Category Archives: Pauline Theology

The Epistle of Joy and A Theology of Suffering

In the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians there is an interesting dichotomy developing. Paul gave thanks for what God was doing in his life and in the life of the believers in Philippi. He then turns his attention to what is happening to him. And what is that? He is in prison because of his preaching of the Gospel. He is doing exactly what God wants him to do and he gets thrown in jail.

There is no easy road to evangelism. It is paved with the rough stones of adversity. There is no beautiful scenery. There is only the destruction of sin and the carnage of willful disobedience. Jesus never promised that the task of communicating the message of salvation was going to be easy. Whenever we grumble that it isn’t we have not paid attention to what Jesus taught us on the matter.

There are several passages in the first chapter that truly reveal this paradox of faith. How can Paul write such encouragement when he is shackled to a wall or guard all day long? How can he rejoice because of his situation? I just doesn’t make sense. What are we missing that Paul seems to have understood?

Here are a few samples of what I mean.

It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.

12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel… 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

These three verses are Paul’s introduction to what he believed about his current state. He did not see being in jail and suffering as a concern. He was actually pleased at the effect that it was having on those around him. The entire guard had heard the Gospel, and many of the believers outside had been stirred to action as well. It really does challenge our modern, American sensibilities to think that going to jail for our faith is a good thing. But, Paul doesn’t stop there. He goes and says the following.

15  Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

Paul knew that there are some people preaching the Gospel for the wrong reasons. They were out there for profit, for acclaim or, as Paul writes, to make it more difficult on Paul! Can you image that. You are sitting in prison and someone dislikes you so much that they are intentionally trying to make things worse. And yet, Paul looks past all of that and says that the reason is irrelevant to him because the truth is being proclaimed. Now, those preaching for the wrong reason will be held accountable, but God is so good that he will even use these wrong motives to accomplish his ultimate purpose.

But again, this is not the end of what Paul said. He continues.

19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance,20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 

Really?! It is hard for you to decide whether you want to stay on earth or go to heaven? I sometimes wonder why we don’t talk like this? And then I realize that many of us are not willing to go where Paul went. Paul knew and understood something that many in the Western church have not learned to even acknowledge. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I believe that Paul’s commitment to the proclamation and spread of the Gospel had a lot to do with it. The power of evangelism to motivate and refocus the believer is largely lost in our day.

Here is Paul’s final salvo in the chapter 1.

29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Paul really does lay out for us his theology here on the subject of suffering and the Gospel. There is a mysterious way in which our faith in Jesus will lead to some form of suffering. If we are not making any effort to spread the Gospel to those whom God sends along our journey, we will find no resistance. The intentional advancement of the Good News of Jesus is what causes friction between what we believe as followers of Jesus and what the world is leaning towards. We are not merely interested in propagating a religion. We want to produce fruit because of a relationship with Jesus the Savior.

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Faith is.. Crying out to the Heart of God | “Faith is…” Series, Pt. 5

1 I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. 3 In the same way we also, when we were children,were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:1-7, ESV)

A Great Gift

Of all of the gifts that Christ has purchased for us through his death, burial and resurrection, adoption may be one of the greatest. I am not trying to categorize the benefits of our fellowship with God. We receive and enjoy them all at once even though our focus may be on one at any given time. What I am trying to demonstrate is that one of the fundamental realities that is true now, that was not true before our faith in Christ is that the very nature of our relationship with God has changed and shifted. We are no longer enemies deserving of wrath and punishment. We are now sons and heirs who are disciplined and restored by a loving father.

A Spiritual Reality

God has chosen to give us all of the rights and privileges that belong to Jesus!

When Paul was teaching the Galatian church about this new relationship with God he used the concept of adoption. This was something that they would have been familiar with, not because of its tender-hearted nature. Adoption had a greater legal implication for Paul’s hearers which we must understand as well.

Most scholars agree that Paul borrowed the concept of adoption from Greek or Roman law. The Jews did not practice adoption, and the word never appears in the Hebrew scripturesIn The Epistle to the Romans, Leon Morris says adoption is “a useful word for Paul, for it signifies being granted the full rights and privileges of [belonging to] a family [in] which one does not belong by nature.” One is not born a Christian; one becomes a Christian. This reminds me of my three-year-old friend Grace, who was not born a Roberts, but became a Roberts when her parents adopted her.

