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. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.
— 2 Corinthians 11:23,24
Once when I was teaching from Paul’s words in Second Corinthians 11:23-25, I especially emphasized the afflictions Paul overcame by the power of the Spirit. Later a young man came up to me and said, “It’s obvious to me that the apostle Paul had no faith!”
Shocked by his words, I asked him, “What do you mean when you say the apostle Paul had no faith?”
He answered, “If Paul had walked in faith, he wouldn’t have gone through any of those ordeals.”
The young man’s words made me think about the great number of people who have the wrong impression about faith. They think that if a person walks in faith, that somehow means he will escape all adversities in life.
But when you read the New Testament, you find that the early believers and the apostles faced many adversities. Certainly it wasn’t God who planned those hardships. The devil was the one who shrewdly planned those attacks in order to stop the preaching of the Gospel. And Satan is still working nonstop to prevent people from stepping into the glorious plan God has designed for their lives.
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There is something very encouraging about studying the strategies the devil arrayed against the early believers. You see, regardless of what the enemy tried to do, he was unsuccessful in stopping them! Because they did have faith, they were unconquerable.
So I told the young man who talked to me that night, “Young man, the fact that Paul survived all those ordeals and continued his ministry to the end of his life is proof that he did possess faith. A man with no faith wouldn’t have survived those attacks.”
Don’t get the impression that walking in faith removes you from all challenges. Faith just gives you the ability to overcome the challenges that will attempt to assail you. Even Jesus said, “…In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
The word “tribulation” is the Greek word thlipsis, which describes a situation so difficult that it causes one to feel stressed, squeezed, pressured, or crushed. It can be translated as distress, affliction, or trouble, always indicating a level of intensity that is almost unbearable in the natural.
But Jesus tells us to be of “good cheer.” These two words are from the single Greek word tharseo, which literally means to be courageous. It is consistently translated, “Fear not,” but a better rendering would be “Take heart!” It is a word that would be spoken to strengthen someone who is facing some kind of hardship or difficult ordeal. Jesus was literally saying, “In this world you will go through some distressing times, but take heart and be courageous.…”
Then Jesus tells us, “I have overcome the world.” The word “overcome” is the Greek word nikos, which is also the word for victory. But the grammar used in this statement does not imply a single victory in the past, but a continuous and abiding victory. Therefore, the idea that this Greek word presents is this: “I have overcome the world; I am still overcoming the world; and I will always be in an overcoming position over the world!”
The word “world” in Greek is kosmos, the Greek word that is always used to depict the arena where Satan attempts to wield his influence and describes all the human systems of the world. It is the very word Paul uses in Second Corinthians 4:4 when he refers to Satan as the “god of the world.” Satan is not god of the earth, but he operates through the human systems in the world — and these systems are what the enemy usually uses to attack the Church and God’s people.
When we consider all the things that assailed the apostle Paul, we realize that most of the attacks came through the world systems of government or religion. These were the primary instruments Satan used in his efforts to curb Paul’s activities. But Paul learned to take heart in such situations. He never gave up! Paul had obviously grabbed hold of Jesus’ words in John 16:33, because he overcame everything Satan ever tried to use against him. The devil simply was unable to stop this man who was determined to finish the assignment Heaven had given him!
Five Times Received I Forty Stripes Save One
In Second Corinthians 11:24, Paul goes on to say, “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.” This was a Jewish method of punishment, applied to Paul on five different occasions. Deuteronomy 25:2,3 refers to this method when it specifies how the wicked man should be punished: “And it shall be, if the wicked man be worthy to be beaten, that the judge shall cause him to lie down, and to be beaten before his face, according to his fault, by a certain number. Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed….”
This was one of the most vicious treatments of the ancient world. The tortured person’s clothing was completely removed so he appeared before his persecutors naked. His arms were tied so he could not defend himself. Then the torturer would begin to lash the prisoner’s bare body with a whip made of three long cords, one from calf hide and the other two from donkey hide.
