Sunday, 5 March 2017

The Key to Paul's Ministry and My Life Verse

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day. 1 Timothy 1:8-12

Within these verses is the key to Paul's ministry and my own life verse.

Many times I've felt, quite rightly, awed by Paul's life and ministry.    Let's look at some of what he did and achieved for the good news of Jesus.

He wrote nearly 30% of the New Testament.  He started at least 14 churches, but more likely he started many more, as not everything he ever did would have been documented in writing.

Paul suffered more than we could ever imagine: persecution, violence, threats, abandonment by his fellow Christian friends, rejection, suspicion...here's just a taster:

[Paul’s Sufferings as Recorded in the Book of Acts]
• His life was threatened in Damascus (Acts 9:23) then again in Jerusalem (Acts 9:29).
• Persecuted and run out of Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:50)
• Threatened with stoning at Iconium and fled to Lystra and Derbe with Barnabas (Acts 14:5)
• Stoned in Lystra, dragged out of the city and left for dead, Paul got up…and went back into the city (Acts 14:19)
• Caused controversy in Antioch (Acts 15:1)
• Fell out with and abandoned by his close friend Barnabas (Acts 15:39)
• Beaten with rods and imprisoned at Philippi (Acts 16:23)
• Cast out of Philippi (Acts 16:39)
• His life was threatened in Thessalonica (Acts 17:5-7, 10)
• Forced out of Berea (Acts 17:23-14)
• Mocked in Athens. (Acts 17:18 )
• Taken before the judgment seat in Corinth (Acts 18:12)
• Caused a riot at Ephesus (Acts 19:23-41)
• Plotted against by the Jews in Greece. (Acts 20:3)
• Seized by the mob in Jerusalem. (Acts 21:27-30)
• Arrested and detained by the Romans (Acts 22:24)
• Barely escaped being scourged (Acts 22:24-29)
• Rescued from the Sanhedrin by some soldiers because their commander thought Paul was going to be pulled to pieces (Acts 23:1-8)
• Assassination plot against him (Acts 23:12-22)
• Two-year imprisonment in Caesarea (Acts 23:33-27:2)
• Shipwreck on the island of Melita (Malta) (Acts 27:41-28:1)
• Suffered a snakebite (Acts 28:3-5 )
• First Roman imprisonment (Acts 28:13-15)

At the writing of 2 Timothy, Paul is suffering his second Roman imprisonment.

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 11:24-28: 'From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.'

In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul speaks about a ‘thorn in his side’ a ‘messenger of Satan’ which he pleaded with God to remove from him – whether this was a physical infirmity or a person persecuting him God said, ‘My grace is sufficient’. Paul continued to suffer.

In Galatians Paul speaks about suffering an ‘infirmity’ It sounds like he had some kind of problem with his eyes: (Ch 4:13-15)

He writes to the Philippians in Chapter 4:11-13

'Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me'

Paul even found opposition and rejection from fellow Christians. At the end of the second letter to Timothy Paul says this:

'Be diligent to come to me quickly; for Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world, and has departed for Thessalonica—Crescens for Galatia, Titus for Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry. And Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come—and the books, especially the parchments.
Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works. You also must beware of him, for he has greatly resisted our words.
At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them.'
2 Timothy 4:9-16

So, what made Paul so sure of God and so sure that what he was doing for God was actually achieving any good when SO much went wrong and he suffered so much? How did he do it all?  How did he keep going in adversity? How did he not collapse from sheer exhaustion and despair? How did he keep his passion and energy?  How did he endure the shame, the imprisonment, the rejection, the slander?

The key is found in verse 12: 'For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day.'

Paul knew Jesus, He knew God. Knew Him. He didn’t just know of Him, he didn’t just follow God’s teaching, he didn’t just have good knowledge of the truth, he didn’t just hear people talking about God, he knew Him intimately, though the revelation of Jesus Christ.

When we look back at Paul’s life and what he really did suffer it brings new meaning to his words to the church in Philipi:

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:7-11

Knowing Christ was worth it for Paul, it was His treasure and it was a treasure he sought every single day, forsaking anything that might keep him from Jesus. And as Paul points out later in the chapter , He hadn’t achieved the pinnacle of his relationship with Christ – but he pressed on diligently.

2 Timothy 1:12 is my life verse.  It is the answer to every question of life, questions like: 'What is the point?  Is this worth it?  Is this the right way to go? Why am I floundering? Why am I struggling? How can I do what God has asked?'  The answer is to know Jesus.  To know Him whom we have believed. To know Him.  And as we know Him, to seek to know Him more. He is the answer to everything - life the universe and everything.

And how does God relate to us?  Through love sent in the gift of His Son Jesus (1 John 4:7-10).  And Paul knew this, as he himself taught the Corinthians that we can be awesome, prophetic, prayer warrior, evangelistic, sacrifice our lives to the death kind of people, but without love we are NOTHING. 

And how do we find this love? By knowing Him in whom we have believed. Not head knowledge, but knowing deep within of His love.

'knowledge puffs up but love builds up' 1 Corinthians 8:1

To know God is to know love, and to know love changes us, it enables us too to walk in love and to offer the love of God to others, and thus we spread the Kingdom of God.

'And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.' 1 John 4:16-17

And so I have learned to focus on Him. May I know Jesus more and more, and more and more and more.  That is the answer.

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