Christianity 201

July 28, 2016

The Least of the Apostles, Chief of Sinners, but Blameless and Righteous

The question is first posed at the blog of Columbus Bible Church:

“This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.”  (1Tim 1:15)

In 1 Timothy 1, Paul says that he is the chief of sinners, but in Philippians 3, Paul indicates that he was blameless concerning the righteous of the law.

“Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.”  (Php 3:4-6)

How can both of these be true? … [Click the above link to continue reading…]

There’s also a contrast going on between the ritual law and the moral law. Aldopho Serralta points out:

There are many Christians who do not understand correctly what Paul said in Philippians 3:4-6, so they believe he was a perfect man before he became a Christian. This is one of the times where the brothers can see the difficult way of talking of the Apostle to the Gentiles. When what Paul says seems to go against what the rest of the Bible says, we need to find its logic and not believe blindly and without due analysis what he says. In Philippians 3:3-6. Saint Paul says something that cannot be true: that he was blameless.

 4 Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: 5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; 6 concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.                                                                                         (Phil 3:4-6)

If we were to interpret what Paul says without analyzing it, we could reach the false conclusion that Paul was faithfully obedient of all of God’s law, and therefore was irreprehensible. This would happen if we don’t realize that what Paul says here goes against what the Bible says in other passages. The Bible says that there has been none righteous, not one; therefore, Paul can’t say he was blameless. We need to understand one of two things: either Paul is lying or we have to look for what it is he wants to say with the word “law“.

He says that as to the justice that is in the law, he was blameless. Evidently, Paul was not going to lie; therefore, he is talking about the ritual law, of which he was blameless, because as a Pharisee he would make every effort to comply with all the rites, traditions and ceremonies, besides tithing the rue, the dill, the cumin, the mint, etc..

We need to only slightly reason to realize that Paul cannot be talking about God’s law regarding human behavior, because in the same passage he confesses to being a persecutor of the church, like most Pharisees. They murdered Christians without a previous trial, or with rigged trials, and that is not obeying the law of God. They brought in false witnesses, as we can see in Acts 6:13-14 in Stephen’s case and that is against God’s law for human behavior.

Paul himself confesses in Acts 26:10-11 that he forced some prisoners to blaspheme. A man that acted as such could not be a faithful follower of God’s laws for human behavior, but merely a faithful follower of the ritual law. Thus when Paul speaks, and in such it seems to contradict what the rest of the Bible says, we have to analyze what he says. That is the problem with the brothers who misunderstand Paul, attributing to him the abolition of God’s law for human behavior… [you’re encouraged to continue reading…]

The question is then repeated at Bjorkbloggen (in Swedish and English; scriptures are KJV, look them up in an easier to read translation if you prefer):

Romans 7:14 But I am carnal, sold under sin

Romans 8:6 For to be carnally minded is DEATH 

Hmm, was Paul BOTH carnal and not carnal at the same time, or is he saying the he is carnal and therefore spiritually dead OR is he saying that he was FORMERLY carnal and sold under sin? I’d say the latter.  Paul also said:

 I Cor. 15:34 Awake to righteousness, and SIN NOT 

Romans 6:16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?

Paul is saying that if you obey sin it leads to DEATH (and naturally spiritual death since all people will die physically whether they sin or not). If Paul was the chief of sinners while writing Romans, it must mean he obeyed SIN and served two masters! The Bible is clear about that  sinning and serving two masters will send a person to hell. So Paul wasn’t saved while writing Romans? How can a person be the chief of sinners and BLAMELESS (which Paul says he is) at the same time? To me that is a Bible contradiction. Paul identified himself as a sinner but the context reveals he was talking about his life BEFORE he came to salvation.

1 Tim. 1:12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry;13 Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.14 And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.15 This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.16 Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. (1 Tim. 1:12-16).

When Paul wrote ”I was before a blasphemer and a persecutor” it shows he is writing about the time when he was unsaved in his past. He also said ”I acted ignorantly in unbelief”. Paul is not speaking of the normal Christian life and when comparing with context it’s apparent that Paul didn’t keep on doing those sinful things, as he frequently taught against.

