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5 Ways Paul’s Struggles Can Help Us Understand Perseverance in Faith

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The apostle Paul’s letters can seem to exude confidence, as they are written with authority and well-meaning advice. Often, Paul wrote about finding joy and clinging to faith even in difficult times, and his verses rank high on many people’s lists of favorite scriptures.

But a number of people don’t know the same man who wrote so passionately about faith penned many of his letters from prison. Paul was once an enemy of Christians (Acts 8:3). Then he had a transformational experience and became instrumental in spreading the Good News about Christ to non-Jews throughout Greece, Rome, and beyond (Acts 9:15, Acts 21:27-28). Many don’t understand he endured great hardship in his life and was arrested, shipwrecked, stoned, tortured, and ultimately executed for his beliefs.

Paul’s words on suffering, having been written by someone who knew suffering intimately, carry much weight. And his deeper points about perseverance in faith weigh even more given this.

Here are five ways Paul’s struggles can help us understand the importance of perseverance in faith.

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1. Paul’s Weakness Didn’t Stop Him from Sharing the Gospel

In 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, Paul shared about how he had a “a thorn” in the flesh, and how he’d begged God to take it away. But God did not do as Paul asked. So Paul chose to do his job despite his “thorn.”

We don’t know exactly what this thorn was—some scholars suspect a limp, blindness, a speech impediment, a particular temptation, or something else entirely—but whatever it was made him feel weak. Yet he came to see that God shining through mightily, despite his weakness, was a magnificent way to showcase God’s glory. And it propelled him toward even more fervent sharing – the kind of sharing that took a church from nascency to full-blown.

2. Paul Endured Even When He Knew What Was Coming 

Paul knew exactly what he was getting into when he chose to follow “The Way,” as Christianity was called at first. A devout Jew who’d once persecuted Christ-followers, Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus and was converted. He ultimately was responsible for writing about half the books of the New Testament and helped spread Christianity across Asia Minor. But Paul was hated by many people, not only Romans and Jews, but also fellow Christ-believers who adamantly disagreed with some of his teachings regarding cultural practices Gentile Christians did or did not need to follow.

Yet he knew what fate was ahead of him—he knew he’d encounter arrest and pain and other terrible difficulties. As Paul said in Acts 20:22-23, “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.”

And he said much the same to his young friend Timothy, reminding him to expect harassment and maltreatment, not welcome: “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12).

Paul knew hardship and worse, even death, lay ahead, yet he chose to cling to God in the center of his pain and press on. That’s commitment. That’s courageous faith.

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Hands holding the bars of a jail cell

3. Paul Made the Most of Every Opportunity

It was one thing when Paul was preaching to the crowds, but when he was locked up in prison awaiting trial, he could have just gone silent, hoping his obedience and cooperation would get him extra favors or early release. Instead, he kept up his evangelism efforts.

In his letter to the early church in Philippi, Paul said his imprisonment had a positive impact, for not only did the entirety of the palace guard know he was locked up for Christ, but it emboldened other Christians to step up their own evangelism efforts (Philippians 1:12-18).

He used his opportunity in prison for the greater good.

4. Paul Wasn’t Afraid to Die for Jesus

Paul knew his old life was over forever. When he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, everything changed. He understood he was a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). And because of that, he wasn’t afraid to die and even to endure suffering.

In Philippians 1:21-25, Paul wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith.”

And in Galatians 2:20, Paul wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

He knew if he kept the faith and pressed on, he’d receive his eternal reward in heaven (1 Corinthians 9:24-27, 2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Because of that, he didn’t fear death. He knew something much better awaited him when his earthly days were over.

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5. Paul Found Solidarity with Jesus in Hardship

Jesus told us He is “the way and the truth and the life”— no one comes to the Father but through Him (John 14:6). As Christians, we know we are to model Jesus. He taught us how to live and to love so we would understand how to represent Him.

In Luke 6:40, Jesus reminded us, “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” And in John 13:15, Jesus said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

Jesus is our example. When Jesus died on the cross for our sins, it wasn’t easy. It was a horrible, tortuous, hours-long, agonizing way to die. He’d been betrayed by one of his closest friends, then taunted, beaten, whipped, mocked, stripped, and nailed to a cross. His suffering was brutal.

While Jesus didn’t say we, too, are to die on a cross just like He did, His sacrifice teaches us much about what it looks like to truly love one another, to go far and even suffer much—even to the point of death.

Paul understood this. The suffering he endured glorified God, but also reminded him of the suffering Jesus. He knew Jesus endured this for him—and for each one of us.

In Romans 12:1-2, Paul urged followers of Christs “to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

If we are indeed a living sacrifice, then we give it all up for the sake of the Lord. We will push ourselves to follow Him. That’s what Paul tried to do. In the trials Paul experienced, he seemed to understand his suffering was a way of being in solidarity with his savior, who sacrificed his all for each one of us.

As Paul wrote in Philippians 3:10-11, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

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Persevere in Your Own Faith

The apostle Paul’s letters are filled with wisdom, joy, encouragement, deep truths, and much more. And his lessons on perseverance, even through the most difficult of times, carry much weight for Christian believers.

Today, many Christians have never known the pain of persecution for their faith. But that doesn’t mean we should remain comfortable.

Our salvation is a gift, and it’s worth suffering, hardship, and other calamities to attain.

If you are in a place of doubt, lukewarm faith, or questioning, know that for some, following Jesus means a great deal of sacrifice. Paul’s letters can bring some much-needed insight into this.

More from this author
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5 Lies of Culture and How to Counter Them with Scripture
Would Jesus Prioritize Self-Care?

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Jessica Brodie author photo headshotJessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.

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