Courage Under Fire
Paul teaches that suffering isn't something we should willingly seek, but when it comes upon us, that God can give us courage.
Morning. My name is David Sorn. I’m the lead pastor here at Renovation Church.
We’re talking about courage this morning. But what is courage?
I read a story recently…that maybe…you could describe as courage:
There was a biologist from Alaska named Earl Fleming who wanted to objectively investigate whether or not brown bears actually attack humans.
So he decided that whenever he would encounter a brown bear, he would never run or shoot. He would just stand there.
Now, what is that?
Courage? Bravery? Stupidity?
You can debate that all you want… But the one thing you can’t debate is the fact that you can’t have COURAGE without suffering or at least the imminent risk of suffering.
By the way, at the end of his study, he had encountered 81 brown bears, and although several staged mock charges, not one actually attacked.
This morning we want to look at…what is Godly courage?
Where does it come from?
This morning, we are continuing in the Book of Acts in the Bible, and we’re going to look at two connected topics in today’s passage.
For one, we’re going to look at suffering. How necessary is it? Should we seek it out?
And then secondly, when you do suffer, how in the world do you find courage?
The Book of Acts is the 5th book in the New Testament, and is the story of how the early church got started after Jesus ascended back into heaven.
Believe it or not, we’ve been on again, off again, studying verse-by-verse through the Book of Acts for almost 2 years now.
We started in October of 2010.
Don’t grow weary though…we are actually going to finish this fall.
If you’re new, or you were gone last week when THE Jon Vaala started us off in Acts again, here’s the 30-second recap.
The apostle Paul has now returned to Jerusalem after bringing the gospel to the Gentiles (non-Jews) all over the place.
And even though he had done nothing wrong, and had just brought a massive offering for the poor in Jerusalem, the Jews seize Paul and try to beat him to death.
A Roman commander steps in and allows Paul to speak to the raging crowd.
Last week, Jon spoke about Paul’s speech to the crowd.
At the end of his speech, Paul says this:
(Acts 22:21) – NIV
“Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ ”
Which, we’re going to see in a moment, isn’t going to go over well with the crowd
Okay, let’s dive into today’s passage.
If you’d like to follow along, you can do so in a myriad of ways
Under your chair, is a Bible…PAGE 904
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Or YouVersion App
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(Acts 22:22-29) – NIV
22 The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!” 23 As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the commander ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and interrogated in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. 25 As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?” 26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. “What are you going to do?” he asked. “This man is a Roman citizen.” 27 The commander went to Paul and asked, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?” “Yes, I am,” he answered. 28 Then the commander said, “I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship.” “But I was born a citizen,” Paul replied. 29 Those who were about to interrogate him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.
NO UNNECESSARY SUFFERING
Okay, so what’s going on here?
The Roman Commander is so puzzled that the Jews are so mad…I mean they were flinging dust in the air for goodness sakes…
that he apparently decides he’s going to interrogate Paul and figure out what the problem is.
And rather than just…I don't know…ask Paul what the problem is…he decides he’s going to go all Jack Bauer on the guy and beat it out of Paul.
So just as they’re literally stretching Paul out to be flogged…which by the way…is not just your average “dad out by the toolshed” sort of flogging
The flogging they’re talking about here is a scourging.
Which was basically where they took a whip of leather thongs that had pieces of bone or metal attached to it that would rip open your skin.
So Paul’s about to encounter immense suffering for Christ, and he says, “Hey commander…question for you…is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty yet?”
Which by the way, it totally wasn’t. They had a law that while Roman Citizens could be flogged as punishment if they were convicted, but they were exempt from flogging as a method of inquiry.
In other words, they couldn’t torture him to figure out what the problem was.
But this all brings up an interesting question: Should Christians seek suffering?
The Book of Acts details a lot of Christians who suffer greatly for the cause of Christ…many of our heroes of faith suffered for Christ…and Jesus himself…suffered for us on the cross.
And often, when we see Christians who suffer, they seem to rejoice in it.
