Last weekend I received a letter from the front lines. It came from a man who is separated from his wife on their anniversary, who is missing out on the little milestones in his children’s lives, and who lives with a daily threat to his life as he helps to ensure legal justice in an area full of hostile militants. And yet his letter was full of gratitude for the privilege of serving his country. He considered spending the Memorial Day holiday in a war zone an honor, because it allowed him to participate closely in the sacrifice of those who have died serving their country. My eyes filled with tears over the strength of this man’s character and the depth of his devotion.
He loves his country much because he has given up much for its sake.
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. … He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers.
2 Corinthians 1:8-11
Paul wrote his friends a similar letter from the front lines. Things had gotten really tough on his last assignment in Ephesus, so much so that he had often wondered if he would make it out alive. He was exhausted, shaken, and still reeling from the intensity of battle. But his letter contained no hint of self-pity or suggestion of retreat. Rather, he wrote about how hard things had been so that he could convey the depth of his commitment and gratitude in being counted worthy to continue serving the cause.
Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger … with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on … beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
2 Corinthians 6:4-10
That isn’t to say that it had been easy. Actually, things had been downright rotten. But the more Paul lost for the kingdom, the more personally invested he became in seeing it through. He began to count his hardships as proof of its worth, his trials as identification badges. Through combat and trauma, Paul’s identity as a servant of God was being forged deep within. It would become impossible for him to see himself as a regular civilian again. He would always identify himself as servant of the gospel, whether on the front lines or back at home.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 11:23-27; 12:9
By suffering with and for God, Paul’s love for His kingdom grew to the point where it exceeded the bounds of reason. At times he sounded out of his mind, rambling on about the many horrors he had endured as if suffering were a good thing. And yet, in Paul’s mind, it was. Suffering made him weak. His weakness made way for God to show up and be the Hero, rescuing Paul and accomplishing impossible missions through him.
He loved the kingdom much because he had suffered much for its sake.
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things… I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
This past weekend I also had the privilege of visiting with another brother of mine, one who is in the process of giving up much for the sake of God’s kingdom. I listened as he and his wife counted the cost of taking their toddler and unborn child to go serve the indigenous church in a country where local pastors have been beheaded for their faith. My heart wrenches with fear on their behalf, knowing from personal experience the trials and losses that they will face. And yet I also know from experience the privilege of serving the kingdom, of participating closely in the sufferings of Him who gave His life serving on the front lines.
I wouldn’t trade my losses for anything. They have gained for me a greater share in what I love the most.