Perseverance in the Face of Persecution

1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. – 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4 ESV

Most scholars believe that Paul wrote this second letter to the Thessalonian church while he was in Corinth. As indicated by Acts 18:5, it was while in Corinth that Paul was joined by Silvanus (Silas) and Timothy, the two he mentions in the opening lines of his letter. All three men shared a common concern for the believers in Thessalonica and had probably discussed among themselves the most recent reports they had received regarding the spiritual state of the church there.

Paul, an avid evangelist, was also a consummate shepherd. He was never content to simply share the gospel and then walk away. Even though his ministry required him to travel from place to place, rarely allowing him to spend any extended periods of time with the new churches he helped to plant, he remained in constant communication with them. He maintained a network of individuals who acted as his “boots on the ground,” providing him with first-hand knowledge and timely reports about the state of the various congregations he had helped to start.

Evidently, Paul had received news regarding the Thessalonian church that prompted him to write this second letter to them. While he commends them for their growing faith and ever-increasing love for one another, Paul’s real purpose in writing seems to be driven by their confusion over the doctrine concerning Christ’s return. He will spend a good portion of his letter dealing with that issue. Paul knew that false or faulty doctrine could wreak havoc on the local church. Even right doctrine, wrongly interpreted or misunderstood can do irreparable damage to a local congregation.

The churches Paul had helped to start were all comprised of relatively new believers. Their spiritual immaturity made them especially susceptible to false teaching and could lead them to draw faulty conclusions about spiritual matters. They lacked a sophisticated understanding of doctrine. In fact, there was little in the way of well-documented and clearly articulated doctrine available to them. One of the reasons Paul Paul spent so much time putting his thoughts in writing and disseminating them in the form of letters was to provide clear teaching and instruction on key doctrinal issues, such as the Second Coming of Christ and the sanctification of the believer.

Under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, Paul addressed a wide variety of doctrinal topics, helping to establish a comprehensive dogma for the church. His letters, while typically written to local congregations, were commonly circulated among other nearby churches. Eventually, Paul’s letters became part of a growing collection of writings that were later canonized as the New Testament Scriptures. These divinely inspired texts provide the church with an official system of principles or tenets concerning the Christian faith.

But, before Paul launches into the main thesis of his letter, he greets the believers in Thessalonica, reminding them that they belong to “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:1 ESV). They are children of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. They are part of the family of God and comprise the body of Christ. This seems to be Paul’s way of reminding them that they have been set apart by God for His use. To be in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ speaks of both ownership and relationship. There is an intimacy and accountability involved. As Paul had told the believers in Corinth: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV).

And it is from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ that the Thessalonian believers can expect to receive grace and peace. Grace or charis in the Greek refers to God’s unmerited favor. It is something He gives that is undeserved and unearned. It finds its greatest expression in the gift of Jesus Christ as the payment for mankind’s sin. But God’s grace is continuous and ever-present, constantly flowing into the life of the believer providing divine enablement through the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

And it is through their relationship with God the Father and Jesus the Son that the Thessalonians can expect to receive peace or eirēnē – which refers as much to a tranquil state of the soul as it does to a lack of interpersonal conflict. It is because of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, serving as the payment for the sins of mankind, that believers are justified or made right with God. And this status with God results in peace or a cessation of all fear or worry of condemnation (Romans 8:1). And, as Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7 ESV).

As Paul considered his brothers and sisters in Thessalonica, he was prompted to express his gratitude to God because of their faith was growing, not stagnating. Their love for one another was increasing, not diminishing. For Paul, this was all evidence of the work of God. He who had begun a good work in them was obviously completing it (Philippians 1:6). And news of their perseverance and steadfastness of faith, even amid persecution and affliction, had led Paul to brag about them to other congregations. They had become teaching tools for Paul, providing him with tangible proof of what it means “to live in a way that pleases God” (1 Thessalonians 4:1 NLT).

The truth is, most of the churches Paul helped to start were suffering persecution in some form or fashion. It came with the territory. Following Christ was not normal or, in most cases, acceptable behavior. It came with a price. Paul refers to persecutions and afflictions. The first word refers to the hostile actions taken against the believers in Thessalonica. These could take the form of actual verbal and physical assaults or social ostracization. New believers could lose their jobs or social standings, but it was not uncommon for some to lose their lives. Affliction seems to refer to the results of this kind of persecution. The Greek word communicates the idea of being pressed down on or burdened by a heavy weight. The constant persecution taking place around them and to them was having an impact on them. The pressure was beginning to take a toll on them. But Paul commended them for their steadfastness. The Outline of Biblical Usage refers to this kind of persevering patience as “the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings.”

They may have been young in their faith and lacking in adequate doctrinal instruction, but they were persevering under extremely difficult conditions. Their commitment to Christ had cost them. Their walk of faith was anything but easy. But they were dedicated and determined to stay the course and, as Paul put it, run the race to win.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

1 Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (2d ed.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993) 64. All abbreviations of ancient literature in this essay are those used in the Oxford Classical Dictionary, 3d ed. (OCD).

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Faith and Love

But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you — for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith. For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, 10 as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith? – 1 Thessalonians 3:6-10 ESV

In time, Timothy had returned from his assignment in Thessalonica, where he had been sent by Paul to establish and exhort the believers in their faith. At his reunion with Paul, Timothy provided a report concerning the state of the churches in Thessalonica, and Paul deemed what he heard as “good news.” Timothy shared details regarding their faith and love – pistis and agapē – two characteristics that Paul deemed indispensable to the Christian life. The writer of Hebrews stressed that “it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 NLT). Faith begins the Christian’s spiritual journey, but it does not end there. Faith is to be a permanent fixture of the believer’s life from the moment of conversion to the future day of glorification. Paul himself wrote, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17 ESV). And in the original Greek, that phrase actually reads, “The one who by faith is righteous shall live.” Faith is the fuel of the Christian life. It provides new life in Christ and makes possible the abundant life that He promised.

As the author of Hebrews makes clear, faith is a belief in the existence of God. But there’s more. It is a belief that this existent God is a rewarder of those who sincerely seek Him. In other words, those who sincerely seek Him and Him alone will be rewarded with the joy of finding Him. But in his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote:

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. – Romans 1:20 NLT

While God has revealed His invisible attributes through all that He has made, most men have chosen to worship chosen the creation rather than the creator. They had an awareness of God’s presence, but rather than seeking Him, they turned their attention to things made by Him. And the apostle John reminds us that “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is at the Father’s side, has made Him known” (John 1:18 BSB). And Paul describes Jesus as “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 ESV), who made God not only knowable but approachable. And yet, Paul also reveals that many who have heard about Jesus, still refuse to believe in Jesus. And their disbelief results in a spiritual blindness to the reality of who He is and what He has come to offer.

Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God. – 2 Corinthians 4:4 NLT

They don’t believe. The Greek word is apistos and it means “not belief.” It is a lack of faith and trust in who Jesus is and the salvation He came to offer.

