Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, 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, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have laboured 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. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (verses 24-28)
Paul blows his own trumpet in these verses. He apologizes for doing so, but says he’s been forced into it by the false apostles, those who have been attacking his reputation, undermining his authority, and thereby undermining the authority of the gospel itself.
The benefit for us is that we get a clearer sighting of everything Paul suffered in his efforts to advance the gospel of Christ. And what a line-up it is! Whipped and beaten and stoned. Shipwrecked, nearly drowned in open waters, and then forced to keep on the move. Threatened by natural elements and by hostile individuals. Endangered in civilized areas and uncivilized, by those from his own circle, by those who were strangers and foreigners, and by those who masqueraded as friends. He worked tirelessly, without sleep. He went without food and water, shelter and clothing. On top of it all, he constantly shouldered a burden of care for all the churches. What a load!
Several things come to mind:
(1) I am incredibly thankful. Paul’s devotion to Christ’s ministry in the first century produced ripples (indeed shockwaves) that continue to reverberate today. Churches were planted, cultures impacted, regions influenced, and countless individuals transformed. Space was carved out for the gospel to take root and thrive. His concern for the resulting churches produced passionate letters which are vital components of the scriptures we have in our hands today. I am incredibly thankful.
(2) I am deeply inspired. I am reminded of what Paul had written to the Corinthians on an earlier occasion: “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). His sacrificial service, modelled on that of the Lord Jesus himself, is a wake-up call to me. Do I allow comfort and ease to lull me into inactivity? Do I pull away from service that might produce discomfort? Do I guard my time and resources too closely? Paul pressed through it all, serving with impassioned commitment to further the gospel. I am deeply inspired.
(3) I am instructed. Paul teaches elsewhere about the variety of giftings and service and workings that make up the body of Christ (1 Cor 12). Here we have opportunity to see Paul’s particular part in full action. We don’t all have the same calling as the apostle, nor the same gifts, nor the same capacity. His own activity, together with the resulting challenges and hardships, are not necessarily mandated for all of us. But it was mandated for him, and he lived it to the full. I rejoice in his part. I am challenged to find my own and passionately live to fulfill it. I am instructed.
Thanks be to God for Paul’s life and ministry, for his persistent passion, for his enduring legacy. Thanks be for the inspiration of his example, urging us on to greater devotion, regardless of the cost. Thanks be for the Body of Christ, for the way each one is gifted to live out the calling our Lord has given.
Thanks be to God.
Thank you, Lord, for this good apostle, whose example continues to shine forth. Thank you for the words of inspiration and instruction you spoke through him. Thank you that he modelled what it means to follow Christ closely, embracing a life of sacrifice. Strengthen me to step more fully into such sacrifice, too.
Reflect: What aspect of Paul’s example inspires you most? How would the Lord have you respond?