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14.  Paul

14-1 The Conversion Of Paul / Saul || 14-2-1 Paul And His Brethren || 14-2-2 The Weakness Of Paul || 14-2-3 Paul: A Character Study || 14-3 The Preaching Of Paul || 14-4 Saul Changed To Paul || 14-5 Paul's Relationship With Jesus || 14-6 Paul And Christ  (1) || 14-6-1 Paul's Use Of The Gospels  || 14-6-2 Paul's Quotations From The Gospels: Statistics || 14-6-3-1 Paul's Quotations From The Gospels: Analysis And Implications || 14-6-3-2 Inspiration: The Human Factor || 14-6-3-3 The Enigma Of John's Gospel || 14-6-3-4 The Nature Of The Gospel Records || 14-6-3-5 Memorizing Scripture || 14-6-4 The Supremacy Of Christ || 14-7 Paul And Christ (2) || 14-7-1 Paul's Use Of The Gospels: Further Observations || 14-7-2 Paul And The Parables || 14-7-3 Paul's Use Of The Sermon On The Mount (Mt. 5 - 7) || 14-7-4 Paul's Exposition Of Gethsemane || 14-7-5 Paul And The Characters In The Gospels || 14-7-6 Paul In The Gospels || 14-7-7 Paul And John The Baptist || 14-7-8 Saul, Paul And Stephen || 14-7-9 Following Elders || 14-7-10 Connections Between The Gospels And Epistles: Observations || 14-8 Paul's Heroes || 14-8-1 Paul And Moses || 14-8-2 Paul And King Saul || 14-9   Paul and Corinth || 14-10 Paul And His Weak Brethren || 14-11 Paul's Thorn In The Flesh || 14-12 Paul's Shipwreck  || 14-13 Paul’s Self-Perception || 14-14 Paul, Philemon and Onesimus || 14-15 Chronology of Paul’s Life

14-6-4 The Supremacy Of Christ

But where do we get the motivation from to memorize Scripture, and the Gospels (or a Gospel) in particular? I'd suggest that it comes from first of all realizing, on a theological level, the greatness of Christ. He is now Lord of Heaven and earth, all power has been given unto him, He is the " Prince of the Kings of the earth" . Those early brethren who had seen the Lord in His humanity really appreciated this. Thus " Yahweh of hosts, him shall you sanctify" (Is. 8:13 LXX) is applied by Peter to the Lord Jesus, whom we should sanctify (1 Pet. 3:15). Paul speaks about " the Lord" as if we all know who he refers to; the Lord, the one and only Lord, the exalted Lord Jesus. This especially comes out in his breaking of bread passage in 1 Cor. 11:23-29. Such is the supremacy of Christ that " We cannot lift Christ too high" as Robert Roberts expressed it in Seasons of Comfort. If we appreciate the extent and height of His Lordship and exaltation, we will see the extent to which our minds should be dominated by Him. Our very consciousness should beat with His spirit, His mind. We are told that He should live in our hearts; for us, He should be the alpha and omega (Rev. 1:11). The confession of faith before baptism is summarized, in its quintessence, as confessing with the mouth Jesus as Lord (Rom. 10:9 RV). Not only this, of course; but all the doctrines a candidate must know beforehand are summarized in this. There is ample reason to fear that as a community we have scarcely begun to realize this. We are (or were) doctrine-centred, Bible-centred perhaps, but not purely Christ-centred.

Mistaken Emphasis

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that we've got anything wrong as far as basic doctrine is concerned; I'm making the point that our perspective and emphasis has been wrong. We have, for example, emphasized the political establishment of the Kingdom at Christ's return far far more than the cross of Christ. Yet the teaching of Christ and the apostles says very little about this; reading through the New Testament with an open mind, the basic theme is clear: Christ died on the cross for our sins, according to the Old Testament scriptures. The future political Kingdom is one outcome of what has been achieved by the victory of the Lord Jesus on Calvary. We have almost shied away from the New Testament due to our over-reaction against New Testament-only 'Christianity'. An over-emphasis on the place of natural Israel and the political Kingdom of God which simply does not reflect the emphasis found in the New Testament. Consider the preaching of Paul. The Gospel he preached was concerning the death and resurrection of the Lord (Rom. 15:20,21 cp. Is. 52:15). Ananias relayed his commission to him (Acts 22:15): that he was to be a world-wide witness of the reality of the resurrection (it may well be that Paul had witnessed the crucifixion too). And all the Lord's men are to be witnesses of Him world-wide (Acts 1:8).  

