As we’ve been exploring over the last few weeks, this year has been tough in so many ways, and not just the obvious Covid ones.  But one of the saddest things for me has been how so many Christians have struggled with their faith as a result of these issues.

To me, this is a challenge for churches and agencies as we deal with a lack of fundamental discipleship.  The pressures imposed by Covid 19, its impact and the chaos it has caused have revealed huge flaws in the character of many of us and shown that, far from our lives being built on Christ and rooted in the gospel, we gain our basic rootedness and self-worth through our employment, our social activities (including church) and our material and emotional wellbeing.

The result of this is that when something goes wrong, our faith is shaken because it is not built on the right foundations.  Those of us with any responsibility for leadership need to be directing the church back to basics to give us the resilience we need to thrive during hardship, and in this blog I want to look at the life of St Paul to investigate that.

In view of the very long shadow Paul casts over the church as a key apostle into Europe and author of a significant part of the New Testament, it can be easy to overlook the challenges and hardships he faced along the way.  He summarises it very simply in 2 Corinthians 11:

Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes.  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.  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;  I have been in labour and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.  Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.

 

Paul, like most of the New Testament believers, was no stranger to the hardships of life, and not only the physical ones, but also the mental ones caused by the pressure he refers to above.  At the start of 2 Corinthians he writes “we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life..”

Yes, Paul knew what suffering was, so what was the secret of his ability to remain unshaken in his faith, so much so that he elsewhere in the same letter calls his suffering “momentary light affliction” (2C4:7)?

The one verse that I think sums up Paul’s attitude to his life is Philippians 1:21 –

For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

 

In other words, he was free to live a risky lifestyle because he knew that the end of this life is not the end of our existence, and what we have to look forward to in eternity is infinitely better than anything we could dream of in this life.  This heavenly perspective gave the whole first century church the ability to withstand persecution and to grow in numbers despite the challenges they faced.  I wonder how many of us are busily making sure we’re comfortable in this life instead.

And while he was waiting to die, Paul got on with living for Christ.  For him life was not about self-gratification, enjoyment of leisure opportunities or building his personal financial security.  It was about serving Christ by building the church and sharing good news with the lost.  He was very much aware of his role as a servant of the Lord and appears to have devoted his time and energy to God’s work.

If Paul were part of the 21st century church, I think he would be reminding us to build on the firm foundation that is Christ, not on the shifting sand of wealth, comfort and security.

 

Other blogs in this series:

Episode 1: Who am I?

Episode 2: What do I do?

Episode 3: What is my calling?

Episode 4: Coping with loss of control

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