But for those who do believe in the salvation offered by God through His Son, forgiveness of sin and a restored relationship with God are the reward. But God expects that belief to last well beyond the point of conversion. Placing your faith in Christ is not a singular event, but a lifelong experience. The Christian life is a journey on which the believer’s faith will be tested all along the way. And when Paul heard that the believers in Thessalonica were exhibiting faith amid difficulty, he was encouraged. Their faith was a living faith. They were exhibiting a belief in the promises of God that did not waver in the face of difficulties. They were not allowing the presence of trials to diminish their trust in God. Their perseverance in the face of difficulties made Paul proud because it reflected their adherence to his teachings.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39 NLT

They fully believed that they were loved by God and didn’t allow their less-than-ideal circumstances to diminish that belief. And their unwavering belief in God’s love for them manifested itself in a selfless love for others. That was the second characteristic Timothy highlighted. He reported to Paul that the Thessalonian believers loved well. But the text is very specific as to what kind of love they exhibited. The Greek word is agapē, and it refers to a specific kind of love. Timothy could have used the Greek word philadelphia, which refers to a love between brothers or friends. No, he specifically used agapē, which carried a much more powerful connotation. Within Christianity, it came to be associated with the love of Christ. It was a selfless, sacrificial kind of love that exhibited a lay-it-all-on-the-line kind of quality that demanded nothing in return. This kind of love is unconditional and not reciprocal. It doesn’t require the one who is loved to return the favor. It doesn’t demand that the one to be loved be lovely or loveable. In fact, Paul tells us that “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). And the apostle John would have us remember that this kind of sacrificial and undeserved love is exactly what we received from God.

This is real love – not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. – 1 John 4:10 NLT

The Thessalonian believers loved in the same way they had been loved by God: Sacrificially and selflessly. And this brought Paul great joy. It provided him with comfort as he faced his own set of trials and troubles. News of their faith and love was exactly what he needed to hear. And he responded to this encouraging report by telling them, “It gives us new life to know that you are standing firm in the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 3:8 NLT).  News of their faith and love was like a tonic for Paul. It made all his hard work well worth the effort. For Paul, there was nothing more revitalizing to his own faith than to hear that his spiritual children were growing in godliness. And the two characteristics that best illustrated their growth were persevering faith and selfless love.

Yet, in spite of the good news delivered by Timothy, Paul longed to see his brothers and sisters in Christ again. And he assured them, “we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith” (1 Thessalonians 3:10 ESV). Notice the motivation behind Paul’s desire to return. He wants to fill in any gaps that might exist in their faith. For Paul, faith was dynamic, not static. It was to be living and ever-increasing. That is why James wrote, “faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless” (James 2:17 NLT). Both Paul and James knew that true saving faith would result in true life change. And they also understood that faith would have a tendency to ebb and flow, based on the circumstances of life. There would be those days when a believer found holes in his faith – those gaps where the seed of doubt tends to take root and, in time, turns into full-grown disbelief. So, Paul wanted to fill in the gaps. He wanted to bring confident assurance to their faith, by increasing their knowledge of God and improving their understanding of and reliance upon His promises. And this desire by Paul to pour into the lives of believers is reflected in his prayer for the congregations in Colossae.

We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.

We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. – Colossians 1:9-11 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Contentment in Christ

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:10-13 ESV

Verse 10 presents what appears to be, at first glance, a somewhat awkward and misplaced transition. It seems as if Paul is jumping to a whole new topic: His recent receipt of some sort of gift from the Philippian congregation. But, while that is the topic, Paul seems to be bringing it up at this point because it has everything to do with what he has been discussing in this section. He is using their gift to make an important point about what it means to “think on these things.”

Remember, Paul has just stressed that they were to fix their thoughts on whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, or commendable. They were to fill their minds with thoughts of those actions and attitudes that reflect those kind of characteristics. Then, almost as if out of nowhere, Paul brings up their recent gift to him. But notice that is it not the gift itself that Paul turns his attention to. It is what the gift represented to him. He tells them that he “rejoiced in the Lord greatly,” not because of the nature of what they gave, but because of the heart behind the gift – “you have revived your concern for me” (Philippians 4:10 ESV). 

The gift was a tangible expression of their love and concern for him. And, Paul lets them know that he always knew they cared for him, but was aware that they had been hindered in expressing their love in either word or deed because of distance and his own unique circumstance in Rome. For Paul, the gift was not the point. He doesn’t even mention what the gift was. It was simply a timely reminder of their love for him and, as he thought about that, he couldn’t help but rejoice. Their thoughtfulness to send him the gift was an example of whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, or commendable.

Too often, we allow conditions and circumstances to determine the degree of our joy. When things go well for us, we react with happiness. When they don’t, we can find ourselves struggling with disappointment and disillusionment, wondering what we did to make God mad at us. But circumstances were never meant to be metrics for measuring our joy or contentment. And neither were material things. But the truth is, far too many of us place excessive importance on stuff and things, seeking from them a sense of worth and using them as our primary source for finding satisfaction and significance in life.

The Philippians saw Paul as someone in need. He was under house arrest in Rome, so his circumstances were less than ideal. He had no source of income, so his financial situation was challenging. They may have heard that his housing was inadequate and his food supply was insufficient. From their perspective, it must have appeared that Paul was in dire straights, as he awaited trial before Caesar.  So, they sent him a gift. And it was only natural that they would do so. They wanted to do something to help alleviate any suffering he may be experiencing as a result of his conditions.

But Paul, while grateful for their graciousness and love, used this as another teaching moment, letting them know that, in spite of what he was going through, he really had no need. It wasn’t about the condition of his circumstances or the abundance or lack of material things. And Paul makes that point quite clear in what has become one of the most well-known and oft-quoted verses from the Bible.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. – Philippians 4:11 ESV

Think about what Paul is saying. His mention of the delay in receiving their gift was not intended to convey that he had lacked in anything. He had not been sitting around waiting for someone to do something about his circumstances. He had not been longing for a gift of some kind that would lighten his load or improve his living conditions. No, he said that he was perfectly content. He was at peace. He appreciated their gift, as an expression of their love, but he didn’t need it. Whatever it was that they sent was not going to make him any more happy or satisfied than he already was.

Over the years, Paul had learned a valuable lesson, that he was not attempting to pass on to them.

I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. – Philippians 4:12 NLT

Paul refers to what he has learned as being a secret or mystery. The Greek word he used is myeō, and it means “to initiate into the mysteries.” He had been taught something that few people ever get to know on their own. And the lesson he learned was taught to him by Jesus Christ Himself. Remember what Paul stated earlier in this same letter: “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had” (Philippians 2:5 NLT).  He was humble, obedient, selfless, sacrificial and obedient to God the Father, even to the point of death.

Paul was probably familiar with the story when the disciples had brought Jesus food and had encouraged Him to eat. But He had responded, “I have a kind of food you know nothing about” (John 4:32 NLT). While they debated among themselves how Jesus had gotten this food, Jesus told them, “My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work” (John 4:34 NLT). And it is likely that Paul was aware of the encounter Jesus had with a would-be disciple, to whom Jesus declared, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58 NLT).

