2 Corinthians 11:24-28 ESV Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one… that number is thirty-nine. (Forty was believed to be the number of lashes it would take to kill a person, so they decreased the number by one. The goal was not to kill but to punish the offender to such an extreme that they often wished they would have just been killed quickly and spared the pain) Three times, I was beaten with rods. Once, I was stoned. 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. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
His conclusion to what he endured makes me feel unworthy of ever using my name in the same sentence as Paul the Apostle. Here it is.
Acts 20:24 But none of these things move me, nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus.
Considering what Paul endured, his words transcend my comprehension.
To capture a cultural moment in the daily life of Paul … IS NOT POSSIBLE … for Christians in America. It’s impossible! I believe that.
I will return to this verse in a few minutes.
I have lived in West Palm Beach, Florida, for over thirty years. It’s the city where I fell hard and deep into the world of drug and alcohol addiction and the same place where I became sober. It’s the city where I met my wife, the place where I met Jesus, and the city where God has given me a successful business, a vibrant church family, and a ministry. The four greatest gifts that God has ever given a living human, my four children, are being raised in this city. I have hundreds, maybe thousands, of beautiful relationships in the same geographical area where my life once looked doomed.
West Palm Beach is not unlike thousands of other cities in America. There’s wealth, and there’s poverty. There’s violence, and there’s addiction. Beneath the shadows of breathtaking new construction are scores of sign-holding homeless men and women who are dual-diagnosed and living in squalor. Church buildings of all sizes dot the landscape of every neighborhood.
Being a Christian is not hazardous in West Palm Beach, Florida. Some people believe, some don’t, but almost everybody appears tolerant; even among the flamboyant alternative lifestyles, Christianity receives no visible pushback.
Currently, persecution for being a Christian in this city is pretty much non-existent. A raised eyebrow or an occasional sneer is the most visible objection I’ve experienced so far, and I am incredibly vocal about Jesus every day, every place I go.
Is the disapproval from the world hard to deal with where I live and work? I don’t think so!
I think I’m having a bad day because one of my children woke up cranky, one of my employees pulled a “no call, no show,” or one of my trucks got a flat tire. Paul puts life in perspective for me.
When I read 2 Corinthians 11:24-28, to be honest, I cannot relate.
I can’t put myself in his place; I can’t close my eyes and envision his plight. I have no reference for Paul’s endurance.
Three thousand one hundred fifty-nine bleeding wounds created by a cat of nine-tails. Nine flesh-tearing objects made of broken bones sharpened rocks, or metals were attached to nine leather strands and designed to rip and shred his human body eighty-one times with every lash. Paul endured this punishment on five separate occasions. Do the math. Five times three thousand one hundred fifty-nine equals fifteen thousand seven hundred ninety-five wounds. His scared, broken body never had adequate time to heal before the next time he would be tortured.
Three times Paul the Apostle was beaten with rods. Strong Roman soldiers trained in the art of inflicting pain beat this man of God with either a staff, a scepter, or a hardened limb from a tree. Once, he was persecuted for preaching Christ by being stoned. This ancient form of lapidation … is a method of capital punishment where a group throws stones at a person until the subject dies from blunt force trauma. It’s the most brutal method of severe punishment for grave misdeeds, yet he lived to tell us about it. He was shipwrecked at sea three times. He survived a day and a half adrift in the ocean’s salt water. Saltwater contaminates every wound that never had time to heal. He said he was deceived by false brothers, in danger from the Jews and the Gentiles, hungry, thirsty, sleepless for days, living in the wilderness and hiding in the cities like a homeless criminal.
1 Corinthians 15:31 Paul added, “For I swear, dear brothers and sisters, that I face death daily.”
Dear Jesus …we know nothing of persecution in modern-day America, yet we complain.
We complain about our Pastors, and we complain about people in the church that we attend. We complain about politics and social issues, but we rarely want to look at the problems that prevent God’s blessings from flowing freely.
Who wants to look and their flesh as the culprit? None of us! Selfishness, self-seeking, fear, lust, pride, anger, gluttony, and jealousy might be worth a glimpse from each of us now and then.
We revolt over Luke 9:23, where Jesus said, whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me.
What exactly does it mean to deny myself? Denying ourselves daily does not mean morbid self-loathing and self-hatred. It may mean walking in repentance before God moment by moment and practicing instant obedience to whispers of The Holy Spirit. It probably means putting your appetite for God ahead of every other desire. It means honoring God with your finances, walking in patience toward the weak, showing mercy and kindness to those who are not yet born-again, and glorifying God with our bodies, which don’t even belong to us. Your body belongs to God!
Proper spiritual growth never comes by default. The proof of desire is pursuit.
2 Timothy 2:15 Study to show yourself approved unto God …
Your growth requires reading your bible, praying, and studying The Word of God.
What Satan used to destroy you, God will use to deploy you. He hasn’t saved you to shelf you. Your past cannot keep you from your purpose. The pain and poor decisions in your history have not placed you beyond the reach of God’s power and His purpose for the life you still have left to live. Press the pointed sword of the word of God into the back of the devil and forcefully push him out of your life. God wants to redeem your story so that you can tell His story.
We all have gifts that we did not purchase, talents that were not learned, and assignments that are not planned.
Surrender everything to God … every day. I dare you! Go all in with God’s plan for your life! I double-dog dare you.
I’m praying for you.