(Acts 5:41) – NIV
The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.
It almost seems like they make suffering out to be a good thing?? Like…you’re extra holy if you suffer for Jesus!
And believe it or not (you may have never even thought of this before) but this has been a confusing topic to Christians throughout the centuries.
It quickly became a confusing thing in the Christian church. So quickly, that by the 2nd century, many Christians were willingly SEEKING OUT ways they could suffer for Christ, so they could suffer for Him…be closer to Him.
Although the fervent desire for suffering died down a little bit, it had a strong resurgence again in the Middle Ages
Many Christians would punish themselves for their sins by different forms of self-mortification.
They would whip themselves, force themselves to do excessive manual labor, go without sleep, etc.
Some would even wear penitential robes under their everyday clothing (some would wear a hairshirt which caused extreme discomfort…others even wore metal that would tear their skin) so they would learn to suffer with Christ.
The idea was that we must punish our bodies to train them and teach them not to so willingly embrace sin.
“AND…they thought that participation in the sufferings of Christ promised a part in his glory.
Now, like when a lot of things get twisted, there’s a blurring of a truth here
For one, the Bible does call us to a difficult life. The narrow road. To pick up our cross and follow Christ.
And even calls us to sometimes experience deprivation in our bodies to learn to follow the Spirit (say…like fasting).
However, while the command to fast is incredibly clear in Scripture…commands to seek out physical pain in suffering are completely absent.
The second part of the confusion is that you have these apostles that were HAPPY to suffer for Christ.
To be counted worthy of suffering…because they felt that if Jesus suffered so deeply for them, if God could use their suffering for His glory, then so be it.
BUT, it was this idea that, yes, suffering sometimes happens (and when it does, God can use it), but seeking it out doesn’t make us any holier.
And suffering isn’t something we need to willingly embrace or seek out.
And that’s what’s so evident in today’s passage.
They are about to flog Paul, and he GETS OUT OF IT…by saying, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen??”
He gets out of it. He didn’t’ want to unnecessarily suffer for no reason.
Paul knew, and so did the other apostles, that if suffering should come to them, if they should have to suffer for His name, then they would do so gladly, because Christ suffered for us, and He could use it for the Glory of his name.
But they’re not going to go looking for it! And if they can avoid it, they’re going to avoid it.
But maybe you’re thinking, “David, why are you even talking about this? Since we don’t live in the Middle Ages, is this even relevant beyond it’s what today’s verses in Acts are talking about?”
I believe it is. Because I believing there are a growing number of people in Christianity who think it’s again ok to seek suffering or to use suffering as a way to train our bodies to follow the Spirit.
For example…Even the last Pope, Pope John Paul II, is said to have had a particular belt he used to whip himself with and slept on a bare floor to bring himself closer to Christ.
Even Mother Teresa sometimes wore a strap secured around her thigh that inflicted pain with inward-pointing spikes.
And this is not the middle ages…these are 2 of the most famous Christians of the last 50 years.
In some countries around the world, they literally half-crucify people on Good Friday, so they can “connect with Christ’s suffering”
And all comes out of a lack of truly understanding the Biblical perspective of suffering…which we see in Acts today.
Even Evangelical Christians today sometimes try and punish their sins with a sort of behavioral psychology of suffering.
It some ways, I see how we can get there. Here’s how I think we take a wrongful leap.
We parent in this way so often.
Ok, say your 3 year old is constantly punching your cat.
At first…it was funny. You even put it on YouTube.
But eventually, let’s say you feel bad for your cat, and you want to teach your child not to give into his “fleshly” “bodily urges” to punch cats
What are you going to do?
With an outwardly bad behavior, most of us turn to punishment.
We go all SuperNanny on the kid, and give him a 3 minute timeout, well, because he’s 3. Cute.
And we do this for 1,000 different things.
We curb our wrong behaviors by punishment.
And it isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
However, it isn’t how we grow in Christ.
Yet, people try to. When they struggle with sin…sometimes they punish themselves.
