In a recent web article, Christianity Today highlighted the story of Leah Sharibu, a fifteen-year-old Nigerian girl who, along with 111 other female students at Government Girls’ Science and Technical College Dapchi, was abducted by Boko Haram back in February. Today, eight months later, Sharibu is the only Dapchi girl still in captivity. Six of the 112 girls died, one escaped, and the Nigerian government negotiated the release of the rest in March. Sharibu remains in bondage because she refuses to renounce Christ in order to gain her freedom.
When the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, he too was in bondage. Rather than give Timothy advice on how to stay out of trouble as a Christian minister, Paul called on him to endure hardship for the faith. “Therefore do not be ashamed,” Paul wrote, “of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God” (2 Tim 1:8 ESV).
Paul knew that, in the face of suffering, Timothy would be tempted to feel ashamed of the gospel message. Rather than guilt Timothy into enduring whatever trials came his way, Paul directed Timothy’s attention to the power of God. He reminded Timothy that we serve a God “who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our own works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim 1:9–10 ESV).
How does the power of God enable Christians to share in suffering? How does it conquer the shame we so easily feel when faced with opposition? Three observations stand out from this text. First, God saved us. Whatever antagonism we might face as Christians, it is nothing compared to the wrath we deserved because of our sin. Through the blood of Christ, God redeemed us from our gravest threat. Now, we can endure suffering in the confidence that God is for us rather than against us (Rom 8:31).
Second, we did nothing to earn this salvation. It is a free gift, a result of God’s good pleasure. Because of the unmerited favor of God, we view suffering in a different light now. Rather than thinking of it as an opportunity for us to prove ourselves to God, we think of it as an opportunity for God to prove himself to us. His love will never fail.
Finally, the power of God expresses itself most clearly in the very gospel for which Christians suffer in this age. The message that provokes the fury of our enemies is the means by which that fury loses all of its force. To be sure, our enemies can hurt us. They can even kill us. But no matter. Christ has abolished death. And death, once abolished, can never haunt us again.
This is the power of God. It was the power at work in Paul and Timothy. It is the power at work in Leah Sharibu. And it is the power at work in you and me.
In the strength of our Savior,
Assistant Professor of Theology and Philosophy
- Pray for our sister Leah Sharibu. Pray that God would keep her steadfast under trial (James 1:2). Pray that her captors would release her soon. Pray also for her family, that God would comfort them and sustain their faith.
- Pray for our students. Pray that God would help them persevere in their studies and in their many responsibilities outside of the classroom.
- Bethlehem Baptist Church begins Global Focus 2018 this week. Pray that God would use this time in the lives of our faculty, staff, and students to stir up greater resolve to see Christ named among the nations.