INTRODUCTIONWe started this series with the observation that in the Bible 1/3rd of leaders finish poorly, 1/3rd finish so-so and only a 1/3rd finish well. In an age when the understanding of what it means to be a Christian has been so watered down (cf. 1 Pet 4:16 ESV), it’s difficult to imagine that the statistics for the contemporary Church could be anything but worse.
So far in this series, I’ve given a fairly theological approach to this issue in attempting to go beyond the usual recipes for faithful endurance.
Advice like, regular devotions, being accountable to others, remaining a learner, and so on are all useful faith exercises but must be secondary to a revelation of “the love of the Father” (1 John 2:15 ESV), the faithfulness of the Son (Heb 12:2 ESV) and the power of the Spirit (Rom 5:5 ESV).
In being a little less theological and approaching personal experience more directly, the person who the Bible provides us with the most evidence about from conversion to the end of his life is Paul.
Before looking at Paul, however, I need to speak to a major prejudice that afflicts many Christians. A sort of Jesus versus Paul mentality e.g. I know people who give Jesus a big tick and frown at Paul’s supposed strictness, misogyny etc.
You might have heard of “Red Letter Bibles”, where Christ’s own words are in red; and there’s even a group called “Red Letter Christians”.
It’s easy to contrast Paul and Jesus in terms of audience, style, theological emphases etc. but even these approaches miss the mark. We can only understand Paul in terms of his life- conformity to the life of Jesus.
Since I first became a Christian people have been hammering Galatians Chapter 2, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20 ESV) And Paul himself testifies, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil 1:21 ESV).
Despite the commentators, it is misleading to say that Paul’s life was a calling to be the shadow of his Master or even a mirror. If we think of Paul being clothed with the mantle of Christ this must mean something much more intimate than Elisha inheriting the anointing of Elijah (2 Ki 2:9-13 ESV) and outworking similar miracles.
Scholars will freely speak of the parallels between the life of Jesus and the story of Paul, especially in Luke-Acts.
But even the most basic mathematical knowledge teaches us that parallel lines never…. meet. We can turn to Paul as an example of finishing well because of his life and the life of Jesus seem always to meet. Paul’s finishing well, and ours, is a matter of our identity in Christ.
In starting with the call and conversion of Saul (“Paul” from now on) we are in fact entering into the prophetic history of God’s dealing with the world through Jesus.
Isaiah speaks about Israel as a suffering servant and witness figure, a language which is applied to Jesus in the New Testament1)See Biblical References Matt 8:17 ESV; Matt 12:16-21 ESV; Matt 27:16-21 ESV; Luke 2:32 ESV; Luke 9:51 ESV; John 12:38 ESV; Rom 10:16 ESV; Rom 15:21 ESV; 1 Pet 2:22-23 ESV.
Acts record’s Christ saying to Paul on the Damascus Rd, “ “I have appeared … to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you” ” (Acts 26:16 ESV).
As Israel was appointed to be a “light for the nations” (Isa 49:6 ESV), Paul preaches that he and Barnabas are this light (Acts13:47 ESV).
In many details, Paul is the model witness in the New Testament. Jesus prophesied, “you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake”, a word fulfilled only by Paul2)See Biblical References Luke 21:12 ESV; Acts 26:30 ESV.
His many afflictions mean he more than anyone else is given an opportunity to defend himself in a manner that involves fearless gospel proclamation3)See Biblical References Luke 12:11 ESV; Luke 21:14 ESV; Acts 24:10 ESV; Acts 25:8 ESV; Acts 26:1, 2, 24 ESV.
The Servanthood of Jesus (Luke 2:32 ESV) was lived out through Paul in great depth and detail in his life of a witness to the world. And understanding this thoroughly when he speaks of vs.19 “the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God” in his preaching he prefaces this by saying, vs.18 “what Christ has accomplished through me” (Rom 15:18-19 ESV)4)See Biblical References 1 Cor 15:10 ESV.
When he testifies to the Galatians, “you received me as an angel… as Christ Jesus” (Gal 4:14 ESV), he is not being metaphorical. Christ did say, “Whoever receives you receives me” (Matt 10:20 ESV).
Jesus is really present in and through Paul’s life and witness and he knew this from the time of his conversion. vs.15 “God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased vs.16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles” (Gal 1:15-16 ESV). Christ had taken up residence in Paul’s life in order to reveal himself to the world. This explains what looks like parallels but are evidence of something far deeper.
As Jesus was rejected; especially by own countrymen, so is Paul5)See Biblical References Acts 19:29 ESV; Acts 13:50 ESV; Acts 14:19 ESV; Acts 17:13 ESV; Acts 22:17-21 ESV. One because he sought to win lost sinners in Israel6)See Biblical References Matt 15:24 ESV; Luke 19:10 ESV, the other in his calling to Gentile sinners.
As the glory of God in his, Son produced blindness and hardness in hearers (John 12:40-41 ESV) so the glory of Christ in Paul (1 Tim 1:11 ESV) produced the same fruit7)See Biblical References Acts 28:26-27 ESV cf. Isa 6:9-10 ESV.
