The Promise We Don't Want to Hear - 2 Timothy 3

A service plan addressing the persecution of faith. While some of our brothers and sisters are paying a high price for their faith commitments and their obedience to their Lord, others may never experience it. Based on 2 Timothy 3.

Worship Service
Also in this Series

The Foolishness of Our Faith

A four-part series that focuses on the counter-cultural aspect of the Christian faith

Theme of the Service

This service addresses the persecution of faith. While some of our brothers and sisters are paying a high price for their faith commitments and their obedience to their Lord, others may never experience it. We encourage you to do some preparatory work for this service by reading or listening to the testimony of the sad and painful plight of many of our brothers and sisters around the world who are severely persecuted for their faith. We suggest these resources:

  • Operation World: When We Pray God Works by Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandryk (Paternoster Lifestyle Press, 2001). This is a prayer guide for the needs of Christians around the world. Major prayer requests are identified for each nation.
  • Google "persecuted Christians" or "persecuted church" to find an abundance of websites to provide more information.
  • Invite a member of your congregation who suffered persecution for their faith to share their testimony.


Prelude: "The Church's One Foundation/ O Christ, the Great Foundation" [see music notes]

The Call to Worship

*Song: "O Christ, the Great Foundation" PH 443, SNC 177, TWC 709
or: "The Church's One Foundation" PH 442, PsH 502, RL 394, TH 347, TWC 689, UMH 545

*Our Declaration of Trust and God's Greeting:
People of God, where is your trust placed?
Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.
Grace, mercy and peace to you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

*Response: "He Is Lord!" PsH 633, RN 29, SNC 160, SFL 178, TWC 97, UMH 177


The Call to Confession

Our Prayer of Confession [see liturgy notes]

Almighty Father, while we worship freely in this place today, we remember many of our brothers and sisters in the faith who live in lands that oppress them because they worship. We confess that often we have overlooked their needs. We've been more concerned about our comfort than their pain, and we've complained about minor inconveniences while they struggle for life. We also confess that at times we've compromised ourselves and our obedience to you to avoid opposition. Forgive us, we pray, and give us your power to be faithful. For the sake of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Sung: "Perdón, Señor/Forgive Us, Lord" SNC 59

The Assurance of Pardon: 1 John 2:1-2

Song: "Hope of the World" PH 360: 3-5, PsH 524:3-5, TWC 434:3-5, UMH 178:3-5, TH 594:3-5, RL 414:3-5 [see music notes]

God's Guide for Grateful Living


*Song of Preparation: "Christian, Do You Struggle" PsH 575, TWC 660
or: "May the Mind of Christ, My Savior" PsH 291, RN 285, TH 644, TWC 560

*Our Affirmation of Faith: The Apostles' Creed [see liturgy notes]
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
and born of the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended to heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

The Prayer for Illumination

The First Reading: Matthew 10:17-33 or 2 Corinthians 11:21-29 [see liturgy notes]
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

The Second Reading: 2 Timothy 3
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God!

Sermon: The Promise We Don't Want to Hear
Text: 2 Timothy 3:12
The Foolishness of Our Faith #4

The Prayer of Application


*Song: "Healer of Our Every Ill" SNC 205, WOV 738 [see music notes]

Intercessory Prayer [see liturgy notes]

The Offertory
The Offering of Music: "Healer of Our Every Ill," Jeffrey Honoré [see music notes]
We offer our gifts for..

Responsorial Anthem: "Neither Death Nor Life," Marty Haugen [see music notes]
or Anthem: "What Then," John Ferguson


We Receive God's Promises [see liturgy notes]

*Words of Doxology: Jude 24-25

*The Benediction: 2 Corinthians 13:14 [see liturgy notes]

*Song: "Canto de esperanza/Song of Hope" PH 432, SNC 282

Postlude: "Canto de esperanza/Song of Hope," Sondra Tucker [see music notes]

*You are invited to stand.

Sermon Notes:

Perhaps it would be good to admit at the outset that we don't like this text. It's a very disturbing text, the kind we'd rather avoid or claim it's not for us. Some hearers will be tempted to tune out right away, but many others will be intrigued enough to listen further because big questions have been raised in their mind. They are feeling some tension that needs resolution or explanation.

