After his conversion and commissioning to be the Apostle to the Gentiles, St. Paul suffered a great many hardships. For proclaiming the Gospel, five different times he was flogged with 39 lashes, three different times, he was beaten with rods, he was stoned, put in prison more than once, abandoned by his friends, poisoned, and even shipwrecked twice! In his second letter to the Corinthian church, he tells them,
I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked." Eventually, he would has beheaded in Rome.
The Church Historian and Bishop of Caesaria, Eusebius writes in the 4th century (312-324AD,)
concerning the time, place, and manner of [Paul's] death, we have little certainty. It is
commonly believed that, when
a general persecution
was raised against the Christians
by Nero, about A.D. 64, under pretense that they had set Rome on fire, both St. Paul
and St. Peter then sealed the truth with their blood; the latter being
crucified with his
; the former being beheaded, either in A.D. 64 or 65, and buried in the
All Paul had to do was stay home and keep his mouth shut. But in spite of all this suffering, Paul had one even greater anxiety. He tells the Corinthians, "Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches." He loved the churches.
All of the churches were aware of Apostle's suffering, but he sets them at ease in his letter to the Ephesians, "So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you." In the midst of the suffering they are witnessing, he wants them to have courage and keep hope. Even though they are still underground and worshiping in secret, he wants them to hold fast.
How? In the face of such a fearful time could they be brave? How in the midst of such ravenous uncertainty could they have hope? How could they hold fast to anything? They know that Paul, through all his suffering, is praying for them. "For this reason I bow my knees before the Father," he assures them.
He concludes this section of his letter with a doxology; praising God, but I think also to remind those he loved of the God to whom he is praying: "Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we could hope or imagine, according to the power at work within us,
to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen." God is able to do more than we could hope or imagine.
There is a prayer in the
Book of Common Prayer
that reflects Paul's heartening theology of prayer for those we love:
Almighty God, we entrust all who are dear to us to your
never-failing care and love, for this life and the life to come,
knowing that you are doing for them better things than we
can desire or pray for; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
In all of our prayers for those we love, for our parish, for our community, for our world, we can have confidence that God is creatively at work. Have courage and hold fast.