The Conscious Course of the Committed Christian:
Paul's Progressive Testimony of Transcendent Triumph
Topical March 19, 2000
Scripture: 1Peter 2:1-12
Have you ever watched with wonder how a child grows in his ability for his parents to communicate with him?
When he starts out early in life the communication is very minimal.
It is coos and babytalk and lullabys that soothe what his little heart cannot understand.
He cannot understand the words, just the presence.
He is held and his needs are met. And it seems so often that our communication is more for us than for the child.
But we have to start somewhere or we will never be able to make ourselves understood, and the child will never have a model for understanding.
Then after a year or so we begin to see some progress.
The child begins to seem to understand what a word means.
He is able to put together a sound with a meaning.
Then comes a sentence and the seeds of real conversation.
As the child continues to grow we can communicate moral concepts and detailed instruction.
Eventually we have raised a child that can model what we have already known, and perhaps that child will be able to surpass us in many areas of knowledge and its application.
But this is just a picture of our child-like relationship to God.
We will never surpass him, but we will come to understand much more about him.
He speaks to us through many channels. He wants to communicate with us.
He wants us to understand what he knows. He wants to give us detailed knowledge of truth and its application.
In our Christian life, we start out understanding so little. But God persists with us, and coos and cuddles, and speaks some babytalk to us.
He feeds us milk, and after awhile we can take in some solid food. And we begin to understand what he wants us to know. We grow in our ability to communicate which means we grow in our ability to understand.
The life of Paul is very revealing to us in this respect.
His testimony reveals to us where he used to be, darkened in his pride and lack of understanding, but that he had received the love and nurture of God to the point of being able to approach the understanding of life in God through death to self.
12 ¶ I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners-- of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:12-17 NIVUS)
None of us are any different than Paul at our point of beginning.
But as Paul remained with God and served God, he was transformed in his understanding and outlook. And isn't that what eternal life is all about?
Let us go on a journey with Paul, a spiritual journey that will give us sound bites of how his testimony transforms as God speaks to him through the times and events of his life.
And let us envision where God wants to lead us in our understanding.
After Jesus meets Paul on the Damascus road we see that he immediately begins to testify that Jesus is the Christ.
20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, "Isn't he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn't he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?" 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 9:20-22 NIVUS)
Paul's testimony and preaching nearly get him killed. In fact, he may have been brought back to life. His experience with the Lord deepens and he redoubles his efforts.
19 ¶ Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. 20 But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe. 21 They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God," they said. (Acts 14:19-22 NIVUS)
The results of his experience reveal to him the re-enactment of Christ's passion within himself, and he readily claims this as his own.
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 NIVUS)
He progresses to the point of faith that will now follow the leading of the Spirit without reservation, even into known danger. He acknowledges that his life is worth nothing in comparison to gospel proclamation.
17 ¶ From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. 18 When they arrived, he said to them: "You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. 19 I served the Lord with great humility and with tears, although I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews. 20 You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. 21 I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. 22 "And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me-- the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace. (Acts 20:17-24 NIVUS)
1 & 2 CORINTHIANS:
Paul is humbled and overwhelmed by the grace of God that allows him to proclaim the gospel.
9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them-- yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:9-10 NIVUS)
Paul continues to take further steps in his understanding of death to self and life to Christ.
10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 11 For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. (2 Corinthians 4:10-11 NIVUS)
As he experiences his progressive death to self, he draws closer to a confident vision of eternal life reality.
4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. 6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 We live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:4-8 NIVUS)
His vision of eternal life reality outweighs any earthly life reality.
9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NIVUS)
This eternal life reality for himself burns within his heart for others.
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. (Romans 1:16 NIVUS)
The closer he draws to Christ the more clearly he sees himself.
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24 NIVUS)
The closer he draws to Christ the more clearly he sees the glory of God that far outweighs his own frailty.
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18 NIVUS)
The closer he draws to Christ the more confident he is that nothing can or will compromise the glory of God's love for him.
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 NIVUS)
Paul reaches the point of being willing to substitute for Christ if he could, being willing to suffer for others as Christ suffered for him.
Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. (Colossians 1:24 NIVUS)
Paul reaches such confidence in Christ that the prospect of his death holds no fear. And his lack of fear enables him to live his remaining days in joyous labor.
20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 ¶ For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. (Philippians 1:20-24 NIVUS)
He is unafraid to leave anything behind in this world for the surpassing greatness of what is to come. His deepest desire is to be like Christ.
7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 ¶ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-- the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:7-14 NIVUS)
He has finally learned the secret of a contented life – it is strength in union with Christ.
12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13 NIVUS)
1 & 2 TIMOTHY:
Paul verbalizes his contentment further as the personal change into godliness that comes with his union in Christ.
6 ¶ But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. (1 Timothy 6:6-8 NIVUS)
His union with Christ has placed everything into proper perspective for him.
8 So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us to a holy life-- not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. (2 Timothy 1:8-12 NIVUS)
He extends his perspective to us.
7 Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this. 8 ¶ Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God's word is not chained. 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. (2 Timothy 2:6-10 NIVUS)
He prepares to embrace Christ.
6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day-- and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6-8 NIVUS)
Finally, Paul issues his final cry of victory in Christ!
The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:18 NIVUS)
Blind Chang, VOM, March 2000
Even through weary years, Martha Snell Nicholson was so transcendently triumphant because of her faith in Christ that she wrote some of the finest Christian poetry that has ever been written. She shares some of her thoughts and hopes with us this morning:
"The best part is the blessed hope of his soon coming.
How I ever lived before I grasped that wonderful truth I do not know.
How anyone lives without it these trying days I cannot imagine.
Each morning I think with a leap of the heart, 'He may come today.'
And each evening I wonder, 'When I awake I may be in glory.'
Each day must be lived as though it were to be my last.
There is so much to be done to purify myself and to set my house in order –
I am on tiptoe with expectancy.
There are no more gray days – for they're all touched with color.
There are no more dark days – for the radiance of his coming is on the horizon.
There are no more dull days – with glory just around the corner.
There are no more lonely days – with his footsteps coming ever nearer
and with the thought that soon, soon, I shall see his blessed face
and be forever through with pain and tears."
Timeless Truth: The conscious course of the committed Christian is Christ. It is a progressive testimony of transcendent triumph.
Are you on course?