- Ephesians 1:3,11-12 – Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ…In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.
- Ephesians 6:19-20 – Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly. Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you.
- Philippians 1:7, 12-14, 18b-26 – It is right for me to feel this way about all o you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me…Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly…Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live in Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you gain your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.
- Philippians 4:10-13 – I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
- Colossians 1:22-29 – No I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.
- Colossians 4:2-4, 10-11 – Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim it clearly, as I should…My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas. Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me.
Dear God, I had a bit of a revelation a few weeks ago. This might sound silly to some, but I saw it in a new way: Paul had a very mature faith.
In my study of Job, I came across commentary that discussed The Stages of Faith by James Fowler. Here they are as described by him:
- Intuitive – Projective Faith: Associated with the child’s faith, based upon fantasy and imagination.
- Mythical-Literal Faith: The family faith of the early school years, which is sustained by moral rules and either/or thinking.
- Synthetic-Conventional Faith: Adolescent phase that conforms to the tradition of the community and creates the “kind” of person of faith it models or rejects.
- Individuative-Reflective Faith: The faith of the young adult who is capable of critical thinking, independent reflection, and comparative reasoning.
- Conjunctive Faith: A mid-life and old-age faith that integrates self-identity with a comprehensive world view to see the order, coherence, and meaning of life in order to serve and be served.
- Universalizing Faith: The rare faith of the world citizen who incarnates a transcendent vision into a disciplined, active, and self-giving life.
(source: James W. Fowler, The Stages of Faith (New York: Harper and Row, 1976), chap. 14.)
He talked about how Job grew through his experience to the ultimate faith–Universalizing Faith. As I looked into it and thought about other biblical characters who had reached this faith, I came up with a few New Testament examples. Jesus was obviously one. But Paul was one of the others.
The passages above actually start with Acts 20:24 when Paul is on his way to certain arrest in Jerusalem and people warning him to not go. Paul’s answer is, “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the goal and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given to me. The task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” The remarkable thing is that these are not just words. While Peter only thought he knew what he was getting into when he told Jesus at the Last Supper that he would follow him to death, Paul actually lived up to his boldness recorded in Acts. How do I know this? Because of what he wrote while he was in prison.
That’s what I’ve recorded from three of the four letters he wrote while in prison (the fourth was a personal letter to Philemon about a slave). He doesn’t complain. He doesn’t try to figure out a way out of incarceration. He has enough perspective to use the incarceration to finish the goal and complete the task the Lord Jesus gave to him.
Imagine if he sat around and complained. Imagine if his letters had started out, “You people need to be grateful you aren’t where I am and you need to be getting about spreading the gospel because I can’t.” Or, “Why is God doing this to me? I was just trying to follow Him and do what is right, and now look where I am. Where is God is all of this?” That would have left us all a completely different example.
But Paul had “the rare faith of the world citizen who incarnates a transcendent vision into a disciplined, active, and self-giving life.” And he applied that faith to everyone else around him. He didn’t look at them and judge them by their outward circumstances. He evaluated them based on their motivations. He is quick to both praise and criticize in his letters, but he judges motivations and actions only.
Father, I am about to teach all of this to a Sunday school class this morning. Most are seniors who have lived lives longer than mine. They have seen more than I have, and goodness knows I am still learning these lessons. I still evaluate relationships based on what I am getting out of the instead of looking at what the other person needs that I can provide. That doesn’t mean I should allow myself to just be abused and have one-way, co-dependent relationships, but I can conduct myself in a way that considers my life worth nothing to me, if only I can finish the goal and complete the task you have given me. The task of testifying to the gospel of your grace.
In Jesus’ name I pray,