Pieces of glass, bone, and metal were often attached to the end of the cords to make the lashing more memorable. The torturer would hit so hard that the pieces of glass, bone, and metal would lodge into the victim’s skin. Then as the cords were jerked backward for the next lash of the whip, those pieces of glass, bone, and metal would rip out significant amounts of flesh. This left horrid scars on the victim’s body — permanently.
The first third of these lashes were given across the prisoner’s upper chest and face, while the remaining two-thirds of lashes were applied to his back, buttocks, and legs; meanwhile, the victim was forced to bend over to make it easier for the torturer to hit his body. Blood flew everywhere as the cords whipped wildly through the air, making snapping noises as they struck the victim again and again.
But let’s think a little deeper. If the whip was made of three cords and Paul received thirty-nine lashes each time, this means he received 117 lashes at each beating! And he went through this grueling exercise on five different occasions, which means 585 lashes were laid across Paul’s upper chest, face, back, buttocks, and legs. There wasn’t a place on his body that hadn’t been beaten or had pieces of flesh ripped out of it!
Paul was so committed to fulfilling his God-given call that he wouldn’t let anything stop him! After being repeatedly beaten in this terrible manner, he’d get up, put his clothes back on, and go right back to what he was doing before he was beaten. He had already made up his mind. He would not stop until his mission was complete!
Being beaten was an unpleasant experience. It was definitely a part of the journey that no one would relish. But Paul refused to let this experience become a permanent roadblock to his ministry. He pushed the opposition out of the way, got up, and went on. He overcame in the power of Jesus’ name and in the power of the Holy Spirit!
What are you facing today? I’m sure it isn’t a beating of thirty-nine lashes, yet it may still seem overpowering and overwhelming to you. How are you going to respond to these things? If you’ve been knocked down, are you going to stay there? Or are you going to get up, brush off the dirt, grab hold of the power of God, and start moving forward again?
Never forget that Jesus said, “In this world you will go through some distressing times. But take heart and be courageous, for I have overcome the world; I am still overcoming the world; and I will always be in an overcoming position over the world!”
If you’ll make the choice today to get up, brush off the dirt, tell your mind and emotions to be silent, and submit yourself to these words of Jesus, the Holy Spirit will begin to fill you with new strength so you can come through the difficult situations you are facing victoriously. And as you rely on God’s power to bring you to the place of victory you desire, you will learn how to overcome every challenge you will ever face in life!
My Prayer for Today
Lord, I am so thankful that You have overcome the world and given me the power to overcome it! I am so sorry for the times I’ve allowed my flesh to whine and complain when I should have been digging in my heels and latching on to the power of the Holy Spirit. I know that even though victory is mine, I must take it and make it my own. Please help me take charge of my whining, complaining flesh so I can reach out by faith to seize the power of the Holy Spirit — the very thing I need to make me a winner in my situation today. I thank You in advance for this inflow of power!
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
My Confession for Today
I confess that Jesus Christ has given me the power to be an overcomer in every situation in life! I am not a victim who has fallen to defeat. I don’t have to take what the devil tries to send my way. In the power of the Spirit and in Jesus’ name, I am well able to stand against each attack, to resist every devilish scheme that comes against me, and to maintain the victory of Jesus Christ in every part of my life. Jesus purchased victory for me, and I will not budge from my decision to have, to hold, to possess, and to enjoy His victory in my life!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
Questions to Answer
1. Are you doing your best to walk in the victory of Jesus Christ? Or have you allowed your flesh to moan and groan and drag you down into the language of defeat?
2. What scriptures can you meditate on and confess daily that will take you to a higher place of victory? Why don’t you write those verses down and put them in a visible place where you’ll see them every day and be reminded to declare them over your life?
3. Can you think of any people in your life who are currently struggling with the temptation to give up in the midst of difficult circumstances? What are some things you could do to encourage these individuals to keep believing and to stand fast in faith for the victory they desire?