Are they servants of Christ? 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. Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. 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. 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. 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).
Does Paul sound like a madman? Maybe he’s playing a biblical version of “Can You Top This?” No, Paul is illustrating just how bad it can get for those who follow Jesus Christ. And this was written before he was thrown in the Roman jail. While in that jail he wrote “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12-13 NIV). Being in need, being hungry and being in want — the abridged version of the above passage.
When you look at all the trials he went through and the cruelty he suffered, how easy would it be for you or me to get stuck in just one of them? Being whipped, receiving 39 lashes, beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked; the list goes on.
Some of the lines where he talks about facing danger, sound rather familiar. How soon will we be facing that kind of persecution? I don’t know, but I do know what Paul said later “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:1-5 ESV). Yeah, that sounds familiar too.
So how do we survive — no not survive, but thrive — these difficult times, and the ones to come? Back to Philippians “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me — everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9 NLT). In other words “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2 NIV). The world’s watching. Give them something good to look at!