Have you been thinking of what it must have been like for Paul? Have you taken time to reflect on your successes and failures when sharing your faith? Have you prayed for more courage? Have you been afraid to pray for more opportunities to witness?
We have seen Paul’s letter to Timothy before, but we need to explore it again.
You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings [King James: holy scriptures], which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 2 Tim 3:10-15 (ESV)
We see Paul encouraging Timothy to stand fast in his faith – the true faith he learned in the holy scriptures. But the bottom line is verse 12. We are included in this statement!
Since you know that you will experience suffering, what can you do to prepare? Should you prepare?
One of the worst parts of suffering is that well-meaning people can try to offer comfort with empty words. I sometimes refer to them as “Christian platitudes”. They can’t understand what you are going through, and they might even secretly think you “have it coming”. They might quote a scripture or tell you things will get better, but very rarely do they ask what can be done for you. Some people erroneously feel that Christians don’t ever suffer, or at least don’t suffer much. But we can see that in at least one instance, Paul suffered so much that he thought he had received a death sentence. Have you ever felt like that? Is there a purpose in such suffering?
For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 2 Cor 1:8-10 (ESV)
Our suffering teaching us to rely on God! Have you ever felt like your burdens were a death sentence? Have you lost a job, a spouse, a child, a home? Did you feel God wasn’t there, or did you have confidence that God could deliver you from “such a deadly peril”? Can you look at Paul’s situation and apply it to your life – not only does God save you from deadly peril, but He will do it again!
Do you ever wonder where song writers get their inspiration? Here we see the inspiration for the song I’m Trading My Sorrows. As you read these words, you may be tempted to sing the song – go ahead! But make sure you come back and read the entire passage that inspired the songwriter.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 2 Cor 4:7-11 (ESV)
Afflicted - not crushed
Perplexed - not driven to despair
Persecuted - not forsaken
Struck down - not destroyed
The faith that Paul had is an inspiration! Sometimes I feel like the world is out to get me the line for coffee is too long, and here is Paul, talking about Jesus’ life being manifested in our flesh. What a contrast between his faith and mine!
Who does Paul say the power belongs to? How does your life differ when you give the power to God – and when you attempt to take control?
Paul was constantly under attack and affliction, yet he was able to maintain his faith in the risen Christ. He learned that his weaknesses were Christ’s strengths, and he had to give up control to God. Once God was fully in control, even persecutions that seemed like a death sentence were bearable through Christ.
Do you think that Paul ever doubted? Do you think that he ever complained to God in his prayers? Remember, he did mention that he prayed for a thorn to be removed from his flesh – and God said no. So Paul, like us, is human, and even though he had great faith, he still had times of despair and doubt. What do you think Paul did when he doubted? He prayed, I’m sure.
How do you respond to the doubts you feel when things go wrong? What is your first reaction when you feel afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down?
Take some time to think of specific situations where your faith was shining for the world to see. Then look at times where you doubted God’s ability to take care of your circumstance. What were the similarities and differences? For me, my faith shines when I stay in the word and give God the entire situation. Doubts come when I try to solve the problem myself!
We’ll wrap up this week’s study by looking at the ways Paul found grace and mercy in his suffering.
It’s not too late to start the Read Through the Bible Challenge. If you’ve always wanted to read through the whole Bible, I invite you to follow along. If you did not get a chronological Bible at the beginning of the year, it’s okay. You’ll find the weekly reading list at readthroughthebiblechallenge.blogspot.com – and I hope to see you there!