In this final part of the series, our focus will be on Paul, the Apostle. As we know, Paul wrote more than half of the New Testament, in the form of letters to the many churches he established throughout his ministry. He outlined in his letters the many adversities he experienced as he did the Lord’s work. I want to emphasize this, as he did the Lord’s work. Many of us feel that if we are doing the Lord’s work and if we are walking in God’s will we will not suffer hardship. Nothing is further from the truth. We only need to look at the life of Jesus, the lives of David and Job (which we discussed in parts 2 and 3) and now the life of Paul.
First, let us put into context the things that Paul experienced in his effort to spread the gospel.
- People did not believe that he was an apostle/his conversion
- His message was rejected
- He was beaten/stoned
- He was imprisoned
- He was deserted by close friends/Mark/Barnabus
- Some of the believers were backsliding
- There was competition from other preachers (apostles)
- There was lack of money/finance
- There were plots to kill him
- Influences of other religious/cultural/ideologies/practices
- He was persecuted/oppressed
- He was ship wrecked
- He was bitten by a viper
- He had a thorn in the flesh that God refused to deliver him from
I want to highlight two of these adversities beginning with the last situation first.
And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:7-9a)
Let us pause here for a while before continuing with this passage. I need us to take note of some facts. The thorn in the flesh was given to Paul, he didn’t do anything to deserve it. God could have stopped it from happening in the first place and could also have responded to Paul’s pleas to make it depart from him. Why didn’t He? He didn’t want Paul to become self-sufficient, to become filled with pride, which is always a risk faced by powerful ministers of the gospel. The Lord felt it was in Paul’s best interest to suffer the thorn in the flesh than to fall into destruction through pride. Paul recognized God’s care for him even as he denied his request for deliverance. He understood that the heart of God towards us is always to do us good and therefore even though it was distressful he accepted with gratitude that God’s way was best for him.
Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9b–10)
The ship wreck is the second aspect of Paul’s adversities I want to focus on. It landed him on the island of Malta. For all intents and purposes, this could have been deemed a tragedy. However, it is out of this tragedy that God used Paul to display the power of God when he was bitten by a viper (trouble upon trouble) but was not harmed. God used him to minister healing to many on that island. If Paul was consumed with self-pity he could not have been used by God to minister in this powerful way and display God’s glory for all to see.
The heart of gratitude can only be your reality if you understand the heart of God towards you. Nothing happens to any of His children by chance, nothing takes Him by surprise. Everything that happens to us happens for a purpose. It is more important to find the purpose than to bemoan the circumstance. This is God’s heart towards you and I……………
For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jer. 29:11)
He says further………………..
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Rom. 8:28)
Our problem, yours and mine, is that we read the Word but we do not believe it. If we did, then we would have no problem seeing every situation, good and bad, as an opportunity to give thanks to God out of a heart of gratitude. Maybe we would be quicker to be grateful if we knew of the consequences to being discontent.
A sound heart is life to the body, But envy is rottenness to the bones. (Pro. 14:30)
Better a handful with quietness than both hands full, together with toil and grasping for the wind. (Eccl. 4:6)
Remove falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches — Feed me with the food allotted to me; Lest I be full and deny You, and say, “Who is the Lord?” Or lest I be poor and steal, And profane the name of my God. (Pro. 30:8-9)
But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1 Tim. 6:9-10)
As I close this series, it is my prayer that we all seek to develop a heart of gratitude; thankfulness and contentment that is not dependent on our circumstances but on who we are in God. Be encouraged with these parting Scriptures from the grateful heart of Paul.
Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:11-13)
Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. (1 Tim. 6:6-8)