I enjoy the adventures and wise words of Paul perhaps more than those of any other Biblical hero. While I find others more accessible, Paul’s intellect and experiences challenge me to study the Scriptures and consider how I might pattern my life after his.
As I read, I shake my head in wonder at all he suffered—enough persecution and near-death experiences for many lifetimes. He even provides us with a rather dispassionate list of them in Scripture.
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. In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands. – II Corinthians 11:23-27, 32-33
Paul’s intention in listing these trials was not to brag like a middle-aged man recounting his youthful success on the football field, or even to tell an exciting story. Note that he even calls himself “a fool,” and throughout the following chapter, “weak.” He meant instead to demonstrate how God could be glorified even through a “weak fool” such as himself. When Paul was at his weakest, God shone forth at his strongest.
Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. – II Corinthians 12:10
Paul’s first lesson in that principle (“when I am weak, then am I strong”) happened on the road to Damascus. The Christian-killer who seemed to have eyes everywhere to seek and destroy believers, became the blind Christian. His vast knowledge of the Scriptures as a Pharisee, his driven nature, his leadership skills, his talent as an orator, even his skills as a tent-maker—all he had achieved through his own strength could not help him debate the Lord Jesus. Yet God spared him, and true to Paul’s single-minded nature, he began to pursue his life as a new creation as fiercely as he had his life as “an Hebrew of the Hebrews.”
Following his conversion, Paul didn’t just warm a bench at the synagogue, thanking God for his forgiveness and grateful to have literally seen the light. Instead, he became a missionary the likes of which the world has never seen since. Unafraid to die, he threw himself into teaching salvation to the lost, just as Christ had.
God has given us all talents and gifts, just as he did Paul, and he asks that we use them for him. But ultimately, he doesn’t need our abilities or love us any more or less because of them. God desires our stripped-down souls to be open to do whatever he asks of us, whether it’s in our wheelhouse or not. Then we can truly say, as Paul did, “When I am weak, then am I strong.”
After reading many wonderful blog posts focusing on a discussion of Scripture or a Biblical character, I’d like to begin setting aside my Saturday posts for that purpose, as I did today. Please comment about your favorite Biblical characters, and I’ll write a post about their inspirational message. Thank you for your input! As always, I look forward to hearing from you.