I'm not saying that a basic emphasis upon the literal establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth is wrong. Far, far from it. I'm suggesting that our emphasis has been misplaced. Likewise the promises to Abraham and David are fundamentally concerning the Lord Jesus and His conquest of sin; the reference which they have to the political Kingdom is very much secondary to this. We benefit from those promises only insofar as we are in Christ, and therefore the blessings promised to and through Him become relevant to us. An over emphasis on the future political Kingdom can lead us to ignore the many passages which speak of love, joy and peace in our present lives; we seem to prefer the Catholic idea of grim suffering now resulting in an unimaginable physical paradise in the future. The outcome of this is that we have neglected the need to emphasize personal spirituality, the need to assimilate the Lord Jesus into our own personality. And because it is impossible to realistically imagine the future political Kingdom, it is not the motivating power that it should be. What should and can motivate us is the wonder of sin forgiven and an open relationship with God here and now. In any case, what we know about the political Kingdom is at best only knowledge about the brief Millennium. The Millennium is not solely equal to our salvation and redemption. Our salvation is fundamentally about  our sins being forgiven and God therefore manifesting Himself is us. The descriptions of the Millennium are to give us some physical example of the results, the outcome, of the fact sin has been overcome through Christ. Paul's letter to the Romans is an exposition of the Gospel. He says so straight. But he never speaks there of the Gospel of the literal Kingdom on earth, true and valid as it is. We read in Acts 28:31 that whilst in Rome, Paul taught the things of the Kingdom and the Lord Jesus. But his letter to the Romans places the emphasis, and this is my point, upon the reign of grace. He speaks of how grace " reigns" , as if grace is the dominating, ruling principle in the lives of those who have now sided with the Kingdom of God rather than that of this world. Testifying the Gospel of God's grace is paralleled by Paul with testifying about the Kingdom- and he says this again in a Roman context (Acts 20:24,25). In Romans 5, Paul makes a seamless connection between the reign of God's grace now, and our future reigning in the literal Kingdom of God to be established materially upon earth at the Lord's return: Grace reigns unto eternal life, i.e. the result of the reign of grace now is eternal life in the future (Rom. 5:21)... and thus " the ones receiving the abundance of the grace and of the free gift of the righteousness in life will reign through the one, Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:17). Elsewhere, Paul clearly understands the idea of future reigning as a reference to our ruling in the future Kingdom of God. This is a very real and wonderful hope which we have, and is indeed part of the Gospel. My point is that this is not all there is to the Gospel, and we appear in some quarters of our community to have gotten it rather out of balance.  Such is the supremacy of Christ that this must alter that balance. "Israel" means something like 'God rules' (Gen. 32:22-28) (1); His people are those over whom He rules. We therefore are under His Kingdom now, if we accept Christ as King over our lives.

Col. 1:13 says as much, speaking of us having been already translated into the Kingdom of Christ. The preaching of the Kingdom is made parallel to preaching the time of acceptance with God and forgiveness of sins now (Lk. 4:43 cp. 19, 2 Cor. 6:2); Rom. 14:17, which seems to teach that the Kingdom of God is more about " peace and joy in the Holy Spirit", both now and eternally, than physical, tangible things. Christ's parables about the Kingdom don't speak of a political Kingdom, but rather about the relationship between God and the believer in the here and now. It is also so that “the kingdom of God” was then understood to have been the nation of Israel, and many parables of the Kingdom focus upon them (e.g. the leaven of Mt. 13:33 is “the leaven of the Pharisees” of Lk. 12:1; those who would not understand the word in Mk. 4:4 are those of Judges 2:17). Of course, present suffering is necessary; and none of us would deny we have plenty of it. But the comfort, the joy and peace, should abound along with this. This is the fruit of the Lord the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18), the result of Christ dwelling in us, being Lord and King in our hearts, here and now. It makes an interesting study to analyze what percentage of NT references to the Kingdom and Christ's Kingship have reference to the future political Kingdom. Many of the Kingdom prophecies of healing were it seems consciously fulfilled in the Lord’s healings:

·                Is. 35:6 LXX the stammerer healed = Mk. 7:32-35

·                Is. 35:3 = Mk. 2:3-12; 3:1-6

·                Is. 35:8,10 = Mk. 11:1 Bartimaeus following on the Jerusalem road

The Kingdom prophecy of Zech. 14:21 that there will no longer be a trafficker in the Lord's house was fulfilled by the Lord's casting out the traders from the temple. This doesn’t mean that these passages will not have a glorious future fulfilment. But in the person of Jesus and in the record of His life we see the “Kingdom come nigh”, as He Himself said it did. We can so focus on the future fulfilment that we can forget that He was the Kingdom in the midst of men; the essence of our eternal future, of the coming political Kingdom of God, was and is to seen in Him. Satan fell from Heaven during His ministry ((Lk. 10:18), as it will at the second coming (Rev. 12).

