a serious problem to the religious powers of the day.  If you will remember, he himself started out rounding up Christians for the Jewish leaders and delivering them to prison and worse.  Of course, that was before he met Jesus.  Eventually, Paul himself was arrested and, even more eventually, was sent for trial to Rome.  Right in front of the Basilica of St. Peter at the Vatican (where the Pope lives), there is a statue of the Apostle Paul standing there holding a sword.  The saints who died for the sake of the faith were often depicted with the way that they died.  I will leave you to figure that one out.

While Paul was under house arrest awaiting his trial, he was still able to work and sent letters to others and had visitors.  One of the letters that he wrote was this letter to Timothy.  It is a sad letter in that Paul is having to explain what’s going on and to encourage Timothy who seems to be upset with the way things are.  It strikes me that Paul sees the confusion and embarrassment Timothy holds for Paul being imprisoned for so long for no good reason.  It seems Timothy is discouraged by the fate of Paul, his second father.

Paul had been imprisoned before but never like this.  According to Luke’s account in the Book of Acts, Paul was in prison in Judea for 2 years and in Rome for 2 years, and that does not include all the time getting from one place to the other which took a while by sea with the weather and even a shipwreck.  Apparently, Paul would have even been released in Luke’s account, if he had not invoked his desire to appeal his case to the Emperor of Rome.  None of the local state leaders saw a reason to kill Paul, until apparently his trial in Rome.  It seems a waste.  Sure, Paul was working on the gospel while he was imprisoned, but there were also many challenges.  People were leaving the faith, abandoning Paul, and you would think being stuck in house-arrest did not make it easier for Paul to minister.  That’s not how he imagined meeting the followers of Jesus in Rome.  It is easy to see the reasons for discouragement.  Timothy was feeling it.  It feels like Timothy was reluctant to embrace his connection to Paul and was letting his faith grow cool.  It had become harder for Timothy in his faith struggle.  In the middle of this, however, Paul makes it abundantly clear that suffering is, in fact, part of the life we are being called into.  And this is the problem for today.

Suffering for Jesus sounds like an important and righteous part of our lives in the Lord.  I imagine everyone here believes that there is something redemptive to facing hardship for the sake of the gospel; I imagine everyone here believes suffering for Jesus is something that comes with the life.  What we have is an abundantly worldly place that resists the love of Christ and his command to love others as he has loved us.  The world and every worldly power is fundamentally contrary to Jesus.  What’s more, those powers may and do assail God’s children in harsh, even brutal ways.  Suffering for Jesus is certainly possible.

And yet, it is not as easy to actually suffer because of Jesus, for his sake or the sake of the gospel, as we might think.  I have heard it said that at least part of the church’s activity should be seeking out ways to suffer for the work of Christ – looking for places and situations in which the children of God are being oppressed or persecuted or threatened or treated unjustly and standing with them and for them in their suffering.  There are followers of Jesus right now who are locked up because they see injustice working against the people of God, even in this nation, and they are refusing to sit by while our sisters and brothers are being harmed.  Some of this involves the situation of our African-American family in the justice system that has historically shifted from something that could rehabilitate offenders through punishment to something that largely just punishes people and dehumanizes them.  Or maybe you believe the justice system effectively helps to restore people to healthier ways of living after they have served their time.  The system is already troubled, but the statistics show that race does matter when considering the number of convictions and the length of prison sentences.

There are plenty of wrongs out there in the world calling for our outrage.  We even have people chaining themselves to trees from time to time – though, I’m not so sure that matters much here.  Still, there ARE things for which to go down fighting.  Maybe you’re furious about the trafficking of women and children in the sex trade or the deplorable situation at the border or the lack of attention to refugees or the treatment of people who are different from us or childhood poverty and starvation or the ways we have set up education to fail.  These are just a few things that stir the hearts of Jesus’ people to suffer with our neighbor, the other, and even our enemy for the sake of a better life.  Standing up to the powers of this world in the love of Jesus is a way to trying to bring about godly change, and it is also a potential way to get arrested.

But is also not the only way to find yourself suffering for the love of God’s children.  That just happens to be one way Paul found himself doing it.  This is the same Paul who admits in 2 Corinthians 11:24-28 that Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked.  And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches.

It sounds like Paul lived up to Jesus’ promise that he would suffer for the sake of the gospel, but this is something that is largely alien to us.  Thankfully, there is more for us.  Obadiah in 1 Kings 18 had risked himself to protect prophets of the Lord from the murderous reign of King Ahab and Jezebel.  He had gone to a lot of trouble to hide them for the time.  That is why he is so upset when he meets Elijah because it looks like Elijah is about to topple his applecart and get him in trouble.  He was trying to avoid trouble at all costs.  Elijah assures him that it will be fine.

This invites another way that we endure hardship for the sake of Jesus which is through our giving and support.  We can go to trouble to secure the work of the gospel here and around the world.  This includes time and energy working with ministries and the financial support, but the whole premise here is that this work or support should be significant enough to be considered some kind of real sacrifice on our part.  Generally, this is less the case.

And I am living proof.  There are things that I and my family have done which we believe are building the Kingdom of God, particularly in public education and our determination to support every child in this most basic need.  But I have also not given my time and energy to doing more in community ministry.  Honestly, I think some of this is the pandemic and the wideness of gloom and depression that has settled on all people.  It is hard to go out and do more when you are struggling to keep yourself together.

I personally feel like I should be doing more for the Kingdom of God and going to more trouble to work for the call of Jesus.  Paul was fanatical about this, and he ended up being executed for his need to follow Jesus into any danger.  We may not have that same need, but we do need to find how we will, in fact, follow our Savior into greater service.  We don’t want to be like Timothy and get embarrassed by what others might do to stand with the love of God in Christ for all of God’s children.  These are our sisters and brothers, too.  Thankfully, there is always that ember of faith to rekindle.  Thankfully, we are a people who passes along the faith.  Thankfully, there is always today to find ourselves reconnected with all of God’s people.  Thankfully, we do have the grace of our Lord holding us as we figure out our path, wherever it may lead and whatever it might cost.  To God be the glory.  Amen.