4-5 Paul's Relationship With Jesus
Right at his baptism, Paul realized that the Lord Jesus intended to make
Paul fellowship the spirit of his experience on the cross (Acts 9:16).
Later, Paul speaks of how he is " filling up what is lacking"
in the aim Christ had set him: to fellowship the crucified Lord Jesus
(Phil. 3:10). As the sufferings of Christ (i.e. his ability to relate
to them) increasingly abounded in Paul (2 Cor. 1:5 Gk.), so did his comfort
and certainty that he would be in the Kingdom; because he knew that if
he suffered with Christ, he would share his glorious resurrection (2 Cor.
4:11,12). As we grow, therefore, our realization that we are progressively
sharing the sufferings of Christ should increase; our understanding of
the memorial meeting (which reminds us of this) will deepen, as we appreciate
more what it means to take the cup of his pain. The need and simple beauty
of the breaking of bread becomes more logical; taking those emblems becomes
in a sense more difficult, yet more sobering and comforting. The point
is that as we grow, the centre of our attention will increasingly be the
Lord Jesus and his cross. At his conversion, Paul “inreased...in strength”
(Acts 9:22). But he repeatedly uses the same word, particularly in his
later letters, to describe how Christ strengthened him (Phil. 4:13; 1
Tim. 1:12; 2 Tim. 2;1; 4:17).
On a series of long Russian train journeys, I read through the Gospels
and epistles, noting down all the times Paul makes a direct or indirect
allusion to the Gospels. I then worked out how many times in each epistle
he alludes, on average, to the Gospels. I found that on average, he did
it once every six verses. But when you list his epistles chronologically,
the general trend suggests that in his writing, Paul increasingly
alluded to the Gospels. And in his time of dying (in which he wrote 2
Timothy), the intensity of his allusions to the Gospels reaches an all
time high. In 2 Timothy he is referring to the Gospels at least once every
3.9 verses- and almost certainly more than that, seeing that my analysis
is incomplete. As he faced death in 2 Tim. 4, he more intensely modelled
his words (probably unconsciously) upon those of Christ. Thus when he
speaks of how he is about to finish his course (2 Tim. 4:7),
he is combining allusions to Mt. 26:58; Lk. 12:50; 18:31; 22:37 and Jn.
13:1. He speaks of how he wished that “all the gentiles might hear” (2
Tim. 4:17) in the language of his Lord, also facing death, in Jn. 17-
where He spoke of His desire that all “the world might know”.
On average, Paul refers to Christ as " the Lord" once every
26 verses in his letters. But in 2 Timothy, he calls Christ " Lord"
once every six verses; and in his very last words in 2 Tim. 4, once every
3 verses, nine times more than average! His appreciation of the excellency
of Christ, of the height of his Lordship, grew and grew. And so did his
appreciation of his own sinfulness. An appreciation of the Lord's exaltation
will in itself provoke in us repentance and service (Acts 2:33-36). A
vision of the exalted Lord Jesus was what gave Stephen such special inspiration
in his final minutes (Acts 7:56). The Pastorals, Paul’s last letters,
have Paul calling God our “saviour”- our Jesus. In 1 & 2 Timothy and
Titus, he calls Jesus “saviour” four times, and God “saviour” six times.
He saw the extent of Yahweh’s manifestation in Christ.
Growing appreciation of the excellency of the Lord Jesus was also a feature
of Peter's spiritual growth; he was the first to coin the phrase "
the Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 11:17); although never did
he call the Lord simply " Jesus" (indeed it seems that none
of the disciples addressed and rarely spoke about Jesus without giving
Him a title). Trace through the path of Peter's growth on appreciation
of the Lord's greatness: Mt. 16:22 (arguing with Him!); Acts
2:36; 10:36; 11:17. When Peter realized he was looking at the risen Christ
standing on the shore, he exclaimed, with evident appreciation: "
It is the Lord" - not 'Jesus' (Jn. 21:7). And even though
he had to swim to meet Him, Peter cast his fisher's coat about him to
cover his bare arms and legs. He realized the greatness which attached
to the Man from Nazareth on account of His resurrection. After the pattern
of Peter, some of the early brethren likewise reached this appreciation
of the Lord's excellence and the importance of it as the climax
of their probations; for many were slain simply because they insisted
on calling Jesus of Nazareth " Lord" , when Nero had insisted
that he be called 'Lord' (cp. Acts 25:26). Those brethren (and
sisters) died with the confession of Jesus as Lord on their lips-
and more importantly, deep in their hearts.
