September 12, 1999

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2 Timothy 3:12, Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.

V. 12 follows v. 11, where Paul spoke of the physical abuse he endured because he was following Christ; therefore, we automatically assume the persecution promised to God's people in v. 13 is physical persecution -- fire and sword.

However, this verse does not say at least two things that we commonly assume it does. First, it does not say the godly will be persecuted with "fire and sword." And second, it does not say that the persecutors are the majority in the world, though presently they are. This verse simply says that all who live godly will suffer persecution.

Fairbairn comments:

...The apostle had spoken of his own persecutions, how he himself bore them, and how God delivered him out of them; but he now generalizes, in a manner, his own experience: others may look for a measure of the same. None, indeed, are excepted; all who are minded (... having their will set) to live piously in Christ Jesus --in Him, or in union with Him, as the one true source of living godliness--shall be persecuted. He does not say how or to what extent; but merely states the fact, that persecution in some form or another shall be their portion. And even this general announcement obviously presupposes as its ground, the existence in the world around of a spirit of alienation and hostility with respect to vital godliness. But that might not be always and everywhere the same; it could not but vary as Christianity itself rose to power, or the reverse; and so, as regards quantity and force, a certain conditional element necessarily enters into the statement, which may be put thus: In so far as the world retains its native character, those who are bent on leading in it lives of piety shall have to meet persecution. If through the diffusion of the gospel the old has to a considerable extent passed away, and a better order of things taken its place, then the persecution may narrow itself to taunts, reproaches, spiteful or contemptuous treatment, when at the behest of holy principle a stand is made against worldly compliance or fashionable vices. In these, however, the persecuting spirit breathes, only less coarsely and vehemently than when fire and sword are its weapons (Gal. iv. 29). So that the apostolic utterance still has its application to the Christian life, and they who would prosecute this life must be ready to brave such persecution. But they should never court it; they are as much bound to avoid provoking it by indiscretions, as to bear it meekly when excited by their virtue. (The Pastoral Epistles, 374, 375.)

First, common sense tells us that Paul makes a general statement. If we try to make this verse stand alone, we must say that if a person is not physically suffering for being a Christian, he is not living godly. Though some people seem to believe this, such a statement will not stand. (E.g., Charley Smith.)

Second, though Paul identifies some of the persecution he went through, such as beatings and prisons, he does not identify what kind of persecution, nor to what extent persecution will be for others. He simply states a fact that persecution, in some form or another, will come to those who live godly.

Third, Paul's statement is given in the context of sin, and that sin is found both in the Christian's surrounding society and in his own flesh.

Fourth, as long as sin is in the world, there will be persecution until there shall be time no longer (Rev. 10:6). And as long as the godly are in this world, they will be persecuted. Death is the only release from persecution.

Fifth, Christians must not seek persecution. I know people who seem to seek persecution because, to them at least, it proves that they are godly according to 2 Timothy 3:12. Those people are in danger of pride, thinking that because they face physical persecution, they are living godly lives. We should note that an unsaved person can be physically persecuted for his good actions. Does that persecution mean he is a godly person, as v. 12 would seem to indicate?
Sixth, physical persecution against those who live godly depends upon the social temper around him. As the surrounding Christian temper varies, so will persecution. So, persecution will not be everywhere, nor will it always be the same, nor will it be against every godly person. In other words, Paul tells us that even if we were living in an absolutely perfect world where every one around us loved God and did their best to live godly, we will still have persecution.

Seventh, persecution does not require "fire and sword."

But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.(Galatians 4:29.)

The Hebrew text, Gen. xxi. 9, has simply 'laughing'... [T]he word seems to mean 'mocking, jeering'... The anger of Sarah, taken in connexion [sic]with the occasion, a festival in honour of the weaning of Isaac, seems to require it. (Galatians, Lightfoot, 183.)

Ishmeal, Hagar's son who was born after the flesh, laughed at, or mocked and made fun of, Isaac, Sarah's son, who was born after the Spirit. Isaac was the son of the promise, not Ishmeal. Sarah saw the mockery, and insisted that Hagar and her son be cast out, which they were.

