Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. Acts 14:21-22
In a recent sermon, Pope Francis lashed out at the “culture of comfort” that convinces people that they can have a more carefree life if they forgo having children. In an article entitled “The Dangerous Culture of Comfort,” writer Francisco Dao asserts that the culture of comfort has taken its toll on American initiative and explains why Americans no longer develop technology or start companies at a similar ratio to those foreign-born living in the United States. Comfort, he concludes, is the enemy of ambition.
Luke’s record of Paul’s first missionary journey in Acts describes anything but comfort. His account is a sobering reminder that hardship and tribulation often accompany the work of spreading the gospel of the kingdom. Acts 13 and 14 record the activities of Paul and his companions as they traveled to various cities in what is now south-central Turkey. They preached, taught in synagogues, healed a crippled man, and experienced persecution and angry crowds.
On one occasion, Paul was stoned by a mob, dragged to the edges of the city, and left for dead. Somehow, as his disciples gathered around him (Acts 14:20), he got up—and went into the city! Later Paul revisited cities where he had been persecuted.
Why would Paul and his companions revisit those hard places? Unconcerned for their own comfort, they saw it as essential to strengthen the new disciples in their faith, encourage them, and remind them that entering the kingdom and sharing the gospel of the kingdom with others require “many hardships.” Years later, writing from a prison in Rome, Paul wrote to his understudy and successor, Timothy: “Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3). Hardships are to be expected as a normal and necessary part of the Christian life.
Paul’s example and words remind the church today to be wary of comfort’s sly seduction. The culture of comfort suppresses ambition, but it can also prevent believers from living as devoted followers of Jesus seeking to engage with the world.
PONDER: How has hardship grown your faith? How has a culture of comfort hindered you?
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• MIRCEA’S STORY •
THROUGH MANY HARDSHIPS ENTER THE KINGDOM…
He grew up during the communist years of Romania, but Mircea became a believer in Jesus when he was a young man. He was an embarrassment to his father. He was active in the Christian underground, distributing literature and arranging classes for pastors and other leaders. They would meet in remote rural locations. Then one day the Securitate, the feared Romanian secret police, caught up with him. They tried to recruit him to be an informant so that they could catch the leaders of the underground church, not knowing that Mircea himself was one of the leaders and one of the most active and effective distributors of literature.
When he refused to cooperate, he was arrested; and on a dreary November day—a day that can still brings tears to his eyes when he retells the story—he was dragged into a police station, handcuffed to a table, beaten about the head, and given excruciating blows on the soles of his feet with a rubber baton. They demeaned him. They said trashy things about the Christian movement. Hours after the torture began, they released him. It was 2:00 a.m. There were no buses at that time of night, no taxis. Mircea had to find his way back home, making his way through the streets on his knees because his feet were swollen and racked with pain from the beating.
The following day he was arrested again. The officer in charge kicked him in the back, slamming him into a wall. He said: “Three months from now you will be gone; your wife will belong to someone else; and your children scattered.”
When Mircea tells you his story, this is when he gets most emphatic—“But the Securitate did not know that in just half that time, six weeks from then, in the latter half of December 1989, the revolution would happen, Communism would fall, and they would be no more.”
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Following Jesus is no easy task. Many people expect their lives to magically improve if they become followers of Jesus. But the truth is that we live in a broken and sinful world, and following Jesus is completely countercultural. Being a disciple means taking up our cross daily and giving up our own desires to live for those of King Jesus.
Read Acts 14:21-22. Paul and Barnabas were preaching about Jesus. They warned the people that they would encounter many hardships. What are some hardships that you have been through? How does John 16:33 give us hope when we face difficult situations? When has God brought you comfort in the midst of difficult circumstances?