Appreciation of the greatness of the Lord Jesus was a feature of the
spiritual growth of Paul, Peter and many others. Consider how the
healed blind man grew in his appreciation of the Lord: a man (Jn. 9:11),
a prophet (:17), the leader of disciples (:27), a man sent from God (:33),
and finally, one to be worshipped as God is worshipped (:38). Because
we've gone up one level in our appreciation of the Lord, don't think that
we're there. Progressive growth in appreciation of Him should be true
of us too. This experience of a growing appreciation of the Lord is in
fact a foretaste of the Kingdom; for this will feature an everlasting
growth in appreciation of the Lord's excellence (Is. 9:7). For us, that
process has already begun. When Christ comes, we will say in that day
" Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us:
this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and
rejoice in his salvation" (Is. 25:9). It doesn't mean we'll turn
into trinitarians. It means we will behold and marvel at the greatness
of the Lord Jesus Christ, to an extent hidden from mortal eyes.
Paul's mind was increasingly saturated with the Gospels, and
with the surpassing excellency of the Lordship of the risen Jesus.
He uses the phrase " in Christ" twice as often in 2 Tim. as
he does on average in the other letters. An ever finer realization of
the supreme Lordship of Jesus is a sure indicator of spiritual maturity.
The disciples followed this pattern; they generally call Jesus Rabbi /
teacher / leader in the Gospels; but the book of Acts chronicles their
constant proclamation of Jesus as Lord; 96 times Luke's account
uses the word kurios (" Lord" ) of Jesus. Perhaps because
of this increasing identification with Christ and sense of Christ's utter
supremacy, his surpassing excellency and Lordship, Paul's concern
in his final letters was constantly for doctrine; he pounded away, time
and again, at the danger of apostasy. As he got older, this was a bigger
and bigger theme with him. He realized more clearly the apostasy of the
brotherhood ; " all men seek their own" he commented (Phil.
2:21), in conscious allusion to his earlier words that such self-seeking
should not be the case amongst the ecclesia (1 Cor. 10:24). His last words
just before his death are full of this theme of apostasy, more than any
other of his writings. 2 Timothy has more reference (relatively) to the
Gospels and to the Lordship of Christ than anything else he wrote. And
yet he was writing having reached spiritual maturity, with the love that
is " the bond of perfectness" (Col. 3:14). Despite his increasing
awareness of the danger of apostasy, his enthusiasm for preaching the
word to the world and strengthening the ecclesia also increased (2 Tim.
is fine proof of this). It's rare to find elderly brethren with a continued
enthusiasm for preaching as well as for warning the flock. 2 Tim. 4:5
records how he encouraged Timothy to " do the work of an evangelist"
despite all the doctrinal problems at Ephesus. Paul's absorption
and appreciation of the Spirit of Christ was what fired his zeal for purity
of doctrine and practice. I'd like to think, collectively and individually,
that we are improving in these areas. Once we were almost blind
to the need to honour the Son even as we honour the Father (Jn.
5:23); we all too often clamoured for purity of doctrine from human rather
than Christ-inspired motives. Are things changing...?
Perhaps they are, amongst some. But there is another, marked move towards
being less certain of ourselves doctrinally. Increasingly, other communities
with a different doctrinal basis are seen as being doctrinally acceptable.
Increasingly there is doubt as to whether our distinctive doctrines really
are so important, whether we can be so sure that (e.g.
) the devil isn't a fallen Angel, and with this goes the associated feeling
that God is more interested in our good deeds than our doctrinal understanding
of Him. Countless believers seem to be going down this road, especially
as they near the end of their race. But Peter, at the end of his days,
could say that he believed as strongly as ever that the doctrines of the
One Faith were no human fable (2 Pet. 1:16). And Paul was just the same.
He often uses the phrase " the Truth" in his letters; once every
51 verses, on average. His earlier letters reflect this average (e.g.
Romans once every 54 verses, Colossians once every 48). But his final
letters show an increasing frequency of usage, until in 2 Timothy Paul
reaches his highest every frequency of speaking about " the Truth"
(Titus: once every 23 verses; 1 Tim. once every 19; 2 Tim. once
every 14). He saw that the Truth was (is) the Truth; that this alone is
the basis of our confidence. He tells Timothy to hold fast the example
(Heb. " form" ) of sound doctrine which Paul knows is evident
in himself. He only uses this word elsewhere in 1 Tim. 1:16, concerning
how he is a " pattern" to all believers. He's clearly saying
that his approach to doctrine should be ours. Moses' final speech in Deuteronomy
was on the same lines; " There's nothing like the Truth, no God like
your God, O Israel; please, please, hold on to it, live it, make
it your life" . And not surprisingly, seeing he consciously modelled
himself on him, Moses' last speeches are often referred to by Paul (e.g.
Phil. 2:15 = Dt. 32:5; Phil. 2:28 = Dt. 31:16; Phil. 2:12 = Dt. 31:8,27,29).
