What a fantastic example of a man who endured to the end. The life of Paul was an interesting one, full of highs and lows; he suffered persecution and he witnessed great support. He was a man who endured to the end.
Paul was born as Saul in Tarsus, "an Israelite of the tribe of Benjamin, circumcised on the 8th day." Paul was a Roman citizen, he studied in Jerusalem under a Rabbi named Gamaliel, he was a tent maker, and he was probably quite well-off, as he alludes to the fact that he supported himself during his travels, and while preaching.
If you would like to turn to Acts 8:1, we read of Saul's attitude towards the Church. We read from verse 1 that, speaking of Stephen:
"1 Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
2 Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him.
3 But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison."
We move on to Chapter 9 of Acts and here we read of the conversion of Saul, where he was travelling to Damascus and a light from heaven flashed around him and blinded him. He is led into Damascuc and his sight is restored by God through a disciple named Ananias, who is told in verse 15 that Saul "is a chosen instrument of God's, to bear his name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel."
After his conversion, we are told that he immediately began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues. Soon after, Paul faced the first of his persecution, when the Jews plotted to kill him, and he was forced to flee by night.
During Paul's first missionary journey, we read in Acts 13:50, that he and Barnabus were further persecuted. Chapter 14 speaks of their acceptance, and their opposition, opposition to the extent where we read in Verse 19;
"19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead."
But we read on to the end of chapter 14;
"20 But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city. The next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe.
21 After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch,
22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, "Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God"
23 When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
24 They passed through Pisidia and came into Pamphylia.
25 When they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.
26 From there they sailed to Antioch, from which they had been commended to the grace of God for the work they had accomplished.
27 When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all the things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.
28 And they spent a long time with the disciples."
And so, we clearly see Paul's endurance, and as he says himself in Verse 22, "through many tribulations, we must enter the kingdom of God."
How amazing. After being stoned, he carries on and travels to all those places, and continues to preach the very same message that previously put his life in jeopardy!
We read further on in Acts 16 of a similar incident, where, from Verse 22;
"22 The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods."
But continuing on in Verse 25 – 36;
"25 But about midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,
26 and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were unfastened.
27 When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped.
28 But Paul cried out with a loud voice saying, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!"29 And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas,
30 and after he brought them out, he said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?""
Because of Paul's endurance, he caused an entire household to be baptised.
We can read on about Paul's life, and his service to God. We read of how he preached to many, was put in front of leaders and he would proclaim Jesus, he was put before the Jewish people, he was imprisoned, and tried before Felix, and Festus, he was released and set sail to Rome, he was shipwrecked on Malta, he continued to preach there for three months, then sailed to Rome where he continued to reside. From Chapter 28:30; "30 ...welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, with all openness, unhindered."
So as I said earlier, an interesting life, a wonderful example of endurance, and a life we can pull some key points from and apply to our own lives today.
Paul was an evil man in the early part of his life, yet he did a complete turnaround. This shows us that it's never too late to change, and that there is nothing that is "too evil" or "too bad" that we can't pray to God, change our ways, and ask for forgiveness.
This applies to either things that may be a big deal, or something that may seem quite small. If we have died with Christ, we can no longer allow sin to reign over our mortal body. We must stop presenting the members of our body as instruments of unrighteousness, but instead we should look to examples such as Paul, and change our lives. And change them now, because the return of Jesus and the establishment of God's kingdom on Earth is so very close.
We must endure through the pressures of this world. We need to do what is right in God's sight. We don't have to do what the world thinks is right, in fact, we don't even need to do what our ecclesial members "Think" is right. But we must serve God, and keep his commands.
Worldly pressures can force us to work longer hours, become focussed on status and on money, focussed on power. We have to try our best to overcome these pressures, and make sure God stays at the forefront of our lives, make sure we keep aside the time to spend studying the bible and learning what it says, what it's message is.
By saying this, I don't in any way mean that we have to attend every single ecclesial event, every bible class, lecture, cyc, study group, camps, fraternals and every other one of the multitude of events that we have on. This isn't a requirement. God doesn't take attendance. He does, however, look into our hearts and minds, and He, only He, knows where our thoughts are, and only He knows if our hearts and minds are in the right place.
And this may fuel our desire to want to spend the time with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and to learn more about God's word.
We must show love for one another, just as God has sown love to us. We need to try and help each other to endure to the end, just as Paul had Barnabus and Silas. They were undoubtedly a huge encouragement to him, and we need the same thing.
If needed, we should ask for help and guidance from others. We have a wonderful ecclesial family – worldwide! Instead of judging one another, let's put all that away and start helping one another! As I said before, Jesus WILL return soon. We are living in the times represented by the soles of the feet of the statue in Nebuchandezzar's Dream! And when we do offer advice, it should be based on what the Bible teaches, and not what our own opinion is. For if we, intentionally or unintentionally, teach against the Bible and cause someone to sin, the four Gospels say it would be better for us to be thrown into the sea.
