Sermon title: Paul Stayed Faithful Despite Perils
1 Corinthians 11:13, 21-31
Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, August 8, 2021
Our Lord Jesus suffered and died for us
to give us the free gift of everlasting life.
We can not earn that gift—it is a free gift—
because Christ paid the full price for us
when he died that painful death on the cross.
The Scriptures tell us what Jesus went through for us—
being falsely accused, publicly ridiculed,
humiliated, spit upon, beaten,
whipped with a scourge studded with
jagged metal or bone to rip open his flesh,
then nailed to a cross,
with the full weight of his body
hanging by nails through his hands and feet,
for hours until he finally died.
He didn’t have to go through all that.
With a wink of his eye, or just an unspoken command,
he could have summoned thousands of angels
to set him free
and crush his enemies.
But, instead, he endured all that pain and suffering
willingly and on purpose,
to accomplish the goal
of setting us free from sin and death.
So, when we go through suffering and pain in our lives,
we can focus our minds on our Savior
and what he suffered for us.
But, why are we still suffering?
That’s a long story.
It begins with what happened in the Garden of Eden,
when our first human parents sinned,
and brought sin and death upon themselves
and their offspring.
Satan the devil, who made them his victims
by leading them into sin and death,
was there in the Garden,
speaking like a ventriloquist through a serpent.
That was thousands of years before Christ,
and Satan was still alive thousands of years later
to entice Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus to death.
And Satan was still around, making trouble for Christians,
some years after that,
when the Apostle Paul wrote at
2 Corinthians 12:7,
“a thorn was given me in the flesh,
a messenger of Satan to harass me,
to keep me from becoming conceited.
8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord
about this, that it should leave me.
9 But he said to me,
‘My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect
Scripture tells us that Satan the devil is doomed—
tried and convicted in the heavenly courts,
and headed for the Lake of Fire.
But all of that takes time, and with God
a thousand years are like one day,
and one day like a thousand years.
It's hard for us to understand the delay.
But that delay allowed for our parents to be born,
and for us to be born,
and for us to turn to Christ in repentance and faith
to receive the free gift of eternal life.
The Bible assures us that Satan will be removed
in God’s due time,
but in the meantime he continues to make trouble.
That’s why Peter wrote at 1 Peter 5:8,
8 Be alert and of sober mind.
Your enemy the devil prowls around
like a roaring lion
looking for someone to devour.
9 Resist him,
standing firm in the faith,
because you know that the family
of believers throughout the world
the same kind of sufferings.
Yes, our brothers and sisters in Christ
are also undergoing sufferings.
And, like Jesus’ example, their examples, too,
can help us to endure what we must go through.
One of those brothers who suffered much
at the hands of the devil and his agents
was the Apostle Paul.
But, the amazing thing about Paul
is that he started out as one of Satan’s agents,
persecuting and killing Christians,
only to become a Christian himself.
He was originally a super-zealous Jewish Pharisee,
dedicated to keeping Judaism pure
and getting rid of false teachers.
The problem was that he thought Jesus’ followers
were false teachers—Jewish heretics.
So, Paul set about trying to stamp-out Christianity.
Years later when he was on trial as a Christian,
Paul described his actions like this at Acts 26:9.
9 “I myself was convinced
that I ought to do many things
in opposing the name
of Jesus of Nazareth.
10 And I did so in Jerusalem.
I not only locked up many of the saints
in prison after receiving authority
from the chief priests,
but when they were put to death
I cast my vote against them.
11 And I punished them often
in all the synagogues and
tried to make them blaspheme,
and in raging fury against them
I persecuted them even
to foreign cities."
When Paul was travelling on the road to Damascus,
one of those foreign cities,
the risen Christ appeared to him miraculously
in a blinding light.
Paul asked, “Who are you, lord?”
And the voice from the blinding light replied,
“I am Jesus,
the one you are persecuting!”
Immediately Paul realized
that the Christians he had killed
had been right about Jesus rising from the dead
and ascending to heavenly glory.
And he realized that he was the one sinning against God
by persecuting them.
Paul was blinded by the brightness of Jesus’ glory,
and Jesus left him blind for three days,
to think these things through
and to repent of all the wrong he had done.
Then the Lord appeared in vision
to a believer named Ananias,
and sent him to heal Paul’s blindnessand baptize him.
The risen Christ told Ananias this about Paul.
“Go! This man is my chosen instrument
to proclaim my name to the Gentiles
and their kings and
to the people of Israel.
16 I will show him
how much he must suffer for my name.”
So, Paul was now going to suffer for Jesus’ name.
Jesus was appointing Paul to do a great work,
but also to suffer greatly.
He would soon face the same sort of persecution
that he himself had been inflicting on others.
And there was a sense of fairness in that,
which Paul must have realized himself.
He couldn’t complain.
The things Paul was about to suffer for Jesus’ name
were the same sort of things
he had been doing to others,
when he was persecuting Christians.
Looking back later on his career preaching the Gospel,
Paul listed some of the perils that he faced.
He said this in the context of comparing himself
to certain false teachers
who had crept into leadership positions
in some of the churches.
In 2nd Corinthians 11:13 he said,
such men are false apostles,
as apostles of Christ.
These false Christians were strutting around
as big-shot leaders in the churches,
so Paul went on in Verse 21
to compare his credentials with theirs.
And, as we read the Verses that follow, notice
that Paul’s credentials as a true Apostle
were mainly the things he suffered for Christ.
But whatever anyone else
dares to boast of—
I am speaking as a fool—
I also dare to boast of that.
