Why Did Christian Paul Make Such Sacrifices?

From the time of early childhood, we began asking the question, "Why?" Preteen kids ask "why" most often out of pure curiosity. To ask "why" to seek understanding is considered a good thing to be encouraged.

As a teenager, the motive of asking "why" changes. Often a teen asks "why" in search of self-justification. To ask "why" in a deliberate attempt to escape personal responsibility is not considered a good thing.

Increasingly in adult years, adults often ask "why" in an attempt to eliminate confusion. "Why did he do that?" "Why is that so important to her?" "Why do they act that way?" Often for the mature adult, asking "why" seeks an insight that brings understanding to a situation that is not understandable. It seeks to "make sense" of something that "does not make sense to me."

To ask "why" to discover unknown information is a good thing most of the time. To ask "why" to evade personal responsibility is a bad thing most of the time. To ask "why" to seek insight, to make sense of an otherwise senseless occurrence is a good thing most of the time.

On September 4, 2005 we focused on Paul's statement in 2 Corinthians 11:16-33. This is the passage in which Paul's enemies forced Paul to discuss the sacrifices he made as an evangelist to the gentiles. In that particular statement, Paul stated as fact that he was in prison more than once, that he was beaten (whipped) numerous times, that he was shipwrecked three times, that he often faced dangers on his journeys, and that he endured a lot of personal hardships.

I think the question most of us would ask is "why?" For some, it might be a curiosity question. "I did not know Christians had those kind of experiences." For some it might be an attempt to evade responsibility. "Are you trying to tell me that if I want to be a Christian I must make difficult sacrifices? I did not become a Christian to suffer! I became a Christian to avoid suffering!" For some it might be an attempt to gain an insight that makes sense out of otherwise senseless happenings. "Why would God allow His child to endure those things? What would make God's child endure such horrible experiences?"

Fortunately, we do not have to guess "why" Paul endured such experiences. He told us "why." This evening I want us to focus on his explanation.

  1. I want us to begin by focusing on a very real and very obvious contrast in Paul's life.
    1. We can easily, naturally divide Paul's life into two main divisions:
      1. Paul before he became a Christian.
      2. Paul after he became a Christian.
      3. Becoming a Christian was the major pivotal point in Paul's life.
    2. Before he became a Christian, Paul could have been "the poster boy" for Jews who hated Christians.
      1. That would include two groups:
        1. Jewish people who rejected Jesus as God's Messiah or Christ.
        2. Jewish Christians who rejected Paul's evangelistic efforts and message.
      2. Paul who was not a Christian, in the truest sense, was the champion of Jewish people who hated Christians (most of whom were Jewish at that time).
      3. Our earliest introductions to Paul (or Saul) was at the Christian Stephen's death and the events that followed.
        1. In a minor way, he participated in Stephen's execution.
        2. Stephen's death was a flash point for a persecution against Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.
        3. Acts 8:3 says of Paul:
          "But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison."
      4. In defending himself against false charges in court, Paul said this about himself in the years that he opposed Christians:
        Acts 26:9-11 So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.

