Category Archives: Series

Does God really say His way is easy? (revisited)

question

Coworker and friend, mediocre coffee, sent me a great rebuttal, if you will, to my conclusion in my recent post series to answer this question.  After reading it, I see it as a far better way to explain why that bottom-right quadrant can say “easy” in comparison with the speaker’s flawed Scripture reference.  It also does a great job explaining why God’s way is better than ours, which is something I purposely glossed over in my series while instead focusing on demonstrating how God said His way would be a difficult one to follow.  Anyway, I’ll stop blabbing and let mediocre coffee speak for himself.

 

Mr. Nuclear, I understand your point about the diagram and I happen to agree with your thesis.  I believe the central idea is that God never declares in His Word that living life His Way will be easy.  However, I believe the diagram still works as shown.  I have a few points supporting how the diagram does work.  I felt that this rebuttal was long enough that it should not clog up the comments column in your blog.  However, being an expert in writing 20 page academic papers and a novice in the blogosphere I will try to keep this somewhat short and perhaps even capricious.  Basically, I am stating my excuse to use sweeping statements and backing them with fleeting examples. Ha!

 

gods_way_chart

 

The first thing I would like to show is why the diagram in question is adequate.  The diagram does not make any sense if the fourth quadrant changes from “Easy” to “Hard” which you propose to do.  That would be like stating God views our way exactly as difficult as His Way.  Why then would a God encourage us to follow His Way if there is no end benefit that surpasses the immediate cost?  Here is some text from Deuteronomy 8:2-7.

“Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the LORD your God disciplines you. Observe the commands of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and revering him. For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land…”

The Israelites thought many times that God was making them wander in the desert for no reason.  They thought the “discipline” of the Lord was too hard and pointless.  What they forgot is that, they experienced miracles on a daily basis while they were in the desert (manna, clothes that lasted 40 years, etc.).  After God saw them through the “hard” desert part, He also gave them an “easy” land that was more plentiful than they had ever seen.

 

You gave a few examples of people who suffered for Christ.  Consider also Jonah, who tried to go his own way and was swallowed by a whale.  Then he decided to follow God and spoke the message that saved the entire city of Nineveh.  Also, didn’t Paul state all of his accolades and things that he had accomplished, however after seeing things God’s Way he considered them as rubbish (Philippians 3:1-11) because they encouraged his pride and discouraged his following Christ.  Look at the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).  The Son that went his own way did so because it seemed easier, but later found out that it was actually harder than originally thought.  He also realized that his Fathers way was easier and better than how he had been living.

 

I believe this is also a valid diagram because it describes why a person becomes a Christ follower.  I am going to assume (and let you further research on your own to see if this is a correct assumption or not, Matthew 7:11 perhaps) that every man has a perspective that can be described as short-term and selfish.  In contrast, I am going to assume that God’s perspective is eternal and holistic.  For each of the payoff squares above, isn’t each square just a cost/benefit analysis?  Then it comes down to which view has the most information or the correct information to discern which view is correct.  There is a parable in Matthew 13:44 that tells how a man sold everything he had to buy an unknown & unwanted field.  We would call that a bad decision because the cost outweighs the benefit.  However, he knew something that we did not.  He knew there were riches buried in the field.  So in truth, the benefits of buying the field outweighed the cost.  Now the Bible declared Jesus as the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).  If God’s perspective is full of truth and our perspective is made up of partial-truths and biases, then God’s perspective is the correct one, no matter how ludicrous it seems to us humans at the time.  Proverbs 3:6 says “In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.”  God doesn’t promise to change any situation (whether the situation is fun, boring, difficult or easy) to make it “easier”. However God does promise to guide our steps to the best possible outcome in each situation.  Imagine a round of golf.  The golf course does not change.  It may be an “easier” or “harder” golf course, but more important is every decision the player makes on the course and leading up to the round of golf.  These decisions will actually determine how “easy” or “hard” the course plays.  So it is with life, there are many situations that we have no control over.  But we do control how we play the situation, using ‘our way’ or ‘HIS WAY’.

 

In conclusion, this is the heart of becoming and remaining “Christian”, a word which originally means Christ-follower.  At some point in life, and probably at multiple points, you will face a situation or a consequence in which you realize that doing things your way is not as easy as you thought.  In fact, you will see your way as the most difficult way because of the circumstances created by your actions.  At that moment, you will be able to see the truth.  You will have a glimpse of the world from God’s perspective.  Eventually you will learn, as I have learned and other Christ-followers have learned: God’s way may not be the easiest way from our perspective, but we can have confidence that it is and will be the best way.  And also the easiest over the course of time.

