We have been studying about the life of Paul in our current class at the Living Faith Bible Institute, an extension campus of Life Christian University. (The opportunity to learn more about God and to earn Bachelor’s , Master’s and Doctorate degrees from an accredited college has been a tremendous Blessing for all of us. To find more information about the school, follow the link on the Home page. New classes will be starting in January and you too, may be Blessed). We have read about Paul in Acts and read his letters to the various churches he founded. However, to study Paul’s life, his journeys, his preaching, his character and sufferings brings a whole new understanding to the very epistles that he wrote.
I used to think Paul was a stern, super-human man and where he lived while on earth was out of reach for me. I think many of us think on the same kind of lines. No, what made Paul the man he was, was a special encounter with Jesus, the resurrected King of Kings, when he was on the road to Damascus to persecute more Jewish Christians: “And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.” (Acts 9:3-6). When Paul later preached, he always told about meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus. He not only heard the Lord speak, he saw Him also. This meeting had the most profound effect on Paul; few people have been changed in an instant as radically as Paul was changed.
Paul spent three years in the Arabian desert and was taught directly by the Lord: “How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,)” (Ep 3:3). Paul gained a totally unshakable faith in the Lord: he knew the Lord personally without question and he never faltered when being persecuted. I don’t know of anyone who was persecuted as much as Paul was: “For ye suffer, if a man bring you into bondage, if a man devour you, if a man take of you, if a man exalt himself, if a man smite you on the face. I speak as concerning reproach, as though we had been weak. Howbeit whereinsoever any is bold, (I speak foolishly,) I am bold also. Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I. Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not.” (II Cor 11:20-31).
How many of us have had any sufferings compared to Paul? Just think of his missionary journeys. He and his companions walked to their destinations; they hiked up roads leading to passes in the mountains in all kinds of weather. I’m sure they journeyed through downpours of rain, getting soaked and having to spend a miserable night huddled under a rock, cold and wet. And, that was the least of their suffering; although few of us today would be willing to travel in such a way. John Pollock, author of “The Apostle A Life of Paul”, describes flogging. We read Paul was flogged five times and although it sounds bad, we really don’t know what flogging is because no one has been flogged in America in our lifetimes. In Philippi, Paul cast a demon out of a slave girl who made a fortune for her owners from divination. Her owners were furious and stirred up a mob against Paul and Silas. They forced Paul and Silas into the forum where the elected magistrates of the city were meeting. What was astonishing to me is that the magistrates did not attempt to find out what was going on or who was causing the trouble. Even in Roman times, that was illegal. They ordered the lictors (attendants of chief magistrates who executed the sentences on criminals) to strip Paul and Silas of their clothes and tied them to the flogging posts. Then the lictors began to beat them with rods. John Pollack continues:
“As the blood ran from the cuts, the crowd roared. When a savage blow caught a vertebra and even a tough apostle could not suppress a cry, the people loved it. Paul and Silas fought the pain with prayer. Urged on by the crowd, the lictors swung their rods with a will, until both backs were bloody. ‘The blows burnt like fire,’ wrote Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, who suffered rods frequently in Communist prisons. ‘It was as if your back were being grilled by a furnace, and the shock to the nervous system was great.'” (Pollack 129).
If you had been flogged, would you travel to the next town and immediately preach in the synagogue and risk yet another flogging? Wouldn’t the second, third, fourth and fifth floggings even be worse because you would know what was coming? Yet Paul never hesitated. His faith in the Lord and his desire to bring the truth of the Word to the pagan world never diminished no matter what he faced. Paul knew in whom he believed!