For Paul, contentment had nothing to do with content. It wasn’t about things. Clothes, food, and living arrangements were not what brought Paul joy. The size of his personal portfolio was not a determiner of Paul’s contentment. The condition of his circumstances was not how Paul measured his sense of satisfaction. The ebbs and flows of material prosperity had no little or no impact on Paul. He didn’t allow the ups and downs of life circumstances to dictate his overall sense of contentment. And the key to this rather radical view on life was his relationship with Jesus. According to Paul, it was Jesus who gave him the strength to live as he did.

I can do all things through him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:13 NLT

Paul could survive house arrest, because of Jesus. He could put up with less-than-satisfactory living conditions, because of Jesus. He could do without comfortable clothes or good food, because of Jesus. But Jesus didn’t just give Paul strength to survive want and neglect. Paul could survive all the temptations that come with material wealth, because of Jesus. He had remained undistracted by the allure of fame and notoriety, because of Jesus. He was not prone to envy other, more popular, ministers, all because of Jesus.

In his first letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul reminded them that when he had arrived in their city, he wasn’t out to impress or to gain approval.

I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. – 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 NT

His emphasis had been of Jesus. His strength had come from Jesus. He came to them, filled with fear and trepidation, but he found the power to do what he had been called to do – in Christ. And, in a second letter to the same congregation, Paul emphasized that the strength he received from Christ allowed him to endure anything and everything so that the gospel might be spread and the church of Jesus Christ might be strengthened.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us. – 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 NLT

For Paul, suffering and troubles came with the territory. They were just part of the job description of being a follower of Christ. And he was perfectly content to endure all that came with being a faithful servant of Christ. Life isn’t about ideal circumstances or the presence of material comforts. It is about contentment in Christ.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Reason to Rejoice

12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Philippians 1:12-18 ESV

One of the truly amazing things about Paul is his attitude of selflessness and total lack of self-obsessiveness. While he held the title of apostle and had been hand-picked by Jesus Christ Himself, Paul never saw himself as better than those to whom he ministered. He knew he was a leader and took seriously the responsibilities that came with his position. It was as if he lived by the counsel given to elders in the church by the apostle Peter.

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. – 1 Peter 5:2-3 NLT

But unlike the average elder, Paul had responsibility for a much larger and geographically dispersed flock. He had helped plant churches throughout Asia, Galatia, Macedonia, and Achaia. And even though he was writing this letter while under house arrest in Rome, he didn’t make it all about himself. In fact, his focus is clearly on those to whom he is writing. And he seems to be aware that they were upset over news of his imprisonment and pending trial in Rome. But rather than milk their sympathy and make it all about his less-than-ideal circumstances, he assured them that everything was okay. He attempted to assuage their concerns over his well-being by giving them a rather up-beat appraisal of his situation.

“…what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” – Philippians 1:12 ESV

Basically, Paul assured them that “it’s all good!” There was nothing for them to worry about because God had His hands all over Paul’s circumstances. And Paul even seems to brag that everybody in the Emperor’s Imperial Guard was now aware that Paul was in prison because of His faith in Christ. It’s important to remember that the whole reason Paul was in Rome was because he had been accused of bringing a Gentile into the restricted area of the temple, and in doing so, violating Jewish religious laws. This was a crime worthy of death. And Paul had appealed for a hearing before Caesar because he knew he would never get a fair trial in Jerusalem, where the Jewish religious leaders were out to get him.

So, when Paul states that even the Roman guards had figured out that his imprisonment was due to Jesus Christ, it was because he had been busy sharing Christ with each and every guard he met. In the book of Acts, Luke records, “When we arrived in Rome, Paul was permitted to have his own private lodging, though he was guarded by a soldier” (Acts 28:16 NLT). In other words, Paul was under 24-hour watch, with a litany of Roman soldiers taking turns to guard him. And you can only imagine how Paul took advantage of this captive audience to relate the good news of Jesus Christ. As a result, the gospel was spreading throughout the Imperial Guard and the court of Nero.

From Paul’s perspective, as long as Jesus Christ was lifted up, that was all that mattered. And he was stoked that his imprisonment had actually emboldened the believers in Rome to step up their game and increase their influence over the pagan culture in Philippi. He joyfully related that, “because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear” (Philippians 1:14 NLT).

And Paul revealed that he was unconcerned and unaffected by the news that there were others preaching the gospel in his absence. In fact, he was glad to hear it. Yes, he realized that there were some who were doing it for the wrong reasons. He describes them as being motivated by envy and rivalry. These individuals were jealous of Paul and his notoriety. They saw him as competition and were taking advantage of his incarceration to elevate themselves to positions of power and prominence. But, as long as the gospel was being shared, Paul was joyous, not jealous. He also knew that there were others who preached the gospel with pure motives, and he rejoiced in their work as well.

“…the message about Christ is being preached either way, so I rejoice.” – Philippians 1:18 NLT

Remember the context. Paul is under house arrest in Rome. He is under 24-hour guard and facing a trial before Nero, the Roman Emperor and a notorious enemy of the followers of the Way, or Christians. It had been several years since Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem and his hearings before the local authorities on trumped up charges.

He had no idea what the future held for him. But he will later allude to the only two options that seemed possible: Acquital or death.

“For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die. For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.” – Philippians 1:20-24 NLT

And Paul was willing to accept either outcome. If God chose to release Paul, the apostle would simply return to his work of sharing the gospel just as he had been doing. But if the divine decision required Paul to die, he would do so gladly, fully believing that “to die is gain.” But Paul’s main concern seems to be for the Philippian believers. He wants them to be encouraged, not discouraged. He doesn’t want them to worry about him or to lose sleep over the possible failure of the gospel. Paul’s imprisonment was not going to bring the spread of the good news to a screeching halt. There were other messengers.

And Paul wanted the believers in Philippi to know that they too had a job to do. His forced absence should motivate and mobilize them, not lead to despair and defeat.

“Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. – Philippians 1:27 NLT

Paul gave a similar charge to the believers living in Colossae.

“We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.” – Colossians 1:9-10 NLT

Imprisonment was not an impediment for Paul. He saw it as just one more way to spread the gospel to those who desperately needed to hear it, including Roman guards. And Paul didn’t want the Philippian believers to let his incarceration to cause them consternation. As far as Paul was concerned, it was all part of God’s will and part of the divine plan to spread the gospel around the world. And, as long as Jesus Christ was being proclaimed, Paul had more than enough reason to rejoice – even while under house arrest.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

False Help and Hope.

1 In the year that the commander in chief, who was sent by Sargon the king of Assyria, came to Ashdod and fought against it and captured it— at that time the Lord spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, “Go, and loose the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet,” and he did so, walking naked and barefoot.

