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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Observing Paul

Paul was a man of intention, deliberation (9:1-3). Though a man of position and authority himself, Paul was also submission and obedience (9:8; 16:9f; 20:24; 21:4;27:23-24). Paul was moldable (9:18-19). He was feared both before and after conversion (9:26; 14:19), even protected and defended (9:27; 16:25f; 19:35f; 25:8), a bold man often talking and arguing with those he met (9:28; 13:46; 14:3), telling the truth and showing discernment (13:10f). He had a clear understanding of God's redemptive history (13:17f; 14:15f) and he kept perspective in all things (14:15; 18:21). Paul often strengthened, encouraged those he met (14:22; 16:5; 20:31) and was liked by many (16:2). At times we see him frustrated, provoked (17:16; 18:6), even holding his tongue (18:14).

The apostle was a man humbled and strengthened (9:17-22). Later we find him in a growing catalog of danger (9:23; 14:19; 16:25f; 19:29f; 21:33; 23:12; 27:1ff) as he traveled abroad (19-28).

The most familiar history of Paul concerns his spirituality--he was confronted by Jesus Himself (9:3-6) and is declared to be the chosen instrument of God (9:15), set apart for the service of the Lord's work (13:2). Right away we see his walk with God tied directly to his purpose (9:15-16; 19:21; 21:14). Now Paul is seen to do the impossible, as he is obediently making himself useful to God. He is empowered to heal (9:17-18) and perform various miracles (13:11; 14:3, 8ff; 19:11; 28:8) as he preached the gospel (9:20; 13:5; 13:44; 14:3; 14:21-25; 20:7, 20) as he is filled with the Holy Spirit (13:9).

Paul was controversial in conversation (9:22; 14:19; 15; 16:19ff) but it was just as common to find him in fellowship, seeking out other believers with whom he ministered, fasted and prayed (13:2-3; 14:23; 20:37). He went from place to place as he was sent (13:4), appointed for the task (14:23). He was a man devoted to the Word of God and to Christ (18:5).

Consider this: no person could have pin-pointed Paul for the ministry he fulfilled. His entire life is a demonstration of an act of the Holy Spirit for the gospel of Jesus Christ to the glory of God. Paul was not merely a man who works, lives then dies. There are times when it seems he does not stop long enough to catch his breath--he is the original Iron Man (not the Tony Stark kind, but the athelete). He is called, gets to work, and that's it. Nothing stops him.

This is how I would like to be--seeing people changed for Christ, bold, even able to sing amidst adversity.

Paul was always growing, never shrinking or in retreat. Even when lowered over a wall--this was not cowardice, but moving ahead! Life did not get the better of him. The further he went to obey Christ, the more suffering he faced. Not the empty wallet or broken car kind of suffering. No, he preached Christ crucified and resurrected and suffered for it. We never hear of the day the chariot wheel fell off, or when he slipped in sewage, or the spoiled food. We don't know when or how he did laundry or shopped at the market and haggled for fair prices. We don't know when he stubbed his toe. What we do know about his sufferings is that he preached and he suffered stonings, beatings, shipwreck, even snakebite.

How could he do this? First, notice the relationship of the keywords in 2 Corinthians 1:1-11:

comfort ----> affliction
patience ----> suffering
burden ----> strength
trust ----> deliver
hope ----> prayer

2 Corinthians 1:3, Paul refers to God as the God of comfort, the Father of mercy. I forget who said this, but God delivers "through," not "from." Paul says that God comforts in order that His comfort be shared. The point is that comfort is not a place but the Lord Jesus Christ (v. 10)--He is the one whom we are to set your hope as we pray!

1:6--if the comfort of our Lord Jesus Christ is the object through affliction, then suffering must be made effective through patience. Paul reminds us that suffering affliction does not occur in a void, but it something those in Christ do together.

1:7--we share in suffering and we share in comfort. How tragic that we suffer alone these days, only to meet in our circles and "pray" for one another. There is no burden-sharing, no lifting, only the slapping on of band-aids, then patting each other on the back with words of "encouragement" before we go along on our way.

One things I learn in Paul is that affliction, and comfort for that matter, require no specific circumstance in which to occur--they are the circumstance.

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