  2. How could a man so totally opposed to Jews becoming Christians become the Jewish apostle to the gentiles?
    1. We are talking about 180 degree change in direction, in focus of life, in purpose of life!
      1. We are talking about a man who hated people who became Christians becoming a man who loved people who became Christians.
      2. We are talking about a man who caused severe physical suffering becoming a man who endured severe physical suffering.
      3. We are talking about a man who enjoyed taking lives of people he hated becoming a man who risked his life for people he one time hated.
      4. Consider his attitude toward Jews who rejected Christ in this statement in Romans 9:1-5:
        I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.
    2. The question you and I must struggle with is "why?" How do we explain that transition?
      1. I want you to carefully consider Paul's personal explanation of "why".
        Philippians 3:7-11 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
      2. As far as the context of this passage is concerned, I ask you to remember one thing: the enemies in this context who made Paul's life miserable at Philippi were quite similar to the enemies who made Paul's life miserable at Corinth.
      3. Next, I call your attention to the explanation Paul gave for his incredible turn around.
        1. First, he said God did something truly unique in giving us Jesus Christ that surpasses anything God has ever done for any people.
        2. Second, he said nothing is as important as gaining Christ.
        3. Third, he said nothing is as important as being found (by God) in Christ.
        4. Fourth, he said nothing is as important as knowing Christ (not knowing about Christ, but having a genuine relationship with Christ).
        5. Fifth, he said nothing is more important than knowing the power that raised Jesus from the dead.
        6. Sixth, he said nothing is more important than participating in Jesus' sufferings.
        7. Seven, he said all these things work together to result in actual resurrection from the dead.
    3. I want to call your attention to three things in Paul's explanation of "why".
      1. When you understand what God did in Jesus' death and resurrection, everything else is garbage.
        1. If it is a choice between God's gift to us in Christ and any form of human status, there is no choice.
        2. Nothing can compete with God's gift to us in Jesus' death and resurrection.
      2. For the religious person, there are two forms of righteousness.
        1. In Paul's discussion of the two forms of righteousness, there are two basic understandings:
          1. There are people who are not religious--this is not a discussion of why a person should be religious.
          2. Nor is this a discussion about the importance of obedience--it has to do with the motive of obedience, not the importance of obedience.
          3. Paul was a very obedient person before he became a Christian and a very obedient person after he became a Christian.
        2. There are two approaches to being a righteous person, and Paul had tried both of them.
          1. One approach is the attempt to make yourself righteous by keeping the rules.
            1. When Paul helped kill Christians, he was a self-professed expert in knowing the rules and keeping them.
            2. One of the important reasons for Paul persecuting Christians was this: they were not keeping the rules.
            3. Paul knew he was right! He could show you by his understanding of the rules why he was right and why you were wrong.
          2. The second approach is by placing faith (total confidence) in what God did in Jesus' death and resurrection.
            1. In the final analysis, it is not what I do in rule keeping; it is what God did in Jesus' death and resurrection. (There is no power in my acts; there is incredible power in God's acts.)
            2. Paul said I have trusted my obedience, and that does not begin to compare with what God did for me in Jesus' death and resurrection.
            3. He said, "I want to trust God instead of trusting me."
      3. There is real power in trusting God.
        1. God demonstrated that He could permanently raise anyone from death when He permanently raised Jesus from the dead.
        2. We know lots of forms of power in this nation--in fact we often describe ourselves as being the most powerful nation on earth.
        3. But no form of power we know can give life to a dead person who has been buried.
        4. Paul saw the resurrected Jesus--he knew the reality of God's power expressed in permanent resurrection.

  3. God did something very special for us in Jesus' death and resurrection.
    1. The forgiveness of sins is incredible!
      1. In forgiveness, God actually destroys guilt where guilt is unquestionably justified and appropriate.
      2. In forgiveness, accountability for past mistakes is erased.
      3. In forgiveness, the past is erased. Relationship with God is based on present human focus and desire, not past history and mistakes.
    2. The opportunity and the ability to become a new person who begins again is incredible!
      1. I do not think we realize what an incredible thing that is!
      2. Let me try to make it real to you.
        1. Example one: A really bad marriage that has destroyed all sense of credibility comes for counseling.
          1. What is the chance that both husband and wife will say, "Let's totally forget about the past and start over like the past never happened."
          2. I can tell you from decades of experience that almost never happens.
          3. When it does on rare occasions, something always happens in which one spouse says, "You have not changed a bit or you would not have done that!"
        2. Example two: A teenager lives in a genuinely dysfunctional home--there is physical abuse, there is sexual abuse, there is emotional abuse.
          1. What is the chance that the teenager and the abusive parent will say to each other, "Let's totally forget about the past and start over like the past never happened."
          2. I can tell you from decades of experience that it never happens.
          3. There are so many problems created by the abuse that they cannot be forgotten even if the persons resort to repressing specific memories.
      3. None of us begin to realize how many mistakes we have committed against God nor how many times we have abused God.
        1. Yet, God is willing to do what we ourselves cannot do!
        2. God is willing to begin the relationship anew and allow us to grow into the relationship.
    3. Then, on top of that, God promises us life with Him after death.
      1. Dying is something every one of us will do.
      2. God says our relationship with Him will continue, even better, after we die.
      3. This will occur, but not because we deserve it.
      4. This will occur because God loves us.

Special gifts require a special response! How have you responded?


David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 18 September 2005

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