Question: "What does it mean to endure hardship (2 Timothy 4:5)?"
Answer: Second Timothy contains the poignant testimony of the apostle Paul, who says his life is “being poured out like a drink offering” and the time of his death had come (2 Timothy 4:6). In verse 5 he says, “But you [Timothy], keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” There was no better man than Paul to give advice about endurance under suffering for the Lord Jesus. Paul had been imprisoned, beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, hungry, cold, and destitute (2 Corinthians 11:23–28). In spite of all this and more, Paul managed to endure the suffering, finish the race, and keep the faith (2 Timothy 4:7).
Hardships come in a variety of ways. Temptations, illnesses, lost jobs, broken relationships, and persecution for one’s faith are all forms of hardship. Christians should not be taken by surprise when hardships come: Jesus warned us, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). The good news is that Jesus followed up His warning with this word of encouragement: “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” We can endure by His grace.
To endure is more than just continuing to exist; it is continuing to exist in the same manner as before the suffering began. If Paul had lived through his sufferings but at some point had thrown up his hands in defeat, stopped being obedient to God, or no longer worked for the cause of Christ, he would not have “endured.” If he had responded to his sufferings with an attitude of bitterness, anger, or retaliation, then Paul could not have said that he “endured.”
Paul’s response to suffering was not to buckle under the weight of circumstance but to realize Christ has called His church to endure hardship (John 16:33; Luke 14:27). Paul said that he rejoiced because in his flesh he was filling up what was lacking in Christ’s afflictions (Colossians 1:24). Every time Paul was beaten, chained, or hungry, he identified more with Christ in his flesh. Paul could rejoice because suffering in his flesh for the sake of the church is a privilege of sharing in the sufferings of Christ (Philippians 3:10).
As Christians, we should turn to God with our suffering, and He will be faithful to help us undergo every trial and overcome every temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). We can learn to have the same joy as Paul had during trials, knowing that suffering produces virtues such as endurance, godly character, and lively hope (Romans 5:3–5).
To “endure” does not mean simply to grin and bear it. Christians will feel sad, betrayed, or even angry at times. These emotions in and of themselves are not bad; they only become sin when we allow them to take root in our lives and produce bitterness, evil thoughts of revenge, or unforgiveness. Believers must remember that everything that comes into our lives is under the control of a sovereign God who has promised He is working all things out for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
Jesus is the ultimate example of someone who endured hardship (Hebrews 12:2). The author of Hebrews reminds believers of Christ’s perseverance at the hands of sinners. Jesus, in spite of great suffering, never turned back, even from the cross (Hebrews 12:2–4). Hebrews 12:2 says Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before him.” Although Christ knew the suffering the cross would provide, His anticipated joy enabled Him to keep going; He knew what the rewards would be—the redemption of mankind and a seat at the right hand of God. In the same way, Christians can find hope to endure when we consider the rewards God has promised us. “Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For, ‘In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.’ And, ‘But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.’ But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved” (Hebrews 10:35–39).