A month or so ago, I began reading through the book of Acts. My goal was/is to read it literally–to understand the people in the book, to think about it critically and understand what’s really happening in the book. I want, when reading the Bible, to put myself in it, and think about what it’d be like if I were there, and if I saw some of these things happen or heard some of these people say what they did.
Therefore, I was given a great deal of pause in Acts 21, when Paul is urged not to go to Jerusalem. A prophet had taken Paul’s belt and bound his own (the prophet’s) hands with it, saying that the Holy Spirit told him that whoever’s belt that was was going to be similarly bound by the Gentiles. Luke and the others who’d been travelling with Paul BEGGED him not to go, and Paul’s response was this: “why are you so upset? I don’t care if they bind me, I don’t care if they kill me for Jesus’ sake.”
If you don’t take a little pause from this, your reaction will be to make yourself try to be zealous so that you, like Paul, have the willingness to die for Jesus. You begin to think about every scenario, every form of torture, every affliction that Paul endured and ask yourself, “could I do that?”
I submit this to you: Paul wasn’t trying to get himself killed. Paul had the willingness to die for Jesus, but he never says he has the desire. Don’t get me wrong, Paul knew it’d be better to be with the Lord than here on earth, but he didn’t despise his earthly home, knowing that he was to make the most of his time here (see 2 Corinthians 5.) Paul didn’t have a death wish. If we misinterpret his words and his attitude to believe he does, we create a problem for ourselves (at least in American society) : we don’t often have the opportunity to die for our faith. If we go around believing that dying for and suffering for our faith is the litmus test for our sincerity, we’ll be miserable, because we’ll never get a chance to “prove” ourselves.
Instead, I would propose that Paul was so enraptured with the gospel, that not even death seemed relevant anymore. Furthermore, Paul, being a preacher and an apostle, had the chance to tell countless others the story of the gospel. His impact on the church was that thousands, if not millions, were able to learn the truth about our flawed spiritual state and how God became a man (Jesus) to live perfectly and be killed as though He were the worst of sinners, bearing and burying our sin in the process, and then rising up to return back to His rightful place at the right hand of God the Father (two-thirds of the Trinity) and sending the Holy Spirit to us (the other third) to live in us and testify of Jesus. That was so important to Paul that death no longer was. Paul was not trying to repay Jesus–in fact, he said he considered his life to be nothing. Paul knew that there was no repaying what Jesus had done, but instead, as a believer, he was entrusted with the ministry of revealing Jesus to others by the power of the Holy Spirit. The reality of Jesus–who He was and what He’d done–was far more important than any other thing imaginable in a physical body–even death.
As a preacher, I’m convicted (which simply means convinced, not guilt-tripped) by this truth. And my response to it is not to try to stir up zeal in myself, but to reflect and think about the responsibility with which I’ve been entrusted: to tell people the gospel. I’m challenged not to make myself more passionate, but to remember how glorious the gospel is and be compelled by the love of Jesus to continue to spread His message, to exalt Him, and to rejoice in new life, and let that be my top priority.
Don’t kill yourself (or try to get yourself killed) for your love of Jesus. Instead, let that passion be the biggest thing and override anything else, even fear of death.