Left for Dead: Teaching Suffering by Example

The apostle Paul only had one gear: full-speed. Wherever he went, he looked to communicate the message of Jesus to people who had never heard it before, often with mixed results. Sometimes he won people over; sometimes the city rejected his message, violently.


During one of his journeys, Paul stops in a town called Lystra. Unfortunately, enemies from other cities he visited him follow him there. When they arrived, “They stoned Paul and dragged him out of town, thinking he was dead. But as the believers gathered around him, he got up and went back into the town. The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe” (Acts 14:19b-20). 


Let’s review: Paul is beaten within an inch of his life. But when he regains consciousness, his first move is to go back into the same town where people just tried to kill him. I don’t know about you, but I would have left town immediately, went home to Jerusalem, turned in my missionary badge, retired and gone on a speaking tour about my brush with death in Lystra.


Paul does no such thing. He moves on to Derbe and does the same thing he’s been doing all along, teaching people how to follow Jesus. And when he’s done in Derbe, where does he go? Back to Lystra, the place of the attack.


Acts 14:21b-22 says, “Paul and Barnabas returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch of Pisidia, where they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.”


Why does Paul return to a hot zone, the very zip code where his life was threatened? He did it to strengthen the fledgling church there. And he does this by encouraging them to stay the course and reminding them the road to the Kingdom of God was paved with hardships.


If anyone is equipped to preach about courage under fire, it’s Paul. Depending on how long it took Paul to complete his Derbe mission, it’s possible Paul still has visible scars, bruises, marks or limps from the attack. When people preach about prosperity, their audience expects them to do so from a gilded pulpit, in tailored suits with perfect hair. And when someone preaches about staying true in the midst of hardship, we want them to be battle tested. Suffering isn’t something we learn in a classroom. We learn about it in the trenches. We want our instructors to be vets who have survived similar battles.


So, if you’re going to encourage someone who’s suffering (and make no mistake, suffering is a guaranteed part of following Jesus), lead with your scars.


Craig Custance