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The Apostle Paul: A Life of Suffering and Gratitude

Lori Colbo loves to write about her Christian faith and the Bible to encourage and inspire others.

The Apostle Paul writing his epistles.

The Apostle Paul writing his epistles.

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name (Hebrews 13:25).

Paul Spoke and Lived Praise and Gratitude

Many people see the Apostle Paul as a harsh man, even a sourpuss, likely due to the few instances where he corrected erring saints and churches, or forbade things, as when he said women must be quiet in church and not preach or teach over a man (1 Corinthians 4:34-35; 1 Timothy 2:12). But if you read the book of Acts and Paul's epistles you will see the man was driven by love and gratitude. How can such a man, evangelist, and pastor reach so many people for Christ with such love and gratitude, considering his great sufferings? Charles Spurgeon said, "You cannot always be speaking His praise, but you can always be living His praise." Paul the Apostle lived God's praise. He only cared about God getting the glory by winning souls for Christ.

In his former life, Paul was a well-to-do, highly respected, high-ranking Pharisee who vehemently hated and persecuted Christians. Then one day on the road to Damascus with permission in his hands to throw saints into jail, God knocked him off his high horse, blinded him, and revealed Himself to Paul. All that pride left in one moment, one God shot. And then the real suffering began. Here is what Paul said in Philippians about his life:

"Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ..." Phil. 3:8.

That's powerful. He used the words "everything," "surpassing," "all," and "rubbish." He was bound up in prison when he wrote this. Philippians is a letter of overwhelming joy and rejoicing, and encouragement for believers to do likewise.

"You cannot always be speaking His praise, but you can always be living His praise."

— Charles H Spurgeon, The Treasury of David

The Sufferings of Paul the Apostle

I can't think of anyone in the entire Bible apart from Christ who lived a life of gratitude more than Paul the Apostle. This is significant considering the terrible trials and sufferings he went through. Here is a list that still falls short of all he suffered. It comes from 2 Corinthians 11:23-33:

  • in labors more abundant
  • in stripes above measure
  • in prisons more frequently
  • faced death often
  • from the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one
  • three times I was beaten with rods
  • once I was stoned
  • three times I was shipwrecked
  • a night and a day I have been in the deep
  • in journeys often
  • in perils of waters
  • in perils of robbers
  • in perils of my own countrymen
  • in perils of the Gentiles
  • in perils in the city
  • in perils in the wilderness
  • in perils in the sea
  • in perils among false brethren
  • in weariness and toil
  • in sleeplessness often
  • in hunger and thirst
  • in often fastings
  • in cold and nakedness
  • besides the other things, what comes upon me daily my deep concern for all the churches

There is more where that came from.

  • Given a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him (2 Corinthians 12:7).
  • Abandoned by all his friends while imprisoned (2 Timothy 1:15).
  • Despaired even of life (2 Corinthians 1:8).
  • No kindred spirit who would be concerned for the welfare of the Philippian church.

I think we all get the picture.

In prisons more frequently.

In prisons more frequently.

Paul Gave Thanks for the Churches

Thirteen of the New Testament epistles were authored by Paul the Apostle. Of those thirteen, four of them were written while in prison - Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Time after time in his letters he gave thanks for the churches and individuals, followed by his prayers for them (an exception was the church in Galatia). He was thankful because he knew of, heard of, and/or remembered their faith, perseverance, love for the brethren, an example to the world, partnership in the ministry, and success in spreading the gospel. Thoughts of his beloved brethren brought him great joy and rejoicing (you can read that numerous times in Philippians alone) while he was in prison or working hard in ministry elsewhere. We hear tenderness and joy in his expressions of gratitude. Here is a list of direct expressions of thanksgiving for the churches.

He gave thanks for the Christians in Rome in Romans 1:8

  • because their faith was being proclaimed throughout the whole world

He gave thanks for the church of Corinth in 1 Corinthians 1:4-8. 2 Corinthians 7:16; 8:16

  • rejoiced for the confidence he has in them.
  • for the grace God has given them
  • that they were enriched in everything by God in all utterance and all knowledge
  • that the testimony of Christ was confirmed in them
  • that they have every spiritual gift they need
  • that God will keep them strong and blameless until Christ's return
  • that God put the same earnestness on their behalf in the heart of Titus.

He gave thanks for the church at Ephesus in Ephesians1:15-16.

  • for their faith
  • for their love of the saints

He gave thanks for the church of Philippi in Philippians 1:3-11; 4:10, 14-18.

  • for all his remembrance of them
  • for their fellowship in the furtherance of the gospel
  • that God will complete the work He started in them
  • they are partakers with him of grace
  • that they have revived their concern for Paul.
  • the monetary gift they sent to provide for him, and the profit which increases to their account (spiritual account).

He gave thanks for the church of Colossae in Colossians 1:3-6.

