Planes, Trains, and AutomobilesSeptember 15, 2017
In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren….
— 2 Corinthians 11:26
The difficulty of travel when we first moved to the Soviet Union cannot be exaggerated. For example, because the whole USSR was gripped with deficits multiple decades ago, people never knew if they’d be able to find gasoline for their car. In the town where Denise and I lived, there was rarely gasoline at the gas station. The only reason we could drive our car was that we found a man who filled the Russian Army tanks with fuel. He siphoned gas on the side and sold it to drivers for $20 for five gallons.
But starting out with a tank of gas was no guarantee that you’d make it to your destination. You could be en route to some destination with a full tank of gas at the onset. But along the way when you needed to refill, you would drive into gas station after gas station that had big signs on the pumps that read, “CLOSED: NO FUEL!” It was a definite challenge to travel by car!
Then there were the trains! Russian trains today are beautiful and a delightful experience, but back in those early days after the fall of the Soviet Union, passenger trains were filthy. A person nearly needed waders to go into the restroom because the urine was so deep on the floor of the toilet stalls. Drunks drank vodka like water; drunken people physically fought each other; gypsies roamed the train cars and robbed travelers; and cockroaches scrambled across the floors.
In addition, the trains rarely ran on schedule, which meant there was a strong chance you would show up late for whatever kind of meeting you were trying to get to. It only cost about 25 cents to take a train back in those early days, but you more than paid for the inexpensive ride by having to put up with the inconveniences — the filth, the thieves, and the drunken fights. Add to that the frequent delays, and it took hours upon hours in the most unpleasant conditions to reach your destination by this mode of travel.
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Finally, there was traveling by airplane. Today Russia has some fine, world-class airlines, but in the early ’90s, getting on a Russian airplane was a real adventure! I actually experienced times when I was seated next to someone who had a dog or goat on the plane with him! And the food — if you could call it food — was nearly thrown at you by flight attendants, who didn’t know anything about serving customers. I was once on a plane when the engines caught on fire. And on another flight, the flight attendants actually warned us that there would likely be a drop in cabin pressure because one of the doors had a broken seal!
Furthermore, ticket agents took bribes in those days and oversold seats on planes. One time I was on a plane that was so overloaded, a nursing mother was seated in the cockpit and the kitchens had people seated on the cabinet countertops and on the kitchen floors! My seat — which had been reserved and purchased in advance — was occupied by someone else when I arrived on board. So the flight attendant seated me in the coat closet on top of a crate of Pepsi bottles, which was crammed next to a rose bush that someone was taking to his home in the next city. And try to imagine it — before the flight took off, the flight attendant shut the curtain to the coat closet, so I sat in darkness the whole flight! By the end of that flight, my bottom felt sore from being poked by pop bottles, and my arms were scratched all over by the thorns on that rose bush.
As I remember those experiences that happened so many years ago, they remind me of what the apostle Paul wrote of his own travels in Second Corinthians 11:26, where he stated that he had been “…in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren….”
In this verse, Paul repeats the word “perils” seven times as he tells about what he faced as he traveled in his apostolic ministry. The word “perils” is from the Greek word kindunos, which simply means danger — telling us that traveling to preach the Gospel in the First Century AD was often a dangerous affair.
First, Paul says that he faced “perils of waters.” The word “waters is potamos, which is the Greek word for rivers. Hence, we know that there were moments in his travels when Paul and his team had to cross dangerous rivers that could have jeopardized their lives. Dry riverbeds in that region of the world quickly swell to overflowing during flash floods — a constant danger to those who were traveling by foot.
Second, Paul says that he faced “perils of robbers.” The word for “robbers” is listes, and it depicted bandits that lay alongside the roads and robbed those who were traveling alone or in small groups. According to Paul’s testimony in this verse, he faced bandits at some point during his apostolic journeys.
Third, Paul says that he faced “perils of my own countrymen.” The word “countrymen” is the Greek word genos, which is where we get the word genes. Paul was saying that he had been in danger at the hands of people who were from his own ancestry. We know by reading the book of Acts that the Jewish community continually assaulted Paul and his team and put them in great danger.
