Enduring for the Elect
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned. 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 2:8-10
Paul, conscious that he is very near to the end of his earthly life, is writing to Timothy about what motivates him to endure his difficult circumstances. He is imprisoned as a criminal, which would have been frustrating at multiple levels. We don’t know exactly what form this imprisonment took – he could have been in a rat-infested dungeon, or he could simply have been chained to a soldier under house arrest. Either way, this is something we would prefer to have changed. But even more frustrating than his physical condition would have been the limitations his condition placed on his ability to advance the gospel. How much can you really do when you’re in chains?
Yet Paul understands that even though he is severely restricted by his imprisonment, the word of God is under no such restrictions. It will both go where the Lord wants it to go and do what the Lord wants it to do. It cannot be held captive. In fact, God had even used Paul’s imprisonment to advance the gospel (Phil. 1:12-14). And once God’s word is sent out, it has power to break through otherwise impenetrable walls to both reach and change peoples’ hearts. Hebrews 4:12 reminds us that “the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
The fact that God’s word is not imprisoned drives Paul to “endure all these things”. And he includes in this statement of endurance a paradoxical idea. He says he endures all these things “for the sake of those who are chosen”. It’s clear enough in Scripture that God has chosen some for salvation from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4); but the problem is with the way we naturally respond to this. If God is so completely and unchangeably in control of this, why would we bother to exert any effort or make any sacrifice to be involved with the process? Why would we endure anything, if our lack of endurance won’t change either God’s plan or his ability to execute it?
But Paul doesn’t demand an answer that question. In fact, he is energized by the fact that he is privileged to participate in the infallible plan of God. He is not paralyzed by the mystery. Instead, he is energized by the opportunity.
God’s word cannot be kept inside stone walls or outside of them. It is not imprisoned. It has power that cannot be withstood by any force. And God has chosen that his word should reach the hearts of certain people. He has made an unalterable decree that people would be reached by an unstoppable power. And we get to be a part of that. We get to be on the winning team, and experience the power of the grace of God firsthand as we see it change lives. Let’s embrace both mystery and opportunity, and endure all these things for the sake of those who are chosen – whoever they may be.