Just a few verses later Paul warned Timoty to have a GOOD CONSCIENCE. He said ”18This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare;19 Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck”. If Paul was the chief of sinners also as a born again christian, then how could he possibly have a good conscience, and how could he possibly expect Timothy to have a good conscience if he fails himself? Can someone be a chief of sinners with a good conscience before God?

Acts 23:1 And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.

Acts. 24:16 And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void to offence toward God, and toward men.

Rom. 9:1 I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost

2 Cor. 1:12 For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.

2 Tim. 1:3 I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day

Hebr. 13:18 Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly

Would Paul exhort others to stop sinning when he himself was carnal and sold under sin? Paul says sin dwells in him (Romans 7:17, 20) and he says he is a wretched man (Romans 7:24). Can a person have sin dwelling in him at the same time as he is free of sin? Wouldn’t this be a clear contradiction? Did the chief of sinners write the major part of the NT and ask his readers to stop sinning and to not be hypocrites at the same time as HE was the biggest hypocrite? Paul’s desire is to find someone who can free him from his sins which lead to death (Rom 7:24), and he makes it clear in Rom. 8:2 that the fight he had in the flesh belonged to his former life.  Right after he describes his bondage to sin and the law before he was saved, he says, ”There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” He also said ”IF YE LIVE AFTER THE FLESH YE SHALL DIE. Based on Paul’s own words a person who sins is SPIRITUALLY DEAD, so clearly Paul could not have been the chief of sinners when saying this.

He is speaking in the present tense, but at which present time? Paul is using a mechanism of literature called, Past Perfect with Present Perfect tense. It is when you speak of past events as if it were present tense. There is a transition by first speaking of the past, transferring in present perfect tense, then shifting it back to the actual present…  [I hope you’ll click that link and continue reading…]

 

December 10, 2012

The Word of God Is Not Imprisoned

The Apostle Paul saw his imprisonment not as a problem, but an opportunity. We can learn so much from this. Today’s post appeared originally at the blog The Cripplegate. I encourage you to click through to read this, and then explore the rest of the blog which features a variety of authors. Today’s piece is by Los Angeles pastor Mike Riccardi.

Paul wrote his epistle to the Philippians against the backdrop of the church’s concern for Paul as he awaited his trial before Nero in his first Roman imprisonment. How was Paul holding up? Was this imprisonment discouraging him? Would he be released? Could he return to Philippi to help them with their lack of unity (cf. Phil 4:2) and to strengthen them amidst the threats of persecution and false teaching (cf. 1:28–30; 3:2)? Or would he die in Rome, and their sweet partnership in the ministry die with him? And perhaps most importantly of all: How has this loss of freedom affected the spread of the Gospel? Have Paul’s adverse circumstances in prison dealt a blow to his ministry of the Gospel to Gentiles?

After his customary thanksgiving (Phil 1:3–8), and prayer (Phil 1:9–11) Paul begins the body of his letter, in verses 12 to 18, by reassuring them—right off the bat—that far from being a hindrance to the Gospel, this opposition, this imprisonment, has actually served to advance the Gospel.

How? I’m glad you asked.

Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else.

The praetorian guard was a company of 9,000 elite soldiers that were particularly tasked to protect the emperor and his interests. And it seems that this subversive preacher Paul was a high priority case for Nero, because he was being guarded around the clock by the imperial elite. The “chain” he wore (cf. Acts 28:20; Eph 6:20) was an 18-inch long chain that attached at one end to a handcuff on Paul’s wrist and at the other end to a handcuff on the wrist of the Roman guard. There wasn’t an hour of the day when Paul wasn’t 18 inches away from a Roman soldier of the imperial guard.

linksBut it wasn’t the same guard all day every day. The soldiers took shifts of six hours at a time. That means that for nearly two years, Paul had come into contact with four different imperial soldiers each day, and had them at his disposal for six hours at a time. Talk about a captive audience!

So what do you think Paul talked about? Do you think he said things like,

  • “This isn’t fair!”
  • “What injustice!”
  • “I’ve been waiting two years!”
  • “This is not a quick and speedy trial!”
  • “I’m a Roman citizen!”

