(Part 5 of a series on God’s comfort in affliction)
Part 1: God’s Mercy and Comfort
Part 2: The Who and Why of Comfort
Part 3: Sharing Christ’s Sufferings
Part 4: Depending on God
He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.
God could just as easily not have delivered Paul here. Paul could have been killed in Ephesus by angry mobs — or anywhere. Indeed in his ministry travels, he was stoned and left for dead, but by God’s grace, he got up again and returned to the place to preach more [Acts 14:19-20]. The word in Greek for “deliver” here is rhýomai, to draw or rescue a person to and for the deliverer. What that means then is God delivered Paul because He had a continuing purpose for Paul; He was not finished with him yet.
And that didn’t preclude Paul suffering more for the gospel. In fact, by saying that he has an ongoing (present and future) hope of deliverance, Paul is basically saying he expects continued suffering and tribulation from preaching the gospel. And his only hope to be delivered from it again rests in God. This is his great comfort.
So simply because Paul was delivered (essentially from death) here doesn’t mean God would not allow him to get to this point again. Think about his imprisonment in Philippians 1:12ff. He speaks of being in prison (i.e., he was suffering!) as being for the greater progress of the gospel [verse 12] and of Christ being exalted by this suffering (his chains) [verse 20]. In the midst of this trial, Paul says that it glorified God for him to be in prison and that it led to the further spread of the gospel.
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God allowed the opposition in Ephesus and the imprisonment for Paul. And He allows suffering for us as well so that we set our hope on God and not, as the previous verse says, on ourselves. Paul had a right perspective and expectation about suffering and so can we.
Help in Prayer
Verse 11 raises such an interesting question to ponder: how does prayer fit into our relationship with God? Now, I can hardly expect to fully answer such an immense question in a short blog post; however, a few points come to mind:
- God delivers in His time: Through the believers’ prayers and Paul’s subsequent deliverance, thanks and praise belonged to God. Note that God often delays our deliverance for the purpose of refining us in the suffering we endure, just as we see Him refining Paul here and focusing Paul’s gaze upon Him.
- Trust in God: Though their prayers were very likely for Paul’s deliverance and protection, even Paul would have said, “in every way, simply entrust me into God’s hands, no matter what the outcome.” We trust God for what He knows is best, not necessarily what we think should happen.
- Be encouraged in distress: It was a great encouragement for Paul to know that many people were praying for him during his troubles. Sometimes we are so pressed down by what we’re dealing with in life, we have a hard time praying for ourselves. That’s when we need the support of knowing others are praying for us.
- Admit our need for God: One of the effects of prayer is “creating in ourselves a right attitude with respect to God’s will.” [Christian Theology, Millard Erickson, 431] This right attitude means that we admit our dependence upon God. We acknowledge our need for His strength, mercy, and comfort.
Well written piece on the subject of trusting in the Lord through trials and tribulations, and of using our suffering to further a greater cause. Now I have to go and read or re-read the other parts.
The power of prayer is awesome indeed, even if we are not in a position to be praying for ourselves. It helps in such cases to know that others are praying for you.
One of my favorite examples of that power is in the old testament story of Moses lifting his hands heavenward and Joshua and other soldiers of Israel in the midst of battle overcoming their foes. In contrast, when Moses’ hands grew tired and he let them fall Joshua and Israel suffered. So, two of Moses’ companions helped him lift his hands heavenward, and the victory at last went to Israel (Exodus 17:10-13).
It goes to show that one need not be a Moses in order to make a difference. Whether we are on the front lines of the fight or whether we only watch the fight from a distant hilltop, each of us would have a role to play.
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Hi Harry, yes! Great example of how we can get fatigued in the middle of battle and need people to literally “lift” us up in prayer. That brings to mind how Paul talked about the body of Christ all being interdependent [1 Corinthians 12], how the eye cannot say to the hand, I don’t need you and so on. We all have gifts and strengths in different areas, designed to help edify and build each other up.
Thanks for your comment and kind interest/appreciation of the series.