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Does God really say His way is easy? (final comments)

questionSo why did I go down this rabbit hole?  I guess God placed it on my heart the second I saw that diagram at the conference.  I wasn’t hearing the truth – I was hearing a watered-down version I couldn’t compare with my own experience in life.  If you’ll recall, the verse the speaker pointed to for briefly backing up his statement was in Matthew.

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

(Matthew 11:28-30)

Jesus says His yoke is easy, not ours, so was this speaker right about God saying His way was easy?  As I’ve demonstrated over the past ten posts, obviously things won’t be easy in this life, especially the more we walk in His ways as a disciple.  However, He promises here to give us rest.  Is it rest from the world?  Is it rest from the pain?  Look at who Jesus was really talking about…

1 Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so practice and observe whatever they tell you—but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.

(Matthew 23:1-4)

…it was the Pharisees, laying all these heavy burdens on the people through their rules.  They weren’t helping the people obey God – they were beating them down, while not following their own demands.  Remember how Jesus rebuked them earlier in Matthew.

1 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” 3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 5 But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” 6 he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. 7 You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: 8 “ ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ”

(Matthew 15:1-9)

This is what Jesus meant by His yoke being easy.  Not that we’d have no struggles in life, but that He would free us from the strangling rules of the Pharisees, from the strangling rules you find in whatever place you are.  Yes, even from the strangling rules those in the church today inevitably set up.  Peter was already witness to this during the first days of the church.

10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

(Acts 15:1-11)

Think we’re immune to those things occurring today?  I don’t believe that.  So how does Jesus give us rest from all this?  We are aware of our sins, and when we repent of them, Jesus clears our conscience and we have rest.  John sums this up in his letter.

3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

(1 John 5:3-5)

The Bible says we will suffer, but we have hope…

8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.

(2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

…and our hope is in God.

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 29 He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. 30 Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; 31 but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

(Isaiah 40:28-31)

John also says we will overcome the world.  We will one day have that rest forever – it won’t be a temporary thing.

4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

(Revelation 21:4-7)

One of my favorite songs these days flows from this passage (There Will Be a Day by Jeremy Camp).  I, for one, look forward to that day with no pain.

 

 

Before I leave you today, I’d like to return to the beginning of this post… that I went down this rabbit hole because I felt God’s message was being misstated.  Peter knew that many would try to distort God’s message, by the way.

14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. 15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

(2 Peter 3:14-18)

Let us not fall into the traps of this world.  You see, I think this conference speaker fell into one of these traps when simplifying God’s view of His way.  Perhaps he thought it would make the path of discipleship sound more palatable to us.  But it wasn’t the truth of God’s Word.  As the Bereans did with Paul and Silas…

10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

(Acts 17:10-11)

…and as Paul directed us in his first letter to the Thessalonians…

21 but test everything; hold fast what is good.

(1 Thessalonians 5:21)

…I’ve attempted to test one of the speaker’s statements, holding on to what was good from the rest of the conference, yet throwing out what God’s Word tells me is false.  Of course, you’ve got to do the same for anything I’ve written as well.  But, that’s your rabbit hole to go down now, not mine. ;)

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Does God really say His way is easy? (Part 10)

questionThis post will walk through how John’s books answer our question.  You may recall me mentioning tradition holds that all but one apostle was eventually martyred.  John is that apostle, as Jesus Himself appears to prophesy to Peter before ascending to Heaven.

18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” 20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who had been reclining at table close to him and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” 23 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”

(John 21:18-23)

It isn’t until 3 John where we find a message of persecution, and this time within the church itself.

9 I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. 10 So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. 11 Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.

(3 John 1:9-11)

John didn’t appreciate this man’s attitude.  This is a brief but simple example of even believers persecuting disciples.  Before we move to John’s Revelation, let’s follow the Bible Book Bop song, and “don’t forget Jude!”

17 But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.

(Jude 1:17-21)

Jude warns against listening to those who want to divide us.  We’re about to see that happen now in Revelation.  Whatever your view of end times is, John makes it clear that there will be struggle for those not following the world in the final days (though it will be even worse for the world).  In Revelation 11, we see two witnesses sent by God to preach in the final days, and though they are protected by God, they eventually fall to persecution.

7 And when they have finished their testimony, the beast that rises from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, 8 and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that symbolically is called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified. 9 For three and a half days some from the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb, 10 and those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them and make merry and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to those who dwell on the earth.

(Revelation 11:7-10)

God saves them through death, but even then He isn’t done.

11 But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood up on their feet, and great fear fell on those who saw them. 12 Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, “Come up here!” And they went up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies watched them.

(Revelation 11:11-12)

He wasn’t done demonstrating His glory.  But that doesn’t stop “the beast” from continuing to persecute God’s followers.