Then the Lord said, “As my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt. Then they shall be dismayed and ashamed because of Cush their hope and of Egypt their boast. And the inhabitants of this coastland will say in that day, ‘Behold, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria! And we, how shall we escape?’” – Isaiah 20:1-6 ESV

Map-of-Assyrian-Expansion.jpgAs has already been stated, this whole section of the book of Isaiah is designed to expose the futility of Judah placing their hope in other nations. Faced with formidable foes threatening to destroy them, the people of Judah were quick to turn to other nations for assistance. Their first line of defense was to make an alliance with a pagan nation like Egypt or Cush.  They had even considered aligning themselves with the Assyrians. But God wanted them to know that He alone was to be their source of safety and security. They had long ago abandoned Him, turning to the false gods of the nations around them and even when faced with His divine judgment in the form of foreign invaders, they remained obstinate, refusing to repent and turn to Him. They thought they could evade and escape His punishment by placing their fate in the hands of a foreign king.

And yet, they watched as, one by one, other nations and cities fell before the unrelenting power of the Assyrian army, including the city of Ashdod. Ashdod was the northern-most Philistine city, located only 35 miles to the west of Jerusalem and, in 713 BC, its king, Ahimiti, had decided to rebel against the the Assyrians, prompted by the promise of aid from the Egyptians. As a result of his rebellion, Ahimiti was replaced by the Assyrians. When the people of Ashdod continued to rebel, the King Sargon II turned the city into an Assyrian province. And the Egyptians never lifted a finger to help them. In fact, the people of Ashdod had pleaded for help from Judah, Moab and Edom, but none ever materialized.

At the time of the fall of Ashdod, God gave Isaiah a strange assignment. He told him to “Go, and loose the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet” (Isaiah 20:2 ESV). He was to remove his outer garment as well as his shoes and the text says, “he did so, walking naked and barefoot.” But before we jump to conclusions and assume that Isaiah was being forced by God to expose himself to all those around them, it is important to know that the Hebrews word translated as “naked” is`arowm and can refer to complete or partial nudity. In many cases it was used to refer to someone who had taken off their outer garment, only to reveal their tunic or undergarment. It seems unlikely that God would have required Isaiah to expose himself completely. But, in demanding that Isaiah strip down to his undergarments and walk the streets of Jerusalem, God would have been demonstrating the shame that Judah would soon experience. Isaiah’s condition would provide a visual demonstration of the humiliation and shame coming to all the nations on Judah’s list of potential allies. Like someone stripped of his possessions by thieves, Isaiah would be a walking reminder of the fate of Judah’s false saviors. And he would do this for three long years.

But Isaiah’s three-year-long dramatic display was intended to send a message to the people of Judah. God wanted them to know that their refusal to place their trust in Him would prove to be a poor decision.

“As my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt.” –  Isaiah 20:3-4 ESV

They Egyptians and Cushites would fall, just as the city of Ashdod did. Their people would be led away, their fine garments and sandals removed, looking more like slaves than the citizens of a once-powerful nation. While Isaiah’s dramatic performance was nothing more than theater in the round, what God describes as happening to the people of Egypt and Cush will be real and not an act.

And God reveals that it will be only then, as their two allies are led away as captives, that people of Judah “shall be dismayed and ashamed because of Cush their hope and of Egypt their boast” (Isaiah 20:5 ESV). It is going to take the fall of these two nations to bring the people of Judah to the point of brokenness. The two Hebrew words used to describe their emotional state at that time are chathath and buwsh, and they paint a picture of confusion, fear and loss of hope. They will have placed all their hope and trust in these two nations, believing that they would be the ones to protect them from their enemies. But their hopes will be dashed when their allies fall.

Isaiah is told to warn the people that when this prophecy takes place, it will leave them wondering what happened. It will leave them in a state of hopelessness and helplessness.

“Behold, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria! And we, how shall we escape?” – Isaiah 20:6 ESV

And in 701 BC, God’s warning came to fruition. The Assyrians defeated Egypt at Eltekeh, leaving the people of Judah were left without help or hope. Or so they thought. But God was there. He always had been. And God was ready to help them, to provide them with hope in the midst of the darkness and despair surrounding them. But they would have to turn to Him. They would have to place their trust in Him. And later on in this same book, Isaiah describes the goodness and greatness of the God who stood ready to assist those who will call out to Him in their time of need.

He gives power to the faint,
    and to him who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:29-31 ESV

God possesses power greater than that of any nation. And He offers that power to those who find themselves suffering from physical, emotional and spiritual weakness. But He requires that we wait on Him. That means we must allow Him to operate on His time schedule, not ours. We must not allow our impatience with His seeming delays to tempt us to turn to other forms of help. The key to enjoying the benefits of God’s strength is learning to trust His timing. Notice that those described in this passage are faint, lacking in strength, weary, and exhausted. They can’t take another step. They are on their last legs. In other words, they have come to an end of their own strength. And it is at that very moment, that we tend to start looking for outside sources of strength. But will we turn to God? Will we wait on Him? Will we place all our hope in His ability to provide the very help we need? God calls out to us as He did to the people of Judah.

“…fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10 ESV

He is our help and our hope.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

He Deserves Death!

 57 Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered. 58 And Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end. 59 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward 61 and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to rebuild it in three days.’” 62 And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 63 But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” 65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” 67 Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, 68 saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” – Matthew 26:57-68 ESV

CaiphasJesus had been arrested and His disciples had fled into the night. Even Peter, the one who had earlier boasted, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away” (Matthew 26:33 ESV). Their fear had gotten the best of them and they had resigned themselves to the fact that it was all over. Matthew even records that Peter, having followed the guards who were taking Jesus to Caiaphas, the high priest, did so, “to see the end” (Matthew 26:58 ESV). It was all over. Their dreams of Jesus being their Messiah and the one to sit on the throne of David were about to be dashed. Jesus was as good as a dead man and there was nothing Peter or any of the other disciples could do about it.

Jesus was dragged before Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest. Annas had been high priest at one time and still held sway over the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high council. It was Annas who questioned Jesus about His disciples and His teaching. And Jesus had responded:

“I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” – John 18:20-21 NLT

Taking Jesus’ statement as a sign of disrespect for Annas, one of the guards struck Him in the face. Then Jesus was taken to see Caiaphas.

It’s important to note that all of these gatherings were being conducted at night and in secret. These men were not conducting a trial, but an inquisition. They had already determined the guilt of Jesus and were simply looking for concrete evidence or proof to justify their predetermined plan to have Him put to death. They had made that fateful decision immediately after Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. John records that, as a result of that miraculous event, “Many of the people who were with Mary believed in Jesus” (John 11:45 ESV). And when the Sanhedrin had gotten word of what Jesus had done, they were disturbed by the news, asking, “What are we going to do? This man certainly performs many miraculous signs. If we allow him to go on like this, soon everyone will believe in him. Then the Roman army will come and destroy both our Temple and our nation” (John 11:47-48 NLT). But it had been Caiaphas, the high priest, who had calmly laid out the solution to this vexing problem.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about! You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” – John 11:49-50 NLT

So, by the time Jesus was dragged in front of the Sanhedrin, His fate had been sealed. The so-called trial was a sham. And these religious leaders, in an attempt to find proof against Jesus, resorted to hiring false witnesses. And as Matthew makes perfectly clear, their intent was to put Jesus to death. But because the Jews were forbidden by the Romans of practicing capital punishment, they would need proof that Jesus was a threat to national security and worthy of death. They would have to convince the Romans to do their dirty deed for them.

