One of the biggest challenges in life is not allowing a temporary negative to become a permanent negative. It is hard to be rejected and not affected. It’s even harder to forgive someone who has betrayed or disappointed us in some way.
One of the most rejected, criticised leaders in the Bible was the apostle Paul. He had been a persecutor and destroyer of the early church before his conversion, but after converting to Christ became a builder of that first church.
Changed but targeted
Paul received God’s forgiveness for his past. God’s mercy and grace gave him a total reset. But many negatives happened to him after the reset that we don’t often hear highlighted.
It was as if he had a big target painted on his back. Many Jews, Gentiles, religious and community leaders, dictators, church members, pastors and the like were taking aim at him. In fact it was an open season on Paul.
Allow me to quote his negatives from Second Corinthians. They give us a glimpse into Paul’s personal life and emotional outlook helping us to appreciate what he went through. Yet, despite the various pains he encountered, he didn’t complain. He knew where self-dependence ends, God dependence begins.
First of all, Paul was ‘afflicted…burdened excessively, beyond his strength, so that he despaired even of life’ (1:8). But further he was…
- Misunderstood (1:14)
- Afflicted, so much so that he wrote with anguished heart and many tears (2:4)
- Sorrowful (2:3)
- Perplexed (4:8)
- Persecuted and struck down (4:9)
- Feeling that death was at work in him (4:12)
- Sensing that his ‘outer man was decaying’ (4:16)
- Groaning under burdens (5:2-4)
- Beside himself (5:13)
- Under ‘much endurance, hardships, distresses, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labours, sleeplessness, hunger, evil report, considered as deceived’ and more (6:4-10)
- Reckoned of wrongdoing, corrupting, and taking advantage of people (7:2)
- Depressed (7:6)
- Aware his ‘flesh had no rest…conflicts without, fears within’ (7:5)
- Discredited (8:20)
- Accused of being ugly, unimpressive and having contemptible speech (10:10)
- Charged with exalting himself (11:7), being a robber (11:8), being a burden to the churches (11:9)
- Insulted (12:10)
- Called a false apostle (12:11).
Wow… I think I need a counsellor just reading that!
Paul didn’t take all this personally
Remember, these accusations and personal insults where just people’s opinions based on their selfish agendas or issues. They made it personal but Paul didn’t let it become personal. He didn’t let those temporary negatives become permanent.
How did Paul do that?
He reveals God’s perspective and his heart in Second Corinthians 4:1, ‘Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart.’
‘This ministry’ was anchored in giving others mercy because he had received mercy himself for his past persecution of the church.
Paul knew that he must be careful not to ask for mercy for himself without giving the same mercy to others. He took the grace and mercy of God given freely to him and applied it to everyone who touched him with evil intent. In doing that, he opened an ‘account’ for them in heaven.
God wants to give his mercy to those who have hurt us also!
Choice: God’s hand or the enemy’s
Here‘s an ‘Aha’ for us. If we don’t apply grace, mercy and forgiveness to those who have hurt us, the weapon is in the accuser’s hand. If we apply grace, mercy and forgiveness, the weapon is in Christ’s hand. Like Paul, we’ll encounter struggles but we can win by using grace – or we can struggle and lose through withholding grace.
You see, the beauty of the gospel is that it takes everything that is wrong with us, everything we have done wrong or that has been done to us wrongly, and turns it around by the grace of God.
That’s why Paul didn’t lose heart, and we don’t have to either. Misery is optional. God’s grace and how it transforms people is amazing, isn’t it?
Dr Ed Delph is president of Nationstrategy, an organisation with the strategy of envisioning and empowering today’s leaders in the church to be some of tomorrow’s leaders in the community. Links: http://nationstrategy.com / firstname.lastname@example.org