How would you have reacted? Would you have complained about the lack of privacy? Would you have blamed God for your unjust imprisonment? Paul didn’t do any of those things. Paul knew a captive audience when he saw one, and he saw this as an opportunity to preach the Gospel.

The Conversation

And that’s exactly what he did. You could imagine the guard would ask, “So what are you in for?” And Paul would respond: “I am in these chains because I serve the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the One, True and Living God—God made flesh in the person of a Jewish Carpenter. And in further humility and obedience to the will of God, He died for sinners on a Roman cross under Roman authority in Israel 30 years ago.

He was buried and laid in a tomb with Roman soldiers keeping it secure. But three days later He rose from that grave, demonstrating His triumph over death. After remaining with His disciples for 40 days, He ascended into Heaven right before their eyes and is, this very moment, enthroned in power at the right hand of God as the Lord of the whole world.

“Not long after His ascension, while I was persecuting His followers for corrupting the Jewish religion—putting them into chains like these, and even approving of their murder—this resurrected Jesus Himself appeared to me in a blazing light! He knocked me to the ground and struck me blind, and told me that I was to be His messenger, to preach His Gospel and strengthen the church that I once tried to destroy! And since that day I have given every waking moment of my life to preaching the Good News that because of His life, death, and resurrection, those who simply turn from their own self-righteousness and trust in Him can be forgiven of their sins, can escape the punishment of God, and can be reconciled to Him. And one day soon, this same Jesus is going to break through the clouds, return to the earth, and set up His kingdom over all nations!”

And as they spoke with him, and heard this Gospel, and observed his character, they learned that he was not in prison as a criminal, but because he was faithfully preaching the Lordship of Jesus.

This is the word that spread throughout the whole guard. They would talk with each other, and wonder with each other, “This man hasn’t broken any laws. All he has to do to be released is to recant his teachings about this Jesus of Nazareth, and he’d be free to go. But he won’t do it! He’d rather lose his head than stop preaching this message!”

And as they heard this Gospel, and observed the virtue and consistent devotion of Paul’s life—that his behavior matched his message—they began to believe. God began to grant them repentance and faith in the Gospel, one by one. So much so that Paul could close the letter to the Philippians, chapter 4 verse 22, by saying: “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.” Four different guards, six hours at a time, every day, for the last two years, all hearing the Gospel. The messenger might have been in chains, but the word of God is not imprisoned (2 Tim 2:9). And the result, by God’s sovereign, providential work, was that many in the household of Caesar himself were beciming more sincere followers of Jesus than they ever were of Nero.

What Can We Learn?

The Lord used circumstances that anyone would have supposed would have hindered Paul’s ministry to further it. And in such circumstances of adversity, his response was not to complain, to blame God, or to sink into discontentment and depression.

Instead, he rejoiced (Phi 1:18). In what? In pleasant circumstances, an easy life, or a good reputation? No. Paul’s joy was found in the advance of the Gospel. He could endure opposition from both friends and enemies, he could decrease into insignificance and obscurity, he could suffer hardship as a good soldier of Christ Jesus (2 Tim 2:3)—because his ministry wasn’t driven by a thirst for prominence, but by the advance of the Gospel.

We need to learn to receive life’s trials from the hand of God Himself—as opportunities sent directly from Him to advance the Gospel. We shouldn’t try to cut the legs out from under the sovereignty of God by suggesting that God just passively allows our trials, or makes the best out of a bad situation. When confronted with suffering, we should see that the Sovereign Lord is purposefully giving us an opportunity to make much of Him and His Gospel by responding in a way that makes plain that comfort, freedom from conflict, and an easy life are not what we love most, but that Christ is.

We also need to take advantage of our captive audiences. We may not be chained to a Roman soldier, but we each have our obligations that keep us “captive.” Maybe you’re chained to a desk in the workplace. Maybe you’re chained to a kitchen sink and a couple of young children. Maybe you’re chained to a hospital bed, unable to move about freely. You need to see each of these “chains” as an opportunity to proclaim Christ from exactly where you are. You can be a witness to your co-workers, to your kids, or to your nurse and doctors. The messenger might be in chains, but the word of God is not imprisoned (2 Tim 2:9).