Paul: Integrity Stamped by Suffering

Reading in 2 Timothy this morning, I'm struck by these words of Paul to the young pastor he loved like a son: "Do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God" (2 Tim. 1:8 NIV).

My, how inviting: Join me in suffering. Not exactly the best offer of the day, is it. Certainly not what most of us would want for a loved one.

Imprisonment. Whippings. Stoning. Shipwreck. Assassination attempts. Tremendous opposition. Desertion by friends. Ultimately, execution under the Roman government. And through it all, prodigious concern for the welfare of fledgling churches across Asia. That's what Paul got in exchange for the career path he gave up as a Pharisee of Pharisees headed for success, prestige, comfort, and wealth as one of Israel's top religious intelligentsia.

Can we at all grasp how much Paul really sacrificed and suffered? If any of us have speculated that he was in it for some sort of temporal gain, all I can say is, open your eyes. The gospel utterly ruined any prospect of an easy life for the man.

And that, for me, underscores just how priceless the salvation of Jesus and the kingdom of God were to Paul. What he saw was so clear and so real to him, and of such infinitely surpassing value, that in contrast he referred to his losses and sufferings as "our light and momentary troubles" (2 Cor. 4:17 NIV).

The integrity of Paul's words and character is stamped not by his worldly acquisitions but by his sacrifices and suffering. "Join me in these," he exhorted Timothy. "Take up the torch. It'll be worth it. You just can't imagine how far the reward exceeds the pain."

Lord, help us to see that. Grant us grace. In this day, in this live-for-now, self-obsessed world, grant us a pilgrim's vision of a better city "whose architect and builder" is God" (Heb. 11:10).