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Suffering for the Sake of the Kingdom of God

June 13, 2021

Suffering for the Sake of the Kingdom of God

“So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” - 2 Corinthians 5:6-8

Second Corinthians is often described as the most personal of Paul’s letters. At this point in the apostle’s ministry, he had experienced almost every form of suffering imaginable, except death. As a result, many of the believers in Corinth had begun to doubt the authenticity of his faith. How could a man who was truly called and empowered by God be subjected to such hardship? The answer to that question is found in Paul’s conversion story. As he traveled to Damascus on a mission to imprison members of the church, Paul (then Saul) had a life-altering encounter with Jesus. For three days, a man accustomed to wielding great power lay blind and helpless, and it changed him forever.

Meanwhile, God commanded Ananias to visit and pray for Paul, the most infamous persecutor of Jesus’ followers. Talk about an unwelcome assignment! The Lord explained his call on Paul’s life to Ananias: “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16). Paul, who had inflicted so much pain, would become intimately acquainted with tribulation. While that might seem like poetic justice, God’s plan was one of redemption, not retribution.

The Lord had chosen Paul to walk a difficult path. He would be rejected by his own people, beaten severely, chased out of towns, threatened with death, and falsely imprisoned for preaching the gospel of Christ. In fact, he spent much of his post-conversion life in jail. And yet, that suffering enabled him to identify with Jesus, his former victims, and all who are persecuted for speaking the truth. It allowed him to relate to his audience as he preached and wrote about the trials and traps of inhabiting a fallen world. It demonstrated his genuine faith and commitment, as he continued to proclaim God’s greatness from a prison cell. It made his testimony more authentic and powerful, not less, as some Corinthians claimed.

Despite all he had endured, Paul says that he was of good courage. How can that be? First, the same suffering that exposed his human frailty also allowed him to experience the full power of the Spirit that dwelt within him. As the apostle wrote later in this letter, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Paul knew that he was not alone or dependent on his own capabilities; he trusted the Holy Spirit to guide and empower him on his journey through this world. Second, Paul recognized that earthly life was only the beginning, that the best was yet to come. He set his eyes and his heart on God’s promise for the future. His faith in the coming glory, the hope for eternal life with Jesus, sustained him through every adversity.

Have we experienced the type of courage and hope that Paul describes? Are we able to endure the trials of earthly life, trusting in God’s promise for our eternal future? Can we see our weaknesses as opportunities to experience the power of Christ through his indwelling Spirit? Even the most faithful Christians will suffer and struggle in this world, just as every one of us will eventually die and leave this world. The season of Pentecost is a powerful reminder of what has been entrusted to us as a guarantee of what is to come. The Holy Spirit dwells within us; he is the living assurance of our eternal hope. As we face uncertainties, disappointments, pain, and loss in this world, may we live courageously because of our faith in what is to come!

Reflect and Respond:
How would the Lord like to build your courage today? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

 

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Jesus calls the Holy Spirit a "gift" who will guide us, lead us, and empower us. Yet many believers don't experience the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. This unique Christian Bible study provides a space in which we can explore what it truly means to "walk in the Spirit" on a daily basis. The Spirit-Filled Life small-group curriculum centers on a 6-part video teaching series examining the life-giving and creative work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Begin to experience the gift today!




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