The Perils of Paul(ine)


The Perils of Pauline was a 1914 American film serial shown in weekly installments, featuring Pearl White as the title character. As the old-fashioned damsel in distress, Pauline was menaced by assorted villains, including pirates and Indians. Unlike today’s weekly programming (and even some of our movies, Pauline never used the so-called “cliffhanger” format in which an episode ends with an unresolved danger that is addressed at the beginning of the next installment. Although each episode placed Pauline in a situation that looked sure to result in her imminent death, the end of each installment showed how she was rescued or otherwise escaped the danger.  It was such a new and unique idea that, years after, it was placed in the national archives as a cultural icon.


The apostle, Paul, had many such harrowing experiences.  Only he wasn’t like the “damsel in distress.”  He wasn’t cute and cuddly and looking for a hero to save the day.  The trials and dangers he faced were deadly and continuous.   In  II Corinthians he writes,  I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again.  Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes.  Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea.  I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not.  I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm. Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches.  Who is weak without my feeling that weakness? Who is led astray, and I do not burn with anger? (II Corinthians 12:23-29)  He had enough trials to create a long-running series.  Yet God always rescued him.  Not some human hero.  No matter what the circumstance or situation, God was there with him.

Paul made these statements to a church he had already visited twice and was planning a third visit.  This letter was dealing with the fact that the Corinthians were being mislead by those who claimed to be followers of Christ, but who were taking credit for what Paul and others had accomplished.  They mislead the people into believing that Paul was not an apostle.  They said that he had no authority, was too timid, and that he did not speak with flowery words.  Paul responded to these accusations by writing, We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do.  We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. And after you have become fully obedient, we will punish everyone who remains disobedient. ( II Corinthians 10:3-8)  He was an apostle of Christ Jesus appointed by God. (II Timothy 1:1, I Corinthians 1:1, Ephesians 1:1) and as he continually exercised his faith, his life was filled by signs and wonders.

Today there are many that claim to be followers;  A group of Jews was traveling from town to town casting out evil spirits. They tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus in their incantation, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!”  Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this.  But one time when they tried it, the evil spirit replied, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?”  Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered. (Acts 19:13-16)

In the end, all those who have appeared to be “angels of light” will be destroyed.  And so will those who chose to follow them.  The difference? Look at the obvious facts.  Those who say they belong to Christ must recognize that we belong to Christ as much as they do.  I may seem to be boasting too much about the authority given to us by the Lord. But our authority builds you up; it doesn’t tear you down. So I will not be ashamed of using my authority.  (Corinthians 10:8)

As Christians, we have this authority.  I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.  You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father.  Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it! ( John 14:12-14)

Is your faith accompanied by signs and wonders?  Not necessarily the “show-stoppers” like being raised from the dead, but the daily things that take place in our lives?  Does it build up individuals and the body of believers?  If it doesn’t, exercise it or lose it!

A Rose by Any Other Name Still Has Thorns

Roses are beautiful creations.  They may vary in size, color, and even in shape.  But they still have those nasty thorns.  No matter how careful I am when I handle them, I always stick myself.  In Paul’s 2nd letter the Corinthians, he notes, To keep me from being proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me. (2 Cor. 12:7)

You might think that a mighty apostle like Paul who was given so much by God to share with the New Testament church would be able to pray away this thorn.  After all, he had already endured 39 lashes five times, been beaten with rods three times, and been stoned once.  He had come through to the other side of each of these times of suffering.

Paul prayed three times for God to remove the thorn.  With all that he had already suffered, how severe this thorn must have been to cause Paul to beg God for relief.  People have guessed that it might have been malaria, depression, epilepsy, blindness, or an unusually strong temptation.  He never records that God delivered him.  In fact, immediately following his words in verse seven, Paul wrote, Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.  Each time he said, My power works best in weakness.  Job, too, endured great suffering at the hand of Satan.  Yet behind Satan’s activity was the sovereign hand of God, who permitted the suffering to bring Job to a greater understanding of his Creator and Redeemer.

There will be times when God does not give us the answer or deliverance we think we need.  But we can be certain that when we seek Him in prayer, He will always give us the grace and strength we need.  So don’t give up on yourself and God because of that one trial or temptation that you can’t seem to overcome.  God is still in control and His grace is still sufficient.  As Job said, I know that my Redeemer lives and in the end He will stand on the earth.  Job 19:25.  What will we learn from our trial or temptation?

* If you’re interested in art or writing, please check out our Activities page to find an online application and rules for our  1st Annual Online Christmas Art Contest.  The deadline for submissions is December 12, at 5:00PM.

The Inner Sanctum is Now Public!

Each year the most hallowed of tennis championships is held at Wimbledon.  In the late afternoon of each tournament day, you can buy a ticket that will get you into one of the outer courts for about $8.00.  You probably won’t recognize most of the competitors, since the higher seeded players are usually found on one of the center courts.  It takes a special ticket for those center courts–one that is more expensive and more limited in number.  Even fewer people get to go into the locker rooms–a very select few.

In the Temple, there were different levels of access.  Paul reminds the Gentile believers that they were about as far apart from God as they possible could be.  Ephesians 2:13 says, “Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought to Him through the blood of Christ.”  When Jesus died on the cross, the curtain shielding the Most Holy Place was torn in two–from top to bottom as is God reached down from Heaven and ripped it apart.

If that were all that happened, it would be like inviting those at center court to visit the locker rooms.  That would be wonderful for the privileged few, but would only increase the frustration and resentment of the those who remained outside.  Paul reminds us that Jesus did much more in Ephesian 2:14. “He himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.”  It wasn’t just a curtain that came down.  All the walls of separation came down.  All the divisions of privilege, rank, race, age, and gender came down, and equal access to God was opened up to all through Jesus Christ.  No matter how far away from God you may be, there is always a straight, unveiled path to God free from all barricades.