Insults vs. Blessing:
Floggings received: Five times the forty-lashes-minus-one the culture of the day allowed. Beatings: three with rods; stoned: once. Shipwrecks experienced: one, including a day and night in the open sea. Dangers faced: rivers, bandits, countrymen, foreigners, urban settings, rural settings, false friends, sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, lack of shelter and lack of clothing. The list goes on. These are the difficulties described by a follower of Christ who wrote extensively to other followers in the early years of the fledgling church. And it is the same person who writes of the crossroads of insult versus blessing.
Is the emphasis on all the insults believers can expect to suffer for following Jesus as Lord of their lives? There have been plenty of insults. There will be more. Many will lose their livelihoods, their liberties and their lives for the sake of Christ. But instead, the chapter is chalk full of expressions of blessing.
“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus,” Paul blesses, “so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
God gives. He gives endurance and encouragement through difficult times. He does not leave us lost and alone as we face the challenges that come our way in life through following Him.
He gives a spirit of unity among His people so that we have a family of supportive brothers and sisters, unified in purpose and devoted to love and acceptance of one another.
And He gives us the ability to live in a way that glorifies Him – He empowers us to rise above the hopelessness and failings of our lives that characterized us before we met Him.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him,” the Apostle Paul continues, “so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
God gives joy; as we choose to follow His principles of selfless obedience to Him we find the strivings of our old ways empty and hollow shadows in comparison with His joy.
God gives peace; we still experience challenges in this life, but there is a difference now. We have the overwhelming sense of God working all things out for the good for those who love Him. We know the difficulties in life are being used by God to make us more like Jesus. Our lives are not in danger of being wasted, but in the process of being recreated.
And God gives hope, overflowing hope welling up within us by the presence of His Spirit and pouring out to those around us.
“The God of peace be with you all,” he finishes.
God gives Himself. He promises to never leave nor forsake those who turn their lives over to Him. He is ever-present, closer than a brother, deeper than our hearts or minds can imagine, and fuller than we can contain. He is with us.
While God is busy giving into our lives, we are not merely passive bystanders. Look back at both verses of blessing. God blesses as we do something. What is it?
“…as you follow Christ” and “…as you trust in him.”
Those who long to be borne on the path of blessing must recognize that there is a crossroads of decision to be made. We must decide to follow Christ. We must choose to trust in Him every step of the way. There will still be difficulties in life – in fact, we may become the brunt of insults heaped upon us by a world that hates Jesus Christ. But as we follow Him and entrust ourselves to His infinite care, we will be blessed by enough endurance, encouragement, unity, joy, peace, and hope to carry the day. His presence with us ensures that.
That’s the path of blessing. Are you on it?