Both Jesus as Paul is misrepresented by Jewish religious leaders in relation to the temple, hounded by a mob, and tried by a Roman governor8)See Biblical References Luke 23:1 ESV; Acts 24:6 ESV; Acts 25:1, 2 ESV.
Like Jesus9)See Biblical References Luke 9:51 ESV; Luke 13:22 ESV; Luke 18:31 ESV. Paul sets his face to Jerusalem, and like Jesus will not be persuaded by friends that his mission is unreasonable10)See Biblical References Luke 13:31 ESV; Acts 21:13 ESV.
The saving dynamic that lay hold of the destiny of Christ is at work in Paul…
Jesus prophesied, “ “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected”11)See Biblical References Luke 9:22 ESV; Luke 17:25 ESV cf. Luke 24:26 ESV. And the Lord speaks to Ananias about Saul, “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:16 ESV).
No questions or negotiations, suffering for Christ is an unquestionable divine decree.
When Paul says, “in my flesh, I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body” (Col 1:24 ESV) he sees his sufferings as a part of the essential suffering of Jesus.
This is very much tied up with the martyrdom of Stephen whose death is tied to the death of Jesus.
Paul wasn’t present at the crucifixion, but at the martyrdom of Stephen, he took part in the same sort of false accusations and corrupted religious leadership that killed Christ12)See Biblical References Mark 14:56-57 ESV; Acts 6:12-13 ESV.
When Stephen pleads for the forgiveness of his persecutors and yields his spirit to the Lord it is the same holy power which was working in the death of Christ13)See Biblical References Luke 23:34, 46 ESV; Acts 7:54, 59-60 ESV. Stephen’s death was a revelation of the power of the gospel (Rom 1:16 ESV).
So when Saul heard from the blinding heavenly light on the Damascus road, “ “I am Jesus who you are persecuting” ”14)See Biblical References Acts 9:4-5 ESV; Acts 22:7-8 ESV; Acts 26:14-15 ESV, the fear of the Lord gripped his entire being (2 Cor 5:11 ESV) revealing the unlimited wisdom of God the death-and-resurrection of Christ15)See Biblical References Prov 9:10 ESV; 1 Cor 1:24, 30 ESV; Col 2:3 ESV.
Filled with this wisdom the apostle knows that even if, like Christ, he is innocent of all guilt16)See Biblical References John 18:38 ESV; John 19:4, 6 ESV; Acts 26:32 ESV; Acts 28:18 ESV he has a destiny that must be fulfilled in death. Whatever happens along the way he cannot perish other than in the way that has been appointed.
His attitude toward martyrdom is taken up into the purpose of his life to testify to Jesus. In tearfully saying goodbye to the Ephesian elders he remarks, “But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:24 ESV).
In resisting his friends imploring him not to go up to Jerusalem, “ “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” ” (Acts 21:13 ESV). His body is being presented “a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Rom 12:1 ESV).
It’s vital we understand that just as the death-and-resurrection of Jesus was an end-time event so were Paul’s afflictions. To the Philippians, he says, “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.” (Phil 2:17 ESV)17)See Biblical References cf. 2 Cor 12:15 ESV.
In Colossians, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh, I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Col 1:24 ESV).
This joy in suffering is a supernatural sharing in the life of Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2 ESV).
This joy will carry Paul on to finish well.
vs.6 “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. vs.7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. vs.8 Henceforth there is laid up 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 loved his appearing.” (2 Tim 4:6-8 ESV).
Whilst Christ’s sacrifice is complete in itself, it’s the power to save must be worked out through the suffering of the bearers of the gospel in the world. The note of joy and confidence that appears in all these passages is an expression of the resurrection life of Jesus (Phil 3:10 ESV).
Paul’s confidence is the confidence of the completed work of Christ. He can testify boldly, “I have finished the race” because he shares in Jesus’ triumphant, “ “It is finished.” ”18)See Biblical References John 19:30 ESV cf. John 17:4 ESV, from the cross. It is the power of Christ’s finishing well living in him that assures Paul he will be “conformed to the likeness of his death” (Phil 3:10 ESV).
Dale referred last week to folk who fail to finish well because they are discouraged, tired, bored, distracted, pass on the baton and sit on the bench. There’s a dynamic tension in Paul which makes these emotional states impossible.
The Jesus; Paul knew was a totally compelling figure (2 Cor 5:14 ESV). He presses on to lay hold of resurrection life because Christ has laid hold on him (Phil 3:11 ESV ff.).
He knows the glorified Jesus he saw at his conversion was a revelation of his own limitless destiny.
With this revelation of glory, he was told by Jesus – not that he would be a prophet, or a miracle worker or an evangelist, but how much he would have to suffer (Acts 9:16 ESV) “as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles” (Acts 26:16-17 ESV).
