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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

14-7-2 Paul And The Parables

The Lord had said that parables only remained incomprehensible to " them that are without" (Mk. 4:11). That phrase seems to have stuck with Paul; he uses it five times. Perhaps he saw that a characteristic of the believers, those separated from the world of darkness, was that they understood the parables; and this would explain Paul's frequent allusion to them, stressing as he does the need to appreciate their power. At times he 'unconsciously' uses a phrase from the parables, out of context, but as an indication that they were running through his mind (e.g. " children of light" in Eph. 5:8; 1 Thess. 5:5 is quarried from Lk. 16:8). 

Take Lk. 18:1: " He spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint" . There are so many allusions by Paul to this verse and the ensuing parable (see table above). This shows just how like us Paul was; he had his favourite parables, one or two that really stuck in his mind, just as we do. And he alluded to them! They were in his heart, to inspire and motivate him, just as the Lord intended. Paul picks up the idea of not fainting in 2 Thess. 3:13: " Brethren, be not weary (s.w. " not to faint" ) in well doing" . What well-doing did Paul have in mind? Attending the Sunday meetings? Being patient with some difficult sister in the ecclesia? The connection with Lk. 18:1 tells us what he had in mind: keep on praying intensely. It's no co-incidence that Paul started that section of 2 Thess. 3 (in v.1) with the exhortation: " Brethren, pray for us" . And he concludes it with the same rubric: " Brethren, be not weary" (faint not), in your prayers. He knew from the parable that repeated prayer was powerful. And so he asks them to keep at it for him, because he needed it. Perhaps Paul had the same thing in mind when he wrote to the Ephesians (3:13): " In (Christ)  we have boldness and access with confidence (to God, in prayer, cp. Heb. 4:16)...wherefore I desire that ye faint not (s.w. Lk. 18:1) at my tribulations" ; is he not implying 'You know how powerful prayer is, so don't faint in it, you know what struggles I'm having, please keep on praying for me, like that persistent widow in the parable'. This fits in with a number of other passages in which Paul unashamedly begs his brethren to pray for him. In this we see his humility, his high regard for other brethren who were almost certainly weaker than him, and also the physical desperation of his daily life. 

Favourite Parables Of Paul

The prodigal son was another favourite of Paul's. At least four times (Lk. 15:24 = Eph. 2:1,5; 5:14; Col. 2:13) he makes the point that he saw the repentant son as a type of every one of us: not just those who publicly disgrace themselves and go out of ecclesial life for a time. 

The sower parables were another favourite. In Acts 13:10 he calls Elymas a “son of the devil” (RV), implying he was a tare sown among the wheat (Mt. 13:38). He tells the Hebrews and Romans to have the patient, fruit-bearing characteristics of the good ground (Lk. 8:15 = Rom. 2:7; Heb. 10:36). He enthuses that the Colossians were in the good ground category: the Gospel “bringeth forth you, since the day ye heard” (Col. 1:6). Paul had thought deeply about that parable. He doesn't just half-quote it in an offhand way. For example, Mt. 13:22 says that riches choke a man's response to the word. 1 Tim. 6:9 warns that those who want to be rich are choked by their desire for riches. Likewise Paul saw the rich man of Mt. 19:23 as actually one who wanted to be rich (= 1 Tim. 6:9,10). So Paul had thought through the parable. He saw that possession of riches alone wouldn't choke a man; he saw that the Lord was using " riches" as meaning 'the desire for riches'. And because " riches" are relative and subjective, this must be right. And therefore the Spirit was able to use Paul's deductions. My point is that the Spirit could have used just anyone to write (e.g.) 1 Tim. 6:9. But it was no accident that God chose to use a man with a fine knowledge and appreciation of His Son to be His pen-man. In similar vein, Mt. 13:19 describes the evil one taking away the word out of  our heart. However can we resist that evil one? Paul had his eye on this question in 2 Thess. 3:1,3, where he speaks of the word being with them, and also of the  Lord keeping them from the evil one. Paul knew that the Lord (Jesus) will help us in keeping the word in our hearts, if we allow him to; he saw that the power of God is greater than our low nature.  Paul speaks in 1 Thess. 3:3 as if it is obvious that tribulation must come in the Christian life after conversion; and surely he learnt this from the Lord's own assumption in the sower parable that tribulation and persecution must definitely arise, it's only a question of when (Mt. 13:21). 

One of the ineffable sadnesses of Paul's life must have been to see his converts falling away. Yet he seems to have comforted himself by seeing their defection in terms of the sower parable. Many a twentieth century missionary has been brought close to that parable for the same reason. It supplies an explanation, an answer, a comfort, as 'Friends one by one depart (some we saw as pillars to our own faith, those we thought would always be there) / Lonely and sad our heart'. Thus Paul saw Demas as a seed among thorns (Mt. 13:22 = 2 Tim. 4:10); he saw Elymas as a tare (Mt. 13:38 = Acts 13:10); and he pleads with the Romans not to slip into the tare category (Mt. 13:41 Gk. = Rom. 14:13). 

Heb. 5:2 describes those in sin whom the Lord saved as “out of the way”. The same idea is found in Lk. 11:6 Avmg., where the man “out of his way” comes knocking on the Lord’s door. The image of the shut door is that of rejection; but here the door is opened, and the man given “as much as he needs” of forgiveness and acceptance. 

When Paul speaks of the stewardship of God’s grace given to him (Eph. 3;2 RVmg.), he is alluding to the parable of the talents. He saw the talents as the amount of grace shown, and for him, he knew this to amount to many talents; and he invested them, in response, through the preaching of the Gospel. And he carries on the allusion in Eph. 4:7, speaking of how unto every one of us Christ has given a gift, namely, grace.  

The final parables of the Lord, found in Mt. 25, are alluded to most by Paul. The links between the parables of  Mt. 24 / 25 and 1 Thessalonians have been widely tabulated by many commentators. It is as if he saw in the parables a passion and intensity of meaning that found a deep lodgment within him. He warns the Romans not to be like the lazy servant in the parable (Mt. 25:26 = Rom. 12:11); he heavily underlines the point to the Thessalonians that the parable of the drunken servant living at ease refers to the unworthy in the ecclesia in the last  days (not any " peace and safety cry" out in the world, let it be noted). Paul's whole reasoning in Eph. 5:29-32 is based on the idea of Christ as the bridegroom, as propounded by the Lord in Mt. 25:1. And three times he alludes to the parable of the talents; in Rom. 12:6 he suggests that this parable has an application to each having a different gift within the ecclesia; whilst in 1 Cor. 12:11 and Eph. 4:7 he implies that he saw the talents as representing miraculous Holy Spirit gifts. This shows how Paul applied the basic principles of Christ's teaching to local situations, even though it may seem strictly to be slightly out of context. He does the same with Christ's commands concerning personal offences in Mt. 18; he applies them, strictly out of context, to dealing with doctrinal problems at Corinth. But this, presumably, is how we are to read the Gospels; understanding the basic principles, and applying them in different situations in practice.  

Especially, Paul saw himself in the parables- just as we should. Paul describes himself as having been “shamefully entreated” when he brought the Gospel to Philippi (1 Thess. 2:2)- using the Greek word used in Mt. 22:6 concerning how the messengers sent to the vineyard were “entreated spitefully”. And maybe Paul was consciously aware that the Lord Himself had spoken of how He would be “spitefully entreated” (Lk. 18:32) during His final sufferings. Hence Paul could speak of filling up the measure of Christ’s sufferings through what he suffered whilst preaching Christ’s Gospel (Co. 1:24).