According to Paul's usage in Galatians 4:29, persecution has two definitions. And neither of the two refers to "fire and sword":

1) persecution can simply be the wicked mocking, or making fun of the righteous.2) however, Paul is telling us in Galatians 4 that every child of God has two natures -- the old nature which is pictured by Ishmeal, and the new nature placed there by the Holy Spirit of promise. The new nature is pictured byIsaac. Christian salvation did not solve the problem of the old nature; in fact, salvation really set off the inner conflict between the two, and gives the desire and power to obey the new nature. And only those who are unconverted do not experience that conflict.


In an old Walt Disney Cartoon, Pluto's home with Micky Mouse was invaded by an orphaned kitten. The kitten knew what he was doing, and he got Pluto thrown out of the house in the dead of winter. At the end of the clip, the kitten fell in a well, and two small men appeared on Pluto's shoulder -- one a devil and the other an angel. The devil was saying, LET THE KITTEN DROWN. The other was urging Pluto to SAVE THE KITTEN. In the end, Pluto saved the kitten, and fell into the well himself. Of course, he turned out to be the hero.

NOTE -- an inner conflict between "good" and "bad" does not mean salvation. That conflict could simply be our conscience -- formed by our upbringing and social conditions -- calling our attention to what is proper. The onlyassurance of salvation is the word of God:

John 5:39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. 1 John 5:13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

Galatians 4:29, promises that the old nature -- represented by Ishmeal -- would persecute the new nature --represented by Isaac -- in the child of God. God promises us grace to see us through this persecution. Only death will deliver us from that persecution.

Paul spoke of this persecution in Romans 7:

14 For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15 For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. 16 If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. 17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. 19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. 20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. 22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

According to Galatians 4:29:

Persecution is when our desire to please the Heavenly Father is undermined, if not outright killed, by the old nature.

Persecution is when everything under the sun comes to mind to justify us not being nor doing what is pleasing in his sight. Ishmeal is the one who attacks the godly desires, and convinces us that it is unimportant to do a certain thing that we know pleases God.

Persecution is when the doubts and fears and worry overtake us despite what the Lord promises us in his word.

Persecution is when we have made everything right that we know to do by God's grace, yet our conscience is still against us, dragging up that past and beating us down with it.

Persecution is when we try to stop some personal action that displeases God. Those who have quit smoking know exactly what is meant here. The old nature persecuted the new nature very harshly as you were breaking that habit.

Persecution is when the old nature, Ishmeal, does his best to keep us in bondage to the traditions and errors of the past. And he will use everything at his disposal to keep us in bondage. He will use, "But that was the way I was raised" to justify our sin. He certainly will not tell us that Christ sets us free from those things, Galatians 5:1.

Accordingly, the real persecution is being kept in bondage of sin.

Persecution is when we want to strike out at someone whom we feel has done us wrong. ROAD RAGE is a good example -- persecution is when Isaac wants to overlook that wrong, but Ishmeal does all he can to urge us to get even.

Persecution is when we say, WHY ME, LORD, or it questions why the Lord allows bad things to happen to good people? Persecution questions God. Persecution places doubts about God's loving care for his own people.

And the list of persecutions goes on and on. And I must say that the persecution placed against us by Ishmeal on the inside is far more devastating than any "fire or sword" that can come upon us from the outside. This inner persecution has destroyed the spirit of far more godly people than the outside perfection by the wicked people around us ever has.

And so is the Scripture fulfilled, Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.

Let me say here that those who try to please the Heavenly Father even though they do not have the inward desire to do so are not saved. Salvation brings the Holy Spirit to live within, and with that Spirit comes the inward desire to live godly in Christ Jesus. And the old nature will do all it can to persecute and smother that desire to live godly.

2 Corinthians 4:8 We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; 9 Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; 10 Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.

Thus the promised persecution of v. 12 can simply be the old nature persecuting the new nature. And this persecution we face continually.

Galatians 5:1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

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