settling into what is unsettling

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:10

A major theme of mine is Paul’s thorn in the flesh, and the necessary embrace of weakness. It’s interesting in the passage (click link above) how Paul’s thorn, whatever it is, is not made known. I can easily imagine Paul elaborating with a paragraph, or a few lines on just what he went through. But somehow he didn’t, and I think we’re all the richer for it. And actually that thorn taught Paul something more: his need to embrace all weakness.

It’s not easy to settle into what is inherently unsettling. Maybe a new weakness or situation on top of another, or others. What we really don’t want, or want to deal with, or end up living with. Maybe something chronic, which could seem or even be potentially life threatening. We don’t want to go there.

Paul certainly didn’t want any part of what actually tormented him, and strange as it may seem, a messenger of Satan himself, to torment Paul. He pleaded in prayer with the Lord three times to take it away. Somehow the Lord was in it, what literally would seem to be an attack from the enemy, which instead of taking away, God actually using for Paul’s good and for the great blessing of others, including us today, through this passage, and through Paul’s life and ministry. Paul needed to be kept humble, because of the great revelations God had given him. And you might say, he needed to be kept weak, so that he would trust in God alone, and that others might trust in God as well, instead of being taken up with just how great Paul was. It wasn’t at all about Paul, but only about Christ. That’s hard for us to learn. Somehow God wants us to become something of the message we testify to. That the gospel, the good news in Jesus would be vital and personal to us everyday of our lives. And that our lives would conform to Jesus’s life, us becoming weak in him, so that his power might be evident even through us, yes through our weakness (2 Corinthians 13:4). Counterintuitive to us for sure, but what even we ourselves need in and through Jesus.


old sins

My wife and I saw Paul, Apostle of Christ yesterday, and we found it good. I thought it was outstanding in portraying Paul, good acting, good plot, faithful to the biblical text.

An interpretation, as I understood it from the film was one I can’t remember hearing of, intriguing, and which played through to the end. I really don’t want to spoil it for those who have yet to see it. So I won’t go into certain details. But namely, that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was his memory of all the Christians in whose deaths he had not only willingly participated in, but directed. He would often it seems be tormented in dreams, seeing those in Christ whom he had killed with no peace and joy.

This got me to thinking on old sins. We know they’re forgiven. But we also know, and sometimes experience their consequences. There is no question that we can be haunted the rest of our days. Whether or not this interpretation of Paul’s thorn in the flesh is correct, there has to be some value in trying to grapple with this subject.

Yes, as far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our transgressions. But consequences remain on those who were hurt, as well as the one who sinned. The clearest biblical example of that of course is David’s sin against Uriah and Bathsheba, and all that followed surely the rest of his life. Uriah was cut off from this life in death, and others more or less followed David’s example. Surely, as I heard someone say recently, David was closer to God after this. Or at least we would hope so. Yet that can be a struggle. One can feel tormented, condemned. And God can seem far away. Yes, Satan can have a heyday wreaking havoc on someone’s soul.

In our day sins are too often seen as private affairs. The church should be involved insofar as that’s possible. All too often people escape to another church. It used to be you had one church, and that was it. But now we have twenty or more churches close enough for us to attend. God’s way for the best handling of sin is through the church, so that a frank, full, yet not unnecessarily detailed admission of sin can be made, guided by church leadership. And then a process of restoration can be undertaken.

Back to the film, of course Saul of Tarsus, later Paul the Apostle of Christ, did these things before his conversion to Christ. It does seem different than when someone sins grievously after conversion. Yet something one might take from the film, which I think is rooted in scripture, perhaps even in David’s story is that one goes on the best they can, in God’s grace and power to live and finish well. The sin makes that more of a challenge. But as difficult as this sounds, and is, there can be some good found to be taken out of it.

One can be more aware of dangers, so that they might possibly warn others. And in prayer for those who have been directly affected. And cast more than ever on God, since nothing can really undo the damage that has been done. Although God can redeem all that is lost. Through our one hope and Savior, indeed our life, as it was for Paul: Jesus.

faith because of the faithfulness of Christ

In Paul’s letters, there are a number of places in which the literal translation would be “the faithfulness of Christ” as being front and center for our salvation. Of course our faith is factored into that, but our faith is not central. Oftentimes it is translated “faith in Christ,” which still puts Christ as the object of faith, but also emphasizes our faith. And there’s no doubt that there is an emphasis on human faith, such as in the case of Abraham in Romans 4. And that our faith is contrasted to our works, and specifically to the works of the Law. So that grace is grace only if it is by faith and not by works, I think not so much with regard to human effort, but more in terms of adherence to the Law of Moses. It’s a bit complicated, but even in that case in Romans 4, I think Paul is simply trying to show that it is faith in God’s word, and specifically in the gospel which justifies or brings salvation, and to think that works of the Law enter in, is to bring in a category which is actually as foreign to the First/Old Testament, as it is to the Final/New Testament. Abraham was justified by faith apart from the works of the Law, and before he was circumcised. The boasting Paul says is to be rejected is not really about one’s own effort, and not even a smidgen about some supposed moral perfection, even if Paul uses the latter to point out that those who emphasize Law/Torah keeping must not break any of it to remain in the clear with God. The boasting by the Jew would be in the Torah itself, and the fact that they possessed and sought to live by that Torah/Law.

