Monday, October 22, 2012

Why Was Paul Willing To Suffer For The Church?

Have you ever considered the fact that the apostle Paul suffered, not just for Jesus, but for the church? For imperfect people? Shipwrecked three times! Beaten with rods! Imprisoned, stoned, hungry, cold, on the run...and ultimately beheaded! Certainly he was doing this for Christ. But Paul specifically said that he was suffering for the church. He wrote to the Ephesians, "So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you..." (Ephesians 3:13, ESV).

Indeed, at the moment he wrote those words he was in prison in Rome because the unbelieving Jews attacked him for preaching to the Gentiles!  Paul was in the temple in Jerusalem when the Jews attacked him; and when the Roman soldiers settled everyone down, Paul spoke to the crowd, explaining that he was sent to the Gentiles by God himself:
And he said to me, ‘Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” Acts 22:21-22, ESV
He was literally suffering for the Gentile believers, including people he had never met (Col 2:1)!
And this was normal for Paul! This was part of Paul's calling from the beginning:
But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. [16] For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name." Acts 9:15-16, ESV
So Paul labors and suffers for the sake of the multi-ethnic church: “on behalf of you Gentiles…grace that was given to me for you…I am suffering for you” (Eph 3:1, 2, 13).

But the question is, "WHY?!" We've all been hurt by people in the church, right? Willingness to suffer for one another doesn't seem to be a common trend, even among Christians. Many won't even be inconvenienced for the church, much less suffer. These days the church is one of the lowest priorities of all. Sure, I'll try to make it to the gathering... unless something comes up (anything will do!). In a time when enduring commitment - to anything - seems rare, Paul's example stands out to our amazement. How could he suffer for the church? Jesus? Yes. But the church???
God’s Revelation To Paul. “how the mystery was made known to me by revelation…you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ…” (Eph 3:3-4).

Paul had seen something others had not seen. This is the secret of why he was willing to suffer for the church. He had seen the glory of what God is building (Ephesians 2 and 3 describes this in detail)! God himself revealed this gospel to Paul (Gal 1:11-12), how that Christ accomplished reconciliation at the cross, creating one new humanity out of all the ethnicities - a glorious people; saints from every nation, coming to God through faith in Jesus. Paul saw that God's eternal purpose is to display his own glory in Christ through the unified, multi-ethnic church, forever (Eph 3:10-11)! Seeing this changed his life; from a church-destroyer, to one who was willing to rot in a prison so the church would be edified.

 …as preached in my gospel, [9] for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! [10] Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.              2 Timothy 2:8b-11, ESV
When God gives us a glimpse of his glory, which is seen in Christ, through the church, we too will be willing to be inconvenienced, hurt, persecuted, even killed for the glory of God in his church. We will see that the glory of God displayed in his church is worth any price:
  • It was worth it to God...he gave his Son!
  • It was worth it to Jesus...he gave himself!
  • It was worth it to Paul...he gave his life!
What about us? What about you? Have you seen the glory of what God is up to in his church?
When we commit to Christ, we commit to his body.

May God show us the glory of Christ in the church, and may we give the rest of our lives to this great gospel cause, for God's glory! Even if it costs us our lives.

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