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But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
Leaders, have you ever been misunderstood? I’m talking about being mischaracterized and hurt by those whom you were called to serve or lead. If you haven’t, then in the words of my Grandmother, “keep living.” Just as death is a natural part of life, affliction is a natural part of leadership. There will be seasons in your life when you will be required to make decisions that will be unpopular and uncomfortable. These decisions may cause you to be misunderstood, and your sacrifices unappreciated. When you experience this type of hurt from those who you are called to help, then you will experience hardship. The King James Version would refer to it as affliction. You may be tempted to ask God, “Why is this happening?” or “How could God allow me to be subjected to such afflictions?” I have come to realize that affliction is not always a sin of apocalyptic judgment, but rather a tool that God uses to work his purposes in our lives.
Isn’t it interesting how the Bible speaks of hardship and affliction? Matthew 5:11 asserts that we are to consider ourselves blessed when we experience hardships. Exodus 1:12 gives us an account of the children of Israel increasing under oppression. And in our theme scripture, Paul charges Timothy to endure affliction. Endurance is not the most ideal posture that we would want to display when we are being oppressed. We would rather get out of the situation as soon as possible, or avoid it altogether. Yet God suggests that we should go through affliction, and outlast it.
In 2 Timothy 4:3-4, Paul provides Timothy with a future depiction of the posture of the people that he would lead, and of society in general: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap unto themselves teachers, having itching ears. And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4, KJV). These would be the unthankful and selfish people who would afflict Timothy during his pursuit of the welfare of Christ’s Church. The same people whom he has called to serve could be the same people who would attempt to obstruct his mission in Christ. Yet Paul still encourages this young pastor to endure hardship.
Through his own hardships and times of affliction, Paul experienced the most maturity and growth. Why? Because the apostle learned to trust in the sovereignty of God and view affliction through that lens. By putting his trust in God, Paul was able to understand that affliction is allowed by God to sharpen us and strengthen our leadership abilities. Think about it for a moment. When you are being persecuted you pray more, you hear God better, and you are more yielded to God than at any other point in your Christian walk. These qualities then lead to stronger acts of leadership. This only works if you remain committed to the process . . . if you endure hardship.
Paul yearned for Timothy to become a strong and effective leader. He understood, from personal experience, that affliction has sometimes been God’s choicest tool of development. It was with this in mind that Paul charged Timothy to submit to the process of affliction by enduring it. Doing so would improve the young pastor’s leadership and benefit the Church in the long term. As leaders, we must encourage the next generation to endure hardship and persecution. No, it is not fair . . . but yes, it is necessary. Your submission to this God-ordained process has made you the successful leader that you are. Teaching the next generation to do the same will empower them to strategically lead the Church to greater heights and depths.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
How do you respond when you are afflicted?
Are you actively submitting to the process of affliction?
How have your past experiences shaped you as a leader?
What advice can you give to the next generation on enduring hardships?
God of peace, we call on you today. We confess that, as leaders, there are areas of pain and offense that we often carry because of affliction. Lord have mercy on us and restore us. We acknowledge your sovereignty, even in times of oppression. With that in mind, we pray that you help us to submit to your processes in our lives, that we may be stronger leaders in your Kingdom. We pray all these things in Christ’s name, Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: 2 Timothy 3:1–9
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