Another great lesson we can take from the life of Paul is to lead by example. Because he did what was right, and didn't escape prison, and even though it was Paul who was wronged, this pricked the conscience of the prison guard and he and his household were baptised.
People look at us differently when they know we follow God. They scrutinize our every move, and we need to lead a Christ-like life and how this. I like to think that I live a relatively good, Christ-like life. Yet, outwardly, I just don't show it enough, to the people I work with, my clients and others I meet; and I'm doing the word of God and injustice. This is one area I am always trying to improve, and we all need to work hard, to lead by example.
Let's now turn to the book of Daniel and look at another man who lead by example, and endured.
Daniel was a descendant of one of the noble families in Judah, and was probably born in Jerusalem in about 620BC, during the reign of Josiah.
At the first deportation of Jews by Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel and three others named Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were among the young, noble Jewish people carried off to Babylon. Daniel and his three companions were subsequently evaluated and chosen for their intellect and looks, to be trained as "Chaldeans", who were a part of those who made up the advisory panel to the Babylonian Court.
There, Daniel was obliged to enter into the service of the King of Babylon. His residence was very probably in the Palace of Nebuchadnezzar. However, Daniel and his three friends remained fiercely loyal to their God. At the close of his 3 years of training in the royal schools, Daniel soon became known for his ability in interpreting dreams, and rose through the ranks of the kingdom.
Turn to Daniel Chapter 3. Here we read of the story of the Fiery Furnace. King Nebuchadnezzar has had a statue in his likeness built, and has ordered that everyone bow down to it, or be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire. The kings advisors notify him that Daniel's three friends have not been bowing down to the statue.
We read in Daniel 3:14-20;
"14 Nebuchadnezzar responded to them saying "is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up?
15 Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you do not worship, you will immediately be case into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?"
16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter.
17 if it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O King.
18 But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O King, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.""
The furnace was so hot that the men who carried the three into the furnace, died!!
And we know that God protected Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, reading from verse 24 & 25;
"24 Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he said to his high officials, "was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?" They replied to the king, "Certainly O King."
25 He said "Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!""
What a perfect example we have here of enduring, leading by example and great faith. And this is a real example! This actually happened!
At the bible course in North Melbourne, one of the attending was amazed to hear that the stories of the bible, the inspired word of God, actually happened! She was awe-struck that Moses actually parted the red sea! And maybe this is something we need to remember – that this is a real example of faith, and it actually happened.
Just like Daniel was really thrown into a den of killer lions, and spent the night with them and was unharmed! And it was because he endured when the king (Darius) signed a decree saying no-one could worship or pray to their God. He had faith. He led by example when he entered his house, opened the window, and continued to pray to God three times a day, praying and giving thanks. He endured to the end. He entered into rest, and "will rise again for his allotted portion at the end of the age" as we read at the end of Daniel.
Daniel took a stand, and decided to do what was right. He could have shut the windows, but he opened them. It's a similar scenario to what I was faced with last week. I had an "Apparent failure to Vote Notice." I could have done one of three things; I could have ignored it and paid a small fine, I could just write "conscientious objector", or I could give the real reason, and quote scripture. Or I suppose I could have gone and voted.
We know what Daniel did, and we read that he will receive his reward.
So what is this reward, or this "allotted portion"? Why should we endure to the end?
Well, we all know the answer to this. Our reward, or our free gift, is a place in God's kingdom. We should endure, because we are told to.
Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 says;
"13 The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: Fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.
14 For God will bring every act to judgement, everything which is hidden, whether it is good, or evil."
So we've spoken about enduring, and how we should try to help each other out. We have examples to look to for encouragement, and we can pray to God. If we pray to God, and as it says in Matthew 17:20, "if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain "move from here to there" and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you." That's very reassuring!
But what if we feel we cannot endure in particular circumstances? Maybe we can change the circumstances so it becomes easier to endure. For example, if we have a job that makes us partake in activities that go against our beliefs, perhaps it's time to look for another job.
Easier said than done, but long-term, it's for the best.
What about ecclesial live? If we think there is something that can be implemented to help us endure, then bring it up and put it forward at a QBM.
I found a quote on the internet from a guy named Charles Kettering which says, "The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that has brought progress." This may be true in our quest to find ways to endure.
So finally, to our perfect example of endurance to the end, we look to our Lord, Master, Brother and Friend, Jesus Christ.
He was with God in concept at the very beginning, and when this Word, or concept, became flesh and dwelt amongst us, we read of the persecution he endured throughout his life, and then the final test of endurance when he was crucified.
Jesus was and is our perfect example of a man who endured to the end, and he did this so that we can have forgiveness for our sins. We remember this on a Sunday morning, when we read in 1 Corinthians 11, that "As often as we eat this bread, and drink the cup, we proclaim the Lord's death, until He comes."
As He did, we need to endure to the end;
"Preach the word, be ready in season and out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction...be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an Evangelist, and fulfil our ministry"
So that like Paul we can say with confidence that we have:
"Fought the good fight, finished the course, and kept the faith, and in the future there will be laid up for us the crown of righteousness, which the Lord will award to us on that day."