If ever there was anyone who suffered for the sake of the Lord, it was Paul. In this section he recounts any number of personal, physical and spiritual attacks on his person, many of which could have easily killed him.
But they didn’t. The Lord protected him through all of these persecutions and lifted Paul up to do the work to which he had been called. A person might wonder why he had to go through this litany of suffering, but Paul understood what was happening. Paul knew he had to suffer for Christ, and he was prepared to do so.
This was perhaps the greatest sacrifice anyone could make for the sake of the Lord. He had a work to do and he did it in spite of the suffering. Which raises an important question. Are you prepared to suffer for Christ and your walk with Jesus?
As a Christian I have heard this question posed many times by non-believers who believe it is a plausible argument for the non-existence of God. It is a question that smacks of hypocrisy because those who pose it do not believe in God in the first place. They say, “If God is good why do people suffer,” or some variation of this such as good people suffering, innocent children suffering or just the fact that the world is full of suffering.
But the argument itself suffers from one fatal flaw. The question is wrong because It is based on a false premise.
The underlying premise of this question is that God, who is all-seeing and all-knowing, is the God of this world where people live and suffer. And that is where the argument falls apart, as we see in this section of scripture.
In this second letter of Paul to the church at Corinth we see him answer a number of questions and issues raised in the first letter. While the first letter was quite stern in a number of places, this second letter is more conciliatory.
Paul emphasises the need to walk in love more in this letter. He shows that, while there are circumstances that require strict action in the first letter, there is also the time to turn and offer compassion, mercy and love. When the one who sinned or was in the wrong turns and repents, then they should be offered forgiveness and reconciliation.
And we see this attitude come through strongly right from the beginning of this letter where Paul writes about the need to comfort those who have turned from their erroneous ways and returned to the Lord.
One of the things we know and come to expect as Christians is that we will suffer.
Throughout the New Testament we see teachings about suffering, the need for suffering, how to deal with suffering and not to be surprised at the sufferings and ordeals that come upon us as Christians.
Suffering is an essential part of our walk with Christ. He suffered so that we could have this opportunity to come to God and be saved from this world of sin and evil. And we suffer because we have made a decision to turn away from the ways of this world and to seek a better life.
But there is a deeper purpose to the sufferings that we go though and that purpose is encapsulated in this scripture, which is one of my favourites, so let’s look at it and see what suffering actually does for us.
Paul’s return to Jerusalem was surrounded by controversy and tumult. After being almost killed by a mob in the city he was dragged away by soldiers bound and arrested. Paul was permitted to make a defence to the crowd who had almost killed him and they listened to the point where he told them The Lord told Paul he was to go to the Gentiles.
At that point the crowd erupted once more chanting that he should be taken away and put to death. They were throwing dust into the air and hurling their cloaks in their anger at what Paul was saying, so the soldiers dragged him away and took him into custody.
The reaction then of the soldiers is the next trial Paul had to suffer and how he handled it was interesting for we see the hand of The Lord in Paul’s actions and responses as he was bound for glory.
If you are a Christian and doggedly holding firm to your faith, you are going to suffer. You are going to be knocked down, kicked about, pushed to the limits, exasperated, frustrated and more for the sake of the gospel.
Most of the time this will be spiritual attack through people, but sometimes this will boil over to physical abuse as well.
And also most of the time when these attacks come they will be based on lies and innuendo, falsehoods, deceptions and half-truths. This is the situation Paul faced in this section of Acts 21 and there is a lesson and warning for all of us.
The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.
In this section of Acts we see how this proverb worked out in the life of Paul. Paul planned to go to Jerusalem in spite of the fact that at every stop along the way he was warned by the prophets through the Holy Spirit that when he went there he would be arrested, bound and imprisoned.
But Paul really wanted to go to Jerusalem to speak with the apostles and elders, and so he told those who were warning him these words in verse 13.
Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Little did he know at the time the impact of his decision, nor would he know the way that The Lord would carry him and use him as a result of the imprisonment that was to come.
When you come to The Lord and especially if you do a work in his name, it is never a bed of roses. The one thing you can be sure of is that if you work for The Lord you are going to come up against opposition and that means you may suffer.
Even those who do not do a specific work or ministry in The Lord will suffer for the sake of the faith they hold between themself and God.
Why? Because the ruler of this world is satan and we oppose everything he stands for. So even simple logic says that if you are opposed to the ruler, you are going to suffer for the stand you take.
Paul and Silas discovered this when they made a stand by casting out a demon from a slave girl where that demon had been a source of income for the slave girls masters. They took the right and appropriate action, freeing the girl from this bondage of demon possession, but like all actions we take…there were consequences. Look at what happened.
There is a verse in this section of scripture that tells us what to expect in our walk with Christ. It is in stark contrast to much of what people believe about the life of a Christian and it gives us pause when we realise both the importance and significance of the path we are taking.
It is also about the testing times we must go through as we walk the walk with Jesus Christ and it tells us what we can expect.
But the other side of this is that we are called to be resilient and to learn how to stand in the face of opposition and the trials of this life. If this walk is important to us we need to know what we are facing, what we can expect and be prepared for it.
The issue that Paul counsels the early Christians about here and which we too must recognise is the issue of…tribulations.
Saul who became Paul had just been through the Damascus road experience and his life had been turned on its head in an instant. The Lord Jesus appeared to him in a bright light and spoke to him showing how he was hurting himself by continuing to oppose The Lord.
Paul at this point in time had been led by the hand into Damascus for he had been blinded on the road when The Lord appeared to him. The Lord was preparing him in all of this. He had to stop and think and reassess his life to that point, recognising that it was all wrong and to be prepared for a new way.
And there wasn’t much he could do apart from pray and seek The Lord. He had just been made blind and could not go out and about. He could not continue on his path of terrorising the early church. He could not even work at his trade as a tent maker without his sight. All he could do was pray and seek The Lord to understand, “What next!” And in that we see The Lord left him for three days to ponder before coming to him in these scriptures to answer his questions.