PAUL ON HOPE IN CHRIST
“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (I Corinthians 15:19). “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God” (Romans 6:8-10).
The Pauline believer had an advantage over the Abraham believer. The advantage was and is Christ. He became the object of visible faith. In fact, it was Christ who conformed to the Promises made to the Patriarchs (Romans 15:8). Literally, Christ became “the Seed” of Abraham (Galatians 3:15-16). Not only was Christ the seed of Abraham, but also the “Last Adam” (I Corinthians 15:45). Adam was tied to the earthly kingdom while the “Last Adam” belonged to the heavenly or spiritual realm (I Corinthians 15:46-47). Because of Adam’s sin, all men die; and because of Christ taking on sin, man will live (I Corinthians 15:22). Now, in addition to the Law, those who by faith are headed toward the Promises, receive guidance through the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). The Holy Spirit was the ultimate gift to fulfill the Promises (Luke 24:49).
The Promises and the Kingdom were synonymous. Both have to do with the reign of God in the human heart. The Holy Spirit now imprinted the “Divine Mandate” on each searching heart. Hence, neither the Promises nor the Kingdom had anything to do with land or cities. The world became the mission field for the Promises and not a permanent home on earth. Man’s body may be material, but man’s mind roamed in a spirit world where the conflict was between good and evil (Romans 7:14-20). God, indeed, was now being worshiped in spirit and in truth. Paul’s new world, he declared, “…brothers, flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (Romans 15:50). “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). The soldiers were spiritual and so were their weapons. It was an armor of God that consisted of the following, “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Ephesains 6:13-18). The main promise, therefore, was man’s redemption from his miserable self. It was a new life that begins in the here and now and continues with the Savior Christ in eternity (Romans 6:1-14). Man’s real enemies are sin and death. Christ conquered both (I Corinthians 15:26, 54-56). The Kingdom and reign of God took shape among those who have been called forth (Ekklesia-Church) on earth as witnesses to the good news; namely, that Christ had overcome sin and death and that He had taken his rightful place in the heavenly world from whence He supervises His cause on earth through his Spirit (Romans 8:28-39). Thus, the Spirit and the Word were the line of communication between the believer and his Lord (Romans 8:1-27).
What the Pauline followers were being promised was a new and perfect world. The entire creation groaned or longed for a day when it too would be freed from Adam’s sin (Romans 8:22). This would take place when Christ returned to raise the dead, rapture the living and judge the world. To the followers in Corinth and Thessalonica and to Timothy Paul wrote, “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet shall sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (I Corinthians 15:51-54). “For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (I Thessalonians 4:16-17). “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge” (II Timothy 4:1). Paul lived in hope of taking up his eternal residence with Christ, “Now we know that if our earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (II Corinthians 5: 1-5)
When people began dying and there was no return in sight, the leaders were beginning to re-examine their understanding of Jesus’ message. The first Christian theologian Paul himself believed, that he would be taken up visibly by Christ (I Thessalonians 4:13-18), but when the delay of Christ’s return continued, he too realized that his hope was with those who had fallen asleep (II Timothy 4:6-8). Hope had not changed, but the delay of being delivered made the task of hanging on much more difficult. Believers were not just dying; they were being killed. Paul’s task was to help the followers of Christ to survive and not lose hope. It was no longer a matter of preaching the Gospel but how to remain faithful to Christ in a hostile world. The world itself did not let them withdraw and wait for being removed from this world. It was ready to hear and feared at the same time what the Jesus’ people were about. The task was to link faith to behavior and service, therewith earning a place in the eternal hope. He became Paul the problem solver, the fund-raiser, the marriage broker, the peacemaker and many other things. In Corinth Paul faced division, immorality, lawsuits, whether to marry, food sacrificed to idols, what gifts were spiritual, why the resurrection was not taking place and in what form or body will it end? Rome was the epitome of moral perversion and injustice; yet, the faith of Christ’s followers was heard around the world (Romans 1:8). Hardships and persecutions did not stop the advancing of the spiritual kingdom of Christ. These believers were the evidence that, “The righteous will live by faith” (Romans 1:17). Right was might without the sword. A new day was downing and hope was being planted on earth. The Christians in Rome were leading the way and Paul was blessed with the ability “to impart you with some spiritual gift to make you strong” (Romans 1:11).
Paul’s ministry changed from being an evangelist to being a pastor. He was incarcerated and people had to come to him. Even before he was imprisoned, he had to spend considerable time in Corinth and Ephesus encouraging and building up his followers in the faith. His own prison experience marked a distinct difference in his understanding of how to live as a Christian. His Letters to the Ephesians, to the Philippians and to the Colossians were Pastoral Epistles or instructions. He no longer spoke of escaping or being rescued from hardships and suffering, but to face them and make the best of it. “Now if we are children, then we are heirs –- heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:17-18). Suffering became an asset. “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance builds character; and character brings hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:3-5). Even dying for Christ will add to the merits of the resurrection. “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his suffering, becoming like him in death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10).
The strongest urging of Paul with regard to how a Christian should live was and still is Romans 12:1, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – which is your reasonable service.” The rendition “reasonable service” is more popular with the translation of the Greek “logiken latreian” as “spiritual worship.” The Greek does allow for both translations. Man can render service to others and thereby please God. It is logical or mere common sense that doing what is right is honoring God. In Paul’s day, Jesus followers had no buildings to worship in. The world in which they lived was their worship center. They served with their bodies. They had to be holy or undefiled, well maintained and strong to endure unfavorable conditions and demands. Above all, their minds had to be on their mission for Christ so that their lives would not impair it. Paul remembered too well how his people preached one thing and dishonored God by doing another thing (Romans 2:17-29). Christ’s followers earned recognition by serving in humility, with impartiality and respect for all men, particularly for the people that employed them. “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves to Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him” (Ephesians 6:5-9).
Paul and his converts learned quickly to adjust to the world. “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” (Philippians 4:12). “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its benefits” (I Corinthians 9:22-23). Paul was particularly effective in his approach with secular governing authorities. He did not start out being that masterful. The riot in Ephesus taught him where and when not become involved (Acts 19). In Jerusalem, Paul turned the Sadducees against the Pharisees (Acts 23). With regard to the Roman authorities, Paul was free to preach the gospel and share his hope (Acts 24-28). “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established” (Romans 13:1). It was this Roman authority that ended the existence of Paul’s people as a nation. Paul had the same warning for non-practicing Christians, “For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either” (Romans 11:21).
Paul had a hidden agenda. “I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches” (Romans 11:13-16). “I have great sorrow and anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenant, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised” (Romans 9:2-5). “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites are that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God, they sought to establish their own and did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ fulfilled the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:1-4).
The key is the Greek word “telos” and it does not mean the “end,” but the completion or fulfilling of the law. The Greek word for “end” is “omega.” Jesus was very clear about having come to fulfill rather than to abort the Law (Matthew 5:17-18). It is by obeying and keeping the God’s Law that a person can live and Christ did precisely that. Moses also had made it very clear what God intended. “You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the Lord your God. Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 18:4-5). Paul’s hope was in Christ the righteous one who had fulfilled what his people had broken and abandoned. Without the righteousness of Christ Jesus, man has no one that can satisfy the demands of God’s justice. Jesus Christ did not only fulfill the laws, but Christ Jesus also became the perfect human sacrifice for man’s sin (Romans 3:25). Those that trust in Christ do not face alienation from God nor do they face any condemnation (Romans 8:31-39).