Saturday, October 10, 2009
The Grace of God
I liked what my friend Art shared in the following article so much, I wanted to share it here as well. It is not for the timid, meaning for those who do not like reading long posts, but for those who do, I know you will be encouraged.
This is part ten of a 25 part article he is sharing.
Many do not realize that Jesus had and has these two ministries.
First Jesus had his terrestrial (earthly) ministry to the nation Israel concerning the everlasting kingdom of heaven to come to earth (Matt 6:10). He proclaimed to Israel that the kingdom was “at hand” (Matt 3:2, 4:7, 10:7, etc.) and gain taught His Jewish disciples concerning “the kingdom” for 40 days after His resurrection (Acts 1:3).
Since the call of the Apostle Paul Jesus began Jesus’ ministry is to the “the body of Christ.” Today, Jesus has a heavenly (celestial) ministry is to the members of “the body of Christ,” those whose citizenship and destiny is eternal in heaven (Philippians 2:20).
The Apostle Paul was saved through the direct intervention of the celestial Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus returned to this realm from heaven specifically to save Saul of Tarsus, who is called Paul.
Paul “laid the foundation…which is Christ” (1Cor 3:10-10) as the dispenser of this new relationship for believers during the “the dispensation of the grace of God” (Eph 3:1-2). Today, the Gentiles, and the very few Jews who will believe and receive Paul’s mystery “gospel of the grace of God” (Act 20:24), make up “the body of Christ.”
Paul is the Apostle (Gk. apostolos, sent one) chosen by God to bear the message of the formerly secret plan and purpose of God concerning “the dispensation of the grace of God” for “the body of Christ.” Once we see Paul’s unique place in God’s plan we may note that Paul is God’s messenger and Apostle to the mostly Gentile “the body of Christ” as Moses was God’s chosen dispenser of “the law” dispensation to the nation Israel. Romans 11:13 For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles…
Paul here in these verses describes how he received the new “mystery” (musterion, “secret”) gospel, and exactly who “the dispensation of the grace of God” was intended for.
Galatians 1:11-12 But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me (Paul) is not after man. 12 For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 3:1-5 For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, 2 If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: 3 How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, 4 Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) 5 Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men…
The dispensation has changed from “the law,” which was given to the nation Israel only (not the Gentiles, see Rom 2:14a), to “grace” for the Gentile “the body of Christ,” with some Jews (Gal 3:28).
This dispensational change can also be seen in how God today meets the needs of His loved ones and “delivers” them from suffering; it’s clearly seen by the marked change within the lifespan of the Apostle Paul himself. God’s dealing with Paul is “a pattern” (1Tim 1:16) for all believers today.
Many religious people take the Lord Jesus Christ as their pattern in life. When problems arise, they ask themselves: “What would Jesus do? – WWJD? Some seek to be saved by what Jesus said and many Christians seek to conduct their walk by “walking in His steps” – disregarding the fact that Jesus said He had come only to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel ” (Matt 15:24), addressing them only.
While our Lord's moral and spiritual virtues are indeed worthy of emulation, there were many details in His conduct which we should not imitate. i.e., none of us would be in a position to pronounce upon the religious hypocrites of our day the bitter woes that our Lord pronounced upon the Pharisees of His day, simply because we all have so much of the Pharisee within us also.
Certainly we cannot be saved by “following Christ,” or striving to live as He did. No works of ours can save us or ingratiate us to the Lord. If we try to follow Jesus His perfect holiness would only accentuate our unrighteousness and condemn us. He came to save us from perdition, not by His life, but “by His death.” “Christ died for our sins” (1Cor.15:3) and sinners are “reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (Rom.5:10).
Nevertheless, God has given us “a pattern” for salvation and for our Christian living. It is none other than the Apostle Paul, “the chief of sinners” who was “saved by grace.” “…Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I (Paul) am chief” (1Tim.1:15). Paul said; 1 Corinthians 11:1 Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
Paul, as Saul of Tarsus, had led his nation Israel in rebellion against God and His Christ. He was “exceedingly mad” against the disciples of Jesus Christ and “breathed threatening and slaughter” (Acts 9:1) against them. Why then, did God save him? Paul goes on to tell us in the next verse.
“Howbeit [but] for this cause I (Paul) obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all long-suffering, FOR A PATTERN (Gk., hypotyposis, typification) to them which should hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting” (1Tim 1:16).
