Last week we learned that suffering is a fact for every human being on the planet: it’s not just for non-believers. We saw that Paul personally suffered, as did the members of the church at Thessalonica. We saw that God will repay those who choose to inflict suffering on others, and I challenged you to look at your life and repent of those times when you might have been the oppressor. We know that those early church members (and Paul) didn’t run from their troubles and that they chose to endure their problems faithfully for the cause of Christ.
One of the main characters (after Jesus, of course) in the New Testament is Paul. He was one of the people involved in the stoning of Stephen, and he inflicted great harm on the early church. He was personally visited by Jesus, blinded, and converted into Christianity’s top spokesman of the day. He endured much suffering for his firm stand for Christ, and through him we see the way that we should live when we are going through tribulations.
But the Lord said to him [Ananias], “Go, for he [Saul/Paul] is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” Acts 9:15-16 (ESV)
Here we see that one of the chief persecutors of “The Way”, the new sect which became Christianity, is a chosen instrument of God. Can you imagine what Ananias must have thought when he was told by God Himself to help Paul? (he did argue just a little when God told him to find and help Paul – human nature.)
Who was Paul called to minister to? It’s interesting – he was specifically called to both the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. God promised Paul would suffer for the sake of Jesus.
The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict [King James: contradicting and blaspheming] what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. 46 And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “ ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ” 48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. 49 And the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the whole region. 50 But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. Acts 13:44-50 (ESV)
Paul and Barnabas were preaching God’s word – in that day, it was confined to what we know as The Old Testament. The Jews (the leaders?) were jealous of the crowds and started to contradict Paul. Can you imagine the noise? There were throngs of people, probably muttering to themselves, the “Jews”, probably the priests, who were shouting over the murmurings, and then there was Paul, preaching the gospel. But in this trial, God’s Word was fulfilled. They had to take the message first to the Jews, and then to the Gentiles (Matthew 21:43) as was prophesied in Isaiah 49:6.
At the end of Paul’s day, what was accomplished from his persecution? Is it true that “words can never hurt me”? We know that Paul boldly proclaimed the gospel, but do you think that inside he might have felt just a little hurt from the words spoken by his former colleagues?
Paul’s response to persecution was to press on for the sake of Christ. You might wonder how that applies to you because you’ve not had the same experience that Paul did. You’ve not been called supernaturally to preach – you’ve probably not been called to preach at all. So how does Paul’s suffering apply to our lives?
I’ve been in circumstances where I’ve spoken about God and the person across from me literally yells over me so I am not heard by the third person in the conversation. Frankly, I wanted to curl up in a ball and die! The “yeller” was so angry at God, at life, and at herself that she was unwilling to listen. In another encounter, I was preparing to speak of my church attendance (someone was asking what people did on a Sunday), and another person mentioned that he hated those “Bible thumpers” who always acted so holy on Sunday and that he didn’t like being preached to. I wanted to crawl under the table (but the next two times I was invited to be with the group were on Sunday and Wednesday. In each instance I was able to naturally mention my faith and my church attendance. I pray that my quiet testimony will allow me to eventually speak to that person in a way that will benefit him).
I’ve also had times where my faith was the topic of conversation. When I lost a job, many people, most unbelievers, asked me what I was planning to do. My response was, “I’m waiting on God.” I had many conversations after saying that – people could not believe how calm I was in the time of trial. They were willing to listen to me as I explained how God has always led me – and how my life was a disaster when I tried to lead God. They were also around when God kept His promises – and heard me testify!
Has anything like that ever happened to you? Write me or leave a comment and let me know. We’ve probably all felt this way at one time, and it would help others to know that you’ve had opportunities where you were successful and unsuccessful at sharing your faith. We can encourage one another to try again. We can pray for each other as we find those natural times to share.
See you Wednesday!