Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. — 2 Corinthians 11:23
I am often amazed by people who say they want to be mightily used by God but yet are so “soft”! It doesn’t take much at all to ruffle these people’s feathers. A little inconvenience or discomfort is enough to upset them and start them complaining. And if they are asked to do a little extra work for free, they act like martyrs who are doing something extremely sacrificial!
If you’re going to do something mighty for God, you have to throw yourself into the call of God and do what is needed, regardless of whether or not it is convenient to you. The fact is, doing what God has called us to do must be paramount in our lives — more important than any comfort or pleasure. Like the examples we see in the lives of Jesus and the apostle Paul, we must be willing to do anything required or go to any length to do exactly what God has assigned to us.
Of course God wants His people to be blessed! But a believer shouldn’t start whining and complaining just because he runs into an attack of the devil that affects the level of comfort he is accustomed to. And if he’s asked to do a little more than what is usually asked of him, he shouldn’t start griping that the extra task is not a part of his job description. When a person does that, we can know that this is someone who will not do something mighty for God — at least not until he makes an adjustment in his attitude!
To push the forces of hell out of the way, you have to be more determined than hell itself. You have to be willing to do anything necessary to get the job done. The vision before you must be more important than your own personal pleasure. When you adopt this mentality for your life, you will always push through hard times and take significant territory for the Kingdom of God.
Paul then goes on to tell us more about his determined attitude to finish God’s call, regardless of what he has to do to finish it and the challenges he has to face on his way to victory.
Stripes Above Measure
In addition to working hard, Paul tells us what he has physically endured in order to fulfill his heavenly assignment. He tells us that he has been physically beaten as he pursued the fulfillment of his God-given task, experiencing “…stripes above measure….”
The word “stripes” is the Greek word plege. It means to smite, to hit, to wound, or to violently strike. There are many examples of this word in the New Testament. In Luke 10:30, Jesus tells us, “And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.” The word “wounded” is this Greek word plege.
Notice that the man’s wounds were so devastating that when the thieves departed, they assumed he was dead. These were mortal wounds. Now Paul uses this same word to describe the kinds of beatings he received as he sought to fulfill his God-given assignment in life.
This word is also used in Acts 16:33 to describe the kind of beating Paul and Silas received in Philippi. After God’s power shook the prison walls and set Paul and Silas free, the keeper of the prison came to them to ask how to be saved. Acts 16:33 tells us that once the prison guard was saved, he “…took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes…” This word “stripes” is the same Greek word plege. Here we see an example of the physical beatings Paul endured.
But this incident in Philippi was just one example of Paul being physically knocked around by opponents to the Gospel. In Second Corinthians 11:23, he goes on to say that he experienced these stripes “above measure.”
The words “above measure” are from the Greek word huperballo. It is a compound of the words huper and ballo. The word huper means above and beyond what is normal. The word ballo means to throw. And when these two words are joined together, they depict a very powerful picture!
Imagine an archer who takes his bow and arrows to the field for target practice. He aims his arrow at the bull’s-eye, pulls back on his bow, and shoots the arrow. But he misses his target and shoots way over the top or exceedingly out of range. The arrow flies way beyond the range of anything considered normal. This pictures the meaning of the Greek word huperballo.
Paul’s use of this word tells us that he was beaten way beyond the range of what we could even begin to imagine. The word huperballo describes both the frequency and the intensity of his beatings. The beatings Paul received occurred frequently. They were cruel, severe, merciless acts of brutality. What Paul’s enemies did to his body was way over the top! But Paul never allowed even these acts of physical brutality to affect his commitment to the task God had given him.
You must be more determined than the forces that will try to come against you. Otherwise, it won’t take much pressure to make you say, “This is too hard” or “I didn’t understand how difficult this was going to be.” You’ll mentally start packing your bags so you can transfer back to more comfortable territory where less is expected of you.
By no means am I wishing hardships or hard times on you. But I do pray that you make up your mind to be tougher than anything the devil ever tries to throw in your direction. In your flesh alone, you are not strong enough to withstand the devil’s assaults. But with the power of the Holy Spirit, you can resist, stand against, and drive back everything the devil will attempt to do to you, to your family, to your business, or to your church or ministry. Isn’t it time for you to make up your mind to stick with God’s call on your life and press ahead in the power of the Holy Spirit?
