Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Two Sides of one Strength

What does it mean to be strong? The longer I stay out of the gym, the more the feeling of being strong slips away from me. In the "World's Strongest Man" contests, strength is determined by how much you can lift or how much you can endure. Behemoths flip over tires or pull fire trucks and then hold barrels at arm's length or hold up a car containing a family. That strength is easy to measure and the path to building it is relatively straightforward.

Is that all there is to strength, though? In the examples above, strength is overcoming what is natural. Those tires lay flat on the ground on their own. Families in cars should remain with all four wheels on the ground. Paul overcomes what is natural too. (And I'm not just talking about raising a sleepy kid from the dead.)

When he talks with the Ephesian elders, he talks about what he did while he was among them. He says, "You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house." What would cause Paul to hesitate? The answer is in the rest of the statement. People don't always want to hear what they need to hear. But, Paul went ahead and told them anyway. It would be natural to desire affection and acceptance from the people of Ephesus, but Paul overcomes this natural desire and instead tells people what they need to hear. Do we do this? Do we stand up for what is right and good, or do we do what is natural and settle for acceptance and affection?

Next, Paul tells the elders that he's headed on to Jerusalem, to the unknown, "I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me." A short time ago, while in Corinth, Paul received a vision from God in which he was told that he could relax and feel safe there, that nothing would happen to him because God had a number of believers in the city who would protect him. It would have been natural for Paul to stay there - to stay where he was safe and life was easy and things were good. Not Paul. Paul overcomes the natural desire for safety and security and faces the dangers of the unknown.

That is strength. That is a more difficult task than flipping over a tire or lifting a car. Strongmen fight what's going on outside of themselves. Paul fought what was going on inside. He dedicated his life to it to such a degree that it defined him and became his only reason for being.

"However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord has given me - the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace."


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