Section Eleven: The Writings of Paul [Wisdom from God that will Bring Us Into Life]

Section Eleven: The Writings of Paul, Wisdom from God that will Bring Us Into Life

We hope that at this point in our journey together through the Scriptures you understand that only LIFE comes from God and the entirety of human history is about God offering that LIFE to us…ultimately through His Son Jesus Christ.  For those who are believers, this life is given freely as a gift and believers are called to live out that LIFE daily.  God wants us to have LIFE and to live in it, but this is not our natural state.  Our natural state, since the fall in Garden of Eden, is a state of dying or in Hebrew (מות תמות) literally “dying you shall die” or “you shall surely die.”  Hence, people naturally try to hold onto life however they can or through whatever means most closely provides them a sense of life or living.  God desires us to have real LIFE and to live in it daily, which, for us, is a supernatural state of being fueled by the Holy Spirit.

The Apostle Paul of Tarsus lived his life post-conversion with the sole purpose of spreading the Gospel Message to Gentile people (non-Jewish) in the Roman-dominated world.  He did this by preaching about Christ and by gathering believers together in church settings.  He also wrote a significant amount of the New Testament with the purpose of instructing believers in the WAY of faith, encouraging believers to live correctly, and to discipline gatherings of believers (churches) when they fell into error.  In the letters of Paul (called epistles), we find a significant emphasis in each book about what Jesus Christ does in us and for us in producing LIFE[1].  In this section, we shall survey and explore the epistles of Paul and discover what Jesus Christ is doing for us.

The Apostle Paul’s opening remarks in the Epistle to Titus strike us as important and are a great summary of what we will find in the rest of his letters to believers!  Paul says in Titus 1:1-3:  “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began  3 and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior” (ESV).  Paul centers on faith and the knowledge of the TRUTH.  Such knowledge of the TRUTH leads to godliness.  Those who are partaking in godliness are also taking part in eternal life.  Those that seek God are brought into LIFE.  The LIFE that Paul expresses in his letters is LIFE in God.  All the TRUTH that leads to LIFE comes by way of the Gospel, which is what we put faith in.  God has certainly given us promises which have their absolute fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

1 & 2 CORINTHIANS: “Christ is the wisdom of God to us”

As we were surveying the writings of Paul, 1 Corinthians 1:30 stands out as a beacon for what Paul wrote to the churches.  1 Corinthians 1:30 states, It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom of God —that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (NIV 1984).  The first part of this verse reminds us that God the Father sent Jesus the Son.  The second part of this verse instructs us that Jesus is for us “the wisdom of God.”  The third part of this verse teaches us that the result of Jesus being in our lives is righteousness, holiness, and redemption.  Of the three parts of the verse, the second portion stands out and begs the question: What does it mean that Jesus is “the wisdom of God” for us?  R.C. Sproul rightly points out in his “Dust to Glory” lectures on Proverbs that “wisdom” in the Jewish mindset (Paul’s mindset) was centered not on “speculative theories, but rather, ‘How can one live a godly life on a daily basis?’[2]  This is same basic emphasis the Apostle Paul is making in the epistles…‘How do we live out the LIFE daily Jesus has given us?’  In order to answer this question, the Apostle Paul includes theology and practical suggestions on living out what God has done in us and records it for us in the epistles.”

As in many letters of Paul, warnings exist to try and help believers stay faithful to the WAY.  For example, 1 Corinthians 10:1-6 says, For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea.  2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.  3 They all ate the same spiritual food  4 and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.  5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert.  6 Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did” (NIV 1984).  In this passage, note the juxtaposition of “all under” (verse 1) and “scattered” (5).  Following God means being united under Him.  For the people of Israel and for us, following after God and walking in wisdom in LIFE Jesus has given us keeps us united under God’s leadership.  Not following means being scattered.  For the people of Israel and for us, pushing God away and living sinfully scatters us away from God and we get lost in the desert and die there.

For Paul in 1 and 2 Corinthians, those that follow Jesus Christ are united under God’s leadership and He teaches us how to live the LIFE He has given to us.  We need help and power to live this way.  The end result for us (as described before in 1 Corinthians 1:30) is a life marked by righteousness, holiness, and redemption.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 tells us the same thing: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!  18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (NIV 1984).