Prisons More Frequent
Paul goes on to tell us that he has been “…in prisons more frequent….” The word “prison” is the Greek word plulake. It describes a place of custody, a prison ward, or a place heavily guarded by keepers and watchmen. Such a prison was usually a small, dark chamber in which the most hardened, dangerous, and menacing prisoners were confined. The prisoners who were put into this particular kind of chamber were considered so risky that they were usually accompanied by a host of prison guards who guarded them twenty-four hours a day.
This word plulake (“prison”) is used in Acts 12:4 for Peter’s imprisonment in Jerusalem. Acts 12:4 tells us, “And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.” Peter must have been viewed as especially risky to have four quaternions of soldiers assigned to keep watch over him!
Paul was also kept in this kind of extreme confinement many times during his ministry; this is what he means when he says here that he has been in “prisons more frequent.” In fact, Paul became so familiar with this type of confinement that he even spent his final days under similar circumstances: “And when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard: but Paul was suffered to dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him” (Acts 28:16).
No one wants to go to jail! But if going to jail meant that Paul would accomplish his apostolic calling along the way, that was what he was willing to do. Paul was ready to undergo any inconvenience, pay any price, and go to all lengths to do what God had commissioned him to do. Even jail would not stop him.
In addition to the beatings and imprisonments he endured, Paul also says he was “…in deaths oft.” The word “deaths” is from the Greek word thanatos. Here, however, Paul uses the plural form, thanatoi, which is literally translated “deaths.”
We know that Paul wrote in First Corinthians 15:31, “…I die daily.” We tend to spiritualize this statement, but in reality, Paul faced actual physical death on a regular basis. When he wrote, “…I die daily,” he actually meant, “I am constantly confronted with the prospect of death.”
Paul faced death so often that he learned how to face it bravely. In Romans 14:8, he wrote, “…whether we die, we die unto the Lord….” In First Corinthians 15:55, we see that he learned to meditate on victory rather than on mortality and fatality: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” These are not allegorical verses about death. They are the thoughts of a man who faced the prospect of death almost on a daily basis.
Paul never sought to live under this constant threat of murder or execution. It was just a part of the journey to get where he needed to go. But rather than run and hide from imminent danger, he faced it bravely and kept moving forward to do what he was called to do.
Had Paul been less committed, it would have taken only a few of these difficult experiences to knock him out of the race. But because he was totally focused on finishing the assignment Heaven had given him, he pushed beyond each of these attacks, and at the end of his life, he was able to say, “…I have finished my course…” (2 Timothy 4:7).
The Holy Spirit who empowered the apostle Paul to overcome each of these instances is the same Holy Spirit who is available to help you. You never have to be a defeated victim. If you choose to take advantage of the power that is available to you, the Spirit of God will energize and lift you to a place of victory over any obstacle the devil tries to throw in your way. Never forget that you have resurrection power residing inside you (see Romans 8:11). If you’ll yield to that power, it will supernaturally quicken you to overcome every time!
So throw open your arms of faith and embrace the Spirit’s power to overcome each attack the devil has tried to orchestrate against you. If you’ll embrace that power, it will begin to flood you with everything you need to survive and to gloriously succeed in your task! Make the decision to let it start flowing today!
My Prayer for Today
Lord, I thank You that because Your Spirit lives in me, I have everything I need to overcome any attack the devil would try to orchestrate against me. Because Your resurrection power resides in me, I am stronger than the devil; I am tougher than any problem; and I can outlast any time of difficulty. It is not a question of IF I will win, but of WHEN I will win the victory! I thank You for giving me the power of the Holy Spirit to outlast every attack and to persist until I have accomplished what You have asked me to do!
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
My Confession for Today
I confess that I am totally focused on finishing the assignment Heaven has given to me. I will successfully push beyond each attack of the enemy because the Holy Spirit is empowering me. I don’t have to be a defeated victim. I choose to take advantage of the power that is available to me. Therefore, the Spirit of God will energize and lift me to a place of victory over any obstacle the devil tries to throw in my way. I have resurrection power residing inside me, and it supernaturally quickens me to overcome every demonic attack that tries to assault me and my purpose in life!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
Questions to Answer
1. Was there a time in your past when you felt extremely weak, but then the Spirit of God suddenly quickened you with such divine energy that you became supernaturally strong to overcome a difficult challenge in your life? If yes, what was that occasion when divine power flooded you so strongly?
2. Can you verbalize the changes that occurred in you when God’s power infused you with new strength? Were there immediate changes in your attitudes? Did it have an impact on your ability to endure?
3. How was that difficult situation resolved as a result of the supernatural empowerment you experienced?