There are many links between Paul's time of dying (as recorded in 2 Tim.
4) and the death of the Lord Jesus. Paul felt that he had at last approximated
to the fellowship of his Lord's sufferings, and therefore he looked ahead
with confidence to the day of resurrection. His awareness of his cloak,
as his one treasured worldly possession, was maybe fuelled by a realization
that this too was the only significant worldly possession of his Lord,
at the end (2 Tim. 4:13). He saw his experiences at the hands of his lion-like
persecutors as being in order that " by me the preaching might be
fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear" (2 Tim. 4:17);
in so saying he was alluding to the Lord's experience on the cross, as
described in Ps. 22:13,21. He felt forsaken by his disciples, just as
Christ had been at His arrest and judgment (2 Tim. 4:16).
The Finished Fight
The theme of the second coming was always strong in Paul’s writings.
And yet his later letters seem to reflect an increasing understanding
that the essence of the Kingdom life is to be lived out here and
now (1). He desired the return of the Lord, but
not just for reasons of animal self-preservation. Paul was good,
and he knew he was good. He knew he was ready to be offered. In
nearly all his letters, Paul asks his readers to pray for him. But
not in these final letters to Timothy. " I am now ready to
be offered" . He knew he had finished the fight (2 Tim. 4:7).
The Greek for " fight" occurs in Phil. 1:29,30 concerning
the struggle we have to truly take up the cross of Christ, and also
in 1 Cor. 9:25 regarding the battle we have for total self-control.
Paul knew these were the aims his Lord had hoped to achieve in him.
And Paul knew that he was through, he'd finished and achieved them.
He had achieved self-control. He knew his Lord, he had been made
conformable to the dying Lord Jesus on the cross, he knew
the fellowship of his sufferings. He had filled up the whole measure
of Christ's sufferings (Phil. 3:10). Paul had earlier spoken
of his " departure" (Phil. 1:23), how he must finish his
course with joy (Acts 20:24); and he knew his time had come; he
could speak of having reached " the time of my departure"
(2 Tim. 4:6). The level of self-knowledge he had as he faced the
end is remarkable. Yet it really is possible for each of us; for
his glorious race to the finish is our pattern. Despite his surface
sadness and depression, Paul was finishing his course with joy.
He felt like Daniel when he said " Notwithstanding, the Lord
stood with me...and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion"
(2 Tim. 4:17). His mind was full of John the Baptist, Daniel, Moses
and above all his Lord. All his years, his hours and minutes, of
sustained meditation, of bringing the mind back from its natural
wandering, were now paying their glorious reward. The picture of
Paul in prison, having reached this spiritual pinnacle, fired the
minds and living of " many of the brethren in the Lord"
(Phil. 1:21). And for me too, the old and brave Paul in that cell
is the man I fain would be. Nero is reported as having said that
the time would come, when men would call their sons Nero and their
dogs Paul, as veiled with all the pomp and the power and the pride
of this life, he watched Paul led out to his death. And yet that
Paul is the man we fain must be; and doubtless he had in his mind
words he had penned years before: " ...those I counted loss
for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the
excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I
have suffered the loss of all things...and be found in him...being
made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might
attain the resurrection of the dead...forgetting the things which
are behind, and reaching forth...I press toward the mark for the
prize" (Phil. 3). This is a far cry from the Paul who just
a few years earlier had ‘refused to die’, who wanted to fight for
his life (Acts 25:11). Now he felt ready to be offered, to be poured
out as a drink offering upon the lives of his brethren (Phil. 2:17
Gk.); he held nothing back, but gave his life rather than
have it forced from him by the inevitable death that must
come to all men. What he had once counted gain- and the Greek suggests
material, financial gain- he now counted loss. He came to despise
the materialism of the world, as did Jacob in his maturity.
The power of all this is not just in its relevance to the elderly or
terminally ill. We are all old men now, we are all on borrowed time. We
believe the Lord's return, the end, the ultimate end, is imminent.
If we are living expecting the imminent second coming; are we ready?
Have we reached the completeness? To a man, we have our doubts. Serious
ones. We are forced not only to resolve to grow more quickly; time, not
to mention our own nature, is not on our side. We are driven, forced,
towards a finer appreciation of the righteousness imputed to us, and the
pure grace of God. " The God of peace (on account of the Lord's sacrifice)
make you perfect (spiritually complete)...working in you
that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ...the
God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory... make
you perfect (complete), stablish, strengthen, settle you. To him
be glory for ever and ever. Amen" (Heb. 13:19,20; 1 Pet. 5:10,11).
(1) See C.H. Dodd, New Teastament
Studies pp. 83-128.