I had never considered until recently that maybe Paul thought he deserved to be persecuted.
He was, after all, a very well-known persecutor of the first Christians. Acts 8 tell us Saul (later called Paul) was “ravaging the church,” “drag[ging] off men and women” and “put[ting] them in prison” (v. 3, HCSB).
Once Christ called him by name and Paul knew the truth of that Christianity he had so hated, how do you think he felt? I can’t even imagine. The sorrow in his heart must have overflowed. The blackness of his heart revealed, he went on to make up for his past life by spreading the gospel as far as he could.
Although he asked Christ to remove his thorn of the flesh several times (2 Cor. 12:7-9), do you think maybe he was a little glad it hung around? He was only human.
Sometimes we revel in our guilt. Like the monks of old who found their joy in self-mutilation through flogging, sometimes we enjoy the guilt that binds us. It makes us feel holy. I think, “Hey, I deserve to feel bad about such-and-such a thing that happened 10 years ago. It was BAD.”
And yet I think that this clinging to our guilt is embarrassing the Holy Spirit. He has to peek over my prideful shoulder and remind me, “Hey Jessie, I came to cleanse you from those sins. By clinging to them–any piece of them–you are not fully embracing the life you could have with Me.”
Maybe I want to make Paul like me. I know he understood this point, because he wrote, “Christ has set us free to live a free life”! (Gal. 5:1, The Message). But Paul also struggled with feelings of self-importance and with doing what he knew was right, among other things. I think that probably, somewhere in his deep mind, he felt he deserved the imprisonment, shipwrecking, torture.
It’s going to be a struggle for all of us. But guilt can weigh us down tremendously. In order to live the life of freedom God intended, we’ve got to get out from under those “yokes,” and get under His. Because it’s easy and light, unlike the ones we make for ourselves.
I don’t have this clicked in my head any more than the next person, but I’m working on it. The most important tool is implanting Scripture into your heart–the Truth. I hope you’ll join me in memorizing these words of Hosea that speak of God’s Truth for us:
I led them with human cords,
with ropes of kindness.
To them I was like one
who eases the yoke from their jaws;
I bent down to give them food.