The Faith of the Apostle Paul

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Sunday, May 13, 2018 0 comments

by Logan Ames

I recently had a conversation with a man from my church about how every day there are examples of the reality that life is all about choices. He’s going to be sharing a sermon at some point that is based on Deuteronomy 30:15, which says, “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction." The Lord has been basically telling the Israelites through Moses that this isn’t rocket science. The choices are clear and each person must make their decision regarding what they really want.

The man from my church was telling me that he had a recent opportunity to begin to teach his 5-year old son about this. They went to a baseball game for the local independent league professional team and were sitting in the grass just beyond the fence. As they were watching, a home run was hit and landed very close to them. The little boy got excited and told his dad he wanted to get a home run ball. As they continued to pay attention waiting for the next one, the little boy looked over and saw a playground nearby. He wanted to go play with other children, so he asked his dad if he could. His dad reminded him that he wanted a home run ball and said that if he goes to the playground, he won’t be there to catch a ball if it’s hit there. The boy asked when the home run ball is going to come and his dad said he doesn’t know and it might not happen either way, but that the boy would have to choose which fun thing matters more to him.

In Hebrews 11:35, we see that some of the anonymously faithful also faced a choice, and some “were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection." The idea of it being a better resurrection pertains to the beginning of the verse, which was discussed in last week’s post, about “women who received back their dead, raised to life again." The writer is reminding believers that while those women had faith and received the joy of their loved ones being raised back to life, those individuals merely returned to a hurting, broken, and imperfect world. The writer explains that those who endured torture all the way to death will receive a resurrection that is “better” because it takes us to glory. It is a permanent and perfect resurrection.

Now, I have to say that this particular description of faithful heroes presents a problem because there is no specific story from the Old Testament that seems to directly correlate to what the writer of Hebrews is describing. We have to remember that there were other writings besides the books of the Bible that were not considered to be part of the canon, but were likely known to many of the educated Jews. Two such books would be 1 and 2 Maccabees, and it appears that 2 Maccabees is where we would find the story of a scribe named Eleazar and the torture he endured. Scholars seem to agree that Eleazar’s story is what the writer of Hebrews was referencing in this description. There’s no doubt in my mind that the writer of Hebrews, whether it was Paul, Peter, or some other educated Jew, knew of the story of Eleazar. That being said, I have no idea whether scholars are right or wrong, so I’m going to veer off the beaten path a bit on this one and talk about someone from the New Testament that fits this week’s description.

When considering who might be the author of Hebrews, many traditionally believed it was Paul, but more recently people have agreed that only God can truly know. Of all the possibilities that scholars have thrown out there, it seems clear that if it wasn’t Paul, it was someone who knew him very well. My personal Bible happens to be the Men’s Devotional Bible from Zondervan and it specifically lists the approximate dates that each book was written. This is certainly not an exact science, but it’s worth noting that 2 Corinthians is said to have been written around 55 AD, while the book of Hebrews is said to have been written 10-15 years after that. If it was written by either Paul or someone who knew him, it stands to reason that they could’ve had Paul’s torture in mind even if they weren’t directly describing his faith in the way they described Eleazar’s.

In 2 Corinthians 11:23-26, Paul explains some of the tortures he experienced because of his faith in Christ. He states that he was imprisoned, severely flogged, beaten with rods, pelted with stones, and constantly in danger because of those who were dead set on killing him. He specifically says, “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one." This is a reference to some of the most cruel torture ever invented. The Jews believed that 40 lashes would kill any person, so the way to exact the most pain on a person without killing them (though at times someone would die well before the 40th lash) was to whip them 1 time less than what would kill him. Paul lived his life for the cause of Christ and to share the good news of Jesus with everyone he could. He didn’t worry about death or pain. In fact, some of his letters lead you to believe that he frankly couldn’t wait for death!

Paul was assured of the glory and resurrection that awaited him after his very temporary suffering and torture in this world came to an end. He wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). He also spoke to his friends and elders in Ephesus, knowing it would be the last time he would see them, before he went to Jerusalem: “I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me - the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace” (Acts 20:23-24). Earlier, in Acts 16, Paul and his ministry partner Silas had been unfairly thrown into prison after being “severely flogged," then refused to leave the prison even after it appeared that God had supernaturally opened the doors for them to do so. Because they stuck around, the jailer who was seconds away from killing himself came to know Jesus along with his entire family and they were all saved and baptized (vv. 26-34).

Paul had many opportunities to choose what was easier at the time. He could choose to follow Jesus fully, knowing it would lead to great suffering temporarily in this world but believing in the “better resurrection," or he could choose to walk away from that task Jesus had given him and take an easier worldly road. You and I face the same choice regularly. Knowing Jesus means you have to do away with sins of comfort and follow him even when it isn’t easy. It means you may face suffering from resisting temptation and eventually may receive it in the way of persecution. But the knowledge that this is all temporary and that someday we’ll be in paradise with Jesus just like the thief who suffered tremendous pain right next to him on the cross motivates us to endure anything we face on this earth. Make the right choice today, then make it again tomorrow. Pretty soon, it’ll be a habit and, like Paul, you’ll live in true freedom!

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