But to the main point of this post. The faithfulness of Christ in his coming, life, and especially in his death, followed by God’s vindication in his resurrection from the dead, then his ascension to the supreme place of authority at God’s right hand, with the promise of his return when the final judgment and salvation come and in that, the new creation, is what our focus should be on. Not our own faith, but on the faithfulness of Christ. It is far better to have a small faith in a great object, instead of a large faith in a small object. The focus must not be on our own faith, but on the faithfulness of God in Christ, yes, on the faithfulness of Christ. That is the focus in which our faith can be established and grow.

Gordon Fee on the need of a corrective to non-Pentecostal and Pentecostal views of Paul’s teaching on the Spirit

As with my commentary on 1 Corinthians, it seemed fitting that one such book* at least be written by a New Testament scholar who is also a Pentecostal both by confession and by experience. In his watershed exegetical study of “The Baptism of the Holy Spirit, J. D. G. Dunn observed that for traditional Pentecostalism, which bases its theology primarily on Acts, “Paul need not have written anything. Indeed Paul seems to be more of an embarrassment than an asset.” Conversely, it might be observed that most non-Pentecostals, of both the sacramental and nonsacramental variety, find Paul to be most convenient to their theologies, while Acts is determined to be decidedly nontheological. Therefore, in evaluating the role of the Spirit in the life of the believer (especially on the matter of “conversion-initiation,” to borrow Dunn’s term), both groups tend to find a canon within the canon.

The same holds true for their respective emphases on the ongoing life in the Spirit. But here there is a “canon within the Pauline canon.” Pentecostals, on the one hand, at times could be rightly accused of neglecting most of Paul for 1 Corinthians 12 to 14. Here they find biblical justification for the ongoing exercise of the spiritual gifts in their midst, especially the more extraordinary gifts. Non-Pentecostals, on the other hand, tend to regard 1 Corinthians as an embarrassment, both to Paul and to the later church (or else they use it as a negative paradigm). Their “canon within the canon” is Galatians 5 and Romans 7-8; for them the key to Pauline Spirit language resides in ethical life (the fruit of the Spirit). I find both forms of truncated canon less than satisfactory, hence part of the reason for this study.

Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul, 10. J. D. G. Dunn quoted from his book, Baptism in the Holy Spirit: A Re-examination of the New Testament on the Gift of the Spirit, 103.

*On “the subject of the Spirit in Paul’s letters and theology.” (10)

pressing on

There is much in my life that would stop me in my tracks, distracting me from the goal which we in Jesus are to pursue. Much. Or at least a matter or two that is significant to me. If we could have a conversation over coffee on that, perhaps there is plenty we could each share, enough to fill a morning, and then some.

And in my case it is some of the same old same olds. Some things we do get over, God miraculously answers and all of that is water under the bridge, long gone with maybe only a scar or two left from it. But other matters linger on. We get some sort of victory over them, but they come and go, some staring us in the face, coming to our attention at any moment’s notice.

I’m glad to have a wife who challenges me to stand on the truth revealed in scripture and through Jesus. And a church which stands for truth applied to life in following Jesus.

There is nothing more for me to do than to simply press on. Following the example of Paul. Who had left the old way behind for the new way in Jesus. What had been good, in fact the very best in this world, the very best for its time. But that way had become old because of the new way that had come in Jesus in fulfilling what that old way had laid the groundwork for.

Pressing on. Something I need to do today and every day, really. In following  Jesus with others in Jesus for the world.

John Stott on a bigger gospel

It is the comprehensiveness of Paul’s message that is impressive. He proclaimed God in his fullness as Creator, Sustainer, Ruler, Father, and Judge. All this is part of the gospel, or, at least, the necessary prolegomena to the gospel. Many people are rejecting our gospel today, not because they perceive it to be false, but because they perceive it to be trivial. They are looking for an integrated worldview that makes sense of all their experience. We learn from Paul that we cannot preach the gospel of Jesus without the doctrine of God, or the cross without creation, or salvation without judgment, or vice-versa. Today’s world needs a bigger gospel, the full gospel of Scripture, what Paul later in Ephesians was to call “the entire plan of God” (Acts 20:27 NAB).

John Stott  (on Paul’s sermon in Athens, Acts 17)

John Stott, Through the Bible, Through the Year: Daily Reflections from Genesis to Revelation, 334 quoted by Christopher J.H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (Biblical Theology for Life), 46.