In isolation the above statement written by the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:10 seems strange, even enigmatical, but the following words provide us with his rationale, “that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body”.

Isaiah 49, the great Old Testament chapter de­claring that the salvation of Yahweh would embrace Gentiles as well as Israel, speaks of one who would be called from his mother’s womb (v1,5), whose labours would be frustrated even appearing to be in vain (v4). Those labours would not be in vain, but this servant would be a light to the Gentiles as well (v6), and even kings and princes would be caused to “see, and arise … [and] worship” (v7). The impend­ing question is: How could these words be fulfilled? Manifestly they have a primary application to the Lord Jesus, but he never went beyond the borders of Israel, so the question remains.

The answer lies in the work of Paul, who in dramatic circumstances in Antioch in Pisidia, and with Barnabas appropriates the words of Isaiah 49:6 to their mission: “Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you … lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth” (Acts 13:46–47). Shortly after when Paul wrote the Letter to the Galatian ecclesias, one of which was Antioch, he again makes frequent references to Isaiah 49, ap­plying the prophecy to his work and mission (Gal 1:10, 15, 24; 2:9). But the most telling reference is found in Galatians 3:1, where he chastises them for being led away from Christ by Judaizers: “O Foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth [RSV publically portrayed], crucified among you?” He is speaking of his sufferings for their sake which they had witnessed (Acts 13:50; 14:19–20) referring to which, he later says, “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus (Gal 6:17).

Identifying with Christ’s sufferings

In his epistles, Paul makes frequent reference to Christ’s sufferings being complemented, completed and filled up in the persecution he suffered in pro­claiming the Gospel. To the Colossians he said: “Who now rejoice in my [Paul’s] sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the ecclesia” (Col 1:24). He relates this to his calling and commission, “Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God” (v25). His mission was to make known “this mystery [secret] among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (v27).

The sufferings of our Lord were reflected in Paul’s ministry. We can understand, if we think about it, how he would have viewed the hardships, sufferings and persecutions as being a continuation of those suffered by his Lord. In fact he willed that his sufferings and even death might be parallel to the Lord’s, because this would ensure that he would attain the resurrection to eternal life, like the Lord. He puts it thus: “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship [RSV may share] of his sufferings, being made conform­able unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection [Gk exanastasis, RSV resur­rection from] of the dead”(Phil 3: 10–11).

Saul the persecutor and Paul the persecuted

We may well have wondered why it was that Saul of Tarsus was allowed by Almighty God to be in the forefront when Stephen was stoned to death; why he could so frustrate the spread of the Gospel: “As for Saul, he made havock of the ecclesia, enter­ing into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3). By his own admission he, “persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women” (Acts 22:4). Saul’s zeal for the Law and its institutions exceeded all his contemporaries. One wonders how he could have explained away the incontestable evidence of the miracles done by the apostles of the Lord. There is no rationality in wilful blindness and bigotry. We know that this was brought to an end by Saul’s Damascus experience, but what we are investigating is why it was that he was prepared to endure so much suffering for Christ’s sake (2 Cor 4:8–12; 11:23–27).

The answer lies in what the Lord said to Ananias of Damascus when he was told to arise and go to the house of Judas where he would find one called Saul of Tarsus praying. Upon him Ananias was told he must put his hand so he might receive his sight. Ananias was acquainted with Saul’s reputation and purpose in coming to Damascus and remonstrated with the Lord. His objections were countered by the most astounding revelation by the Lord: “Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:15–16). So in the context of defining Saul’s work and mission, Ananias is told that Saul was to suffer great things for Christ’s name.

What would be Saul’s response to such priva­tions and afflictions? Would he ever object to having to so suffer? Would he complain about the hard­ships to be borne that exceeded any other man save the Lord? The answer is, No! And why? Because he himself had inflicted such great sufferings and afflictions upon the ecclesia. He would be disposed to take all that came his way, knowing what he had done in the past: the persecutor could hardly com­plain about being persecuted. And even, in measure, he would view his sufferings as just retribution for what he had inflicted upon others. It would also serve to ameliorate the guilt of the crimes of his earlier misguided zeal.

So with this mission in mind, the Almighty and His Son permitted Saul to inflict great persecution on the Jerusalem ecclesia in its early years and the wisdom in this can be seen from the subsequent life of Saul who became Paul (meaning ‘little’), the greatest follower of Christ, and the exemplar of Christ’s sufferings to the Gentiles. Through these dramas, the words of Isaiah that Yahweh’s servant would be a “light to lighten the Gentiles” (Luke 2:32; Isa 49:6) would be fulfilled.

Meaning for disciples

What Saul experienced has implications for you and me. Did not the great apostle say, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1)? And had not the Lord made it plain that those who followed him would not be immune from persecution: “Blessed [happy] are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5: 10). In fact they could even “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad” for they would be aligned with the prophets and the Lord himself and their reward would be great (v12). Speaking in the context of his forthcoming suffering in Jerusalem, Jesus pointed out to his disciples that as was the lot of their master, so would be the experience of his servants: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matt 16:24–25). This is a strange paradox. Finding life by letting it go, by los­ing it, is the exact opposite to that which the world advocates. There we are encouraged to live life to the full; do not be restricted as life is all about you; you are number one, two and three, so indulge and live your dreams. But if we heed our Lord’s words, following his example and that of the transformed Apostle Paul we will have an eternal reward, for we will please our heavenly Father and we know it is His “good pleasure to give you [us] the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

And did not we commit our lives to the Father and Son when we were baptised? Baptism is a re­markable act of dual symbolism: portraying death to the “old man” in the burial under the waters, but proclaiming life by rising from the waters to walk in newness of life, the ‘new man’, fashioned after Christ’s likeness (Rom 6:4–8; Eph 4:22–24; Col 3:1–4).

We live in a tolerant world where the profes­sion of Christ does not mean persecution (at least in Western countries), as was so often the case in former days. We can easily be softened by affluence, comfort and luxury and not accept the challenges the call of the Truth brings to our notice, duties in Christ needing to be done which may entail hard­ship and even suffering. Each knows his or her own capacity and the opportunities to serve that come our way. We need to take up the challenges, and like Paul, identify with Christ, even if it involves suffering for his sake: “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body.” Thus, Christ and sacrifice are inseparable.