Morris continues, “This is a good illustration of one aspect of Paul’s understanding of what it means to become a Christian. The believer is admitted into the heavenly family,” a family to which the believer has no rights of his or her own. Not only did the concept of adoption help Paul explain how gentiles and Jews could be part of the same family of God, but it also allowed him to emphasize that salvation is not achieved through birthright but through God’s act of grace alone.

An adopted child is received as a gift by her new family, just as the adopting family is a gift to the child. In the same way, the spirit of adoption that Paul commends to the reader is one of gift. It is Paul’s way of describing the gift God gives to us in Christ. [Source]

As Paul considered how to best explain what Jesus had been able to do for the person who trusted in Him, he found this concept of adoption to be one of the clearest. It is important that we do not think of some kind of benevolent activity on the part of God. What God did in bringing us into His family was no small miracle (if there are any small miracles), nor was it something that was provided for us with little effort. The implications of what this means can NOT be exagerated.

By using the word “adoption,” God emphasizes that salvation is permanent for the Christian.

At the heart of this expression of faith is the confidence that God gives to His children. We grow in confidence because we are given access to God himself and not merely some celestial secretary that makes us wait in line.

The Greek word translated “adoption” is huiothesia, and it occurs only five times in the New Testament, all in the Church Epistles (Rom. 8:15, 23; 9:4; Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5). According toVine’s Lexicon it means: “the place and condition of a son given to one to whom it does not naturally belong.” Louw and Nida’s Greek Lexicon says: “to formally and legally declare that someone who is not one’s own child is henceforth to be treated and cared for as one’s own child, including complete rights of inheritance.” Huiothesia literally means, “to place as a son.”

… By using the word “adoption,” God emphasizes that salvation is permanent for the Christian, which is why it appears only in the Church Epistles. Some versions translatehuiothesia as “sonship,” but we believe that is not as good as “adoption.” While it is true that someone adopted into the family attains sonship (the status of a son), “adoption” is more accurate to the Greek meaning of the word, and it correctly expresses the fact that the adopted child is permanently placed in the family.

Birth seems so much more desirable than adoption that it is fair to ask why God would even use “adoption.” The answer is that the Romans recognized that when a baby was born, “you got what you got,” whether you liked it or not. This would include the sex of the child, birthmarks, etc. Thus, according to Roman law, a naturally born baby could be disowned from the family. However, people adopting a child knew exactly what they were getting, and no one adopted a child unless that specific child was wanted as a family member, so according to law an adopted child could not be disowned. He or she was permanently added to the family. Many early believers were Roman citizens, and using the word “adoption” was one of God’s ways to let the Church know that He chose the children brought into His family, and they could not be taken from it. The Roman historian William M. Ramsay writes:

“The Roman-Syrian Law-Book…where a formerly prevalent Greek law had persisted under the Roman Empire—well illustrates this passage of the Epistle. It actually lays down the principle that a man can never put away an adopted son, and that he cannot put away a real son without good ground. It is remarkable that the adopted son should have a stronger position than the son by birth, yet it was so.” (W. M. Ramsay, A Historical Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, reprinted 1979; p. 353.) [Source]

The Bible clearly teaches us that adoption is the method that God used to bring us into his family. Because of this God has chosen to give us all of the rights and privileges that belong to Jesus! Not only is this incredible, but it should also inspire our faith to cry out our loving father with more earnestness than ever before.

A Personal Story

My dad was raised by his grandmother because he was abandoned by his parents when he was about three years old. I have heard about growing up without a father or a mother and what effect that had on him. When I went to college I majored in Sociology and I began to have a better understanding of the dynamics and results of growing up in families that were not the ideal. You know.. the two parents, two and a half kids, one dog, one cat, and a house with a two car garage kind of family. It was during this time that a greater awareness of what my father could have been emerged.

Is he a perfect man? No, he is not. But, in light of the experiences that shaped and formed my life the one fact I am most thankful for is that my dad had a relationship with Jesus. My dad has said that he has always had a difficult time thinking of God as a father. This is understandable. What helped my dad was that the Bible also talks about relating to God as a friend, and it was this understanding that helped to shape my dad into the man and father that I have had to benefit of knowing and having in my life.

I am so thankful to that Friend of my father’s. Because of Him I never had to wonder or question my dad’s love for me. And because of my earthly father I have never struggled to remember that my heavenly Father’s love is enduring and unchanging.

Faith truly is crying out to the heart of God because God has adopted us into His family and has given us permission to call out to Him.