We know that Paul endured many assaults, along with other forms of suffering:
“Please don’t mark me a fool, but if your must, then please accept me even as that and give me a little more room to boast. What I’m saying now is out of character with our Lord but is the bragging of a self-assured fool. Just as other fools brag according to their worldly accomplishments, so I, too, will have to boast—meanwhile, you—so wise, so tolerant—gladly bear this kind of foolishness. How easily you tolerate becoming another’s slave, having them consume you, letting them rob you blind, or allowing them to edge their way past you or slap you in the face. Embarrassingly I admit that next to them we must look very weak!
“But in whatever way they dare to boast—remember, I’m speaking in character as a fool—I dare to boast even more! Are they Hebrews, God’s chosen? So am I. Are they true Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of the Liberating King? I am even more so! (I can’t believe how foolish I sound). I have worked harder for God’s kingdom, taken more beatings, been dragged in and out of prisons, and have been eye-to-eye with death. Five times I have withstood thirty-nine lashes from Jewish authorities, three times I was battered with rods, once I almost stoned to death, three times I was shipwrecked and spent one day and night adrift on the sea. I have been on many journeys and faced the most extreme circumstances; perilous rivers, violent thieves, and threats by my own people and by the Gentile outsiders alike. I have faced dangers in the city, in the wilderness, and at sea, and danger from spies among our brothers and sisters.
“I have survived toil and hardships, sleepless nights, hunger and thirst without a crumb in sight, bare to the cold. As if those external trials weren’t enough, there is the daily stress I feel and anxiety I carry for all the churches under my care.. Who is weak without my empathy? Who is hurt and offended without my burning anger?
“So as you can see, if I have to boast, I will, but only in my own weaknesses. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus, He who is worthy of eternal blessing, can confirm that I am telling you’re the truth. Once, in Damascus, the governor under King Aretas had his people in the city looking for me in order to arrest me. But I crouched in a basket and was lowered out of a window in the city wall, and I narrowly escaped his tight grip.” —II Corinthians 11:16-33
Wow! What an amazing testimony. It reminds me of Walter Brennan in the old series, “Guns of Will Sonnet”: “No brag, just facts.” It also becomes so easy to forget (or maybe ignore) the “price” that was paid to spread the Gospel. Paul had been stoned and left for dead in Lystra; been beaten severely in Philippi, and then placed in stocks in a prison. If God hadn’t intervened, Paul would probably have suffered in Thessalonica, as well as in Berea. So Paul has every reason to expect that his success in preaching the gospel to Gentiles in Corinth would result in persecution.
It is said that the commitment people have to a cause can only be determined over time. One test might be do they persevere through hardships and challenges? Proverbs 24:10 says, “if you faint in the day of adversity your faith was weak.” One translation says that your faith was shallow (or insincere). The Living Bible says it even plainer when it says you are a poor specimen if you can’t stand the pressure of adversity. OUCH!
I have heard it rightly said that you could judge a man’s commitment by how much of a storm it would take before he gave up and quit. That being true, we can see the immense confidence the Lord has in Paul.
One of my favorite stories is John Bunyan’s classic, Pilgrim’s Progress. In this story, Young Christian, the hero of the tale, faces many hardships and terrible troubles, yet with undaunted faith and commitment he continues on his journey to the City of Zion. At one point he faces a “foul fiend … named Apollyon.” After some discourse between them, they push into a battle. Finally, poor Christian was wounded, bruised and knocked down to the point that he began to despair of life. Reaching for his Sword one more time, he yelled out “Don’t rejoice over me, O my Enemy! When I fall, I shall arise;” and with that gave Apollyon a deadly thrust.
Maybe we need to have such tenacity. Such boldness. You see my friends, when we face our trials, large or small, we can settle for lukewarm, diluted faith—or we can seek the real thing: the type of faith that never gives up on it’s “first avowed intent to be a pilgrim.”
We can see from our story in Acts, Paul’s determination and commitment is without equal. If the cause of the Kingdom of God was a fleeting interest or a halfhearted pursuit Paul would have given up after the first beating. But Paul’s compassion for those who did not know the beauty of the gospel was stubborn and unyielding.
Most men’s mind and spirit can be broken if tortured long enough. Ask any POW from the Vietnam war. Paul seems to have reached his limit. So God assures him that he won’t endure another beating in Corinth. and there were many who were yet to be saved in Corinth. Paul’s ministry wasn’t yet over in Corinth, so God assured him that He would protect him from injury in this place. He also assured Paul of even greater success in Corinth. So in the strength of these promises and the Grace of God to continue, Paul remained on in Corinth for 18 months. This was the longest stay in any city for Paul up to this point in time.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Story of Acts