In contrast to the false teachers, Paul lists his own suffering as an example of what will happen to anyone that wants to live a godly life (vv. 10-12). This is somewhat surprising for contemporary Christians who are fed a steady diet of “health and wealth” gospel: if you are really spiritual and doing everything God requires, you will be blessed, you will be happy, healthy and wealthy. That teaching is the exact opposite of Paul’s point in this passage. Paul knows that his Gospel is the truth because he has suffered physically as a result of his preaching of Jesus.
It might seem odd, but Paul recalls his first missionary journey as an example of his suffering. He specifically has in mind the persecution he faced in Asia Minor (Acts 14). In Antioch, Paul is opposed by Jews from the Synagogue, who follow him to Iconium to harass him. Paul was attacked in Lystra, stoned and left for dead (Acts 14). Perhaps these persecutions were chosen because he was “left for dead,” or perhaps this period continued to haunt him in his ministry for some time.
While that physical attack was important, Paul has in mind the constant treat from the Jewish community throughout that first journey as well as the threats to his churches reflected in the book of Galatians. The attack on Paul’s character reflected in Paul’s early letters may have been more painful than the physical pain he faced in Lystra. It appears that some of Paul’s opponents described him as unqualified to preach the gospel (Gal 1) or worse, as a charlatan (1 Thess 2, for example).
A potential problem with this review of Paul’s ministry is that it all occurred on the first missionary journey, before Timothy began to travel with Paul (Acts 15). This is used to argue the letter of 2 Timothy is a pious forgery. The writer introduced a historical error by saying Timothy witnessed these events himself. On the other hand, Timothy was from Lystra himself and joined Paul mission with the full knowledge that Paul is often persecuted physically and opposed by very powerful people where ever he preaches the Gospel!
Paul states very clearly everyone who desires to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. This is a common theme throughout the New Testament: Jesus was persecuted and so too will his followers face similar trials. Galatians 5:11 indicates that Paul was persecuted because he was preaching that the Gentiles were not under the Law. The immediate background is his troubles in Asia Minor to which he alludes here in 2 Timothy (cf. Rom 8:35, 1 Cor 4:12, 2 Cor 4:9, 12:10, Gal 4:29, 5:11, 2 Thess 1:4).
If Timothy’s desire is to live a godly life, he will in fact face some sort of trial or persecution. Paul knows that Timothy is at the moment facing a difficult time because of the false teachers in Ephesus, even if that has not developed into a physical persecution at this point. This text is clear that the one who is “in Christ” will suffer like Christ. Perhaps this is an indication that the opponents in Ephesus are not really “in Christ,” they simply do not suffer!
Imagine what would happen in Evangelical Christianity if people really believed they should suffer for Jesus rather than expecting to be wealthy because of their faith. When was the last time you took a rock to the head because of your faith in Jesus?