5 And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. 6 It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7 Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. 9 If anyone has an ear, let him hear: 10 If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.

(Revelation 13:5-10)

The beast will war with the saints – that doesn’t sound like an easy road for them to take.  And we quickly see what happen to those not taking the beast’s road.

15 And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.

(Revelation 13:15-17)

Those walking another way will be killed – will be locked out of even buying or selling – this way won’t be easy, and God knows it.

9 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, 10 he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” 12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. 13 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”

(Revelation 14:9-13)

And His angles say it will be worth persevering to the end, even as God saves them through death.  We eventually find Jesus coming to earth again to take care of the beast.

11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. 17 Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, 18 to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” 19 And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. 20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. 21 And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.

(Revelation 19:11-21)

What a great sight that must be to behold – Jesus returning in great triumph.  And those who were persecuted will give their testimonies against the beast.

4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

(Revelation 20:4-6)

Finally, God creates a new heaven and earth, and His people finally have rest from persecution.

3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

(Revelation 21:3-7)

And those who are not His people receive worse.

8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

(Revelation 21:8)

God saves us more than we can comprehend.  There is so much more Scripture to be searched to answer this question, but it seems fit to wrap it up tomorrow with some final comments.  See you then.

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Does God really say His way is easy? (Part 9)

question So let’s see how the letters of the New Testament answer this.  As I’ve noted previously, these are (at least to me) the first commentaries written on the Gospel.  If it isn’t obvious enough through the four gospels, these letters help to pass on Jesus’ message to us.  Let’s start with some passages from Paul in his letter to the Romans.

1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

(Romans 5:1-5)

Paul knows a big part of a disciple’s life will be suffering, but he also knows that it does us good…

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Romans 8:35-39)

…and he knows this suffering will not last forever…

8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

(Romans 10:8-13)

…and he knows by calling on God’s name, we will be saved…

11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

(Romans 12:11-12)

…and he knows we must keep to God’s path.

 

A.D.D. Moment: Isn’t it astonishing how consistent God’s message is to us throughout His Word?  No matter where I look, the message and answer to even my simple question is the same.  How much more so is God’s message of our need for repentance, for humility, for a Savior, the same throughout?  And all this written over centuries, including so much prophecy and fulfillment.  Kind of astounding once you finally submit to God and study His Word rather than rely solely on the musings of men.  Which is why you see so many quotes in all these posts… I sure hope you aren’t skipping the Scripture to read what I think.  What I think isn’t the important part.

 

So let’s jump to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  Here we find that persecution can even come from within the church itself.

10 I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

(1 Corinthians 1:10-17)

I have to believe this was one of those circumstances Jesus was praying for before His arrest.

15 I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.

(John 17:15)

Jesus prayed that they be protected by any of Satan’s wily deeds, in this case the division of the church (and we’ve seen how well believers continue to fall to that temptation over the past two millennia).  And to these believers, Paul notes to them the difference in expectations for a disciple.

8 Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! 9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. 10 We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.

(1 Corinthians 4:8-13)

And yet Paul tells them to “imitate me” (1 Corinthians 4:16), as it may be the harder way, but the better one.  And a better way it is…

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.

(1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

And we have a part in God’s work – a place along His path.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

(1 Corinthians 12:27-31)

Whatever our place, we must find it and follow it to receive these gifts.  God’s way is not easy, but it’s worth it.  In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he reminds them of the hardships to be endured by disciples.

4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; 7 by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8 through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

(2 Corinthians 6:4-10)

Their way is not an easy one, but they still rejoice.  But Paul doesn’t stop there.  As he works up to a fever pitch, he holds nothing back in chastising the Corinthians for their false words.  Brace yourself for this – not how Paul even knows he shouldn’t be talking like this.

21 To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

(2 Corinthians 11:21-29)

Paul must be tired.  He’s at his wit’s end with Corinth – enduring all these struggles abroad while they mess things up back home.  Is this the picture of an easy path?  I think not.

 

There’s plenty more from Paul, but let’s wrap this post up with letters from the others.  Though this first reference is from Hebrews, traditionally attributed to Paul, I understand from my commentaries that the author is simply unknown – so I’ll take the liberty to start with it.

32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; 38 but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” 39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

(Hebrews 10:32-39)

Whoever the author is, he understood that suffering was to be expected.  And he understood we were expected to persevere to the end.  Hebrews 11 is a great list of God’s servants who persevered and were saved – God’s Old Testament A-Team, if you will – and the author summarizes at the end that it could go on and on.

32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

(Hebrews 11:32-38)

And what message did God add here in Hebrews?  It’s not a new one, but it’s something I have been skipping all this time.  We must not only persevere against persecution, but also against temptations and sin.

