The apostle Paul went to great lengths to spread Christ’s message, and he willingly faced all kinds of danger. Maybe he was so zealous because he had tried to wipe out this new movement about following Jesus; maybe he was just a passionate guy. But he served Christ with all of his heart, regardless of personal discomfort or danger.
In spite of that, he was criticized by others, picked at by wanna-be church leaders, and stabbed in the back by jealous contemporaries. In his second letter to the Corinthians, he addressed some of the folks who boasted about all they had done, casting aspersions that Paul was not as committed as people said he was. Since they had called him a fool, he said in 2 Corinthians 11:16: “Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting…”
He went on to remind them of his qualifications:
“Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move.
I have been in danger from rivers, from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked…” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27, NIV)
This was Paul’s response to critics who tried to disparage his ministry. As you look at it, just make a note of each of the dangers, risks, hardships, and life-threatening situations he endured to share the Gospel. It’s quite a resume. Five beatings of thirty-nine lashes. Three beatings with rods. One very personal encounter with angry stones. Three shipwrecks. And those are just the highlights! He doesn’t even get to his imprisonments and martyrdom…
To Paul, following Christ was an “all in” proposition. (After all, he was the one who said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain!”) You really should read that list again to let it sink in. In today’s world, we get bent out of shape if the sermon goes 20 minutes over, and people (on average) spend about NINE minutes a day being involved in church. Yep, about an hour a week. When I look at Paul’s list, I am struck by both the hardship he was willing to endure and the passion he brought to sharing the message of the gospel. To Paul, things like hunger and thirst were just minor inconveniences compared to the glory of telling the good news. Kinda makes you feel a little bad about saying you don’t have time to be a greeter, doesn’t it?
I have lived a joyful life! I’ve learned to be content.
Just think of all I saw, and all the places that I went!
I went to Macedonia, and traveled far from home;
I sailed upon the open sea! I got to go to Rome!
Yes there have been some hardships that occurred along the way,
Like when our ship went down, and I went swimming for a day.
And yes I was arrested, and got whipped a time or five–
And that time I was stoned, I’m still amazed I stayed alive!
But even though I’ve had some inconvenience and some pain:
I know for me to Live is Christ, for me to die is gain!
But looking back now, I can say I’ve served Him from the start:
And I would challenge you, my friend, to serve with all your heart.
When you are looking back on life, with all the good and bad,
I hope that you can say with me, “I gave it all I had!”
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