Excerpted from Paul: A Man of Grit and Grace with permission of W Publishing Group.
If we were to study a portrait of Paul painted by a realistic artist, we would first notice his scars and bruises. Depending on when the portrait was finished, some wounds would be red and swollen, a few still bleeding. Paul writes of those wounds at the end of his letter to the Galatians. In an unguarded moment he picks up the stylus and writes, "See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand" (Galatians 6:11.) Whoever read from the autographa, the original letter from Paul's own hand, would have noticed a change in handwriting toward the end of the letter. They could see the difference with their own eyes. It must have brought an emotional stirring to read that part of his original letter to the Galatians. The oversized writing may have been due to Paul's extremely poor eyesight, or a raging migraine may have blurred his vision. Perhaps he had permanent nerve damage to his arm. Whatever the reason, he wrote larger letters. He was determined to allow his emotions to bleed onto the page. My preference is to write out, by hand, my books or articles that I'm preparing for publication. Sometimes in the passion of writing I push the pen so hard it digs through the page. Paul may have done just that when he wrote by hand, "From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus" (Galatians 6:17). I appreciate Paul's candid appeal. I'm convinced he had grown a bit impertinent by this point in his ministry. He's had it with troublesome folks. He says in effect, "Don't mess with me. Back off. I'm writing this letter bearing in my body the marks of one who has suffered greatly for you. I've paid for the right to instruct you. I carry around on my body the scars, the wounds, the marks, physical evidence of torture-these brands of Christ."In the first century, slaves had the names of their owners burned onto their bodies. They were branded like cattle. Roman soldiers would often tattoo on their arms the names or numbers of the military units in which they served. In the same way, devotees of false gods tattooed the names or symbols of their gods across their flesh. But Paul's scars were different. His brands signified his sufferings for Christ. That's why he was stoned. That's why he was punched in the face. That's why he was beaten with rods. And every one of those scars was a permanent reminder that he belonged to his Master, Jesus.
Crippled from the unjust blows of his enemies, he stood broken in body but never in spirit. In fact, rarely does he even call attention to his scars. On the few occasions he does, it's never about him, it's always about the Savior. That's greatness. It isn't about the actions that were done against him or even the accomplishments he achieved. His greatness is revealed in his responses to those hardships.....If we're going to study the life of Paul and learn lessons from his life and ministry, a major lesson to be learned is how to respond to pressure. I use pressure and hardship interchangeably. The way he responded to hardship is the way I want to respond. Rarely do any of us face adversity with such determined resolve. We view hardship as an unpleasant interruption. It's an unfair circumstance brought upon us by difficult people or oppressive situations.Paul responded differently. His secret of endurance lay in his "divine perspective." Let's explore that idea. He Trusted God AlonePaul allowed the affliction to strengthen his trust in God alone. He writes, "Indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us" (1:9-10). He has delivered us, He is delivering us, He will deliver us. Get the picture? He focused on God's ability to handle the circumstances from start to finish. That freed him to lean on and tap into God's power alone. I think the apostle reached the place where he realized he wasn't capable of altering anything. He wasn't competent enough to fix the problem or smart enough to solve the mystery. His confidence drained away to the point he despaired of life itself. At that critical juncture he found supernatural strength by looking up. He said, "Lord, right now I am unable to go on. I'm not capable. I'm not competent. I'm not confident in anything in myself to relieve this pressure. I trust You and You alone." That's what I call "divine perspective." Grit under pressure.
We don't have the power we need to face life's worst blasts. Left to ourselves we cave in. The kind of power we need comes from God only, regardless of our circumstances. To describe his life of ministry, he used words like afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down. That was Paul's life as an ambassador for Christ. More often than not, he was like a sheep ready for slaughter. Any takers?Again, it's not his affliction we admire, but how he handled it. That's the greatness we appreciate. "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in our body the dying of Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh" (2 Corinthians 4:8-11).In my more-than-thirty-year study of Paul, I've discovered he never once blamed God for his affliction. He never shook his fist at the heavens in frustration. I find that absolutely incredible. He received it all as part of his commitment to Christ and trusted God to handle those moments when he came to the breaking point. He confidently relied on his Lord. What a wonderful response. But there was another dimension to Paul's perspective.His Focus Remained on Things UnseenPaul viewed whatever happened to him through the eyes of faith. That remarkable trait allows him to be numbered among giants of the faith like Moses, who according to Hebrews 11, "left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen" (11:27). Like Moses, Paul endured the hard times by focusing on the eternal. He used his trials as reminders to focus on things not seen. When your heart is right you can do that. ...Focusing on the unseen helps us endure what would otherwise be unbearable. That's what Paul did, and it kept him strong in troubled times. And in all of that he learned the greatest lesson of all. He discovered for himself...
The Power of Weakness
Paul pressed ahead through a mind-boggling series of intense hardships, which he lists later in the same letter (2 Corinthians 11:22-28):