In the last two weeks we’ve been looking at programmes, purposes and spiritual responsibilities. How do I know what my programme is? How do I serve God not being a member of the ecclesiastical class?
To be sure, God customises callings and specifies assignments. Concerning Paul, God said: “I have picked him as my personal representative to non-Jews and kings and Jews.” Though it must be argued that Paul’s was indeed a special calling, going by the terms of employment. No other employment contract from God had such onerous provisions as Paul’s, and they were stated upfront: “I’m about to show him what he’s in for – the hard suffering that goes with his job” (Acts 9:16). And boy, was he in for something!
Listen to Paul: “I’ve been jailed more often, beaten up more times than I can count, and at death’s door time after time. I’ve been flogged five times with the Jewish 39 lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I’ve been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard travelling year in and year out, I’ve had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I’ve been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, betrayed by those I thought were brothers. I’ve known drudgery and hard labour, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, and blasted by the cold, naked to the weather. And that’s not half of it…” (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). And it all got too much for him. He called his perpetual ordeal a thorn in the flesh… Yes, that’s the thorn in the flesh!
The thorn in the flesh was not some secret sin or undisclosed ailment. (That’s all conspiracy theory). And we soon find out why God gave him a thorn in the flesh. In the next chapter after the rehash of his ordeals Paul wrote it’s “because of the extravagance of revelations”. He’d even chanced upon top-secret stuff when he visited Heaven. If revealed he’d have breached the Official Secrets Act. “And so I wouldn’t get a big head, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to rack and buffet and harass me, to keep me from being exceedingly exalted” (2 Corinthians 12:7).
From this passage we can see Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a being, not an ailment or secret sin. So here’s the deal: God called Paul. In line with the call he was exposed to top-secret information. But to keep him from becoming arrogant, God sent Satan’s agent to harass him. (I know that shatters your theology)! He suffered so much at the hands of Satan’s minion that he begged God three times to remove the harasser. And surprise, surprise, God said: “My grace – favour and loving-kindness – is enough for you, sufficient against any danger and enables you to bear trouble manfully…”
Paul’s thorn in the flesh was an operative from Satan, and boy, was he dedicated and good at harassment! In modern terms we’ll probably call this Satan’s agent a pain in the a**! That’s what the thorn in the flesh was. In fact Paul called the guy a terrorist… a spiritual terrorist! In 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 (MSG) he wrote: “We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized, we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side…” Luckily for us, Paul’s call and calling were unique to him. And if your name is Paul, don’t be afraid! It’s not by name.
But the question arises, how can the rest of us who are not called into ministry serve God? There’s a clue in one of Paul’s writings, though not so obvious. It might actually have informed Paul’s reasoning – might be the key to why he was such a hard worker. In 1 Corinthians 15:10, Paul said he worked harder than any of the apostles. We find the clue in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. (Might have been three combined letters actually.)
The prelude was Paul’s discussion about the challenges of ministry. He discussed life after death in this context: “For we must all appear and be revealed as we are before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive his pay according to what he has done in the body, whether good or evil – considering what his purpose and motive have been, and what he has achieved, been busy with, AND GIVEN HIMSELF AND HIS ATTENTION TO ACCOMPLISHING” (2 Corinthians 5:10 AMP). In other words, you can set out to accomplish things for God, set goals. The subject is up to you. But your motivation must be right. God is particular about motivation.
The same twin principle of personal decision and motivation governs giving as well. You give as you decide. “Let each one give as he has made up his own mind and purposed in his heart, not reluctantly or sorrowfully…” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Watch your motivation if you want God’s commendation. Why are you doing what you do? For God? For you? For the gallery? You can do wonderful things for God and still displease him; once your motivation is wrong the act cannot be right. This was one of the issues Jesus had with the Pharisees. They were so much into show business. Do things for God. He’s much appreciative of such efforts; he rewards generously.
Many times we’re searching for purpose but the truth is, purpose is most times obvious after the fact. David realized his purpose after the fact. And so did Joseph. “And David realized that the Lord had confirmed him as king over Israel for the sake of his people Israel” (2 Samuel 5:12). Joseph told his brothers, “God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive…” (Genesis 45:7). The saints of old did outstanding things for God. Read Church history. (You’ve got to read Church history)! Makes you wonder how you’ll ever stand side by side these saints before Christ.
St. Jerome translated the entire Bible by hand! (The Latin Vulgate took him at least 23 years!). Mersrop Mashtotz created a new alphabet in order to translate the Bible from Greek to Armenian. Origen castrated himself to become a eunuch for Christ. He is the father of theology. He created the first of what we now call the parallel Bible: 6,500 pages, 15 volumes. Took him 15 years. And he still visited prisoners and helped the poor. He was a genius actually, but he used his intelligence for God. Space will not permit the listing of the achievements of other saints. The commitments were staggering. Don’t waste your life chasing shadows. Do something worthy for God with your life. Time is running out.
If you’ll like to give your life to Christ please pray this prayer: Father I come to you. I know I am a sinner. I believe Christ died for me, that you raised him from the dead. I confess with my mouth that Jesus Christ is my Lord and my savior. Amen.
© Leke Alder | firstname.lastname@example.org