Paul – A Model of God’s Character

Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you. Phil. 4:9

How can this be? How can God allow such words by a man to be inscribed into His holy scriptures? The man is talking about himself here! Indeed, it would appear he is boasting.

But the Apostle Paul, who it is that is speaking here, was no mere man. And his boasting was no ordinary bragging. Everything that he wrote in the Bible was approved by the Holy Spirit before it was even written down.

At any rate, a person would have to be either grossly egoistic or painfully ignorant to even hint at downplaying the significance of a man whose writings God allowed to make up for more than half the entire New Testament. Not only so, but Paul was he who was chosen and commissioned by God to bring about the revelation of the gospel of God’s grace in its absolute entirety and clarity to the church. Were it not for Paul’s writings, we would not understand the gospel as we do today.

And yet, amazingly, neither of these two things comprises the most important fact about Paul. The most remarkable thing about the Apostle Paul is that he lived the words he wrote. In other words, he lived the very life he preached and, in so doing, Paul became a model of God’s character and God’s grace. This is the single most important thing that sets Paul apart.

Make no mistake: preaching the gospel is extremely important. But whatever we do for the gospel’s sake we do it to the end that men and women may change and live the gospel. Living the gospel is the single most important thing that God is looking for in our lives.

Now, living the gospel might sound easy – until God pries the scales from off your eyes and you discover there are not too many people who can quote Philippians 4:9 for themselves with any sense of conviction. I am sure you would need to search far and wide indeed to find a single person who can perfectly fit the words that Paul writes about himself here. This is not a judgment on anyone. But the Bible makes it abundantly clear that not many people are willing to accept the crucified life. If, on the other hand you can find a man or woman who lives such a life, you’ve hit gold. You will have found someone you can follow, for such a person will lead you to Christ. And Paul was such a man.

Actually, when it comes to talking about his life, Paul does so extensively in his epistles. But his is no ordinary talk. Every word that Paul wrote he wrote under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

Today, we will consider just one scripture among many, where Paul talks about himself. This scripture is a goldmine.

“16 Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me. 17 For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church. (1 Cor. 4:16-17)

Notice Paul talks of his “ways which be in Christ”.

“Ways”. What a strange word! I believe this speaks of his entire manner of life. His ways, he says were conducted “in Christ”!

I cannot comprehend the boldness that Paul had. For here he is telling the Corinthians that he will be sending Timothy to remind them of how he lived and walked among them according to the gospel of Jesus Christ that he preached to them. I wonder what Paul wanted them to remember about him?

Personally, there are many things that I as a preacher would wish people not to remember about me. Many times my ways were not “in Christ”, despite my belief to the contrary. May the Lord be merciful to me. But Paul’s ways were all in Christ and he had nothing to fear. What a price he must have paid to arrive at such boldness!

And it was not just to the Corinthians that Paul took his ways which were in Christ. It is recorded in the Bible that he took these same ways to all the churches that he set his foot in – “every where in every church”.

What an incredible feat this was in the Spirit! It is through such insights that we can begin to appreciate the greatness of this man, Paul, in the Spirit.

Unfortunately, people ‘export’ all kinds of things to God’s churches. A couple of decades ago, someone brought the ‘Toronto Blessing’ to Africa, and people were laughing in churches like crazy. Today, I do not hear of the ‘Toronto Blessing’ any more. Where did the ‘life’ of the ‘Toronto Blessing’ go? Why did the laughter, and the barking, and the drunkenness not endure? It is because these things were not “in Christ”; they were not of Christ. Whatever is not of Christ cannot endure the test of time.

But Paul’s life, which was in Christ, and which he lived thousands of years earlier, is still with us. And it gets sweeter and more powerful the more we get to know it.

Paul did not go ‘slaying people in the Spirit’ in the churches. Rather, he took to them his ways which were in Christ, and these endured. And they will endure to the end.

Unfortunately, false doctrines like the ‘Toronto Blessing’ and other deviant doctrines are all that most preachers can bring to God’s people. The result is that, at the very least, believers are not taught the cross, they have no example to look up to, and they end up living a grace-less life. At the end of all the hype, they find themselves fighting a losing battle against depression, anger, pride, envy, lust, division and every work of the flesh because in essence these believers are products of preachers who have no “ways” of Christ in them.

Even worse, however, is that these doctrines damage people spiritually in other, more sinister ways.

Much too many preachers today have nothing of Christ in their lives to show to God’s people.

Today, God is looking for preachers who will bring their “ways which be in Christ” to the churches.

To be fair, the ‘Toronto Blessing’ caught God’s people when there was no spiritual father in the church. But that has been the problem of the church throughout history: the lack of a spiritual father within the church. In such an atmosphere, anything goes.

The church’s spiritual father is the apostle, and the apostle reveals the crucified Christ to the church. He does this through showing them his ways which are in Christ!

The challenge to us, the church, is that exactly what Paul says here – a life lived “in Christ” – should be what every preacher and every believer have to say of themselves. This is the core of our salvation: the life we live, the words we speak, the spiritual deposit we impart to others; and the way we relate to people, especially believers. This can only be a life founded upon the revelation of the cross in a person’s life. When we are crucified with Christ, Christ lives and proves His works in us, as He did in Paul’s life. Paul makes this clear in Galatians 2:20:

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

Notice, “the life which I now live in the flesh…”

We ought, first and foremost, to ask ourselves the question: What kind of life do I live?

We can only live a life of grace and true holiness when we have crucified our flesh on the cross. Any other way is mere religion and it will not produce spiritual fruit in our lives.