In Christ, the LIFE God has given us means we are a new creation.

In Christ, the LIFE God has given us means reconciliation with God.

In Christ, the LIFE God has given us means we shadow the righteousness of God in us.

And we have the honor to live in this daily.

GALATIANS: “Christ is the faithfulness of God to us”

As we think about the Christian life, we know that the standard for which we are striving is perfection.  The bar of excellence in actions, attitudes, and motivations has been raised to the perfect level because of the complete life of Jesus Christ.  He was totally faithful to God the Father His entire life.  Jesus obeyed the promptings of the Spirit each and every time.  He proved Himself the faithful seed of Abraham each and every time temptation sat on his doorstep.  Jesus then is the faithfulness of God for us.  We depend on Him.  Paul echoes this Truth in Galatians 2:20, which shows how much we depend on Christ: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (NIV 1984).  We depend on faithful Jesus Christ in us to connect us to God the Father.

Galatians Chapter 3 continues this thought and puts our dependence on Jesus Christ in terms of faithfulness as children of Abraham.  This chapter explains to us that we who are believers are connected to Abraham because of our faith.  We are told in verse 11 (echoing Habakkuk 2:4 and repeated in Romans 1:17 and Hebrews 10:38): “The righteous will live by faith” (NIV 1984).  We are told in verse 24 that we are justified by our faith.  The end of this chapter shows us how much we depend on Christ with Paul describing that we need to be totally clothed by Him: “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,  27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:26-27, NIV 1984).

What does this have to do with us?  We should understand that most of the time in our lives we think and do things for selfish reasons.  We do things “in self to save self.”  Daily living for “self” is the exact opposite of wise living that God desires and that is described by the Apostle Paul.  What he describes is following after Faithful Christ.  This is LIFE.

EPHESIANS: “Christ is the riches of God for us”

Ephesians is a book that begins by talking about riches and weaves this word throughout its six chapters:

Ephesians 1:7-8: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.”

Ephesians 1:18-19: I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,  19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”

Ephesians 2:6-7: “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,  7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

Ephesians 3:8-9: “Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,  9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things.”

Ephesians 3:16-17: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,  17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”

The word used in Ephesians which means “riches” is the Greek word “ploutos” (ploo-tos) which means “extreme wealth and possessions often with a negative connotation[3].”  In English one might say, “obscenely rich” or “obnoxiously wealthy.”  Please note: what Jesus Christ has given to us through His sacrifice is obscenely generous and we who are believers are obscenely blessed by God because of Him.

We should note Ephesians 3:16 focuses our thoughts in this area in that these obscene riches fall to us by “His Spirit” in our “inner beings” and, in context, are not physical wealthy blessings.  We are meant to know we are blessed in Christ, but we are also called to walk intentionally each day in step with the Spirit.  Those who are believers are called to live a life different than those who have no hope and have no LIFE in them.

We are not to live in futile thinking (Ephesians 4:17)

We are not to think with darkened understanding (Ephesians 4:18)

We are not to lose sensitivity to sin (Ephesians 4:19)

We are however, meant to in a very practical way “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires;  23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds;  24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Galatians 4:22b-24).  That is living richly before God through Christ empowered by the Spirit!

Please understand that this type of living doesn’t just happen.  Intentionally walking with Jesus Christ every single day (even with His Spirit helping you) takes effort on our part.  This type of living takes an initial decision to put off an old way of living and abiding in sin.  After that initial decision, it then takes a daily decision to abide in Christ and to live in the gloriously obscene rich inheritance God has given us.  Remember, it’s not natural for us to do this…because of our sin nature we’d rather walk around life spiritually poor, bereft of God, and lost in ourselves.

The end of the Book of Ephesians (6:13-18) contains a beautiful word picture of the practical life that a believer has in Christ.  The word picture is that of a Roman soldier.  Using the different parts of a Roman soldier’s gear, the Apostle Paul encourages Ephesian believers and us today on how to get rid of the old and put on the new.  The purpose of the Christian LIFE is “so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:13, NIV 1984).

