‘Perils in the wilderness’

“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 the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren” (2 Corinthians 11:25-26, NKJV).

Paul’s list of his sufferings while preaching the Gospel are absolutely amazing. The experiences cited above are only a relatively small part of the full list found in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29. One who reads that account might well feel shame to complain about inconveniences and minor persecutions suffered today.

Yet while the extent of Paul’s experience surpasses that of most others, the fact of suffering and danger is a common, expected aspect of the Christian life. Paul promised, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).

We not only are to expect to suffer, we are to enjoy the experience:

“And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

God does not prevent suffering, but he does promise that we will benefit from suffering in his name through spiritual growth and greater faith and strength. As someone has said, “What does not kill us makes us strong.”

I had a new, first-time experience recently. On my return from a trip into the Himalayan mountains of Nepal we were stopped by a rock slide that temporarily closed the road. When some men cleared a few of the smaller rocks a path was made for our 4-wheel-drive vehicle to get through the remainder of the rubble. Our group got out of the car and walked across, leaving the driver to bring the lighter, more maneuverable empty vehicle across more easily. As we crossed however, we dodged rocks that were continually falling.

I had never before passed through a landslide that was actually “in progress.” That is an eerie feeling and not one I am anxious to repeat. It was necessary — we had no other real choice — but I now can relate a little more closely to the Apostle’s “perils in the wilderness.”

We live in a dangerous world where many bad things can happen. Some are accidental or coincidental, the product of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Others are the result of malice and evil intent on the part of enemies. There is really no way to insure our safety, regardless of the efforts we make. Do what we may, good people will continuously suffer (and so will bad people).

The most productive thing we can do in this regard is to face perils while doing what we should be doing, while pursuing that which is eternally worthwhile. Paul was more than willing to face all of those dangers, if he did so in order to preach the gospel of Christ to those who were lost.

On Paul’s return from his third missionary journey the prophet Agabus predicted that he would be imprisoned in Jerusalem (Acts 21:10-11). His companions begged him not to go to that city (verse 12). Paul replied,

“What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13).

Let us strive to have that same attitude. We will face danger, whatever we do. How much better to face it for the most worthwhile cause man can have?

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