Saul of Tarsus. The best of the best. Sincere. Zealous. Smart. Highly educated. Passionate in his zeal for God. And dead wrong.
Suffering is central to Saul’s story. It starts with him inflicting suffering on the church to destroy it, which ironically, God used to spread the church. Then after two years, God’s purposes in the persecution having been accomplished, the tables turn and now Saul was on the receiving end of the suffering. But let’s go back to the beginning of the story.
GOD’S CHOSEN VESSEL TO SUFFER
On the road to Damascus, Saul is traveling with documents authorizing him to capture, imprison, and even kill followers of Jesus. Suddenly, a bright light flashes from heaven and strikes him down. A voice from heaven says, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” It is the voice of Jesus! (Jesus’ words answering forever the question, “Where is Jesus in my pain?” – a subject for another day.)
Now blind, Saul’s posse guides him to the home Jesus had indicated, and for three days he sits in darkness, in stunned silence and awe, wondering how he could have been so wrong! At the end of those three painful days, Paul emerges a man with a completely changed heart.
As it turns out, Saul – now going by his Greek name Paul – is God’s chosen means to spread the church. Initially, this happens unintentionally, on his part anyway, when he persecutes the church. But after his conversion the persecutor becomes the persecuted, and he suffers as few others in all of church history. All to take the gospel to the Gentiles.
God said of Saul, “[He] is my chosen instrument…I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” This prophecy proves trues, and who can read without emotion Paul’s long litany of suffering in II Corinthians 11:23-29?
It was not out of vindictiveness that God allowed Paul to suffer; it’s just what was required in order for Paul’s mission to be completed. One time when Paul had reached his limit, God lovingly appears to Paul in a dream to strengthen him. “Do not be afraid [Paul]” God said, “I am with you and no one is going to attack and harm you….” (Acts 18: 9-10)
Paul spoke from deep experience when he wrote, “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”
QUESTION TO PONDER: Can God depend on me to suffer for Him?
What do you think? Please feel free to leave a comment below.