The LIFE Christ gives to us is centred on:

Verse 14: Truth, which holds everything in place

Verse 14: Righteousness, which guards our hearts and vital thoughts

Verse 15: Readiness to give peace in all the places we walk

Verse 16: Faith, which shields us from temptation and despair and lies

Verse 17: Salvation assurance, which protects our thoughts from hard blows

Verse 17: The Bible, which is our defence and offence in life decisions

Verse 18: Prayer, which connects us directly to God

PHILIPPIANS: “Christ is the necessity of God for us”

Philippians 1:27 gives the believer in Jesus Christ a tall order when it comes to practical living.  The Apostle Paul says in 1:27: conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (see also Colossians 1:9-14 for similar talk).  How on earth is anyone supposed to do that?  How can any of our lives ever become worthy of the sacrifice Jesus laid out for us?  How can anyone live daily being worthy of the cross of Christ?

The answer comes as we read further in Philippians in Chapter 2.  Philippians 2:16 shares with us that only by purposefully holding onto Jesus Christ may any of us reach God the Father and live a life “worthy” of what He has done for us.  We should note in these verses in Chapter 2 that the worthiness does not come from us…it is given to us.  We should note that the LIFE we gain is not generated inside of us, but is given to us.

NET NLT ESV KJV HCSB TLB
by holding on to the word of life Hold firmly to the word of life holding fast to the word of life Holding forth the word of life Hold firmly to the message of life holding out to them the Word of Life

Only by holding firmly, fastly onto Jesus Christ (which is why the TLB makes it a “proper name”) can any of us hope to have God in our lives fulfilling our needs.  Jesus Christ is necessary for any of us to live a life worthy of Him.  As echoed by other epistles, we must intentionally choose God daily through Christ in the power of the Spirit.

COLOSSIANS: “Christ is the fullness of God to us”

The LIFE that God offers believers through Jesus Christ is not one empty of blessings as we have seen.  What is found in the LIFE Jesus offers is full access to God.  To put it another way, Jesus offers complete access to God.  The person who lives daily in the Spirit and daily seeks after God will find Him in Christ in a way that is supernatural.  Colossians 2:6-7 states: So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him,  7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (NIV 1984).  Please note the words “rooted,” “built up,” “strengthened,” and “overflowing” in verse 7.  Each one of those words describes having full complete access to God in our lives.  Each word indicates fullness and strength.

1 & 2 THESSALONIANS: “Christ is the Promised Reward of God to Us”

1 & 2 Thessalonians are books all about how God will indeed keep all the promises He has made.  The Thessalonians were rightly waiting for Jesus’ triumphant return and needed some encouragement in the meantime.  The Apostle Paul explains to the believers in Thessalonica that Jesus Christ is a promise sent to bring LIFE and that LIFE will only be manifest to those that remain confident in God promise.  Remember…Jesus is the Promise.

Here is where living in Christ gets a little tricky.  Believers have a reality of living now and a reality of living later that coincide more than we realize and more than we live out.  In this earthly life now, it is possible to have the glory of God flowing through us.  It is possible to live now so that others around us see Jesus Christ clearly in us (that is what revealing His glory means).  It is possible to live now with Jesus Christ as our motivating factor and guide.  This is true now, but is also our promised reward later.  Later, in the Age to Come, Jesus Christ the Son of God will come and every single person who has ever existed will see Jesus clearly for who He really is…and it won’t be up to us to show Him off or explain who He is.  It will be evident.  All of His glory will be revealed at His Second Coming.  The believer has that promise of future glory to look forward to and to live towards.

What does this practically mean?  It means now for us we live in that Promise:

First, we live by making our love increase (which makes us blameless and holy) knowing that it doesn’t matter if that love is returned to us in this earthly life…our God will reward us in the next.  1 Thessalonians 3:12-13: May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.  13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones” (NIV 1984).

Second, we live each day expecting Jesus to return remaining confident in the Promise of God even if we die without seeing it.  The Apostle Paul directly addresses this with the Thessalonians: According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.  16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, NIV 1984).

 

[1] Some emphasis is drawn from J. Sidlow Baxter’s Explore The Book, Zondervan Publishing 1987, pgs 63-64, via the Concise New Testament Survey on Bible.org

[2] RC Sproul.  Dust to Glory: Old Testament.  Ligionier Ministries.  2010. Lecture #27

[3] Louw-Nida Greek Lexicon

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