Acts 14: 19-22
We can deduce from our Bibles that the Christian life is not going to be an easy one. Jesus made this very plain. What is the figure that He used to underscore the pain and suffering of the child of God? Six times He uses the cross: pick up a cross. He wanted us to know that the cross is part of true discipleship. The apostles understood what our Lord was teaching; when they write their epistles they also pick up several graphic images to show that it isn’t going to be easy. What pictures do the apostles give us? The picture of a pilgrim, an athlete, a soldier. Paul uses at least three athlete images – the runner, the wrestler and the boxer. The dominant figure he uses is probably the soldier to describe suffering or perseverance in the Christian life.
So, Paul wants us to know that the Christian life is not going to be easy. Here in Acts 14 we see that Paul knew this on an experiential level. What I find interesting from this passage is that Paul is stoned, beaten so badly he is left for dead. What does he do the next day? Take some R&R? Go on a month’s sabbatical? No, he’s back preaching. He probably has bandages, bruises and scars but he’s preaching. In verse 20, Paul wants to encourage the disciples and strengthen them, preparing them for future persecution. He tells them, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” He has suffered, and he wants to prepare them for suffering. Remember what he says in Timothy 3:12, “The godly shall suffer persecution.”
Samuel Rutherford gives a small commentary on Acts 14:20. He says, “Christian, do not be afraid of suffering for Christ.” We need suffering; it comes hand in hand with our identification with Christ. He says, “You cannot be above your Master, who received many strokes.” He goes on to explain why we all must suffer; why it is part and parcel with Christian life and experience. “Faith grows more with the sharp winter storm in its face. Grace withers without adversity. You can’t sneak quietly into heaven without a cross. Crosses form us into His image. They cut away the pieces of our corruption.” Then he makes this his prayer, “Lord, carve, wound, cut. Do anything to perfect Your image. Do anything to fit me for glory.” This is something we should pray – that God would use our trials to fit us for heaven and bring us into greater conformity to Christ. Rutherford ends on a positive note, saying, “Be assured God will take care of you. Lay all your loads by faith on Christ. Let Him bear all. He can, He does, He will bear you. The softest pillow will be given to your head when you must place your feet on thorns.” We can always be thankful no matter what the trial, that God is using it to mold us into the image of His Son.