that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, Philippians 3:10
Last week, I shared about Jesus suffering. Jesus was mocked and beaten, whipped with a scourge, had a crown of thorns placed upon His head, had nails pounded in his wrists and feet, and was left to die a slow painful death. And that’s what Paul wanted.
The next verse I am going to share with you is so scandalous, so shocking, that I’ve never heard a sermon about it. Acts 9:16, “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” If your Bible has red letters, this verse is written in red ink. It’s Jesus talking, and He’s not talking about Satan, He’s talking about Paul. After Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, Paul was stricken with blindness. Jesus appeared to Ananias in a vision and commanded Ananias to remove the scales from Paul’s eyes. Ananias hesitated and Jesus said that He would show Paul how much he must suffer for Jesus’ name.
When I first read this, I didn’t understand why this was in the Bible; could it really be Jesus talking? I wrestled with the verse and I read on. I read verses like 2 Corinthians 11:24-26 where Paul describes being beaten with rods three times, whipped 39 times with a lash five times, and was stoned with rocks. Then Paul was shipwrecked three times. But before this, Paul begins his 2nd letter to the Church in Corinth saying, “If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. (2 Corinthians 1:6,7).”
When Paul was beaten, he was being beaten for our comfort and salvation. And Paul goes on again to say that Paul endured all of this so that he would learn not rely on themselves but on God who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:9).
Then in 2 Corinthians chapter 12, Paul says that he has a messenger of Satan, a thorn in his side. This thorn is probably blindness as Paul used scribes to write his letters and then in Galatians 6:11 Paul says he is writing with large letters so that the Galatians would know it was him. This is Paul, a man whom if a piece of cloth or an apron touched him, the cloth or apron could be sent away and it would heal diseases and cast out demons (Acts 19), this is Paul who cured people in Malta of their diseases (Acts 28). And when Paul asked Jesus to remove the thorn three times, the thorn would not be removed.
Why not? First, so Paul would not rely on himself and become conceited (2 Corinthians 12:7). Second, so that Paul would learn to rely totally on God’s grace (verse 9a). And lastly so that God would be magnified through Paul (verse 9b).
Paul learned to be content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. Why was he content? Because all everything he went through was for the sake of Christ, because in Paul’s weakness, he found strength (verse 10).
On top of everything, Paul rejoiced in his sufferings (Colossians 1:24). Paul rejoiced in his sufferings because it was for the sake of the church at Colossae and the body of Christ. If you read on, it would seem that Paul equated suffering with being a minister of the Gospel of Christ.
I have to wonder what would have happened if Paul did not face suffering as he did. Would Paul have been as effective as a minister of the Gospel of Christ? Would Paul have written such thought provoking letters? Would Paul have preached with such authority? Would I have come to know Jesus today if Paul had not faced such sufferings?
To be continued...