As we said in our earlier series, hope makes sense only when it is reposed in God, in his word and in his promises. Again, we referred to Piper’s comment on what Christian hope means. Paul’s experiences in ministry illustrate how we can gain strength in hope.
First, his voyage to Rome is a lesson on how hope in God triumphs over adversity. His voyage was a triumph of hope over the vicissitudes of a deadly storm and the trials of life. At stake were the precious lives of two hundred and seventy-six people who were on board the ship with him. Paul’s trip to Rome was partly of his own making. He had appealed before Festus to take his case against his persecutors to Caesar in Rome. Agrippa and Festus had conferred, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
The voyage to Rome revealed the true character of men at sea when they face the storms of life. On board the ship was the owner, the helmsman, the sailors, the Centurion, the soldiers, the prisoners and Paul; each reacted differently to the storm. Their common destiny was that their lives were in jeopardy for which they were forced to go without food for fourteen-days. For Paul, those days were spent in prayer and fasting.
Amidst the turbulence of the storm, and when all hope of their survival was lost, Paul’s prayer and fasting paid off when he received God’s assurance through an angel that none of the men with him would perish, only the ship would be wrecked. Paul survived this storm and later had a fruitful ministry in the Island of Malta (Acts 27-28).
Paul’s second experience, which illustrates how our hope in God is strengthened through trials is described in his own words: “But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra—what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (II Timothy 3:10-12 NKJV). Paul was describing here his ordeals during his missionary journeys. Imagine his ordeals in the hands of the Jews in Antioch, at Iconium and Lystra. He testifies that he patiently endured all these afflictions. But, the beauty of it all in the face of these daunting challenges, is this testimony, “And out of them all the Lord delivered me.” What a resounding testimony of the faithfulness of our God!
His other experience that illustrates our theme was the disappointments and rejection he faced from the hands of the fellow disciples who forsook him at critical moments in the ministry. When all deserted him God was there to strengthen and stand by him. Again, he testified to this in his own words:
“Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works. You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words. At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen!” (II Timothy 4:14-18 NKJV). Paul’s examples teach us that there is strength in hope; trials strengthen our hope in God.