We live in a culture that radically exalts comfort.
We have automatic starters and heated seats in our cars for those cold, snowy mornings.
We have central A/C for those steamy, hot August afternoons.
We have fast food restaurants on every corner that cater to every taste.
We have on-demand TV shows and movies at our fingertips.
On a broader scale…
We have a culture that accommodates our religious expression.
We have an economy that provides for (most) of our luxuries, as well as our necessities.
We have medical care that can treat, and often cure, almost every disease known to man.
America: Land of the Free and Home of the Comfortable!
Don’t misunderstand me. Comfort, in and of itself, is not a sin.
As human beings, it is natural to crave comfort, and its presence creates a natural, organic harmony with ourselves, with others, and with God.
But this wreaks havoc when we translate our Americanized comforts into the realm of faith.
Because we serve a God who doesn’t care about our comfort.
And we American Christians don’t like that reality.
As soon as some hardship, pain, or brokenness creeps into our lives, we begin to pray something like this:
Lord move, or move me!
You desire my good, so resolve XYZ so I can return to my comfort again.
(ok, we might not pray exactly like that — but isn’t that the real meaning of our more flowery, dressed-up-in-religiosity prayers?)
I firmly believe that God does Not – and will not – always deliver us from difficult times.
In fact, I’ll go so far as to say, we serve a God who likes to make us uncomfortable.
Because His power is made perfect in our weakness.
His grace is shown in our fallibility.
His sustenance is shown in our neediness.
The Bible talks about a man whom God commanded to remain in his difficult, uncomfortable time. That man’s name is Timothy.
n the opening of his first letter to Timothy, the apostle Paul writes a brief but astonishingly profound piece of advice to his protege:
“Remain in Ephesus.” (1 Tim. 1:3)
In the original Greek, the word “remain” literally means, “stay in your place.” Don’t move.
Timothy, do not move from your current place – socially, locationally, spiritually – in Ephesus.
At this time, Ephesus was likely the fourth largest city in the world, boasting a population of roughly 250,000 (approximately the size of Pittsburgh or Cincinnati). It was a grand city, with highly ornate pagan temples, gymnasiums, public baths, a 24,000-seat theater, a library, and a well-developed commercial marketplace. It boasted most of the comforts available to citizens of its era.
However, such comforts were not extended to Christians. Amidst a city of great repute and lavish luxuries, Christian lives were vastly different.
They were lives of violence and chaos (Acts 19:24-41).
They were lives filled with great opposition (1 Cor. 15:32)
They were lives that faced many adversaries (1 Cor. 16:8-9).
They lived under constant threat of persecution (2 Tim. 1:8; 2:3, 9; 3:11-13; 4:5)
In this “Ephesus” lived a young man on the cusp of life named Timothy. He was bright. He was good-looking (ok, I imagine he was good-looking!). He could have had it all. As it were, the world was his oyster.
Yet, Timothy was called by God (1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6) and set apart for a different life. And so, though dwelling in a culture of comfort, Timothy led a very uncomfortable life.
God’s call brought Timothy into a life of violence. Persecution. Sleepless nights. Burdensome days. Imperial pressure. Societal ridicule. Ecclesial discord. Even physical illness (1 Tim. 5:23).
Should we see someone in Timothy’s position today, our first reaction would be undoubtedly, Get out! You’re wasting your potential! You’re too young to carry such a heavy load. You deserve to be happy! Dream big! Reach for the stars! Timothy, abandon Ephesus!
But God says: Remain.
In a culture that bestows luxuries on its pagans and lashes on its Christians.
In an opulence that flaunts its riches and feeds its lions with martyrs’ flesh.
In a city that meets evangelism with riots and worship with rage.
In the discomfort.
In the illness.
In the rejection.
Remain. Stay in your place. Do not move.
Why? Because God had a purpose for Timothy’s difficulty.
1 Timothy 1:3 continues, “Remain in Ephesus, so that…”
Timothy was to remain uncomfortable for a God-ordained and God-anointed purpose.
And so are we.
In a culture that idolizes comfort, God is speaking to His true followers yet today:
Remain in Ephesus.
Stay in your place.
Stand steadfast in times of difficulty.
Praise Him tenaciously, even defiantly, in moments of struggle.
Become locked in to where God has placed you, until your life is as the lock in the picture: moss-covered, rusted, weather-beaten…and still holding fast.
Embrace your Ephesus.
Timothy never left Ephesus. In AD 81 he was bludgeoned to death under the persecution of Emperor Domitian–still serving. Still worshiping. Still remaining.
God doesn’t want comfortable children. He wants obedient children. Children who will turn a blind eye to the comforts of their culture and embrace the sufferings of the Savior.
Who will face turmoil, trouble, persecution with…
Lock in. Find God’s “so that” in your struggle. Praise. Remain.
“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5:10-11 (NIV)