I’ve heard of people who are struggling with issues like sexual sin, and they whip themselves with a rubber band on their wrist every time they lust.
Or they pay $30 into the pot every time they look at porn
Many others have turned to self-infliction.
Cutting is unfortunately on an exponential rise in the US among teens and young adults.
Both as an outlet for self-punishment…and also relief.
But we’re never going to grow in Christ by punishing ourselves with our pocketbooks, by hurting ourselves, by forcing ourselves to work longer when we sin, by forcing ourselves to sit and read the Bible for 2 hours because you missed church for 2 weeks…or whatever.
You’re never going to guilt yourself into a better relationship with God
And I think part of the reason we don’t notice how silly of a concept this is, because we sometimes tend to over-glorify suffering in Christianity.
Many of the examples we used earlier are from Catholicism, but even in Evangelical Christianity, we are guilty of over-glorifying suffering.
We write books on the “Voice of the Martyrs” and we tell gruesome stories…and we talk about suffering like it is the ultimate holiness.
Again, Paul teaches us today that God can use suffering, yes, we shouldn’t deny Christ, but we shouldn’t go around seeking it out
And it might seem like a crazy thought now, but a false perspective on suffering is what allowed even Christian leaders over the centuries to justify things as ridiculous as Slavery, underpaid workers, extreme poverty, spousal abuse, etc.
Often in the name of…well, I know there a slave, but in the life they were given, and in their suffering, they shall learn to be like Christ.
And that’s why I believe the first part of today’s passage…although it seems like just some insignificant passage on the fact that Paul was a Roman citizen, always needs to be a key safeguard for the Church for all time.
Because God clearly shows us, in this passage, that He’s not interested in us seeking out suffering just for the sake of suffering.
THE PASSAGE - PART TWO
But what if suffering should come your way, and it’s unavoidable? How do you handle it? How do you find courage?
And for this, I believe there is so much wisdom shown to us just in the life of Paul
Let’s finish today’s passage:
(Acts 22:30 – 23:10) – NIV
30 The commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews. So the next day he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the members of the Sanhedrin (explain) to assemble. Then he brought Paul and had him stand before them. Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.” 2 At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!” 4 Those who were standing near Paul said, “How dare you insult God’s high priest!” 5 Paul replied, “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: ‘Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.’” (explain) 6 Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” 7 When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. 8 (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.) (give congress health care example) 9 There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. “We find nothing wrong with this man,” they said. “What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” 10 The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.
And although our hero Paul, brilliantly maneuvers himself out of trouble, not once, but twice today, let’s not forget that there’s still a good chance, he doesn’t make it out alive.
Sure, they’re going to take him back to the barracks, but they could just as well kill him tomorrow.
Or the commander does away with Him. Or whatever.
Can you imagine going back to barracks that night? We can imagine Paul breathing this intense sigh of relief followed by a “What now?!?”
It’s almost like: “(Breathe out)….Well, Lord, almost died TWICE today…but now what?”
And in the midst of this GREAT, great suffering, this happens: Look at the final verse from our passage today:
(Acts 23:11) – NIV
11 The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”
COURAGE UNDER FIRE
What an amazing thing! Not only at one of his darkest, and definitely loneliest moments, does God come and comfort Paul, but He tells him…I’ve got more in store for you buddy!
See, Paul had always wanted to go to Rome and preach the gospel.
It was a dream of his to go to the epicenter of the Roman empire and share the gospel.
He talks his hope to go to Rome in Romans 1:10-15.
But it had never worked out.
And now he’s told, God’s going to bring Him there!
And maybe you’re in a place right now….where you could just use some courage. You maybe even feel like you’re under fire.
You’re having a tough time living for God.
You want to do the right things and follow Him, but nobody around you is.
How do you find the courage to do it?
Or, maybe you’re like Paul in a different way…you’ve just gone through some pretty tough suffering. Let’s just be honest, life’s been hard.
You’re like Paul, sitting at the end of the night going…. ”(SIGH), What do I do now?”
