17 August 2008

Compared to Paul I am ___?

In Sunday School today we did an overview of the life of Paul, and I couldn't help but be personaly convicted by some of what was discussed regarding his persecutions. Have you ever stood back and looked at your life, witness and personal persecution and considered how it compared to one such as Paul?

While time were certainly a bit different during Paul's day, with him being a central figure in helping to launch the early Church upon a hostile Jewish and pagan society, I really have to wonder just how much different it was from where we have come today. Do we not have an ever growing hostility against religion and all things Christian from our American society and government? Sure, they haven't begun any kind of corporal punishment for our religion, but is that because they don't want to go that far, or is it because as a church (and individuals) we pose no serious threat to them, their establishments or authority?

Missionaries in foreign lands today put themselves in much more dangerous situations than most do in America. What do we do as a church that poses a threat to the growing humanistic and atheistic establishment, or as individuals that cause ripples in our local society's lifestyle? What activities do we do that have the potential to bring us under persecution?

Let us look at just some of what Paul went through in the name of Christ (taken from 2 Corinthians 11:24-28:
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one.
History tells us that many people actually have died from the punishment of receiving thirty-nine lashes. Christ underwent such punishment himself. Yet Paul underwent the punishment five times...five times nearly beaten to death. His back most likely was one big scar. How many times would we go through such torture for the gospel's sake, before we changed our tune?
Three times I was beaten with rods.
We know some countries still practice "caning" which I assume is similar to being was Paul relates as being beaten by rods. Same thought...how many times would we go through this before we watered down our message/lifestyle?
Once I was stoned.
Stoning was a form of capital punishment. It was the equivalent of the death penalty. It was not a penalty that you were supposed to live through; it was supposed to end in death. This would be like saying "once I went to the electric chair" (thank you R.C. Sproul for that analogy). Whether Paul is relating that he was actually put through the full legal form of stoning, or just that he had suffered people throwing stones at him for his message, makes no real difference...rocks are rocks, and neither would be a pleasant experience.
Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
Sounds like Paul was attacked by just about everyone from all sides; his own people, the Gentiles, false brothers, and all types of places he went. Talk about being an outcast, Paul seems to have experienced much of that during his preaching years. At least (for now) we don't have it near as bad from town to town.

But here is the one that I think takes the cake:
And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
As if life wasn't already enough of a physical pain to him, on top of it all he was in constant anxiety from the very churches he helps start, he served, and he wrote letters to help instruct.

How many pastors today have been stressed out to the point of considered giving up preaching simply because of becoming overwhelmed by trying to deal with their one small congregation? Paul had many congregations he was "in charge" of, that relied on his help and guidance while he was out helping to preach and start new ones.

So Paul is dutifully going from town to town preaching to the Gentiles, helping establish fruitful congregations, and still at most every city he is met with opposition, tortures and imprisoning, all the while receiving letters of complaints, bickering and whining from congregations he previously helped establish. All of that for all of those years, finally brought to an end by his being beheaded by the sword. What a life! What a thorn in the flesh! What a witness for the gospel!

So, how was your week?