Are they ministers of Christ?–I speak as a fool–I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness–besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:23-28)
I Have No Complaints
The apostle Paul was an amazing man. Few men in history have made such an impact on the world as the man from Tarsus. He was a celebrity of his time enjoying the wealth and power of a nobleman wielding incredible influence for his day. As a Jew, he was the epitome of what every Jewish boy wanted to be. Paul was a Benjamite and a member of the sect of Pharisees. His power was unlimited as he sought out the followers of Christ persecuting them to foreign cities. He learned from one of the great teachers of law named Gamaliel and was taught to strictly keep the law in zealousness. He persecuted the church binding and delivering into prisons both men and women. This all changed when he came to Damascus.
The Lord had set Paul apart for His own special purpose. When Ananias baptized Saul of Tarsus into Christ, a new man arose that would change the shape of the world. His passion and desire to serve Jesus Christ was incredibly intense. He immersed himself in the work of teaching the gospel in Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world. The journeys of Paul throughout the Roman Empire began a movement that still thrives today. We are all recipients of the passionate work Paul laid down in city after city recounting his labors in numerous letters. The bulk of the New Testament canon is devoted to the ministry of Paul. He was unmarried and unfettered by family responsibilities allowing him to preach in foreign cities, stand before governors and kings and eventually preach in the imperial city of Rome the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Viewing the life of Paul, one has to sympathize with the hardships he endured almost on a daily basis. Few men can measure to his stature but he came in a fullness of time that allowed him to serve the Lord in a way few of us can ever realize. His letter to Corinth outlines the strength of his work and challenges he faced daily. He was beaten numerous times and once left for dead after a stoning. Prison was a common place to find the apostle. He lived with death threats from his fellow Jews. Misfortune fell upon him on many occasions including surviving a shipwreck and being left in the sea for a night and day. His middle name was “peril” as he suffered from the elements, his countryman and others who wanted him dead. False brethren attacked him. Fellow Christians persecuted Paul with great anger. Life with Paul was vigorous and weary filled with sleepless nights and lack of food. If this was not enough, he lived with the concern of all the churches he had been a part of.
As I write these words, I sit in a comfortable chair in a home filled with many conveniences of life. The cupboards have food, closets are filled with clothes and I have not known hunger in my life. I go from place to place in the comfort of a twelve-year-old truck. I worship with a loving group of fellow saints who live in various stages of similar comfort in a building that provides padded pews, illustrative PowerPoints, indoor plumbing and temperature-controlled environments. I have never spent a night in prison, beaten for what I believe, or hunted down by adversaries who want to kill me. Sunday morning I spend two hours in Bible study, worship, and return Sunday evening for another hour of worship. Wednesday nights an hour of Bible study concludes the day. I have a good library of books; the Bible is in printed form and on my cell phone, IPad and computer. My wife completes my life with the joy of my children and grandchildren. Where in all of this can I complain and feel as if my service to Jesus Christ is burdensome?
It is amazing how people complain about how long a sermon is, the need to assemble ‘again’ and ‘again’ and how difficult it is finding time to read God’s word (in printed form or electronic – the whole word revealed from Genesis to the Revelation). We feel as if life is so hard because we are expected to serve the Lord with some sort of diligence. Asking more than an hour a week for this God stuff can be overwhelming. The elders expect too much, the preacher demands unrealistic goals, the life of a Christian is just so very, very hard. Paul was a unique individual and that is accepted. His place in the scheme of redemption was powerful. It is a good thing he is not alive today and preaching because few congregations would allow him in the pulpit after he witnesses how the church has become softened by the luxuries of the world. I doubt very many of us have suffered much for being a Christian. There are some among us that have been abandoned by their families, suffered loss for choosing Christ and live difficult lives because they confess Christ. For the most of us, Paul is an imaginary figure that lived a long time ago and we will never understand the level of commitment he had in being crucified with his Lord.
Vance Havner said that religious movements begin in caves and die in cathedrals. Have we come to the cathedral age of Christianity forgetting our roots and the inspiration of men like Paul who gave his life for his Lord? Do we complain about what we have to do for the church? The church of today is not turning the world upside down because it is parallel to the world. How many souls have been brought to Christ this year? That takes a lot of work. Church growth comes from hard labor. If we would work in the spirit of the apostle Paul in a day void of persecution, churches would overflow with new disciples. The reality is we enjoy the comfort of modern Christianity that has turned a lifesaving station into a social club. I have no complaints. That could be the problem.
In the church we have a Christless churchianity and a churchless Christianity, a form of godliness without power, form without force, ritual without righteousness. (Vance Havner; 1901-1986)