Building Spiritual Character – Part 1

Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: by whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: and hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. Rom 5:1-5

The word ‘experience’ here could be substituted with the word ‘character’. In other words, we could say, “Patience builds character”, and still do justice to the above scripture. That word, ‘character’ is what I want to talk about today.

The path of a righteous man has never been easy, and it will never be. It is a costly one; and yet, it is this very costliness that gives God’s call on a man’s life its value: it makes the person to appreciate and respect God’s call upon their lives.

If you look at the lives of Saul and David in the Book of 1 Samuel, who both were kings of Israel, you notice a big difference in their characters. Saul was not a disciplined man. He lacked patience. He would, for example, not wait for the prophet Samuel to come and sacrifice as per God’s word but, unable to bear seeing his men leaving him, he went on and did the sacrifice himself.

Lacking in that inner discipline that comes from patience, Saul was also a severely temperamental man. He took badly to David’s victory against Goliath, and he allowed himself to develop a deep hatred towards David. He went on to hunt him down like an animal.

Time and time again Saul failed to obey God. He failed to respect God.

But, you know, we cannot blame Saul too much for this lack of a spiritual character in his person. Why? Because he was handed the kingdom without being prepared. He had not paid any price to receive it. He was handed it, as they say, on a silver platter. He did not know its worth or value. As a result, he failed to guard the position he was so graciously granted. In the end, God had no option but to take the Kingdom from his hands. The prophet Samuel told Saul, “The LORD hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine, that is better than thou.”1 Sam. 15:28

Notice the word ‘better’ there. You do not become ‘better’ because you have dimples on your cheeks.

When we look at David we see someone who, long before he became king, had to go through a very difficult period. In the first place, David knew and loved God. Secondly, he was humble enough to allow God to mold and shape him. Thus by the time he became king, David was ready to take his position and rule his people justly and in righteousness.

With the exception of the issue with Uriah’s wife, David was a capable and effective king who knew and taught God’s people the ways of the Lord. In many ways, David proved himself ‘better’ than Saul. He had been tested and tried.

In today’s Christian world, the virtue of character is lacking to a very great degree. There are many areas where this virtue is lacking. One area where this is clear is the area of marriage and divorce.

Even without salvation, our parents and grandparents never contemplated divorce. Poor folks, seems they were not civilized enough! Today’s generation, on the other hand, is a ‘liberated’ generation. In some countries I hear there is such ‘liberation’ that in some circles the word ‘marriage’ has been deleted from their vocabulary. It has been fossilized. Words like ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ are unknown. Instead, there are ‘partners’. In these ultra-modern settings, people live together on a contractual basis, each ‘partner’ having their ‘rights’ fully guaranteed!

For those of us who still believe in marriage, we also are not safe. Women have been to Beijing and back, and they are now fully aware of and ready to fight for their ‘rights’. Men, on the other hand, have had their manhood so undermined to the extent that they take out their frustrations on the object nearest them – which invariably happens to be their wife!

All of the above is okay if you are of the world. But in church, we must talk a different language. Marriage is such a serious issue with God that He does not allow divorce unless under the most extreme of circumstances (adultery); and even then the wronged party, if they cannot forgive, are not allowed to re-marry until their spouse dies. Marriage is literally a “till death do us part” affair!

The Foundation of our Faith – the Pauline Doctrine (Pt.1)

I want to make it clear early enough that this is not an academic study on the life of the Apostle Paul, nor do I presume to add on what has already been written about Paul by the many outstanding men of God whom I consider vastly more capable than I. I humbly submit that I am not an authority in these matters, therefore I could be making mistakes. The reason I will be talking about Paul is simply because, since I write on many seemingly different topics, I just want to set the foundation or basis for the things I write. What I am going to write about the Apostle Paul in this and the following few posts should be considered by my eminent readership as the foundation of everything I write on my blog crossofchristblog@wordpress.com. Without the Pauline doctrine that I am about to discuss here this blog would not exist. It is the raison d’être, it is the cause I back, it is my whole life.

I will begin my survey of the Apostle Paul by stating that probably the single most powerful statement that Paul had to make about his doctrine is found in the Book of Galatians chapter 1 verses 12-13: “But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

The Apostle Paul here makes clear the powerful and unequivocally spiritual nature of the gospel he preached. He was not taught it in a seminary or Bible school. It was not a study, or a discussion or anything that could be grasped by any means of human discourse. It was not a product of human intelligence. It was not homiletics. It was not even Bible study. It was none of these things. In fact, it was nothing other than a spiritual revelation of the Lord Jesus Himself, and it was an experience that could only happen in a man’s heart. It was what Jesus Himself had spoken  to the Jews: “The Kingdom of God is within you”, meaning in their hearts.

The revelation that Paul speaks about was the Lord Jesus Himself and the power that resurrected Him from the dead, coming to reside in a man’s life. It could not therefore be an education, just like you cannot teach someone how to get saved. Unless a person is born again of the Spirit of God, he can know the entire Bible by heart, and he could recite the sinner’s prayer and he could make every ‘spiritual’ motion there is to make, but none of these will get him saved.

The revelation that Paul received was not even a vision or a dream. Paul had many of these, but this is not what he is talking about here. The revelation that he received was an experience of far greater magnitude and significance. In a nutshell, it was Christ Himself coming to dwell in a man’s heart in His fullness. Far from it being a powerless ‘education’, this revelation was literally a birth, a spiritual birth. And this birth brought the Life that had the power to change a man from being carnal to being spiritual. Let us pause for a moment and reflect upon the fact that do we not find the need in our own lives today to have a true change in our character where we are walking in the exact image of Christ? The gospel that Paul received, that revelation, is the answer to our dilemma.