Despite what Christians too often try and say…Life is not easy. It’s sometimes really difficult.
And there are different times in all of our lives, where we just need some Godly courage to proceed.
To keep strong in our faith. To keep sharing about God in the midst of opposition.
Or courage to just keep going. To get out of bed in the morning.
But the TRUE Courage that we all need…is something that is given from God.
Which is one thing our society rarely comprehends.
We teach our children to be Brave! Be strong!
Disney and Pixar just came out with a new movie called “Brave!”
We’re taught that if we just believe in ourselves, we’ll make it through!
But we learn as adults, that we’ve been believing in ourselves the whole times, and we just fell flat on our faces.
Or suffering came and whipped us around a few times anyway
We’re living in a generation where we’re teaching our children to be brave in the wrong things…and we subsequently are believing it ourselves.
See, when life gets difficult, we’re not meant to find courage somewhere “deep inside of us…”
We’re meant to find courage…OUTSIDE Of US.
HE is the one who gives us strength to go on in the face of opposition, or fear, or pain, or any sort of suffering.
Just like He did with Paul, He came, and in a dark moment of his life, He comforted him.
Paul’s not sitting in the barracks going, “Wow, that was one of the worst days of my life…but you can do it Paul! I believe in you!!”
NO! Courage comes from GOD!
God even gives him (and God does this sometimes) something to hold onto for the future.
Paul had to be SO comforted in knowing He was going to live out his dream and make it to Rome.
I’m sure that comforted him many, many times in the tough years still to come in his life.
But maybe you’re thinking…David…I’m in that tough spot you’re talking about. I need some courage to step out for Christ…or to just keep on keeping on…but God isn’t showing up in my room right now.
I’m not hearing anything. I’m not feeling anything. Nothing…Nada…Zilcho.
Here’s what I would say the Bible teaches us, not just in this passage, but from the whole narrative of Acts:
Yes, God does come in the barracks and speak to Paul on that night…
But did He speak to Him like that all the time? NO.
Is He always showing up with dreams, visions, and the audible voice?NO
We can imagine that Paul probably had some pretty dry times with God as did so many other heroes of faith in Scripture.
BUT, there were a few certain times in Paul’s life where God spoke to Paul VERY, VERY clearly.
A couple of times early on in his walk with God…. OR…
In Acts 18, the Jews were abusing him in Corinth, and God spoke to him
(Acts 18:9-10) – NIV
9 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.”
Later on in Paul’s life, when it looks like he’s going to die in a shipwreck, God comes to Him, and assures Him that He will live.
But for the vast majority of His life…it probably wasn’t like that.
If you’ve read C.S. Lewis’ the Chronicles of Narnia…it’s a bit like Aslan (who’s the Christ-figure in the story).
He just kind of shows up at different times.
But there are plenty of times when the characters are in plenty of hurt, that He doesn’t show.
And sometimes that’s hard for us as Christians.
We’re suffering. We need courage now! Not later. Now!
Where is God? Where are you? Where were you when everything was falling apart?!?
And some of those questions are unanswerable. We might not ever know this side of heaven, why God sometimes shows up to give us great courage…and other times, it appears that He’s silent.
Perhaps He wants us to struggle through searching for Him…perhaps He is growing us through this time of struggle.
But that’s not to say that He doesn’t show up either in times of great trial.
“IN pastoring people through difficult times, I find that it often IS indeed in the darkest hours that God does come & give us great, great courage!
But my challenge to you today, if you are in need of courage, of bravery, to go forward again in your life, that you seek it out in GOD.
Don’t just look to find it in yourself as the world tells you.
ASK GOD, the Creator of Courage, to give you courage.
Seek Him Out. Call on Him.
You can come, even this Thursday, and seek Him at Worship night. Seek Him Out.
And even if He doesn’t answer on your own agenda & time, remember the past.
That He is Good. He’s been Good in your life. He’s been faithful before, He’ll be faithful again.
Don’t let your determined sense of timing cause you to look for courage elsewhere.
He will come. He is God.
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
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