Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: Endurance. Strength and inner-lasting ... Digging deep down into your guts, your heart, your soul to find that reservoir of strength that keeps us going when we want to lay down and quit. God is that reservoir and Paul is a great example of enduranc

August, 1974, Fort Dix, New Jersey …

That’s where I did my basic training for the U.S. Army. The Vietnam was almost over … but not quite. It would end six months after I joined. So, the Army was still training us as if we were going to the jungles of ‘Nam.

All of my drill sergeants were tough combat veterans. So was our company commander. About 5 feet, 6 inches tall … all muscle … not an ounce of fat on him … never smiled … never saw his eyes because he always wore a spotless chrome helmet liner pulled down over his forehead … always taunt … never relaxed … jaws always clenched. He was one hard-core due, let me tell you. The man made such an impression on me that I still remember his name … his full name … Captain Larry F. Decker (not his real name … but he really did exist … I promise … exactly as I described him!).

Twice a week … usually before some grueling physical training exercise … he would climb up on the reviewing stand and give the same basic speech over and over again. His topic was always about “second effort.”

“Second effort” … Keep going when you feel like giving up. Dig deep into your guts. Go to that deep, deep reservoir of hidden strength that you never knew you had. And he would pepper his speech with gruesome, detailed examples from his combat experiences of men who had been shot or blown up and still kept fighting. Larry … eh, I mean “Captain Larry F. Decker” would have loved the Apostle Paul …

[Read 2nd Corinthians 11:23-27]

“Endurance” … from the Latin word “durus” … which means “to harden … to make lasting.” The prefix “en” means “in.” Put them together … “en durus” … and it literally means “inner-strength” or “inner-lasting.” It’s what Captain Larry F. Decker was talking about … that deep down inner-strength that we don’t know we have until circumstances force us to reach deep, deep down into our guts, or hearts, our souls to that hidden reservoir of strength that keeps us going even when every cell in our body seems to be screaming at us to just lie down and quit.

There are two kinds of endurance. When athletes are in training, the rule is: Heavy weights, lifted fewer times in succession, produces “durus” … “strength.” Lighter weights, lifted with more repetitions, produces “durus” … “lasting.”

I find Paul’s list of trials that we just read fascinating because it masterfully encompasses the full scope of the word “endurance.” Any one of these events or trials is a demonstration of what Captain Larry F. Decker would call “second effort” … amazing feats of both physical and inner-strength, amen? Each of these is literally a near death experience … not just for Paul but for anyone who was forced to endure them.

Not once but five times Paul “received from the Jews” … not from the Romans or gentiles but from his own countrymen … “the forty lashes minus one” (v. 24). The Jewish “scourge” or whip consisted of two thongs made of calf or donkey skin passed through a hole in a wooden handle. Thirteen blows were inflicted on the breast, 13 on the right shoulder, and 13 on the left shoulder. The law in Deuteronomy 25:3 permitted 40 lashes … and not one more. Only 39 lashes were given to avoid a miscount. God forbid that the person doing the whipping should break a law and be guilty of a sin themselves by beating the prisoner 41 times, amen? The sad irony of breaking the law by one stroke of the lash for whipping someone else who broke the law. What a difference a stroke makes, amen? In fact, the law exonerated the executioner if the prisoner died from the beating … which means that sometimes the prisoner or guilty party didn’t survive the 39 lashes. These beatings took place in the synagogue and served as a public warning to the public and to the person being beaten: “If you break the law, you might find yourself in this man’s place and if this man breaks the law again, he just might get 40 lashes next time and he may not survive the beating.” Paul went through this experience, not once, not twice, not three times but FIVE times!

“Three times,” says Paul, “ I was beaten with rods.” Rome considered beating someone with rods so brutal and so inhuman that it was against the law to punish one of its citizens in this manner. And yet Paul, a Roman citizen, was beaten with rods three times … and survived the experience. I can’t imagine what his back and chest looked like … well, I can but I don’t want to.

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