Poverty, Persecution and Faith, Part2

In the first part of this post, we looked at the lives of the “heroes of faith” in  Hebrews 11.   From a human  perspective there were those whose lives had successful outcomes and those whoses lives were not. But as we saw, what mattered was God’s perspective. All these men and women of God had a number of things in common.  The most important was they willing served God in faith no matter what the circumstances. One other thing they probably had in common was they all served God before the new covenant that began with Jesus’ death and resurrection. I say probably because they are not all named in Hebrews 11.  In the second part of this post, we will be looking at a few examples of new covenant Christians serving God in faith.

The life of the Apostle Peter seems large compared to the life and ministry of Stephen, who ministry was distributing food. Nonetheless, in the early days of the Jerusalem church  God had each of them give an important sermon. In  Acts 2 verses 36 to 41 the Apostle Peter preached a sermon with the wonderful result of thousands of people, being convicted of sin, repenting and being baptized in Jesus name.   Three thousand of them!

Acts 2:36-41

New King James Version (NKJV)

36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”

40 And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” 41 Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.

In the same city of Jerusalem not that long after Peter’s sermon was another sermon by Stephen. The end of his sermon, Acts 7 verses 52 to 60, just like Peter’s, talked of the death of Jesus, and just like Peter’s it had a powerful effect on his audience. But the effect was negative.   Instead of being convicted of sin, repenting and being baptized, they became furious and stoned Stephen to death.

Acts 7:52-60

New King James Version (NKJV)

52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, 53 who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.

54 When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. 55 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, 56 and said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”

57 Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; 58 and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

So was Peter the successful servant here and Stephen not? That’s not how God looked at it. There is there not one word of criticism of Stephen in the scriptures. Instead, verses 55 and 56  show him full of God the Holy Spirit and granted a vision of God the Father and Jesus in heaven. Acts 8 verse 2 shows the honor the Jerusalem church paid to him and how much they grieved over not having him with them in serving God.

Acts 8:2

New King James Version (NKJV)

And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.

Are our Christian lives and ministry, then, to be either ones of great success or great suffering? Not at all. A Christian’s life can have both.   And the one whose life comes to mind as having lots of both is the Apostle Paul.   For the successful part, let’s consider Acts 19 verses 10-20. These two years show the miracles, the repentance, and the many conversions of his ministry in Ephesus.

Acts 19:10-20

New King James Version (NKJV)

10 And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.

11 Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them. 13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” 14 Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so.

15 And the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?”

16 Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. 17 This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. 18 And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. 19 Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.

But Paul’s life and ministry was not always full of success.  In chapter 11 of his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul contrasts His life as an Apostle of God  compared to the false apostles which had come to the church in Corinth. The interesting thing is that part of the proof of his true apostleship, verses 23-27, is the suffering and persecution that he endured serving God in the ministry.

2 Corinthians 11:23-27

New King James Version (NKJV)

23 Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. 24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25 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; 26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—

All of us have something in common with Paul.  All of us have a Christian life to live and a ministry God has decided to give us. In Paul’s ministry, the successes, and the suffering were large. Ours may be small. But what matters to God is that we are willing to allow Him to express His will and purpose in our lives.  Let’s close with two things that God taught Paul that were a great help to him and are to us also.  First in Philippians 4 verses 11-13,  he shows how he has learned to be content to rely on God in all things.

Philippians 4:11-13

New King James Version (NKJV)

11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

The second is how much God loves us.  Ephesians 3 verses 17 to 19 tells us that God’s love for us is so great that we couldn’t even understand it without His help!

Ephesians 3:17-19

New King James Version (NKJV)

17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

2014 copyright,  Pastors George and Sharon Billington, All Rights Reserved

About christiancounselorpastor

We are partners in marriage and ministry and are anointed and ordained by God to help believers endure to the end and to help believers live His love.
This entry was posted in Bible Study, Christian Coping and Living, Christian Meditation, Christian Teaching, Following Jesus, persecution, suffering and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Poverty, Persecution and Faith, Part2

  1. Steven Owensby says:

    Thanks for sharing this. It was obviously well thought out; because it was well written and inspirational.

    Like

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