Sunday, January 09, 2011

A Pastor's Perspective

But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. (Philippians 1:12-14, NKJV).
If I were to characterize the Apostle Paul's life and ministry in one sentence, the phrase that most readily comes to mind is, he lived as God is his witness.

For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of His Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers,… Moreover I call God as witness against my soul, that to spare you I came no more to Corinth… For God is my witness, how greatly I long for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:9; 2 Corinthians 1:23; Philippians 1:8, NKJV).
Every word out of his mouth, every thought and intent of his heart, every action, every decision, every joy, and every sorrow occurred in intimate fellowship with his Creator and Redeemer. All that happened to him, from conception in his mother's womb, to his participation in the stoning of Stephen, to his conversion on the road to Damascus, to his imprisonments, beatings, and finally his death, were orchestrated through the holy and loving purposes of His Heavenly Father. I get the sense from intense study of his writings that, although he suffered pain and fear, he did not doubt for an instant that he was in the hands of God.

This rock-solid foundation of Paul's faith enabled Him to perceive God's purposes in every waking moment of his life. And instead of doubt, we find him constantly assuring those around him that the good hand of the Lord was upon him always, no matter what the circumstances looked like from the world's perspective. The Lord's plans were being fulfilled, and Paul rejoiced in being an instrument of divine will. Did this mean he was delusional, or a megalomaniac? Hardly. In fact, such a conclusion is ridiculous if the accounts detailed in Acts and Paul's own letters are taken at face value. While he acknowledged freely that he was being used by God, he never lost sight of who he was, a sinner saved by grace through faith.

To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, (Ephesians 3:8, NKJV).
This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. (1 Timothy 1:15, NKJV).
And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. (2 Corinthians 12:7, NKJV).
In the focus verses above, probably written from house-arrest in Rome, he was reassuring others that God was on the throne and that things were proceeding according to His perfect plan. Paul was confident of that fact, and wasted no time bemoaning his circumstances or lack of freedom. Instead, he focused on the opportunities for evangelism that the Lord had given him "for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it [had] become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that [his] chains [were] in Christ." The Roman Empire was as much an instrument of God's plans, as was Paul, and the Jewish religious authorities who were trying to kill him, and were the reason Paul appealed to Caesar in the first place. With that perspective, the apostle did not feel abandoned or overwhelmed, but empowered. He knew he was where the Lord wanted him.

That is a remarkably powerful perspective to have, and it made this small, outwardly insignificant itinerant preacher a monumental influence on the course of human history. And not only did Christ use this situation for the advancement of the gospel message in the capital of Rome itself, but it also served to bolster the confidence of the church in Rome and elsewhere, ever since. Paul became a model of how to react, in Christ, in adverse circumstances. He exampled how a surrendered Christian is indomitable, one of the many profound paradoxes of walking with the Lord.

Other believers, seeing Paul's attitude, became encouraged, so that they became "much more bold to speak the word without fear." And therein lies a lesson for us, and it's this: whatever happens to us in this life is NEVER without purpose or meaning. It ALWAYS encompasses some area of redemptive work on God's part, if not for ourselves, then for the others around us. And it is inherently part of our being conformed into the image of God's Son, preparing us for an eternity of fellowship with God, face to face.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18, NKJV).
For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, (2 Corinthians 4:17, NKJV).
My prayer for myself, and my loved ones, is that all who are members of the Body of Christ have this perspective, and to have our eyes opened to see the "good hand of the Lord" upon our lives, moment by moment.

No matter what.