Since Paul clearly is “a pattern” for the members of “the body of Christ,” then we may want to compare Paul’s life experiences, comparing Paul’s earlier life experiences with his later life experiences as recorded in Scripture.
In the early Acts period, God was still offering the Kingdom to Israel via “the twelve” Apostles “with signs following” (Mark 16:20), just as Jesus had announced the Kingdom “at hand” in the gospels “with signs following.” But Israel again rejected Christ by rejecting the witness of the Holy Spirit concerning Christ when they stoned Stephen to death. It was then that Paul was saved and given the new “gospel of the grace of God” (Act 20:24), for any person, who would receive it, Gentile or Jew.
Paul’s was given and then used to bring the message of the cross to the Jews, still with “signs following.” During the book of Acts Paul always went to “the Jew first” with his new gospel. Paul said, “The Jews require a sign” (1Cor 1:22). In Acts we see miracles such as the “cloths” that were sent from Paul’s body to the sick that they would be healed and “delivered” (Act 19:12). These were signs to confirm the validity of Paul’s “mystery” gospel message; that the age had changed to grace by faith in the cross.
Now compare Paul’s sign-miracles that he performed in his early ministry with what we see of Paul in his latter seven epistles; Ephesians – Philemon. These latter epistles were written between the years AD 61-63. This was after Acts 28:28, when God had fully given up the Jews – then “turning to the Gentiles.”
During the time of Paul’s last seven epistles, his prison epistles, we may note that Paul could not bring miraculous deliverance or healing to anyone, not even his own self. Paul sought the Lord, asking to be delivered of his “thorn in the flesh” (2Cor 12:7), but the answer God provided was not deliverance as Paul had hoped, rather Paul heard these words from God - “my grace is sufficient.” Since Christ is the grace of God with us (2Tim 4:22b), then God was saying “My Christ is sufficient.” “…grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17b)
Further, the Lord communicated to Paul that his thorn in his flesh was a “messenger of Satan,” obviously it was permitted by God “to buffet” Paul, lest Paul “be lifted with pride.” In any case, we see that the Lord enlisted Satan to work as a tool in the Father’s hands to do for Paul what Paul cannot do for himself – it was to humble Paul. Many theologians think Paul’s “thorn” was an eye problem, but I personally believe that Paul’s thorn was not a physical problem, but rather a chronic fleshly temptation, his pride, that was his ever-present temptation. Paul’s suffering was used by God to humble Paul.
Most Christians should realize that 1st Corinthians in which the miraculous gift ministries were active, is written to “babes” concerning many carnal matters. By contrast, 2nd Corinthians is a much deeper book that speaks of the suffering and work of God in the believers life as they grown in Christ (i.e., see 2Cor 4:8-18). In 2Cor 1:8-10 Paul recounts his own experience and troubles that brought him to a concern for his life (v9a) – for a reason.
2 Corinthians 1:8-9 For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: 9 But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead:
Note that in v9b Paul tells us exactly why the Lord permitted these difficulties to come upon him and his co-workers. Paul says it was so “that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God.” Ah, here we have it; “trust” is the core issue for the growing believer. We need to grow in our trust of Him as our all. With the outer miracles mostly set aside, learning to trust the Lord is the basis of our “new way of living.” Apart from Paul as “a pattern” we would never have such a clear understanding of the rich supply of the life of Christ that is so close to us as to be our very life (Col 3:4).
Let me recount some of Paul’s words concerning his latter ministry experiences as further evidence that the time of miraculous “signs following” had ended. Paul at one time healed and raised the dead, but now we read in Paul’s latter epistles such comments as these. Paul recommended to Timothy “take a little wine for thy stomach sake” (1Tim 5:23). Paul writes also that he had “the physician, Luke” with Him ( Col 4:14, 2Tim 4:11a).
We might ask, “What happened to cause Paul’s apparent loss of God’s delivering power?” Why didn’t the mighty Paul just heal his own self, or “his son in the faith,” Timothy? How could the once mighty Paul leave Trophimus “sick” at Miletum? “… Trophimus have I left at Miletum sick” (2 Tim. 4:20).
This record of healing and deliverance, and then the loss of such power in the life of Paul, indicates the time of the sign/miracles had ended. But it also requires us to take a closer look at a new form of deliverance for believers during “the dispensation of the grace of God,” as God continues to provide for His beloved children. This we will do in the next installment.