Paul cried when he thought of his enemies
“For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ” (Philippians 3:18). Who were these enemies? They were either Judaizers who denied the value of the cross (Galatians 5:11; Galatians 6:12, 14) or Epicurean antinomians whose loose living denied the effectiveness of the cross (1 John 2:4).
Paul derived no joy from finding hypocrites in the church. It only brought him sadness. He was sad because:
• They were destroying their own souls.
• They were disappointing God.
• They were injuring Christ’s cause, and giving occasion to the “enemies of
the Lord to speak reproachfully.”
Paul wept because there were many who opposed the message of the cross. It was bad enough to have had one working against the church, but it was much worse to have a team of enemies. This reminds us that we should not base our convictions on a census or popularity poll. “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil” (Exodus 23:2). Christ has a “little flock” (Luke 12:32), and the narrow way has “few” (Matthew 7:14).
Paul did not keep his sorrow and concerns to himself. He told them often of the enemies of the cross. Matthew Henry observes that “we so little heed the warnings given us that we have need to have them repeated.” When it comes to warnings, there is safety in numbers: “To write the same things . . . is safe” (Philippians 3:1).
Paul cried when the gospel was hindered
“Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews” (Acts 20:19). The opposition of the Jews caused him to weep, although not out of fear of personal danger. He wept because the Jews were impeding his progress in winning souls to Christ.
Paul cried when he thought of his friends’ trials
Paul cared for those he had converted and those in the churches he had established. He said to Timothy, “Greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears, that I may be filled with joy” (2 Timothy 1:4). It is hard to imagine Paul’s thinking of Timothy’s tears without tearing up himself. Paul is the one who wrote that Christians should “weep with them that weep” (Romans 12:15).
Jesus pronounced a blessing on the merciful (Matthew 5:7). Barclay says the word mercy there means the ability to “get right inside the other person until we can see things with his eyes, think things with his mind and feel things with his feelings.” It is similar to our word sympathy.Sympathy is derived from two Greek words, syn which means “together with” and pascheinwhich means “to experience or to suffer.” Sympathy means “experiencing things together with the other person”—literally going through what he is going through.
Many people are so concerned with their own feelings that they are not much concerned with the feelings of anyone else. When they are sorry for someone, it is, as it were, from the outside; they do not make the deliberate effort to get inside the other person’s mind and heart, to see and feel things as he sees and feels them (Philippians 2:4-5).
In Jesus Christ, in the most literal sense, God got inside man’s eyes, felt things with man’s feelings, and thought things with man’s mind. God knows what life is like because God came right inside life (John 1:14; Philippians 2:6-7). The Latin word for mercy is very expressive:misericordia, composed of two words miseria, “misery,” and cor, “heart;” meaning a “pain in the heart.” It refers to a heart touched and pained at the misery of another; a tender heart. Mercy counts another’s misery as his own, and is sad at another’s grief, as if it were his own. The Sioux Indians prayed: “Great Spirit, help me never to judge another until I have walked two weeks in his moccasins.”
After listing a number of physical persecutions he had endured, Paul said, “Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28). He mentions this last, as if to say that this lay heaviest upon him, and as if he could better bear all the persecutions of his enemies than the scandals that were to be found in the churches he loved.
This continual press of business—the cases to be heard and solved, relative to the doctrine, discipline, persecution, and supply of all the churches—was taxing. On a more personal level, many of them were young Christians; others were older but had not matured. Several churches were composed of both Jews and Gentiles, with conflicting prejudices, habits, and preferences. Besides this, they were persecuted, and in their sufferings Paul felt deep sympathy.
What kept Paul going under such circumstances? He believed that all these things would lead to something good (Romans 8:28). He kept fondly dreaming of heaven and the reward he would receive there. Awaiting him there was:
• A crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8; cf. 1 Corinthians 9:25;
James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4; Revelation 2:10).
• Eternal life (1 Timothy 6:12; Titus 1:2).
• The acceptance of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:9).
What burdens Paul carried, and how gladly he carried them! He said, “I will gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more I love, the less I be loved” (2 Corinthians 12:15). He was always giving himself eagerly, gladly. His life was a daily dying (1 Corinthians 15:31).
Being so burdened with all these concerns, was Paul not miserable? No, it is strange to say; his song rang in the prison cells (Acts 16:25; 2 Corinthians 7:4). He wrote, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation . . . For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).