But the false witnesses proved to be no help at all. They couldn’t get their stories straight. But then, two came forward who remembered the words Jesus had spoken immediately after He had overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple. When Jesus had been asked by the religious leaders who had given Him the authority to do what He had done, He had responded, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19 NLT). And these two witnesses had been there. So, they related this incendiary statement to the high priest and the members of the high council. But they had missed Jesus’ point. In his gospel account, John clarifies what Jesus had meant. “But when Jesus said ‘this temple,’ he meant his own body” (John 2:21 NLT).

But when Jesus was given an opportunity to respond to the testimony of these men, He didn’t clarify His meaning. He didn’t attempt to qualify His original statement. Matthew records that Jesus remained silent. Unlike in His encounter with Annas, Jesus chose not to respond to Caiaphas. And His actions were in direct fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah.

He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. – Isaiah 53:7 ESV

Jesus was not interested in defending Himself – either physically or verbally. This entire evening had been preordained by His heavenly Father, and Jesus was fully committed to doing what His Father had commanded Him to do.

“No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.” – John 10:18 NLT

But Caiaphas was not satisfied. He needed Jesus to commit blasphemy – to claim to be God. That was the evidence the high priest needed to justify the death of Jesus. So, he said to Jesus, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God” (Matthew 26:63 ESV). This was not a case of Caiaphas expressing hope that Jesus was the Messiah, but a last desperate attempt to get Jesus to blaspheme by claiming to be God’s Son and, therefore, divine.

On an earlier trip to the city of Jerusalem, at the Feast of Dedication, and in the temple courtyard, Jesus had made the bold claim, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30 ESV). That statement had incensed the Jews and they had taken up rocks to stone Jesus. But Jesus had expressed confusion, stating that He had performed many good works that proved He was from God. He asked, “for which of them are you going to stone me?” (john 10:32 ESV). And the people shouted, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God” (John 10:33 ESV).

That was what Caiaphas was looking for. He needed Jesus to claim to be God. And in response to the high priest’s question, “are the Christ, the Son of God,” Jesus said, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64 ESV). The true meaning of this statement escaped the high priest and the members of the high council. But it was exactly what they had been waiting for. Accusing Jesus of blasphemy, Caiaphas asked the Sanhedrin for their verdict and they wasted no time in declaring their decision: “He deserves death.”

Think about that statement. From their earth-bound, sin-soaked perspective, they saw Jesus as the one deserving of death. And yet, as the Scriptures make perfectly clear, it was mankind that deserved death at the hands of a righteous, holy and just God.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. – Romans 3:23 NLT

Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. – Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV

No one is righteous–not even one. – Romans 3:10 NLT

Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good! – Psalm 53:1 NLT

And Scripture tells us that the God-ordained penalty for our sin and unrighteousness is death.

…the wages of sin is death. – Romans 6:23 ESV

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. – Romans 5:12 NLT

Yet, in spite of mankind’s guilt and the looming sentence of death, God chose to provide a way of escape, a plan of redemption that would make acquittal possible and righteousness available. God’s solution? The sacrificial death of His own Son.

…he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. – Isaiah 53:5 NLT

…the LORD laid on him the sins of us all. – Isaiah 53:6 NLT

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. – 1 Peter 2:24 NLT

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. – Colossians 3:13-14 NLT

Jesus did not deserve to die. We did. So did all the men in the room that night. Yet, “God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT). But rather than see Jesus as the Son of God and their Savior from sin, the members of the Sanhedrin spit on Him, slapped Him and mocked Him. They abused the one who had come to save them. They ridiculed the only righteous man in the room. And it was all part of God’s plan.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Abandoned Hope.

1 And when it was decided that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort named Julius. And embarking in a ship of Adramyttium, which was about to sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea, accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica. The next day we put in at Sidon. And Julius treated Paul kindly and gave him leave to go to his friends and be cared for. And putting out to sea from there we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were against us. And when we had sailed across the open sea along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing for Italy and put us on board. We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind did not allow us to go farther, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea.

Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous because even the Fast was already over, Paul advised them, 10 saying, “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” 11 But the centurion paid more attention to the pilot and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. 12 And because the harbor was not suitable to spend the winter in, the majority decided to put out to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing both southwest and northwest, and spend the winter there.

13 Now when the south wind blew gently, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close to the shore. 14 But soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. 15 And when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 Running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s boat. 17 After hoisting it up, they used supports to undergird the ship. Then, fearing that they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and thus they were driven along. 18 Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. 19 And on the third day they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. 20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned. Acts 27:1-20 ESV

pauls-journey-to-rome

Back in chapter 19, Luke reported that Paul had been compelled by the Spirit of God to visit Macedonia and Achaia before going to Jerusalem. Paul was constantly receiving input from the Spirit, providing him with direction and even preventing him from going to certain places. His ministry was motivated by his desire to obey the commission given to him by Jesus, but it was directed by the Holy Spirit. In chapter 16, Luke records just such an occasion.

Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. – Acts 16:6-7 NLT

And somewhere along the way, Paul had been given what had to have been a Spirit-inspired desire to go to Rome. Acts 19:21 reports Paul’s impassioned statement: “I must go on to Rome!” And now, after his hearing before King Agrippa and Festus, he was on his way. But this journey was not going to be an easy one. He was still a prisoner and he was on his way to stand trial before the emperor of Rome, still facing charges that could result in his death. Nothing about this phase of Paul’s life was easy or trouble-free. It seems that with every step he took, the difficulties increased in number and intensity. And yet, he was innocent of any wrong-doing, a fact with which both the governor and the king concurred.

Luke spends a great deal of time chronicling this portion of Paul’s life. He provides a lot of detail, describing each phase of Paul’s journey to Rome with what appears to be keen interest. But why? It seems that Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was trying to show that Paul’s desire to go to Rome, while Spirit-inspired, was not a guarantee of a trouble-free journey. God was sovereign and orchestrating each step of Paul’s trip to Rome, but that did not exempt Paul from difficulties or trials along the way. Paul’s confrontation with the Jews in the temple courtyard and eventual arrest by the Romans, had stretched into more than a two-year delay. He had been moved to Caesarea for a hearing before Governor Felix, but had remained in confinement when Felix found himself unable to arrive at a decision as to Paul’s fate. And Paul had remained there for two years, until Felix had been replaced by Festus. It was to Festus that Paul had demanded a trial before Caesar and now, he was on his way.

