A shaming glimpse of Paul's service to Christ
The apostle Paul was shipwrecked three times—along with many other dangers he experienced.
And after viewing the video to the left, it's not hard to imagine how that could have happened.
While modern denominational preachers sport six or seven figure salaries, multiple mansions, Mercedes-Benz's, Ritz-Carlton hotel reservations,
and sermons insisting "God wants us all to be rich"...
...And while even preachers among us demand professional level salaries before they
will commit to church work...
...I wonder, how did Paul's income, and life, compare?
Not very well, to be honest.
In fact, it might better be characterized as a contrast rather than a comparison.
An incomplete list of what Paul suffered for Christ
Instead of the "good life" preaching before thousands of adoring followers who would rather be told what they want to
hear instead of what they need to hear, consider for a moment what Paul suffered for Christ:
And this list was not complete, for later he was to be imprisoned again. History indicates he was most likely executed at the hands of Nero
between A.D. 64-67.
- Paul was forced to work hard—literally "labored and toiled"—to provide for daily necessities the tight-fisted Corinthians
were not willing to provide.
- He was imprisoned not once, but multiple times—and modern U.S. prisons would probably look like resorts by comparison.
- He was severely flogged.
- He was exposed to death "again and again."
- Five times he received from the Jews the maximum 39 lashes (too many might kill a person).
- Three times he was beaten with rods as punishment.
- Once he was stoned and left for dead, perhaps experiencing a severe concussion (some conjecture eye-damage occurred that resulted in his need
to write his following epistles with "large letters." (see Galatians 6:11)
- Not once, but three times he was shipwrecked.
- On one of those occasions, Paul spent a night and a day in the open sea, perhaps floating on debris prior to his rescue.
- He was constantly on the move, due to multiple, sincerely delivered death threats against his life.
- Paul was in danger from rivers, perhaps being forced to cross or navigate when it was not safe.
- He was in danger from violent robbers, no doubt due to his extensive travel in dangerous areas (both within cities and on the open roads).
- He not only had received death threats from those who lived in other regions, but also from people who lived in his own country.
- He was in danger from Jews and Gentiles alike.
- In addition to being "in danger in the city, in danger in the country, and in danger at sea"—Paul was also in danger from those who should
have protected and supported him: false brothers.
- Paul often went without sleep—and in view of the above I think you can see why.
- Paul often went without proper water and inadequate food—instead of enjoying the financial support he deserved from church members.
- Paul often did not have adequate clothing, and suffered from the cold. In fact, during perhaps his final imprisonment he called for
someone to bring him a coat. (see 2 Timothy 4)
- He had the added pressure of his concern for all the churches, like the one in Corinth.
Incredibly, Paul had to defend of his apostleship, and respond to those who insinuated he was "in the business for money" or "stealing church funds
intended for the poor saints in Judea."
- He was still flesh and had to resist the temptations that come upon every person.
- People at the highest levels of some governments wanted Paul to be arrested. For example, the governor of Damascus had the city guarded
in order to arrest Paul. He had to be lowered in a basket from a window in the wall to escape.
On top of it all, Paul gave up the fast track to the highest levels of Israeli leadership, with all the wealth and prestige
accompanying that life.
There was no question that he had truly "sacrificed all" for the One he loved, the One Who called him on the way to Damascus and turned the
course of Paul's destiny.
Of course, Paul was holding out for something far better: eternal life, and his eternal inheritance.
Paul not properly supported as a minister
I wonder how many preachers today would work for no pay?
This was Paul's case with the church at Corinth. Paul wrote:
Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge?
I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you.
And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed.
I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so.
Amazingly, modern churches still have been known to refuse, or not offer, any financial support whatsoever to a recognized preacher
working among them—in spite of the fact it is a command that churches do so (a church may not be able to offer much but they are
required to do what they can, or at least to offer such). Needless to say, such churches do not prosper until their service to Christ is more complete.
(2 Corinthians 11:7-9)
And while we must never do God's work for the
purpose of prospering—still, one cannot deny the "reaping what you sow" principle; not to mention the Holy Spirit's mandate
to churches in this matter.
Perhaps Paul was referring in part to the tight fisted Corinthians when he wrote this earlier in 2 Corinthians:
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.
(2 Corinthians 9:6)
Paul's adoring masses?
Apart from Paul's meager salary—which required him to sometimes work to provide for his own daily necessities—what kind of a ministry did he "enjoy?"
Did Paul—due to his perhaps unparalleled service to Christ—enjoy equally unparalleled honor among early churches?
Did he, like modern denominational ministers, command the audience of thousands of adoring listeners in his "mega-churches" scattered across
the Roman empire?
Apparently, quite the opposite.
In fact, some of the congregations he wrote to appeared so small that he evidently listed the members by name—it didn't take long.
And there's no indication any of the churches Paul worked with were of significant size.
Rejected to his "dying day"
At the end of Paul's incredible service, at a time when he should have been respected and honored perhaps more than any other of his day,
Paul found himself once again imprisoned.
And when he was summoned to appear in court, did hundreds of Christians turn out to defend this man who had sacrificed so much? Did they
hold a vigil outside the courthouse or march with protest signs?
In his final words of inspiration to this world, Paul sadly revealed that not one Christian stood in his defense.
And this was after his service to Christ was pretty much at an end, just before some believe he was martyred by beheading in Rome.
(See 2 Timothy 4)
Finally, instead of receiving the honor and recognition he so clearly deserved from members of the churches, Paul was accused of being a "false apostle"
and sadly forced to defend it to Christians themselves.
The execution of Paul in Rome
Eusebius of Caesarea, who wrote in the fourth century, states that Paul was beheaded in the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero.
Some date this event either to A.D. 64 (when Rome was destroyed by fire—Christians were blamed), or A.D. 67.
A church now exists that was allegedly built on the location where the execution was believed to have taken place
(the San Paolo alle Tre Fontane church).
Some speculated that Peter and Paul died on the same day, or perhaps the same year. Others believe (including Clement of Rome)
that Paul survived Rome and continued his mission work to the west, perhaps being executed shortly thereafter.
Some believe Paul's remains now reside at the "Basilica of Saint Paul" outside the walls in Rome. Evidently, Paul's remains are now being excavated.
One historian recorded that in 665 the presiding pope gave
Paul's relics (including a cross made from his prison chains, taken from his crypt) to King Oswy of Northumbria
in northern Britain.
The final inspired words of Paul
The final words of Paul don't resound with what some today might think of him: that he was a wildly popular "mega" preacher respected by all
No, Paul's seed had to be sown
into the ground before it could fully produce—just as had been the case with Christ, who said:
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life
in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one
who serves me.
With that in mind, here are Paul's final words the Holy Spirit left for us to read:
For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.
Many Christians of Paul's day gave their lives in the Coliseum of Rome before the blood-thirsty crowds, and at the teeth of starved, vicious lions.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and
not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing...
When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.
Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done.
You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.
At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them.
But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.
And I was delivered from the lion's mouth.
(2 Timothy 4:6-17)
Conversely, many other Christians were too fearful to even stand up and defend Paul during his final recorded imprisonment and trial.
May we instead strive to be among those our Lord referred to among His final words:
Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.