We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed . . . (2 Cor. 4:7-12).
What the jailers might have noticed first was his back.
The scars crisscrossed, some seeming older than others. Over the years his skin had been shredded and healed only to be shredded again. Guards who recognized what those scars meant might have marveled that this man was still alive. We too should marvel at what the apostle Paul endured as a servant of Jesus Christ.
In one of his letters Paul gave an account of what following Jesus had meant for him. He didn’t like talking about these things; it sounded like boasting. Nevertheless, in a defense of his ministry, Paul reluctantly shared that serving Christ had meant great labor, imprisonment, countless beatings, and had nearly cost him his life more than once. He continued:
Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea . . . I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked (2 Cor. 11:24-27).
If the Roman guards responsible for Paul had taken note of his scars and marveled in his survival, their deeper amazement would have been in the man himself. Given what Paul endured one might have expected to find a man broken and bitter. Such was not the case. What was most noticeable about Paul – far more noticeable than his back – was his life. The man was in chains, but remarkably free. He had been beaten, but he was not broken.
How is this possible? This question will occupy our thinking for next three weeks. Our primary text will be Paul’s letter from prison written to the Philippians. Alongside Paul’s letter we will place the story of another prisoner. Louis Zamperini enlisted in the Air Force in September 1941. He was held in a Japanese prison camp from 1942-1945, enduring repeated brutalities. His story is told in the best-seller by Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken. Again, that this man is still alive is a marvel.
Both Paul and Zamperini have incredible stories to tell – but so do you. Every life eventually involves something that pushes us to the point of breaking. Apart from our own choosing we find ourselves living through something and wondering how long we can last or how much more we can take.
Paul said, “We are hard pressed but not crushed.” How are you hard pressed these days? What has pushed you to almost breaking, giving in or giving up, accepting despair as reality and joy as a foolish expectation?
The message you’ll read over and over again in the coming weeks is that to live by grace is to live unbroken. And you can begin to live that way today.
Merciful God, we do not ask for lives marked by ease but for lives marked by grace. Grant that in every hardship and affliction we might discover more of you and thus live as ‘unbroken’ people. By your Spirit, give us peace and joy in every circumstance, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.