We can interpret this text grammatically and encounter no difficulty. It's a straightforward cause and effect process: Living a godly life brings persecution. We can also interpret it in the light of the author's life (Paul) who at one time was a persecutor himself and later suffered great persecution and a martyr's death according to tradition (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:23-30). We can interpret it from the standpoint of what the early Christians experienced, for the examples are abundant in Acts and the Epistles of the price many paid (Acts 4:3, 18, Acts 7, Acts 16). We might even interpret the text in light of the experiences of many modern Christians who are paying a very high price for their faith. (Research some examples that will illustrate this fact.) We can also interpret this text eschatologically. Paul is telling Timothy throughout this chapter that the last day will bring some particularly treacherous and evil times that will bring great suffering to the people of God (cf. 2 Timothy 3:1-5, Matthew 24:7-13, 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4).

We must, however, be very careful not to push this text away as though it speaks only to other people and other places. Here are several discomforting verses:

  • In 1 Peter 5:7 Peter identifies our enemy as a "roaring lion" who "prowls" around, waiting to devour someone.
  • In 2 Corinthians 11:14 Paul claims that our enemy will at other times "masquerade" as an angel of light.
  • In 2 Thessalonians 2:5-12 Paul depicts the power of the destroyer but also speaks about someone who "holds it back" and will someday be "taken out of the way" (v.7).
  • In Ephesians 6:10-20 Paul informs us that we are involved in a battle with "the powers of this dark world.and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (v.12).

These verses tell us that some opposition is inevitable. Sometimes it comes aggressively, but sometimes it is subtle. We are involved in wrestling with evil powers, but there also are restraining factors in place until the time in history when the power of evil will accelerate in its attacks.

The pastoral impact of this verse may be found through raising questions. Is there no persecution for us in our local community? Are we privileged to be living in an environment and culture where we are protected from it? Is there a possibility that our enemy masquerades more as an angel of light today than a roaring lion (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:14 and 1 Peter 5:7)? Have we avoided the risk of opposition because we have compromised too much? Are we no threat to the destroyer in our community? These are questions to which there is no easy or ready answer, but they deserve careful thought and struggle. Another important consideration is our sense of supportive solidarity with brothers and sisters in other communities who are paying a very high price for their obedience to Christ. What can we do to support them? How do we pray for them? Is praying for them enough?

Music Notes:
Glossary of Hymnal Abbreviations:
PH The Presbyterian Hymnal (Presbyterian Church USA; Westminster/John Knox Press)
PsH The Psalter Hymnal (Christian Reformed Church; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
RL Rejoice in the Lord (Reformed Church in America; W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)
RN Renew! (Hope Publishing Company)
SFL Songs for LiFE (children's songbook; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
SNC Sing! A New Creation (Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Christian Reformed Church,
Reformed Church in America; Faith Alive Christian Resources)
TH Trinity Hymnal (Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Presbyterian Church in America; Great
Commission Publications)
TWC The Worshiping Church (Hope Publishing Company)
UMH The United Methodist Hymnal (United Methodist Publishing House)
WOV With One Voice (Augsburg Fortress)

Suggestions for prelude and alternative harmonizations for the opening hymn, both of which are based on the hymn tune AURELIA, can be found in the following resources:

AURELIA ["The Church's One Foundation" or "O Christ, the Great Foundation"]

Barr, John G. Three Preludes on Hymn Tunes. H. W. Grey GSTC 01079 [1992] (E-M)
Burkhardt, Michael. Six General Hymn Improvisations, set 2. Morningstar MSM-10-534 [1999]
Cherwien, David. Interpretations, bk. 5. AMSI SP-102 [1985] (E-M)
Hildebrand, Kevin. Easy Hymn Preludes for Organ, vol. 3. Concordia 97-7052 [2004] (adaptable
for piano; E)
Honore, Jeffrey. Classic Embellishments. Augsburg 11-11005 [1999] (could include solo
instrument; E-M)
Jordan, Alice A. Joyful Noise. Broadman 4570-62 [1984] (E-M)
Kemner, Gerald. Fantasies on Nine Familiar Hymn Tunes. Augsburg 11-5919 [1990] (M)
Krapf, Gerhard. Sing and Rejoice, vol. 5. SMP KK323 [1984] (adaptable for piano; E-M)
Peeters, Flor. Hymn Preludes for the Liturgical Year. vol. 10 Peters 6410 [1966] (M)

