Would you be willing to climb down the ladder that you spent several years climbing up? If God asked you to take a lower-paying job, or to move to a less desirable home, would you do so?
These questions are at odds with the American dream of constantly improving one's position in life. However, God often calls missionaries to work in areas that have a lower standard of living, inadequate housing, and few of the amenities that they previously enjoyed.
The apostle Paul experienced both abundance and deprivation.
A learned scholar of the Jewish law, instead of conversing with similarly educated intellectuals, Paul often found himself in prison with murderers, thieves, and insurrectionists against the Roman government. What did Paul do to deserve jail time with such unsavory characters?
Before Paul met the Lord, he had been "a persecutor and a violent man" (1 Timothy 1:13), mercilessly hunting down Christians so they could be executed. The religious authorities approved his actions. So, although he was a violent man, he received their applause.
However, after Paul accepted the Lord and began preaching the gospel, he suddenly became a "dangerous" threat. In Philippians 3:8, Paul states that he has "lost all things" for the sake of Christ Jesus. Paul was imprisoned, not for committing murder, but for preaching the gospel. He told Timothy that for the sake of the gospel, he was "suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal" (2 Timothy 2:8-9).
If Paul had continued breaking God's law, "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13), he would not have been viewed as a threat, and he would never have been imprisoned!
Peter and John faced a similar situation. Arrested for preaching the gospel, they were ordered not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. "But Peter and John replied, 'Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God'" (Acts 4:19).
Again, in Acts 5, when Peter and the other apostles were brought before the Sanhedrin, they stated, "'We must obey God rather than men!'" (5:29). The Sanhedrin wanted to execute the apostles. However, Gamaliel intervened, telling the council, "'Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God'" (Acts 5:38-39). After being beaten, the apostles were released, "rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name" (v. 41).
Throughout the New Testament, we read about believers who were treated unfairly, persecuted, abused, disgraced, and imprisoned. Yet, they still continued to share the gospel with everyone they met.
We are fortunate in America that, as believers, we do not face violent opposition against us personally. However, God may still call us to make sacrifices to spread the gospel. Paul admonished Timothy, "Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 2:3).
The apostles were willing to go wherever God sent them. If God directed us to move to an undesirable neighborhood so that we could be a witness to the people there, would we move? If He asked us to take a lower-paying job so that we could share the good news with those around us, would we do so?
Regardless of how God's will may seem to us at the time, our obedience will always bring His approval and yield eternal rewards (1 Corinthians 15:58).
Howard W. Stevens
© by Howard W. Stevens
All Scripture verses are from the Holy Bible, New International Version®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.