Have you ever been asked what your favourite Bible passage is? Do you have one? Many choose Psalm 23 – the Lord’s my Shepherd. Many choose John 3:16 – for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but receive eternal life. Some choose Ephesians 2 – for it is by grace you have been saved through faith. I love all those passages.
But for me, my favourite is our 2nd reading from St Paul in 2 Corinthians chapter 12. But I don’t just have it as my favourite because of what it says but for me it is the cornerstone of my faith and the comfort for me that what we believe is not some cleverly devised man made religion as people often say it is. If you were wanting to create a belief system would you have as the central teaching that suffering is good for you. That suffering and hardship does not mean that something is wrong. I mean, that’s what Paul is saying. He says: I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.
Whenever I’m feeling low in my faith – whenever I’m going through a difficult time I keep returning to this chapter and reminding myself – this is what Paul was talking about. Why I place such importance in Paul message here for my faith is because of Paul’s conversion to Christianity.
Paul was a leading Jew of his time. He was greatly respected and had a lot of authority. He presided over the first killing of a Christian by the name of Stephen. He gained approval to go about and arrest Christians and to throw them into jail. And while on his way to Damascus to do that he had an experience. He met the risen Lord Jesus who spoke to him from heaven. And as such Paul was converted.
Why would Paul give up everything he had – a life of luxury, respect, authority and instead accept weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ? Even if he did experience something – why would he persist if it led to such hardships? How many people have left the church because something didn’t go their way? How many people have stopped believing in God because life hasn’t gone the way that they expected it to go? Something must have really triggered Paul’s faith to ignore all the hardships that came because of his faith in Jesus Christ that not only did he continue in his faith but his faith in Jesus grew stronger.
Well, Paul tells us what happened in our reading: And remember, Paul is speaking about himself; I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.
Paul, it seems, was taken up into Heaven to be shown exactly what was awaiting him so that he did not give up his faith in spite of what he was going to experience for the next 14 years and beyond. And what he saw was either so amazing that to speak about it could not do it credit or what he saw had simply no human words to explain it: That’s what is awaiting you and me.
Paul was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. When I hear this it gives me hope and encouragement. There are times when I feel like throwing in the towel. It’s all getting too hard.
All the compliancy things we have to do these days just to run a church service once a week for an hour or so:
The Covid regulations – the copyright regulations especially with recording and live streaming – the child safe compliancy and safe place compliancy – there is the danger that church and our Christian faith gets reduced to purely an admin participation from which we grow weary and burn out.
Do you think Paul would not have experienced that if he saw what he did as simply an administrative function? The insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities – why bother – unless there was something supernatural about what he was proclaiming. And there was. He saw the insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities as a distraction to try and stop him from proclaiming the Gospel – the thorn in his flesh he called it – a messenger from Satan himself to torment him.
But Paul was able to see this and instead of growing weaker he grew stronger in his faith because instead of relying on his own strength he was drawn to God’s strength as God tells him: My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. To the point that not only did Paul persevere with his hardships but he said: I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
In those times when I have felt weak and like giving up I remember what Paul said and that this is exactly what Satan wants. It is very easy to give in when we feel as if things are getting too hard. But imagine where Christianity and the Church would be today if that was the attitude of Paul and the early disciples.Many of them were persecuted and put to death because of their faith and yet the church continued to grow and spread out through the world.
God wants everyone to experience the Paradise Paul experienced – but not just a short visit or a glimpse like Paul did but to live forever in this place that there is no human words to describe.
We have all experienced our thorn in the flesh in life – all borne heavy crosses to carry – sometimes because we are Christians – but Jesus invites you to let his power rest on you on those occasions. Paradise awaits all those who put their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour and Paul says that he considers our present suffering not worth comparing with the glory that awaits us in Heaven. So let us pick up our cross and follow Jesus because we know that he is leading us home to live with him in Heaven.