I have shared two provocative posts focused on what I call the “value of believing”. My main scripture text is from John 3 which states that the work of God is to believe on Jesus Christ and his Father who sent Jesus to us. I point out that believing God is a work. It takes an act of our will to believe. The hope is that one day our believing will feel effortless as we focus on the source of our belief: Jesus.
We sometimes underestimate the value of our ability to believe. What we believe about Jesus and His Father will determine what we will do and inadvertently what we allow to happen in our lives.
My second focus has been what we believe about trials and unpacking how that affects our day to day life. We have learned that trials and challenges that come our way have different sources. Consequently, if we believe that a trial is from God and it is not, we can remain in a bad situation for longer than we need. Conversely, if a trial is from God and we believe it is from the devil, then we will be resisting God unintentionally. That of course is the ultimate losing battle. Can you see how what we believe makes a huge difference? We have learned that it is the Holy Spirit’s job to let us know the source. Let’s dig a little deeper into another source of our trials.
1 Corinthians 11:22-30 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, inperils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity.
In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul speaks of his sufferings. A better translation of the word infirmity is weakness. I have often heard this passage used as a praise for all of the things that Paul suffered. In no way do I want to diminish Paul’s resiliency in tremendously difficult circumstances. What I do want to point out is that the source of these challenges was not God. We have talked about the source of challenges and resistance being from God or from the devil. We have not addressed the third factor: humans.
Let’s review Paul’s shipwrecked experience. In Acts 27 we see that Paul has been imprisoned and is being transported to Italy by a centurion guard. The sailors encountered winds that made travelling difficult. Let’s review verses 9-12, 20
Acts 27: 9-12, 20 Now when much time had been spent, and sailing was now dangerous because the Fast was already over, Paul advised them, saying, “Men, I perceive that this voyage will end with disaster and much loss, not only of the cargo and ship, but also our lives.” Nevertheless the centurion was more persuaded by the helmsman and the owner of the ship than by the things spoken by Paul. Because the harbor was not suitable for wintering, the majority reached a decision to put out to see from there, if somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, facing southwest and northwest and spend winter there… Now when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest beat on us, all hope that we would be saved was finally given up.
Paul gave explicit instructions not to leave the port but the centurion chose to ignore him. The storm worsened and they feared they would die. Let’s pause a moment. God gave wisdom to Paul regarding the danger of travelling. Paul chose to give that wisdom to the centurion and it was ignored. Was it God’s will that they travel in that storm? Obviously, no. Was the tragedy of what happened as a result of the storm, God’s will? Again, obviously no. However, there is a chance that if we didn’t know the details of the story and just read the Corinthians scripture alone, we’d conclude that this shipwreck was a part of God’s will. Instead, lets see what Paul did in response to this potential tragedy.
Acts 27: 21-25 But after long abstinence from food, then Paul stood in the midst of them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me, and not have sailed from Crete and incurred this disaster and loss. And now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me.
The abstinence from food means that they fasted and God responded. An angel spoke to Paul reassuring them that they would be safe. Then Paul said something that was important. “I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me”. Why mention that? If God said it was going to be well, shouldn’t that be good enough? I don’t think so. Throughout the gospels, Jesus proclaimed to many seeking answers to prayer “let it be according to your faith”. The angel gave the good news but Paul still needed to believe it.
There is power in believing God’s word.
Let’s look at one more scenario from Paul’s life in Acts 22. Paul was beaten and imprisoned for preaching the gospel in Macedonia. After spending the night in jail, they were released to leave. Paul says something very interesting.
Acts 16:36-39 So the keeper of the prison reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Now therefore depart, and go in peace.” But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us openly, uncondemned Romans, and have thrown us into prison. And now do they put us out secretly? No indeed! Let them come themselves and get us out.” And the officers told these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Romans. Then they came and pleaded with them and brought them out, and asked them to depart from the city.
Paul let the jailers know that they were beaten unjustly. They were Roman citizens and they were beaten and jailed without due process. Again, Paul didn’t see this was God’s doing at all. Paul comes into another similar difficulty. After Paul shared his testimony in Jerusalem, he was not well received and the Jews ordered that Paul be beaten. Here is Paul’s response.
Acts22: 24-29 the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, and said that he should be examined under scourging, so that he might now why they shouted so against him. And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who stood by, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?” When the centurion heard that, he went and told the commander, saying, “Take care what you do, for this man is a Roman.” Then the commander came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman?” He said, “Yes.” The commander answered, “With a large sum I obtained this citizenship.”And Paul said, “But I was born a citizen.” Then immediately those who were about to examine him withdrew from him; and the commander was also afraid after he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him.
Paul explains that he is a Roman citizen and circumvented his scourging, which is a beating. If Paul believed that it was God’s will for him to be beaten, he would have never mentioned that he was a Roman citizen.
Let’s review the scenario: Paul is beaten unjustly at the will of a hostile crowd and then avoids a beating by stating his citizenship even though another hostile crowd wants him to be beaten. The source of the beatings were people and not God.So again, God delivered Paul through wisdom: he announced his citizenship. It wasn’t for God’s glory that Paul got beaten or was in a ship wreck.
Bad things do happen but God isn’t always the source. We need to know the difference.
After reviewing these scriptures we can see that Paul wasn’t glorifying in his suffering but glorifying in God’s deliverance. It reminds me of Psalm 91 where David declares that not only will God be with us in trouble, but he will deliver us. Our job is to listen the Holy Spirit and determine which challenges are not from God and then expect his deliverance supernaturally or naturally through his wisdom.
Part 4 is the final post where we discuss death. Is it true that all deaths are caused by God? We will read what the Bible has to say about that topic.
Doug Webb is the author of “I Was Framed!” Signed, God