14-7-6 Paul In The Gospels
Paul didn't only see others in the Gospels. He saw himself, he saw his
own life and experiences in the light of the words of the Gospels. He
saw himself as having been like those Roman soldiers who nailed Christ
to the tree trunk (Lk. 23:34 = 1 Tim. 1:13). He saw himself as "
chief of sinners" (1 Tim. 1:15), and therefore one of those referred
to by Christ in Mt. 9:13. Yet he also saw himself as the man who gives
all to buy the pearl (Mt. 13:45,46 = Phil. 3:7,8; although this passage
also alludes to Moses; as if he took inspiration from Moses to be like
the man in the parable). He saw the excellency of the knowledge of Christ
as the pearl whose beauty inspired even a rich man to give up all that
he had. Paul took comfort, real comfort, from the way he found himself
in situations similar to those of his Lord. Thus as he spoke and wrote
to brethren who were not as spiritually mature as they ought to be for
their time in Christ, he saw the similarity between himself and the Lord
Jesus talking to the crowds, those crowds of very human people who at
that time comprised God's ecclesia (Mt. 13:15 = Heb. 5:11). Or as he wrote
to his unspiritual Corinthian brethren, he was doubtless hurt at the thought
of their opposition to him; yet his mind flew to the similarities between
himself and his Lord being rejected by his brethren (Mk. 3:21
= 2 Cor. 5:13). When Corinth reviled him (2 Cor. 7:4), he saw this as
being reviled and persecuted after the pattern of Mt. 5:12. And when the
world outside reviled him, he saw himself as the beaten prophets Jesus
had spoken about (2 Cor. 11:24,25 = Mt. 21:35).
It's not so difficult to spot these allusions, once you are looking for
them. But most of those allusions were probably the product of much conscious
and unconscious meditation and churning over of those passages in his
mind. Thus his decision not to take money from Corinth (1 Cor. 9:18) was
due to his deep, deep meditation on the principle contained in Mt. 10:8;
although there were other passages in the Gospels which he knew implied
that it was Christ's will that the missionary should be paid (1 Cor. 9:14
= Mt. 10:10). This issues of payment shows how Paul based his life decisions
on his understanding of the principles of the Gospels. He did far more
than learn those Gospels parrot-fashion. They were in his heart, and influenced
the direction of his life. Likewise he seems to have seen in Christ's
prophecy that the Gospel would be fully known world-wide in the last days
of the first and twentieth centuries as being a specific, personal command
to him (Mt. 24:14 = 2 Tim. 4:17).
Paul was ever aware of his own proneness to failure. He saw himself as
tempted to be like the man in the parable who thought he should have more,
because he had laboured more abundantly than the others (Mt. 20:12 Gk.
= 2 Cor. 11:25). He knew that his salvation partly depended upon
not being ashamed of Christ's words before men; hence his frequent self-examination
concerning whether he was witnessing as he should. Thus when he declares
that he is not ashamed of the Gospel, he is expressing his certainty of
salvation; he is implying that therefore Christ will not be ashamed of
him at the judgment (Rom. 1:16; 2 Tim. 1:8,12,16 = Mk. 8:38). The threat
of Lk. 9:23-25 rung in his mind (in 1 Cor. 3:15; 2 Cor. 7:9; Phil. 3:8):
If a man gains the world for Christ but does not take up the cross, or
is ashamed of Christ's words and principles in this world, he will be
cast away. Especially does Paul allude to these words in 1 Cor.
9:27: " Lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should be
a castaway" . Paul recognized his temptation: to think that his zeal
for preaching excused him from taking up the cross. In essence, we must
all see our own likely temptations: to focus on one area of spirituality,
with the hope that it will excuse us from the cross.
Likewise the idea of striving to enter the Kingdom, the
need for such agonizing effort (Lk. 13:24), meant an awful lot to Paul
(1 Cor. 9:25; Col. 1:29; 1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7). It's fashionable these
days to focus upon the certainty of our redemption in Christ and to ignore
the warnings about apostasy. In Paul we see a brother who brought these
two strands together; because his mind was so Christ and Gospels-centred.
He personalized those Gospels, he must have kept thinking to himself
'Now this applies to me...it really does...'. What a brother.
What an active mind, a mind which he knew had Christ living in it. When
you're good, really good, you know you're good without being proud about
it. Paul knew he had the mind of Christ. He saw the power it influenced
upon him. And without pride and undue self-presentation he invites us,
time and again, to follow (Gk. mimic) the level of mimicking
Christ which he had reached.