Many months ago, while browsing for a greeting card, I came across one that had these words from the apostle Paul’s pen written on the front:
“Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”(2 Corinthians 11:24-28)
When I opened the card I laughed when I saw the words inside:
So … how’s your day?
No matter how bad things are, we can always look around and see someone who has it worse, and no matter how good things are there will always be those who have it better. That’s just the way things work. The secret to life comes from Paul’s pen, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Paul’s secret is really no secret at all – it’s Jesus!
So, does that mean Jesus-followers are never allowed to have a bad day, or a sad day, or a disappointing day? I sure hope not! However, it does mean that God can take those bad, sad, or disappointing days and turn them into one great big, joyful, Spirit-filled life!
Even in Paul’s last letter (2 Timothy), written while imprisoned in Rome, he had a little fun with the Roman emperor Nero who ordered his execution. It seems that Nero was so full of himself that he entered the Olympics in Greece. Athletes normally spent their entire lives training for the Olympic games, however this pudgy, 30-something, out-of-shape emperor wanted to be crowned with the victor’s wreath. His event? Chariot racing. Was he good at it? That would be a no. He was so bad at it that he fell out of the chariot and never even made it across the finish line. But, since he was the emperor, they crowned him the winner. In return, Greece was declared exempt from taxation. As his victory parade entered Rome, he had victims (most likely Christians) sacrificed in his honor all along the route.
No doubt everyone in the Roman Empire knew this story and clearly understood the parallel Paul made in 2 Timothy when he wrote: “Anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. (2:5) I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (4:7-8) ” History tells us it wasn’t many days after those words were written that Paul’s neck met the sword. (I guess Nero didn’t think it was too funny.) Paul had stayed in his ministry chariot, finished the race, and received his crown from the hand of the One he’d met on that Damascus road many years earlier. I’m sure his victory parade into heaven was lined with many sporting their own victory crowns who had heard about Jesus from Paul’s own lips.
Even from a prison cell Paul continued to wield a mighty weapon against Satan, providing strength and encouragement to generations of believers.
After all, you know what they say …
The pen is mightier than the sword!