Suffering – an instrument of God

Two thirds of the way through his letter to the church of Galatia, the apostle Paul reminds the believers of the circumstances through which he first met them. Now, years later, Paul writes; I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel (Galatians 1:6). Sadly, a major shift in the beliefs of the church had occurred because of false brothers secretly brought in to the assembly of Christians with infectious error (Galatians 2:4).

Consequently, Paul’s letter to the Galatians is serious, it’s bluntly to the point as he addresses real compromise and error. Mixed into all the distorted issues that Paul addressed, was the matter of his validity as an apostle, as the messenger of the gospel to Galatia. Because Paul did not come up to the superficial standards of the erroneous ‘super apostles’ (2Co 11:5; 12:11), some were calling everything about Paul into question. So, Paul reminds the Galatians of the God ordained circumstances that brought him into their lives initially, and how they responded to him. It was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first (Galatians 4:13).

Paul had become so sick on his first missionary journey that he diverted to Galatia for a period of recovery. For God to bring the gospel to that area, there was to be no miracle of healing for Paul. Seriously sick with an illness that we are uncertain of, Paul admits that his condition was a trial to them (Gal 4:14a). Yet, overcoming any possible prejudice against him, Paul says they did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus (Gal 4:14b). So compassionate were they, that Paul says if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me (Gal 4:15b). Whatever the illness, it must have severely dimmed Paul’s eyesight, which, for a scholarly man like Paul, would have been debilitating.

Despite violent public rejection, persecutions, and serious physical illness, Paul continued to preach the gospel of Jesus, and a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed (Acts 14:1). Had there been no persecution, no debilitating sickness, and no prolonged suffering for Paul, the church would never have been birthed in that area. Through the inscrutable grace of God, which defies the sensibility of sinful mankind, salvation was enabled in many lives, carried by the gospel enabled vehicle of Paul’s suffering.

At another time, Paul explained to the Corinthians, having asked God three times to remove the thorn in his flesh; God replied No! “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” was the Lord’s response (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul was not a masochist, and yes, he would have preferred suffering to be removed, as do we. But Paul quickly realised the wisdom of God in using His people through the small to great struggles of life to deliver His life giving grace to others.

Our lives, like those in biblical history, are often empowered through suffering to glorify God in ways we never imagined possible. Unsought opportunities for sharing the gospel, living the love of Christ before others, speaking encouragement into struggling believers, or for teaching the truth of God’s Word, are usually provided throughout our suffering. As always, we need to recognise these opportunities for what they are, a grace gift from God waiting to be explored for His glory, and for the blessing of others and ourselves.

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