2009-01-22 - One Upsmanship
We've probably all done it, and sometimes it's actually fun. We get involved in the wandering conversation where one person after another comes up with an even more wild, more embarrassing, or more improbable story of our experiences. As the stories progress, the contents can become more questionable as time progresses even as the person telling his or her experience protests for the veracity of their tale. The series of stories comes to a climax when the last person tells a tale that can not be surpassed. Paul writing to the members of the fellowship at Corinth in response to reports of men who boast of their importance. It appears that Paul has had enough of the business and pulls out a series of trump cards to end the discussion.
2 Corinthians 11:24 Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. 26 I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; (NASB)
If you've ever had a job with difficult people, particularly a boss, or a situation, like a very cold or very hot work environment, it will not take long for the idea of leaving to find some other place of employment. It may take a while to find a new job, but there is motivation to find something better. Most of us would consider this set of experiences to be intolerable. Paul takes comfort in these sufferings (2 Cor 1:5).
That idea of rejoicing in suffering can be a little alien to we 21st century folks. Whenever possible most of us do what we can to make our lives more comfortable. Paul counted his education, his lineage, anything he had to be as rubbish in light of the "surpassing value of knowing Christ" (Phil 3:8). To Paul, this world was clearly a moment in time. It was something not just be to be tolerated, but to be overcome. He had a crystal clear view of the importance of reaching people with the good news of Jesus Christ. This moment in time, vapor in the span of eternity (James 4:14), where everyone must confronted with the reality of the perfection of Jesus and His offered salvation in the face of our utter need of a Savior.
Romans 8:16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (NASB)
If the Apostle Paul has nothing to brag about, then who are we? After the first encounter with 39 lashes, I have to believe that my mortal self would have many questions. Many people who were subjected to 39 lashes died before the count was completed. This was a brutal punishment beyond the comprehension of most of us. Near the end of his life it appears that Paul can no longer hold his head up straight for the damage done to his body. Throw in the rest of Paul's experiences and most of us might consider the benefits of opening a card or book shop on a quiet street to be very desirable. Paul put those boasting to shame and refocused the readers on service to their Lord. By the way, the time Paul was stoned he was left by his accusers for dead (Acts 14:19). It is possible that God raised Paul from the dead.
Paul stands hobbled and bent before Festus who accuses Paul of being out of his mind - "Your great learning is driving you mad." (Rom 26:24). At the end of his sovereignly appointed time with Festus, Paul appealed to be sent to Caesar. If Paul had done nothing, it was possible that he would have been held for a time until after the tribunal had left and then would have been released as a free man. His appeal was both a trump card to prevent his being returned to Jerusalem to face the charges of the Jewish tribunal, and to take him to the heart of Rome to preach against the world system of the day. Going in either direction, with the Jews or to Caesar, was a death sentence. Caesar was considered divine, and Paul desired the opportunity to tell Caesar of the One True God.
God blessed the heart and work of His faithful servant. The impact Paul had in Rome shook the Roman world, and reverberates through our world to this day.
Grace & Peace,