|Paul departs for Jerusalem
Few Christians have suffered more for their faith than did the apostle Paul. In one place he described his experience this way: ". . . in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews three times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of Gentiles, in perils of the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils of the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weakness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness – besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches" (II Cor. 11:23-28).
Why did he do it? What drove the man to such lengths? He tells us: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Rom. 8:18). He had his eyes on eternity, and he knew that what he had to endure in this present life was but a small price to pay for eternal glory.
This is not to say that there are no benefits in this present life. For ". . . the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Rom. 5:5). This, in turn, can give rise to intense joy. The apostle Peter could say ". . . whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory" (I Pet. 1:8). And Paul could talk about "the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding" (Phil. 4:7).
In one sense these reactions are irrational – they seem detached from surrounding reality. How can one experience "joy" or "peace" when your outward circumstances are filled with conflict and misery? The answer is partly that we have the hope of a brighter future, and partly that God grants us peace in answer to prayer: "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:6,7). But partially it is because of the direct action of the Holy Spirit on our hearts: love, joy and peace are the "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22, and Paul could say that the love of God "has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit" (Rom. 5:5).
That being said, it nevertheless remains true that the Christian lives for the future, not for the present. "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (II Cor. 4:17,18). It is expected that there will be trials and difficulties in this life. We live in a world cursed by sin. We look forward, however, to the return of Christ when He will appear in the sky to redeem creation, and then all things will at last be set right. The trials of this life last only for a relatively brief moment. The joys of heaven are forever.
Sad to say, most modern Americans are so caught up with the cares and pleasures of this life that they never really think about what will happen to them when they die. They just sort of assume that somehow, someone, somewhere up there in the sky will take care of them. But they never give any serious thought as to who that Someone might be, or what He actually requires of us. But death is inevitable and inescapable, and sooner or later we will have to face eternity. What then?