  • for their faith
  • for their love for the saints
  • for the hope of heaven which is laid up for them
  • for the fruit of the gospel
  • that they knew the grace of God in truth
  • for their love in the Spirit
  • that God has qualified them to be partakers with him in the inheritance of the saints in light

He gave thanks for the church of Thessalonica in 1 Thessalonians 1:2-4 and 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4; 2:13

  • for the work of faith
  • for their labor of love
  • for their steadfastness of hope in the Lord Jesus in the presence of God our Father
  • that God chose them
  • that they were imitators of Paul and his friend Timothy and Silas and of the Lord
  • that they received the word in much tribulation with joy in the Holy Spirit
  • that they became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia
  • that the word of the Lord was preached by them everywhere they went
  • that news of their reception of Paul was good
  • that they turned to God from idols
  • that they served the living and true God
  • for their exceeding growth
  • that their love for one another abounds
  • for their patience and faith as they endured persecution and tribulations
  • that they are counted worthy to suffer for the kingdom of God
  • Because God has chosen them from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in truth.

Paul gave Thanks for the Work of God and Christ in His Life and in That of the Saints

  • 1 Corinthians 15:57 Thanks be to God who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • 2 Corinthians 2:14 Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place.
  • 2 Corinthians 9:15 Thanks be to God for His indescribable gifts.
  • Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.
  • Philippians 1:18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this, I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice.
  • Philippians 3:8-10 More than that, I count all things loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
  • 1 Timothy 1:12-17 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who
  • has enabled me, because He counted me faithful
  • putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man;
  • I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.
  • And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.
  • that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.
  • I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.

Paul Exhorts the Church to Give Thanks

Philippians 2:18 You too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me.

Philippians 3:1 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.

Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice.

Philippians 4:6-7 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Colossians 3:15-16 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you with all wisdom, teaching, and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Colossians 4:2 Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving;

1 Thess. 5:16-18 Rejoice always, pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.

Paul Gave Thanks for Individuals and Groups

As you read through the book of Acts and through Paul's epistles you will see the multitude of ministry partners and co-workers he had. Paul was a great encourager to the saints by expressing gratitude for them, as well as commending them to others. We aren't to do the ministry to receive thanks, but let's be honest, when we are thanked, acknowledged, appreciated and commended it encourages and spurs us on all the more. When you read how many times he was abandoned or betrayed by those in the ministry with him or a church, it's not likely that he received thanks. But that wasn't something Paul sought. He only served to give glory to God. Here are some expressions of gratitude Paul gave for specific individuals or smaller groups of saints:

Acts 28:15 Paul gave thanks for brothers and sisters who met him in Rome.

Romans 16:3-4 Priscilla and Aquila, fellow workers in Christ who, for Paul's life, risked their own necks.

2 Corinthians 7:13 Paul rejoices that Titus has found joy by the refreshment the Corinthians gave him with their love.

2 Timothy 1:3 Paul gave thanks for Timothy's sincere faith.

Philemon 3-4 Paul gave thanks for Philemon, Appia, and Archippus and to the church in his house.

Extraordinary Praise in Extraordinarily Harsh Situations

One of the most well-known stories of Paul giving praise to God in an extraordinarily time of suffering is when he and his co-worker in the faith, Silas, were beaten with rods and thrown into the inner prison. Not the clean, sanitary prisons we have today with all the amenities. No, the prison he was in was dark, dank, smelled putrid with human waste, hungry, probably rats and insects, and their feet were clamped in stocks. There is lots of speculation at what the stocks were like. There were a few varieties. The point is though, that they were extremely painful.

At midnight, Paul and Silas, bleeding, in unbearable pain from the beating and the stocks, weariness and cold, they began praying and singing hymns of worship to God. Extraordinary. The passage notes that the prisoners were listening. They must have been astounded. Maybe they thought, "I wish I could sing in the misery." Or they may have been thinking about what remarkable, strong men of God they were. Or they wish they knew this God they were praying and singing too. You can read the rest entire story in Acts 16:16-34.

 Paul and Silas praising God in prison.

Paul and Silas praising God in prison.

Paul's Doxologies

Doxologies are little hymns of praise and used as benedictions, often spoken or sung in liturgies. When we hear the word Doxology, we usually think of the little hymn of praise "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow," composed by Thomas Ken in 1607. The Bible is full of its own doxologies and Paul gave some of the most beautiful doxologies in the entire Bible. Here are several from Paul:

Romans 11:33-36 Oh, the depth and riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has given to Him that it might be paid back to Him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever Amen.

Romans 16:25-27 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith— to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen

Ephesians 3:20-21 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power within us, to Him be the glory in the Church in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.

Philippians 4:7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:20 Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

1 Timothy 1:17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

1 Timothy 6:15-16 He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and the Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen

2 Timothy 4:18 The Lord will rescue me and strengthen me from every evil deed and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

How delightful it is to have His gladness in the low places of sorrow, and to be able to glory even in tribulation also."

— Lettie Cowman, Springs in the Valley

1 Spurgeon, Charles H. from Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Volume 34. (1888, October 18). A Life-Long Occupation. The Spurgeon Library.

Questions & Answers

Question: What things did Paul endure during his life?

Answer: It's in the article but he suffered constant persecution, prison on more than one occasion, stoning, shipwrecks and much more.

Question: In three pages do you think I can write about the calling, the ministries, the challenges, the test and the end of apostle Paul?

Answer: I don't feel a call at this point to do such an intensive and extensive endeavor of Paul's life, but if it is of interest to you and you are a writer it might be a satisfying experience for you.

© 2017 Lori Colbo

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