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Suffering, a Prerequisite for Soul Saving

volume 19, number 31, July 23, 2020

“For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.” -2 Timothy 2:10

I spent about thirty minutes each morning in most of 2019 memorizing and meditating on Paul’s two epistles to his son in the faith, Timothy. I was struck by how often Paul speaks of suffering for the sake of the gospel, referring to his own suffering but also exhorting Timothy to suffer hardship as a good soldier of Christ Jesus (2 Tim.2:3). Without question Paul was incredibly fruitful in his ministry. After his conversion around 32 A.D. he immediately began preaching the gospel in Damascus. From there he spent three years preaching in Arabia (the Nabatean kingdom east of the Jordan River, Damascus being situated at the northern edge of Nabatea)[1] and then he went to Jerusalem for about two weeks, followed by fourteen years of church planting work in Syria and Cilicia (Gal.1:15-2:1). After working with Barnabas at Antioch for a short time, in 48,49 A.D. Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark were commissioned by the elders of the church at Antioch to take the gospel to the Roman province of Galatia (Acts 13:4ff). Over the next ten years God used Paul to produce church planting strongholds in four Roman provinces (Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia, and Asia Minor). Paul tells the Romans that from Jerusalem and as far as Illyricum (also known then as Dalmatia or modern day Croatia) he had fully preached the gospel of Christ, never building on another man’s foundation (Rom.15:19,20). Only God knows how many thousands of people were converted through Paul’s ministry.

How was he able to do all that he did? To be sure, the church was growing rapidly at the time by means of the outpouring of the promised Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8, 2:1ff). This was the supernatural explanation. But, my friends, there was also a natural or human explanation for the massive soul saving dimension of Paul’s ministry—his suffering. In calling the nation of Judah back to Yahweh, Micah exhorts the covenant people of God to writhe and labor to give birth, like a woman in childbirth, for they would soon go out of the city, dwell in a field, and go to Babylon in exile. However Yahweh also promised to rescue them and to redeem them from the hand of their enemies (Micah 4:10). Suffering promised rescue and redemption. 
The pain of childbirth is a picture of the suffering God often requires of His servants if they are to bear much fruit for the kingdom. I watched my wife go through labor four times without taking anything for the pain (that’s how it was done forty years ago). Each time she was eager to go through the pain because she knew the end result was the birth of another child. Suffering brought new life.

Likewise suffering is the prerequisite for soul saving. Here’s my question—do you see many souls saved? Pastor, elder, deacon, evangelist, lay leader how many people have you seen in the last year call on the name of the Lord to be saved? Do you see the fruit of salvation in your ministry? Does this question trouble you? It should for most of us must confess that we see very few people being saved. 

Why is this the case? Some will dismiss the issue by citing the sovereignty of God in election. They say, “I guess there are just not many elect people hanging out these days in my community.” Or they say, “We are a very secular, godless community. No one seems to be open to the gospel.” There is, however, another more practical reason for our lack of souls being saved. We rarely suffer hardship for the sake of the gospel. We tend to play it safe, remaining behind the lines, as it were, fearful of entering the fray of hand-to-hand combat, door-to-door gospel work. Paul tells Timothy that he has suffered in preaching the gospel and that this suffering is the catalyst which brings conversion. He writes something similar in Colossians saying that his suffering is filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions (Col.1:24). Paul nor anyone else can add anything to the sufferings of Christ as far as propitiation[2] is concerned. Nonetheless our sufferings do add to the propagation of the gospel. Consider just a few exhortations on suffering from Paul to Timothy in his second epistle. “God has not given us a spirit of timidity. . . Do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or me His prisoner but join with me in suffering for the gospel,” (1:7-8). “For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed. . .” (1:12). “You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me. . . Onesiphorus was not ashamed of my chains,” (1:15,16). “Suffer hardship with me as a good soldier of Christ Jesus,” (2:3). “Remember Jesus Christ. . . for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal. . . for this reason I endure all things for the sake or those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus,” (2:8-10). “Now you followed my . . . perseverance, persecutions, and sufferings. . . and the persecutions I endured. . . Indeed all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (3:10-12). “But you be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. . . I am already being poured out as a drink offering,” (4:5,6). “Make every effort to come to me soon; for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. . . When you come bring the cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus. . . Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. . . he vigorously opposed our teaching,” (4:9,13,14). “At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me,” (4:16). “Make every effort to come to me before winter,” (4:21). Three quick references to coming quickly, bringing his cloak, and coming before winter tell you that Paul was suffering mightily in the cold, damp Roman prison cell. I could also cite several other references by Paul (2 Cor.4:8-12, 11:23-33 come immediately to mind) but I hope you get the point.  I wholeheartedly include myself in this statement—if we are not seeing regular fruit in the salvation of sinners then our hearts should be breaking. We should be weeping over our paltry results.

Suffering for the sake of the gospel is the human catalyst God uses to birth spiritual babies into the kingdom of God. But how shall we suffer? Paul told Timothy that all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Not might be persecuted but will be persecuted. If you are daily speaking to people about their souls, if you are living a life of principled obedience, then trouble will find you. People hate this kind of living. I am not suggesting, of course, that we look for trouble. God may lead some men to preach at an Antifa insurrection, but Paul seemed generally to avoid such confrontations. He fled Damascus by being let down in a basket (2 Cor.11:32). After beatings and other forms of degradation and rejection, he fled to the next town. 

There can be little doubt that the coming months will give the church of Jesus many opportunities to suffer or cower. Suffering for the sake of Jesus will bring many conversions. This is God’s way. Are you willing to get out of your comfort zone and go to lost people with the only message which can save them? Are you willing to suffer as a mother bringing her child into the world?  

1. Early Church Mission: Paul and the Early Church, page 1032, Eckhard J. Schnabel.
2. Propitiation is a theological term which means the just condemnation of God which we deserve due to our sin has been satisfied by Christ’s death on the cross (Rom.3:25, 1 Jn.2:2, 4:10).

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