The beatings, imprisonment, false accusations, threats, and plots against his life had just been the beginning. His trip to Rome was going to prove equally as intense and full of inexplicable trials and tests. But it is essential that we read this account as Luke intended it to be read: With a knowledge that God is in control. None of the events described in this chapter happened outside the sovereign will of God. And no one understood that better than Paul himself. We must give careful consideration to the attitude and actions displayed by Paul throughout this story. There was no sense of panic or fear. At no time does Paul seem to consider the troubles surrounding his life as an indication that he was somehow out of God’s will for his life. From the moment he stepped foot on the ship to the day he arrived in Rome, Paul was content and at peace with the knowledge that his life was in God’s hands.

In verse four, Luke gives a short, but telling glimpse into what was to come: “…the winds were against us.” The entire journey will appear to be marked by a supernatural, spiritual-based conflict. There is little doubt that much of what Luke describes is meant to convey the battle taking place in the heavenly realms, as Paul himself described it. 

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12 NLT

Paul was being led by God, but being opposed by Satan every step of the way. Luke does not provide us with a step-by-step description or blow-by-blow account of how this battle unfolded. He does not attribute the storm to Satan. He doesn’t even mention him. But his narrative provides us with a foreboding sense of the spiritual warfare going on behind the scenes.

We sailed slowly for a number of days and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind did not allow us to go farther, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. – Acts 27:7 NLT

Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens… – Acts 27:8 NLT

Since much time had passed, and the voyage was now dangerous – Acts 27:9 NLT

Paul advised them, saying, “Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” – Acts 27:9-10 NLT

…soon a tempestuous wind, called the northeaster, struck down from the land. – Acts 27:14 NLT

we managed with difficulty to secure the ship’s boat – Acts 27:16 NLT

fearing that they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and thus they were driven along. – Acts 27:17 NLT

Since we were violently storm-tossed, they began the next day to jettison the cargo. – Acts 27:18 NLT

When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned. – Acts 27:20 NLT

All hope was abandoned. Or was it? There was at least one man on the boat who seemed to know that there was still hope, because there was still a God who had all things in His hands and under His control. Nowhere does Paul express fear that he had been abandoned by God. He did not view the storm as a sign that God was punishing him or somehow preventing him from arriving in Rome. His Spirit-inspired desire to go to Rome had not diminished. And as we will see in the next section of verses, God will provide Paul with clear confirmation that he will make it to his final destination without the loss of a single life. The storm was going to prove no match for God. And Julius, the Augustan Cohort in charge of delivering Paul to Rome; Aristarchus, the Macedonian traveling with Paul; and all the sailors on the ship, were going to get a first-hand display of the power of God. They may have lost hope, but Paul hadn’t. They may have feared for their lives, but Paul had an assurance from God that not a single life would be lost. Paul was headed to Rome. The winds would blow, the waves would crash, the boat would sink, the sailors would panic, but Paul would rest in the sovereign hand of God. His faith was in his God. His eyes were on the One who had called and commissioned him, not on the storms of life. And this story brings to mind a similar scene from the life of Jesus, when He and His disciples encountered a storm while sailing on the Sea of Galilee.

37 But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.

38 Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”

39 When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. 40 Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” – Mark 4:37-40 NLT

Paul experienced the same storm the sailors did, but without fear. Paul had faith. He trusted God. And it seems that Luke is silently asking us whether we will do the same.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Incredible Non-Shrinking Man.

13 But going ahead to the ship, we set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul aboard there, for so he had arranged, intending himself to go by land. 14 And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene. 15 And sailing from there we came the following day opposite Chios; the next day we touched at Samos; and the day after that we went to Miletus. 16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia, for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.

17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them:

“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Acts 20:13-27 ESV

pauls-third-missionary-journey

After having miraculously raised Eutychus back to life, Paul and his traveling companions left Troas. Luke indicates that he, Timothy and the other six men who were accompanying Paul back to Jerusalem, took a ship from Troas and headed for Assos, while Paul determined to go by land. Traveling by ship required that you sail around Cape Lectum, which added considerable time to the journey. It was only 20 miles by land from Troas to Assos, so Paul’s decision to take the overland route allowed him to extend his stay in Troas. But eventually, he and the others met up in Assos, where he joined them aboard their ship and continued the journey, arriving some days later in Miletus. For whatever reason, Paul made the determination to sail past Ephesus, perhaps worrying that it would present too lengthy of a delay in his travel plans and prevent him from reaching Jerusalem in time for the Feast of Pentecost.

Paul still had a concern for the well-being of the church in Ephesus, so he came up with an alternative plan, sending for the elders of the church and inviting them to join him in Miletus. It had been in Ephesus that the gospel had made a huge impact, transforming the lives of many who once worshiped false gods and dabbled in the occult. Luke records:

19 A number of them who had been practicing sorcery brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was several million dollars. 20 So the message about the Lord spread widely and had a powerful effect. – Acts 19:19-20 NLT

These changes had not set well with all those living in Ephesus. The local tradesmen, who made their living selling statues of the god, Artemis, had whipped the people into a frenzy, inciting a riot and causing “no little disturbance concerning the Way” (Acts 19:23 ESV). The situation for the believers in Ephesus had become intense and potentially dangerous. So, Paul had invited the elders to come and meet with him so that he might encourage them. But Paul used an interesting tactic to accomplish his goal. He most likely knew that those in Ephesus might have viewed his leaving of them as a form of abandonment. Just when things had gotten hot, he had bailed on them. So, Paul reminded the elders that he had spent a great deal of time in Ephesus, ministering to them, even in the face of the hostile threats of the Jews, who opposed his teaching.

19 I have done the Lord’s work humbly and with many tears. I have endured the trials that came to me from the plots of the Jews. 20 I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either publicly or in your homes. – Acts 20:19-20 NLT

It’s important to remember that, at this point in his ministry, Paul had already been stoned and left for dead. He had faced tremendous opposition and intense hatred. But he had refused to shrink back. Even in the face of adversity, Paul had stood his ground and remained faithful to his calling by Jesus.

21 I have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike—the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus. – Acts 20:21 NLT

That had been Paul’s persistent passion and he had pursued it with an unwavering commitment. And his departure from them had not been driven by fear or self-preservation, but by the Spirit of God. He was convinced that Jerusalem was the next stop on his itinerary, and he was going there, even though he had no idea what awaited him when he arrived. He knew that the Judaizers, those Jewish Christians who had been demanding that all Gentiles be circumcised and adhere to the Mosaic Law, would be there. He was well aware that they would still be questioning his ministry and accusing him of violating both the law and the religious heritage they held so sacred. Paul informed these men that “the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead” (Acts 20:23 NLT). If you recall, when Jesus had instructed Ananias to go to Paul, then known as Saul, and minister to him immediately after his conversion, He had said:

15 “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. 16 And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.” – Acts 9:15-16 NLT

Paul was well aware that his ministry was to include suffering. He had experienced it. And he knew that every trip he took could be his last. He had been an eye-witness to the stoning death of Stephen. He had been stoned himself. And, on more than one occasion, he had been forced to flee for his life, sneaking out of a city in the dark of night, like a common criminal. And in the very next chapter, we will see Paul receive numerous warnings from others, prompted by the Holy Spirit. When he met with the disciples in Tyre, Luke records that “through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:4 ESV). While in Caesarea, a prophet from Judea named Agabus, came to visit Paul and warn him. Luke writes that he “took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, ‘Thus says the Holy Spirit, “This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles”’” (Acts 21:11 NLT). The disciples who witnessed this event begged Paul not to go to Jerusalem, but he responded: “I am ready not only to be jailed at Jerusalem but even to die for the sake of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13 NLT).

