Each morning I offer a short devotion to the men under my care in the dorm. This is the spot where I share them with you, and keep a record of them for myself on the off chance I ever need them again.
Every word of Sacred Scripture is inspired of God, protected from error, and preserved for us down through the centuries by His Holy Spirit. We forget sometimes, though, that while the Bible is in a very real sense God’s word, it was written down for us by real people. One of these people was the apostle Paul.
Paul was no stranger to suffering; converted on the road to Damascus, he went from being a zealous persecutor of the church to a zealous preacher of the gospel (Acts 9:1-22). For the rest of his life, Paul would endure much persecution and hardship. He would be beaten, starved, whipped, chained, shipwrecked, frozen, and imprisoned, all before finally being put to death in Rome by the emperor, Nero (2 Corinthians 11:16-33).
Paul reflects on some of what he faced in his second letter to the Corinthians. In chapter four he writes these words:
We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair [… for] he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:8, 14-17).
It’s amazing to me, in view of everything Paul faced, that he remained steadfast in faith and refused to give into despair. How is this that? Here are a few of my thoughts based on Paul’s words:
1. Paul kept his eyes fixed on the resurrection. Because the Father kept His promise to Jesus and brought Him back from the dead, we too can be confident that He will keep His promise to us; Death is not the end. One day Christ will return to set all things right and there will be no more suffering, sorrow, or pain… this was a great source of hope for Paul.
2. Paul gladly bore his afflictions for the sake of others. You and I may not be shepherds of a flock like Paul was, but that does mean the things we face don’t have value. Think about how your story could be a source of hope and comfort to someone else in the years ahead.
3. Paul saw his trials a means to grow in grace. Because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross, satisfying the wrath of God against sinners by dying in our place, those who trust in Him alone for salvation are made into new creations. Unfortunately, we still struggle with our old depraved nature; the Bible calls this the “flesh”, or the “old man.” That’s why even after we’re saved we still struggle to do what we know is right. According to Paul, though, when we cling to God in the midst of suffering, it slowly kills off the old man, and helps the new creation in us flourish.
4. It’s important for us to realize that none of this was accomplished in Paul’s own strength. At the end of the day, it was grace alone that kept his eyes fixed on Christ in the midst of everything (1 Corinthians 15:10). Rest in that grace; let it carry you.
Finally, In light of Paul’s words, my encouragement to you today is not to give in to despair. Your suffering is not meaningless; thought it may be hard to see now, it is storing up for you an eternal weight of glory that will make everything you and I face in this world seem like but a breath.