Note the parallel in Jn. 3:3,5: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see [perceive] the kingdom of God… he cannot enter into the kingdom of God”. If we truly see / perceive the things of the Kingdom in this life, then we will enter it in the future. Israel ‘saw’ the land physically through the spies (Num. 13:18; 32:8), but were told that they would “not see the land” (Num. 14:23; 32:11; Dt. 1:35). Again, as in the Lord’s teaching, ‘seeing the land’ is put for ‘entering’ into it. Knowing facts about the future Kingdom doesn’t mean we will enter it. But really ‘seeing’ the things of the Gospel of the Kingdom will by its very nature change us into people who will enter it. For we will be living the essence of the Kingdom life right now. Israel through the spies went to ‘see’ the land (Num. 13:18), but could not enter it because of their unbelief (Heb. 3:19). They didn’t ‘see’ it in the sense of perceiving what God’s Kingdom was all about. They only saw the physicality of the land; and this wasn’t enough to enter it. The synoptics’ formula that he who believes the Gospel and is baptized will be saved is matched by John in Jn. 6:40: “every one that beholdeth the Son, and believeth on him, should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day”. Believing the Gospel of the Kingdom is matched by seeing / perceiving the Son. This is the basis. “The kingdom of God’s sake” (Lk. 18:29) is paralleled with the sake of the Name of Christ by the account in Mt. 19:29. The things of the Name and the things of the Kingdom were therefore not two different things, rather were they different ways of referring to the same realities.

When we read of “eternal life” being granted to us now, we are reading about “the life belonging to the age”, i.e. the Kingdom of God in the future. The idea is that we can live the life which we will eternally live- right here and now. We can experience the quality of that life now. And if we don’t… we don’t have the guarantee of eternity in the Kingdom. For in spiritual terms, in terms of essential spiritual experience, there will be a seamless transition between the spiritual life we now enjoy, and that which we will experience in the future Kingdom. The location of that eternity will be on earth; and yes, there must be death, resurrection, judgment and immortalisation of our body. But those more ‘physical’ realities don’t figure so deeply in the message which John is putting across in his record of ‘the Gospel’. Notice how in Jn. 3:36, 'having everlasting life' is paralleled with 'seeing life'; to perceive and live what God's Kingdom life is all about, is in a sense to 'have' it.

It can be that we live as good Christians, but the reality and present Lordship of Christ is a fundamental part of our lives which we miss out on. But more than that. If we don't have the spirit of Christ, we are none of His (Rom. 8:9,10,11 cp. 5,6). The Lord Jesus is called " the life, the eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us" (1 Jn. 1:3 RV). In this lies the importance of a Christ-centred life and mind; He is the definition of eternal life. This is what eternity will be like, John is saying: life lived as Christ lived and lives. " This is life eternal: that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ" (Jn. 17:3). Notice that eternal life isn't defined in terms of sitting under a fig tree in a perfect climate watching the animals living happily together (although we are invited to believe that by God's grace this will be our experience). It is the life of Christ our Lord; and that's why one of His titles is " the life, the eternal life" . He shewed us what eternal life will be about, and invites us to begin that experience, however imperfectly, even now (cp. Hos. 6:3 RV). And it is in this sense alone that " we may know that we have (now) eternal life" (1 Jn. 5:13). 

 Paul's relationship with and perception of the Lord Jesus is held up by the Spirit as our example. He himself asks us to copy (Gk. mimic) the way in which he followed the Lord Jesus (this is what 1 Cor. 11:1 implies in the Greek). We have seen that his mind was increasingly saturated with the Gospels, and with the surpassing excellency and supremacy of the Lordship of the risen Jesus. As he faced death, he more intensely modelled his words 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; Jn. 13:1; as well as to his old hero, John the Baptist (Acts 13:25). And yet despite this, perhaps because of his increasing identification with Christ and sense of Christ's supremacy, Paul's concern 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. His last words just before his death are full of this theme, more than any other of his writings. And yet that same letter has more reference (relatively) to the Gospels and to the Lordship of Christ than anything else he wrote. 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 and the supremacy of Christ, of the height of His Lordship, grew and grew. And so did his appreciation of his own sinfulness (consider the chronological progression of 1 Cor. 15:9 - Eph. 3:8 - 1 Tim. 1:15). So did his enthusiasm for preaching the word to the world, and strengthening the ecclesia (2 Tim. is fine proof of this). 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  And yet as his perception of Christ and his surpassing excellency increased, so did his warnings against apostasy, and the need to hold on to true doctrine. In other words, his absorption and appreciation of the Spirit of Christ was what fired his zeal for purity of doctrine and practice. It was this which gave him the spiritual energy and power to live the life that he did, to the point that he could truly say that for him, to live was Christ; that the life he lived in the flesh, the things he did, the thoughts he thought, was all the result of Christ living in him and through him. He brought every thought (and this isn't figurative language) into captivity to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). My sense is that as he was lead out to face his death, a phrase he'd coined to the Philippians years back  was in his mind: " For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21). Paul was an evident type of Christ. In the spiritual pinnacle and pathos of his time of dying, I see an image, a superb image, of the death of his Lord and ours.


(1) James Muilenburg, The Way Of Israel (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962) p. 45.