Paul told the elders from Ephesus, “my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God” (Acts 20:24 NLT). Paul was more than willing to suffer for the cause of Christ, and he already had. He was also willing to die, if necessary. He would later write to the believers in Philippi:

16 Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless. 17 But I will rejoice even if I lose my life, pouring it out like a liquid offering to God – Philippians 2:16-17 NLT

And Paul would encourage the Philippian believers to have the same attitude, seeing their relationship with Christ as of more value than life itself.

Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. – Philippians 3:8-9 NLT

10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! – Philippians 3:10-11 NLT

Paul had no regrets. He felt no compulsion to apologize for his efforts or to excuse his actions. He had been faithful.

26 I declare today that I have been faithful. If anyone suffers eternal death, it’s not my fault, 27 for I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know. – Acts 20:26-27 NLT

If someone died without knowing Christ, it was not Paul’s fault. He had done his job. He had faithfully declared the gospel and clearly articulated God’s plan of salvation. He had preached the Word of God unapologetically and fearlessly. And now, he was going to be heading to Jerusalem knowing that he might never see these brothers in Christ again. He had no idea what the future held. He lived with a sense of dependency upon the Spirit of God, that allowed him take one day at a time. He took nothing for granted. He savored every moment and made the most out of every minute given to him by God. Paul’s views regarding his ministry can best be summed up in the words he wrote to the believers in Philippi.

20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. – Philippians 1:20-21 ESV

Paul was encouraging these men by sharing with them his personal outlook on life. He knew that their ministry would be difficult, just as his had been. He realized that they would face times of uncertainty and fear. He had as well. He was well aware that they would be going back to Ephesus where they would face opposition of all kinds, both inside and outside of the church. But he was well acquainted with these things. These men were the God-appointed leaders of their local congregation. They had a huge responsibility and Paul wanted them to take it seriously. And his words would echo those of the apostle Peter, who also delivered strong words of encouragement and exhortation to the elders of the churches to whom he had ministered.

1 And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor. – 1 Peter 5:1-4 NLT

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

An Open Door of Faith.

19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. 20 But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. 21 When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. 23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

24 Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25 And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, 26 and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. 27 And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they remained no little time with the disciples. Acts 14:19-28 ESV

Popularity is a fickle and fleeting thing. Paul and Barnabas had found themselves the unwilling recipients of the worship of the people of Lystra. After having seen Paul and Barnabas restore a lame man’s ability to walk, the crowds had mistakenly declared them to be gods come to earth. They even tried to offer sacrifices to them. And, even though Paul and Barnabas vehemently denied any claim to deity and tried to point the people to Yahweh, it did no good. But then, a contingent of Jews from Pisidian Antioch and Iconium, who stood opposed to the teaching of Paul and Barnabas, convinced the crowd that they had been deceived. They pleaded with the people of Lystra to see Paul and Barnabas as what they were: Fraud. These individuals had traveled a long way, just to keep Paul and Barnabas from doing what God had called them to do. They so opposed the message of these two men that they had plotted to stone them when they had been in Iconium, but Paul and Barnabas had left before they could do it. So, these men had followed them all the way to Lystra and now, they turned the crowds against them. We are not told how long it took them to persuade the people of Lystra that Paul and Barnabas were dangerous heretics and not gods, but they must have been convincing. The very same people who had lauded praise and honor on Paul and Barnabas and tried to lay wreaths at their feet, picked up stones and hurled them at Paul. Luke tells us that their efforts were so thorough that they believed Paul to be dead. And yet, Paul miraculously survived. Luke states that “he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe” (Acts 14:20 ESV). Luke’s description of this entire scene comes across as so matter-of-fact, almost flippant. It begs for more detail. We want to know more. Did God somehow heal all of his wounds? When Luke says that some of the disciples gathered around Paul’s broken body, had they prayed for his healing? Did they lay hands on him? Luke doesn’t elaborate. He simply tells us that Paul stood and and went back to work. He entered the city, and then he and Barnabas went on to Derby. There’s a question that naturally arises out of this story. Why did Stephen have to die as a result of his stoning, while Paul was allowed to live? Neither Luke or God provide us with an answer. But we have seen time and time again, that God always has a reason for what takes place. Obviously, God was not done with Paul. He had more for him to do. And Paul would learn a great deal from this experience. In fact, after having ministered in Derby, Paul and Barnabas would make a return trip through Lystra, Iconium and Pisidian Antioch, where they gathered all the believers and encouraged them “to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22 NLT). Paul would become a living example of the trials and tribulations that come with faithful service to God. He would even provide a detailed description of his many sufferings on behalf of Christ.

23 “I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. 24 Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. 26 I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. 27 I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.” – 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 NLT
And Paul would go on to conclude that all of this, the pain, the suffering, beatings, and deprivations, were valuable because they revealed his own weakness. Which is what led him to say, “I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am” (2 Corinthians 11:30 NLT). And in the very next chapter of that same letter, Paul would clarify his thought even further:
9 “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NLT
Paul would suffer greatly, but he would also believe strongly. He would find strength in his weaknesses. He would discover the reality that His God was greater than anything he might have to suffer or endure. Paul was not motivated by success or popularity. He didn’t measure his effectiveness by how big the crowds were or how well his message was received. What is really fascinating about this story is that Paul never asks God the “why” question. He doesn’t shake his fist at God and demand an explanation for why he had to be stoned almost to death just for doing what he had been told to do. You don’t hear Paul complaining or whining about his circumstances or wondering why Barnabas escaped without a mark. No, instead, Paul saw his suffering as a privilege. Which is why he could tell the Philippian believers: “For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him” (Philippians 1:29 NLT). No doubt, Paul had been told by his fellow apostles about Jesus’ sermon on the mount and had heard the words He spoke that day.