Fourth, Paul says that he faced “perils by the heathen.” The word “heathen” is ethnos, and it referred to pagans. The pagan world was fiercely opposed to the message Paul and his companions preached, and as we read in the book of Acts, they were often confronted with dangerous situations at the hands of pagans.
Fifth, he says “perils in the wilderness.” The word “wilderness” in Greek is heremia, and it denotes an isolated, desert place. Such places were often confronted when one traveled by foot, and they could often prove to be dangerous because there was little water and no sustenance.
Sixth, Paul says that he faced “perils in the sea.” Acts 27 records one concrete dangerous event that Paul faced while he was at sea. However, Second Corinthians 11:25 says that he suffered shipwreck three times. That means there are two shipwreck events that are not even recorded in the Book of Acts!
Seventh, Paul says that he faced “perils among false brethren.” The key to this phrase is the word “false” — the word pseudos, which implies the idea of pretend brothers. They feigned to be in Christ, but in fact they were not. Perhaps they were spies or other enemies sent into the Church to try to obtain information about Paul and his team. The text does not make it clear who these particular false brothers were, but it makes it clear that they were a “peril” to Paul’s ministry.
In all seven instances we’ve seen, the word “peril” is the word kindunos, the Greek word for danger. This tells us that traveling as a Gospel preacher in Paul’s time was not always grand and glorious. There were constant threats, which had to be held off with faith and a determination to proceed regardless of the risks involved. Much of what Paul faced in his travels is not even recorded in the Book of Acts!
As I faced my own struggles in the earlier years of ministering in the former USSR, I took courage from Paul’s testimony in Second Corinthians 11:25. I am certain that ministers of the Gospel over the past 2,000 years have read these words and have similarly taken heart that their own particular struggles were not unique — and that if Paul could face such threats and go on to minister in God’s power and anointing, they could do it too.
Today I want to assure you — you can do whatever God has told you to do. The devil may try to thwart God’s plan for your life or hinder you along the way, but if you’ll stay in faith and keep pressing forward, these obstacles will move aside, and you will do exactly what God has told you to do!
I would encourage you to read the rest of Second Corinthians 11 to see what else the apostle Paul encountered as he traveled to do the work of apostolic ministry. The devil tried to oppose him, hinder him, and thwart him from making progress in every way possible. But Paul pushed through each attack and every moment of opposition, and he did precisely what God called him to do. Let that be your testimony too!
MY PRAYER FOR TODAY
Father, I thank You for the power of God that sustains me when I am in rough places. The devil has tried to hinder me, oppose me, and thwart Your plan for my life. But I’ve kept my eyes focused on the goal that You have given me — and as a result, You have empowered me to keep going forward regardless of the opposition that I have encountered. Today I ask You to empower me by the Holy Spirit to tackle and overcome every hindrance that I am facing. I thank you for this divine power that always helps to make a way!
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
MY CONFESSION FOR TODAY
I confess that greater is He that is in me than He that is in the world! The devil and the world itself may try to limit and hinder me from fulfilling God’s plan for my life, but I declare that I will not be defeated, nor will I allow the devil to have delight in mastering my life. With the name of Jesus, the power of God, and the endurance of the Holy Spirit, I will press forward by faith until I have gone where I am supposed to go and have done what I am supposed to do!
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
QUESTIONS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER
- What have you faced as you stepped forward to follow Jesus Christ and accomplish what He has called you to do? If Paul faced dangers, it shouldn’t surprise us if we face them too!
- How have you experienced the delivering and saving power of God as you’ve stepped out to obey God with your life? Can you think of times when you shouldn’t have made it, but His quickening power reached out and rescued you, empowering you to keep forging ahead?
- Have you read the rest of Second Corinthians, in which Paul relates the whole account of what he endured as he traveled in his apostolic journeys? As you do, realize that if Paul could overcome these things, you can overcome what you are facing too!