Organ, Anne Krentz. Piano Reflections for the Church Year. Augsburg Fortress 11-11209
[2001] (E-M)

Alternative Harmonization for Organ:
Ferguson, John. Hymn Harmonizations, bk. 5. Ludwig O-14 [1992]
Thiman, Eric. Varied Accompaniments to Thirty-Four Well-Known Hymn Tunes. Oxford ISBN 0
19 323210 3 [1937]

Alternative Harmonization for Piano:
Cherwien, David. Let It Rip! At the Piano. Augsburg 11-11045 [2000]

You may wish to consider having a small ensemble or choir sing the stanzas of "Hope of the World" if your congregation is unfamiliar with this tune. Another idea is to have your vocal ensemble introduce it to your congregation on one or two stanzas and have your congregation join on the concluding verse(s).

The response hymn and the offertory music based on that hymn can be found in the following sources. A vocal ensemble could draw from the choral resource in leading the congregation in singing this response.

HEALER OF OUR EVERY ILL ["Healer of Our Every Ill"]

Choral Resource:
Haugen, Marty. Healer of Our Every Ill. GIA G-3478 [1987]
(Two-part Choir, congregation, C instrument, guitar and keyboard; E)

Honoré, Jeffrey. Augsburg Organ Library - Advent. Augsburg 11-11034 [2000]

The anthem suggestions are both based on the last verses of Romans 8:

Haugen, Marty. Neither Death Nor Life. GIA G-5650 [2001]
(SATB, cantor, congregation, keyboard and guitar; E-M)
Ferguson, John. What Then. Kjos 8827 SATB and organ [1996] (M)

The handbell postlude suggestion based on the closing hymn can be found in:

ARGENTINA ["Canto de esperanza/Song of Hope"]

Tucker, Sondra K. Canto de Esperanza. AGEHR AG35190 [2001] (3-5 octaves)

Liturgy Notes:

1. We have suggested a prayer of confession that complements the theme of this service. While others suffer, we seek God's pardon for our inattention to their needs and/or for our own compromises to avoid opposition.

2. The affirmation of our faith with the Apostles' Creed is included in this service because it is the most common ecumenical creed that has bound Christians together through the centuries, regardless of their land, language, or circumstances. You may consider drawing attention to the unifying role of this creed by introducing it with these or similar words: "Let us join our voices with Christians from all times and places as we profess our faith."

3. We suggest multiple Scripture readings before the sermon. The two passages we have suggested serve as parallel and supportive passages to the primary passage of 2 Timothy 3.

4. The intercessory prayer should be carefully planned so that it becomes the centerpiece of our response to God's Word. Focusing on areas where persecution is most prevalent (note the suggestions given earlier), select several members of the congregation to intercede for Christians in those lands.

5. As we prepare to close our time with God, we should take time to hear God's voice again giving us the promises about the care, assurance and strength he provides for tough times. We suggest that a variety of readers step to a microphone and read a passage; the initial reader can introduce it with "Hear God's assurance for his children before we leave." and the final reader can close with "These are the words of the Lord for us." We suggest passages such as Isaiah 43:1-7, Matthew 10:29-31, 1 Corinthians 10:13, Philippians 4:13, 19 and 1 Peter 4:12-16.

6. Notice that both a doxology and a benediction are included at the close of this service. There is a difference of intent and focus between the two. A doxology gives praise and glory to God, in this case, for being the One who is able to "keep" us. A benediction is the good word of blessing from God that goes with us.

7. The benediction ought to be crafted in a way that is particularly rich for this service. You may want to explain that today we receive God's parting blessing not only for ourselves but vicariously for our persecuted brothers and sisters as well. Perhaps suggest having worshipers receive it with their hands stretched out. They can envision receiving the benediction and immediately passing it on to unseen struggling fellow believers.