22 Are they Hebrews? So am I.
Are they Israelites? So am I.
Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I.
23 Are they servants of Christ?
I am a better one—
I am talking like a madman—
with far greater labors, far more
imprisonments, with countless beatings,
and often near death.
24 Five times I received
at the hands of the Jews
the forty lashes less one.
25 Three times I was beaten with rods.
Once I was stoned.
Three times I was shipwrecked;
a night and a day I was adrift at sea;
26 on frequent journeys,
in danger from rivers,
danger from robbers,
danger from my own people,
danger from Gentiles,
danger in the city,
danger in the wilderness,
danger at sea,
danger from false brothers;
27 in toil and hardship,
through many a sleepless night,
in hunger and thirst,
often without food,
in cold and exposure.
28 And, apart from other things,
there is the daily pressure on me
of my anxiety for all the churches.
29 Who is weak, and I am not weak?
Who is made to fall,
and I am not indignant?
30 If I must boast, I will boast of
the things that show my weakness.
31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus,
he who is blessed forever,
knows that I am not lying.
32 At Damascus,
the governor under King Aretas
was guarding the city of Damascus
in order to seize me,
33 but I was let down in a basket
through a window in the wall
and escaped his hands.
Paul went through all these hardships and sufferings
to bring the Good News about Jesus
to new lands and new peoples
had been worshiping false idols
of wood and stone and metal.
And he also went through these hardships and sufferings
to defend the truth of God
in the face of false teachers
who distorted Judaism and distorted Christianity
for their own personal glory and profit.
There were times when Paul was attacked,
persecuted and prosecuted by idol worshipers
who rejected the God of the Bible.
But most of Paul’s troubles came from men
who claimed to worship the God of the Bible
but who distorted
what the Bible said about Christ.
The Book of Acts concludes with Paul
being taken to Rome as a prisoner
by the secular authorities
after being falsely accused by the
Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem.
On one of the legs of that 1500-mile journey
the ship carrying him and other prisoners
was driven aground by stormy winds, and broke up
so that everyone on board
was thrown into the sea.
Acts concludes with Paul a prisoner in Rome,
awaiting trial before Caesar in the secular courts.
But that wasn’t the end of the Apostle Paul,
and it wasn’t the end of his sufferings for the faith.
His letters written after that,
as well as tradition and Church history
tell us that Paul’s ministry continued
for another 5 or 6 years.
And during that time, much of his trouble came
from men inside the churches
who assumed positions of leadership in the churches
but distorted the Gospel of Christ
and abused their power.
The Apostle John, likewise, had to struggle against
such men in church leadership.
John wrote at 3rd John 1:9
9 I wrote a short letter to the church;
but Diotrephes, who likes to be their
leader, will not pay any attention
to what I say.
10 When I come, then, I will bring up
everything he has done:
the terrible things he says about us
and the lies he tells!
But that is not enough for him;
he will not receive the Christians
when they come, and even stops those
who want to receive them and tries
to drive them out of the church!
So, all was not as it should be in the early churches
toward the end of the Apostles’ ministry.
Positions of power in the churches
attracted men who loved power,
and pretended to love Christ to get that power.
Because the Apostle Paul saw through their pretense,
they tried to convince others in the churches
that Paul was their enemy—
turning entire churches against Paul.
He wrote at Galatians 4:16,
16 Have I now become your enemy
because I am telling you the truth?
17 Those false teachers
are so eager to win your favor,
but their intentions are not good.
They are trying to shut you off
so that you will pay attention
only to them.
Some of these false brothers
even tried to stir up trouble for Paul
with the secular authorities
who were holding him prisoner.
In the opening chapter of his Letter to the Philippians,
Paul wrote, beginning with Verse 15,
15 It is true that some preach Christ
out of envy and rivalry,
but others out of goodwill.
16 The latter do so out of love,
knowing that I am put here
for the defense of the gospel.
17 The former preach Christ
out of selfish ambition, not sincerely,
supposing that they can stir up
trouble for me
while I am in chains.
And Paul did continue to suffer for the faith.
Church tradition and history tell us
that he was eventually given the death penalty
by the Roman secular authorities,
and was beheaded in Rome.
It may have seemed that he had lost the struggle,
but that was not the case at all.
Paul wrote his 2nd Letter to Timothy in the months
when his life and his ministry
were drawing to a close.
And there in 2nd Timothy Chapter 4,
Paul put it all in perspective—
a perspective that helps us
endure our own sufferings.
Beginning at 2 Timothy 4:3, Paul wrote,
3 For a time is coming
when people will no longer listen
to sound and wholesome teaching.
They will follow their own desires
and will look for teachers who will
tell them whatever their itching ears
want to hear.
4 They will reject the truth
and chase after myths.
5 But you should keep a clear mind
in every situation. Don’t be afraid
of suffering for the Lord.
Work at telling others the Good News,
and fully carry out the ministry
God has given you.
6 As for me, my life has already
been poured out as an offering to God.
The time of my death is near.
7 I have fought the good fight,
I have finished the race,
and I have remained faithful.
8 And now the prize awaits me—
the crown of righteousness,
which the Lord, the righteous Judge,
will give me on the day of his return.
And the prize is not just for me
but for all who eagerly look forward
to his appearing.
The Apostle Paul is an inspiring example to all of us
in his hard work and faithfulness,
in his attitude toward suffering,
and in his faith in Christ.
His goal was always to please the Lord,
rather than to please men.
And the prize that awaited him in heaven
is the same prize that awaits all of us
as we look forward eagerly to Christ’s return.