This pattern of suffering and deliverance, death and resurrection19)See Biblical References Acts 13-28 ESV; 2 Cor 1:8-9 ESV; 2 Cor 11:23-33 ESV, embraced the whole life of Paul as it had embraced the whole life of Jesus. Paul’s life is nothing short of participation in the dereliction of the cross and a sharing in the joy and power of the resurrection.
The more he was treated like Jesus the more he became like Jesus.
No matter what the world, the flesh and the devil threw at him it could only intensify the glorious accomplishment of Christ through him.
The more that is taken away from Paul the more he is empowered by Christ to finish well. “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3:8 ESV).
Through the scriptures, we are Paul’s sons in the gospel (2 Cor 4:15 ESV). This means his assured destiny as finishing well can be ours; “provided we suffer with; Christ in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom 8:17 ESV).
The foundational reason why so many believers fail to finish well is that they do not look at all of life through the lens of the gospel of the horrible death and joyous resurrection of Christ.
They do not have a revelation that their sufferings are not theirs to bear alone but in the purposes of God exist to be taken up into the sufferings of Christ in order that the power of his resurrection may be released.
There are many forms of affliction e.g. illness, relational breakdown, economic stress, but let me share a crucial one from my own life which will illustrate what I am trying to teach.
Some decades ago when I was pastoring a church the leadership realised we were in a very divided state and so we called in a well-known prophet in the city. After saying some general things, he prophesied to us one by one.
When he came to me he prophesied that I would have a word that would burn into the hearts of the people, some would agree, others would shout “no” and want to stone me.
Then he said, “let there not be pain’ in your heart over that which you shall have to say… O you’re going to get into trouble but he’s going to love you for it. But he says don’t worry, it’s not you. He did it, they’ll only blame you, but He did it!”
Jesus did say, “ “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” (John 15:18 ESV).
The “world” is primarily non-Christians hostile to Christ, but more broadly the world is a total state of affairs fallen from the will of God.
Whatever comes against you in life, whatever causes grief, don’t take it personally, don’t make it about yourself, realise by faith everything belongs to Jesus (1 Cor 3:21-23 ESV) and has meaning in him.
We don’t live parallel lives with Jesus, Jesus is living his life in union with our lives. Living our lives faithfully to the end will bring this sharing to perfection.
In God’s grace, his mercy will perfect the sacrifice of our lives. All who look towards a death that will glorify God will finish well (John 21:19 ESV).
MESSAGE, DELIVERED: Date 06th March 2019 Location: ALIVE @ 5
Author: Dr. John Yates
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References [ + ]
|1.||↑||See Biblical References Matt 8:17 ESV; Matt 12:16-21 ESV; Matt 27:16-21 ESV; Luke 2:32 ESV; Luke 9:51 ESV; John 12:38 ESV; Rom 10:16 ESV; Rom 15:21 ESV; 1 Pet 2:22-23 ESV|
|2.||↑||See Biblical References Luke 21:12 ESV; Acts 26:30 ESV|
|3.||↑||See Biblical References Luke 12:11 ESV; Luke 21:14 ESV; Acts 24:10 ESV; Acts 25:8 ESV; Acts 26:1, 2, 24 ESV|
|4.||↑||See Biblical References 1 Cor 15:10 ESV|
|5.||↑||See Biblical References Acts 19:29 ESV; Acts 13:50 ESV; Acts 14:19 ESV; Acts 17:13 ESV; Acts 22:17-21 ESV|
|6.||↑||See Biblical References Matt 15:24 ESV; Luke 19:10 ESV|
|7.||↑||See Biblical References Acts 28:26-27 ESV cf. Isa 6:9-10 ESV|
|8.||↑||See Biblical References Luke 23:1 ESV; Acts 24:6 ESV; Acts 25:1, 2 ESV|
|9.||↑||See Biblical References Luke 9:51 ESV; Luke 13:22 ESV; Luke 18:31 ESV|
|10.||↑||See Biblical References Luke 13:31 ESV; Acts 21:13 ESV|
|11.||↑||See Biblical References Luke 9:22 ESV; Luke 17:25 ESV cf. Luke 24:26 ESV|
|12.||↑||See Biblical References Mark 14:56-57 ESV; Acts 6:12-13 ESV|
|13.||↑||See Biblical References Luke 23:34, 46 ESV; Acts 7:54, 59-60 ESV|
|14.||↑||See Biblical References Acts 9:4-5 ESV; Acts 22:7-8 ESV; Acts 26:14-15 ESV|
|15.||↑||See Biblical References Prov 9:10 ESV; 1 Cor 1:24, 30 ESV; Col 2:3 ESV|
|16.||↑||See Biblical References John 18:38 ESV; John 19:4, 6 ESV; Acts 26:32 ESV; Acts 28:18 ESV|
|17.||↑||See Biblical References cf. 2 Cor 12:15 ESV|
|18.||↑||See Biblical References John 19:30 ESV cf. John 17:4 ESV|
|19.||↑||See Biblical References Acts 13-28 ESV; 2 Cor 1:8-9 ESV; 2 Cor 11:23-33 ESV|