There is a saying about serious things that “could make a grown man cry.” That comment is sometimes made in jest, because grown men seldom cry. It is not manly, as I was taught as a little boy.
Paul was a very strong man. He survived the arenas of the Roman Empire when he was thrown to the wild animals (1 Corinthians 15:32 1 Corinthians 15:32If after the manner of men I have fought with beasts at Ephesus, what advantages it me, if the dead rise not? let us eat and drink; for to morrow we die.
American King James Version×). He successfully fought those animals, it seems. Paul also was beaten more times than he could count (although he did count the times—2 Corinthians 11:23-25 2 Corinthians 11:23-25 23 Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. 24 Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. 25 Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;
American King James Version×) and took those beatings “like a man.”
He also faced raging crowds who were shouting for his death and picking up stones that they then used to try to put him to death. When they left him, he was considered dead.
A person is hard pressed to find a more heroic, strong-minded, death-defying hero than Paul—and yet the Bible tells us that Paul was reduced to tears on more than one occasion. Here is a man’s man who cried and yet who lost none of his manliness.
Who was responsible, and what made Paul cry?
Served With Many Tears
Acts 20:17-31 Acts 20:17-31 17 And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.
18 And when they were come to him, he said to them, You know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons,
19 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:
20 And how I kept back nothing that was profitable to you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house,
21 Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
22 And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there:
23 Save that the Holy Ghost witnesses in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.
24 But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear to myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.
25 And now, behold, I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.
26 Why I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men.
27 For I have not shunned to declare to you all the counsel of God.
28 Take heed therefore to yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood.
29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
31 Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.
American King James Version×describes the work Paul was doing in Ephesus and other cities. He had come to Asia and served with “many tears.” Those tears were not for himself—they were for the people he was serving. He was so deeply concerned about their well-being that he was emotionally involved.
In verse 31 he speaks of the warning he had given. That warning described dangers the members of the Church would face. He wrote about “savage wolves” that would come in and not spare the flock. Paul would have liked to be there with the Ephesians to fight off these attacks. The savage wolves were not animals as he had fought in the arena—they were humans pushed on by Satan to destroy the Church.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul found many things to remind and warn the people about. He detailed the kind of sin that would keep them out of the Kingdom of God.
He knew the background of those he served and worried about them slipping back to the darkness from where they came.
Crying for the Converted
Those responsible for Paul’s tears, then, were the converted members of the congregations he served. As time passed he began to feel like a father to them, and a genuine love and concern had grown. Paul writes about his heartfelt bond as he addresses the members of the church in Galatia as “my little children” (Galatians 4:19 Galatians 4:19My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,
American King James Version×).
Parents (who see the potentials of their children and want only good for them) are reduced to tears by children who reject every good gift that is offered.
Paul had learned the hard way that God’s way is the only way and God’s promises have no equal or parallel. He had suffered physical loss and abuse in order to preach the word of truth and hope to them. He spent his years instilling the hope for the Kingdom of God and eternal life in all people—Jew and Gentile alike. Paul must have felt that his work was for nothing sometimes.
Paul explained to the Corinthians that he wrote with many tears that they would know the genuine love he had for them. His intention was not to make them grieve (2 Corinthians 2:1-4 2 Corinthians 2:1-4 1 But I determined this with myself, that I would not come again to you in heaviness.
2 For if I make you sorry, who is he then that makes me glad, but the same which is made sorry by me?
3 And I wrote this same to you, lest, when I came, I should have sorrow from them of whom I ought to rejoice; having confidence in you all, that my joy is the joy of you all.
4 For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not that you should be grieved, but that you might know the love which I have more abundantly to you.
American King James Version×), but he was looking for spiritual growth in them and thus was suffering the deepest inner grief and anguish over his inability to come to them and help solve the ongoing problems.
Those who made Paul cry were those whom he loved and for whom he had given up everything. He feared that they might be “castaways” (1 Corinthians 9:27 1 Corinthians 9:27But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.
American King James Version×, KJV). He knew that once the blood of Jesus had been shed for a person, that person had to go forward. His or her eternal life would be at stake if he or she failed (Hebrews 6:4-6 Hebrews 6:4-6 4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, 5 And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, 6 If they shall fall away, to renew them again to repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
American King James Version×).
Paul was not able to make decisions for them, and he was not always able to be there. He was forced to stand by and watch how they responded.
We can also read the story of Jesus who wept as He approached Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44 Luke 19:41-44 41 And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it,
42 Saying, If you had known, even you, at least in this your day, the things which belong to your peace! but now they are hid from your eyes.
43 For the days shall come on you, that your enemies shall cast a trench about you, and compass you round, and keep you in on every side,
44 And shall lay you even with the ground, and your children within you; and they shall not leave in you one stone on another; because you knew not the time of your visitation.
American King James Version×). He wept because He knew that they had rejected Him, and He could foresee the warfare and devastation that was to come to the city, the pain and suffering that was not necessary.
Those are the reasons the strongest men weep. It is not for themselves, and it is not caused by suffering or weakness. It is for others that these men weep. Paul wept for the sake of those he loved and who loved him. That’s who made him cry. UN