Paul’s words here are not an exaggeration. If they are not true for us, it’s because we refuse to allow ourselves to become garbage. Our preference for the finer things of the world, and for our own place among them, prevents us from being “set apart for the gospel” in the way Paul describes (Romans 1:1). When he writes of using his own flesh to “fill up . . . what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions,” he means being willing to put himself, in person, anywhere Christ’s gospel is needed (Colossians 1:24).

“Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening” (1 Peter 4:12). If we do find the things we encounter strange, it’s because we’re cowardly and pretentious. We allow our worldly affinities and aspirations to keep us out of the muck: “I won’t stoop,” we say. “I won’t bend.” God won’t force us. If we want, we can refuse to let Jesus count us as one of his servants.

A servant of Jesus is someone who is willing to become a martyr for the gospel. Martyrdom is a calling that lies beyond mere morality. When a merely moral man or woman comes in contact with baseness and immorality and treachery, they instinctively recoil. What they’ve seen is so desperately offensive to their sense of human goodness that their heart shuts up in despair.

But the marvel of the redemptive reality of God is that his love is bottomless: the worst and vilest can never exhaust it. Paul doesn’t say that God set him apart in order to make him a shining example. It was, Paul writes, “to reveal his Son in me” (Galatians 1:16).

Wisdom from Oswald

We all have the trick of saying—If only I were not where I am!—If only I had not got the kind of people I have to live with! If our faith or our religion does not help us in the conditions we are in, we have either a further struggle to go through, or we had better abandon that faith and religion.  The Shadow of an Agony, 1178 L