11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way. – Matthew 5:11-12 NLT

And Paul, who would go on to suffer a great many trials and tribulations on behalf of Christ, would become an expert on the topic, providing him with the right and responsibility to instruct other believers about this vital topic.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. – Romans 5:3-5 NLT

When Paul told the disciples in Lystra, Iconium and Pisidian Antioch, that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God”, he knew what he was talking about. But what was he teaching? Is he saying a person must undergo suffering before they can become a Christian? Is he teaching that suffering is a necessary part of our salvation? The answer to these questions would be, “No.” Paul believed in salvation based on God’s grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. There was nothing we were required to bring to the table. Our salvation is, completely and entirely, the work of God, But between the point at which we come to faith in Christ and when we stand before Him in heaven, there is that period in which we are required to live out our faith in this world. At the point of our conversion, we become citizens of heaven, but we remain inhabitants of this earth. We have a inheritance reserved for us in heaven, but are required to live as aliens, strangers and sojourners in this land. And Jesus Himself told us, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NLT).]

Living as a believer in this world is not easy. Paul knew that truth well. And he wanted all those who came to faith in Christ to understand that this world is not our home. We are on loan here by God, with an important task to perform: To share the good news of Jesus Christ with all those who find themselves living in darkness. We are to be ambassadors and witnesses to the resurrection power of Jesus Christ.

So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him. – 2 Corinthians 5:6-9 NLT

Our goal is to please Him, not ourselves. Our ambition should be to do His will, not our own. Paul saw clearly that God “had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles” (Acts 14:27 ESV). And he realized that God had chosen to use Barnabas and himself to lead countless Gentiles to that open door. If they had to suffer in the course of doing their part, so be it. If it meant they had to endure some pain and rejection along the way, it was worth it. Paul had a long-term perspective. He was in it for the long-haul and realized that his reward would come in the future, not the present. He didn’t seek or expect accolades and rewards in this life, but in the one to come. He wasn’t surprised by trials and tribulations, but fully expected them. In fact, he actually rejoiced in them. They became proof that his efforts were not in vain. He had the enemy’s full attention. He had smacked the beehive and upset the order of things. And he would gladly do it again.

 

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Rejoice Like It.

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And

“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
    what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. 1 Peter 4:12-19 ESV

As Christians, the natural response to the “fiery trials” that come our way because of our faith, is surprise. We ask, “Why is this happening to me?” We see trials as anomalies or abnormal experiences. We don’t expect them as believers, somehow having convinced ourselves that our relationship with God, as His children, makes us immune or not susceptible to the difficulties of life. And yet, Peter provides us with a three-word statement regarding the purpose of trials in our lives, He simply states that they are there “to test you.” The Greek word Peter uses refers to a proving or testing of someone or something. It is the same word used to refer to the testing of gold or silver to check its purity. The word, in this context, means, “adversity, affliction, trouble: sent by God and serving to test or prove one’s character, faith, holiness” (G3986 – peirasmos – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV). Retrieved from https://www.blueletterbible.org). These trials or tests are not meant to defeat us, but to define and refine us. They reveal the true content of our character, exposing our doubts, fears, love for the world, and our dependence upon things like health, money, security, comfort and convenience. These “fiery trials” are like the furnace of a smelter, and are intended for our good. The heat burns away the dross and impurities that remain in our lives. We are blind to them. We don’t even know they exist. So, God turns up the heat in our lives in order to bring these impurities to the surface where they can be removed. James wrote about this very same thing in his letter, even encouraging his readers to rejoice over the trials of life:

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. – James 1:2-4 NLT

He adds the incentive that this process of purification through trials results in spiritual maturity. The process of having our faith tested by trials produces endurance and perseverance, which ultimately lead to Christ-likeness.

And Peter echoes the words of James when he writes, “be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world” (1 Peter 4:13 NLT). We don’t find joy in the trials themselves, but in the realization that they are perfecting us, and that one day our perfection will culminate in our glorification, when we see Christ face to face. We are willing to suffer in this life, because we know that Christ did. He was raised to new life and, one day, we will share in that same experience. The apostle Paul told the believers in Corinth: “We know that God, who raised the Lord Jesus, will also raise us with Jesus and present us to himself together with you” (2 Corinthians 4:14 NLT). This became a theme in many of Paul’s letters.

22 Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.

23 But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News. – Colossians 1:22-23 NLT

We have been justified before God. In other words, our faith in Christ has resulted in God declaring us righteous in His eyes. He sees us as righteous because Christ is righteous. But not only that, we will one day be glorified by God, receiving new bodies and a resurrected life freed from the affects of sin and death, just as Jesus did. And that is the truth we are to continue to believe in and rest on as we experience the trials of life.

Peter states that if we suffer or are insulted because we bear the name of Christ, we are blessed. That sounds so strange, doesn’t it? And yet, that is exactly what Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount.

11 “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. 12 Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way. – Matthew 5:11-12 NLT

Followers of Christ don’t go through trials alone, like the rest of the world. We have a heavenly Father who loves us and who longs to bless and pour out His favor on us. And, He is especially pleased when He sees His children standing up for His name and defending His honor by enduring the pain and ridicule that comes with bearing His name. Jesus told us that the world would hate us, because of Him. It hated Him, so it is only natural that they hate us. He said, “They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the one who sent me” (John 15:21 NLT). “All of this” refers to the hatred and persecution the disciples were to experience. The world, because it doesn’t know and understand God, rejects the Son of God. And, as a result, it rejects and hates the children of God. It is our relationship with Christ that brings the suffering we experience. And that should bring us joy. Paul was even willing to say:

10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! – Philippians 3:10-11 NLT

Peter reminds us that, while there is plenty of reason to feel shame for doing the wrong things and we should expect to suffer as a result, there is no shame associated with suffering for Christ. No, we should see it as a privilege for getting to suffer for His name.

One of the things Peter would have us understand is that our “judgment” is now, and it is a far different kind of judgment that the lost world will one day face. We’re being judged as to our character in this life. We are already justified before God. He sees us as righteous because we have been covered by the righteous blood of Christ. We face no future judgment regarding sin. That is why Paul was able to say, “there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 NLT). The trials we face in this life can be seen as a form of judgment, not to punish or condemn us, but as a means of exposing the lingering remnants of sin within us. When we go through trials, our patience, faith, dependence upon God, and our love for Him, are tested. We learn where we are weak. We are reminded that we are weak. Which is exactly why Paul could say:

So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 NLT

Peter states that, “the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household” (1 Peter 4:17 NLT). Our time of judgment is now. We are having our sins exposed in this life. And, as believers, we should be willing to judge the sins in one another’s lives, refusing to tolerate falsehood, immorality, or sin of any kind in our midst. Listen to these sobering words of Paul:

11 I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don’t even eat with such people.

12 It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. 13 God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.” – 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 NLT

Our judgment is now. But what about the lost? They will face a future judgment that will expose their sins, illicit God’s judgment and result in eternal condemnation. While they can freely get away with their sins in this life, they will pay for them in the next. We are having our sins judged and purged from our lives now, but we do not need to fear judgment for our sins in the future. So, Peter encourages us to keep doing what is right. If we suffer for it, so be it. He simply states, “trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you” (1 Peter 5:19 NLT). We suffer in this life, but it has a purpose. We face trials in this life, but they are proof of the Father’s love and the means by which He purifies and perfects us, transforming us into the image of His Son. So, we are to rejoice like it.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson