How’s 2011 shaping up?
Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel in Derbe and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.
– Acts 14:21-22.
Maybe, like us, you are lurching from crisis to crisis? First it was the Christchurch earthquake, with a chimney that toppled down and sliced through the roof of the garage below; then shortly after that our oldest son was sent to Afghanistan on active military service; by year’s end my elderly stepmother in UK developed a gangrenous ulcer on her foot and her condition was steadily deteriorating; eventually the New Year saw me winging my way to UK for a funeral and back to NZ the same week for the other son’s wedding.
However, by comparison with others we know, we have been relatively well off. One young couple in our fellowship live with the burden of a seriously premature baby weighing only 675 grammes at birth. Will she or won’t she survive? If she survives, will she grow up with major handicaps? Another family watch over the hospital bed of their son who has suffered third degree burns in a house fire.
There is a popular teaching today among certain branches of the Christian church, that following Jesus Christ necessarily brings the blessings of health and wealth. Come to Jesus and all your problems will be solved. Anything less than that can only be the result of sin or lack of faith, they say. But this claim is in direct conflict, not only with today’s verse from the Apostle Paul, but also with the teachings of Jesus and most of the New Testament writers.
For Paul, such hardships were nothing new. The very day of his conversion, God had said of him, “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” So it would have been no surprise that at the time he wrote these words, he had just been stoned by the people of Lystra, dragged outside the city and left for dead. Yet, for all that, he was never preoccupied with his problems. On the contrary, his one abiding concern was the Kingdom of God, for which God had called him to be a messenger. “We must go through many hardships” he said, “in order to enter the kingdom of God.” The Kingdom lay ahead; it was his job to usher it in. Any hardships along the way were inevitable, but such hardships were only part of the journey, not of the final destination – landmarks pointing the way towards something better that was to come.