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. 4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.  6 For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7 It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.

(Hebrews 12:1-13)

A.D.D. Moment: And that, right there, is the passage I’ve struggled over for the past 19 years.  Well… maybe not the only passage.

 

So how about we see what James has to say?  He really doesn’t take long to jump right in and answer our question.

2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. 9 Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10 and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. 11 For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits. 12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

(James 1:2-12)

James clearly expects disciples to undergo trials, and yet receive a reward for their endurance.  And he has even stronger words for us.

1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? 2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

(James 4:1-10)

We are not to shirk our duty to God by submitting to the world, but instead are to submit to God.  And as we found in Hebrews 12, James reiterates that we are to resist Satan’s snares.  One of James final notes reminds us again that this will be a difficult journey, but we are to persevere.

7 Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

(James 5:7-11)

I could go down a rabbit hold and review Job, but I’ll spare you.  What an exceptional exercise in suffering and eventual deliverance for one man to endure.  So finally, we come to Peter, who doesn’t miss a beat.

19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

(1 Peter 2:19-25)

Peter reminds us not only that disciples will suffer, but that Jesus came and underwent the same treatment before them.  He then reminds us to persevere.

13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.

(1 Peter 3:13-17)

And then he reminds us again.

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” 19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

(1 Peter 4:12-19)

Peter, eventually martyred in Rome, knew that God’s way wasn’t an easy one.  I suppose at this point (if you made it this far today) you may have noticed I left out the apostle John?  We’ll walk through his answers to the question in next post.

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Does God really say His way is easy? (Part 8)

question Paul is a great testimony to review to answer this question.  His testimony starts out as Saul, persecutor of the apostles, and God called him on it.

1 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”

(Acts 9:1-6)

Even before Saul could understand what was happening and start trusting God, God saved him.

17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized.

(Acts 9:17-18)

Saul was filled with the Spirit and he soon showed it.

20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.

(Acts 9:20-22)

And he was quickly noticed, soon undergoing the same persecution – as we should now expect when treading along God’s way.

23 When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.

(Acts 9:23-25)

But he was quickly saved.  And, as should be expected, he finally did land in prison.

19 But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. 20 And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. 21 They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. 24 Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

(Acts 16:19-24)

Paul and Silas did not have an easy time, suffering severe torture, and yet they don’t let it stop their trusting in God.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, 26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

(Acts 16:25-34)

They were allowed to suffer, but not for long, and what a glorious was for God to reveal Himself to others that night!  Years later, Paul was in trouble upon his return to Jerusalem.

27 When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, 28 crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” 29 For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. 30 Then all the city was stirred up, and the people ran together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. 31 And as they were seeking to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. 32 He at once took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. And when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.

(Acts 21:27-32)

Though Paul was warned by his friends not to enter Jerusalem, he trusted God and here he was.  As people were ready to kill him, God used even Roman soldiers to save him.  In fact, He soon used Paul’s Roman citizenship to save him.

22 Up to this word they listened to him. Then they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” 23 And as they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the tribune ordered him to be brought into the barracks, saying that he should be examined by flogging, to find out why they were shouting against him like this. 25 But when they had stretched him out for the whips, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it lawful for you to flog a man who is a Roman citizen and uncondemned?” 26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the tribune and said to him, “What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen.” 27 So the tribune came and said to him, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” And he said, “Yes.” 28 The tribune answered, “I bought this citizenship for a large sum.” Paul said, “But I am a citizen by birth.” 29 So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him immediately, and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him. 30 But on the next day, desiring to know the real reason why he was being accused by the Jews, he unbound him and commanded the chief priests and all the council to meet, and he brought Paul down and set him before them.

(Acts 22:22-30)

As Paul met with the Sanhedrin, he was soon in further trouble, but was saved again.

9 Then a great clamor arose, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party stood up and contended sharply, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” 10 And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks. 11 The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

(Acts 23:9-11)

Do you see that?  God rewarded Paul with a personal visit of reassurance.  But Paul had one more pit stop before his final stand in Rome, Caesarea.

24 And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” 25 But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. 26 For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” 28 And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” 29 And Paul said, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am—except for these chains.” 30 Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. 31 And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, “This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment.” 32 And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

(Acts 26:24-32)

Paul held fast to God’s way, and as a result, ended with a great ministry in the hub of the western world up until his martyr’s death.  Did Paul have an easy time following God’s way?  His path was met with hatred, imprisonment and torture.  But, his imprisonment itself allowed Paul to write some of his letters, which are further testimonies to the Gospel.  We’ll look at some of his letters as well as books from other apostles in next post to see how they answer our question.

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