“YET NOT I”
I am pretty much a literalist when it comes to Paul. If you do not believe literally what the Bible says about Paul, then you will probably wrestle with this message. But if you believe the testimony of Paul to be true, then you may be open to this word that I feel burdened to share with you. If the Bible says that Paul was thrown to beasts at Ephesus, then I believe that he was given over to lions in that city. If scripture says a viper leaped from a fire and bit Paul and he lived instead of died, then that is literally what happened. If Paul says he was in “deaths oft,” then it means that he was in death more than once and came back to continue the Lord’s work. And if Paul says, “nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ liveth in me,” then this too I take to mean exactly that.
“OH WRETCHED MAN”
I have noticed that many churches today are beginning to take a very subtle position that suggests that Paul had a sin problem. Paul’s credibility seems questioned in some places. For example, some preaching will point to Romans 7 when Paul says, “Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death?” and interpret this to be Paul’s personal cry. Here is Paul in Romans 7, they say, complaining that he is in bondage to sin. (“That which I would, I do not; and that which I would not, that I do.”) It must mean that Paul still had a sin problem. This has almost become an accepted doctrine. Beloved, Paul did not have a sin problem. That is not the truth. In speaking to the Romans, Paul became all things to all men, presenting to that church the universal wretched condition of mankind, the state of every man who is not totally the bondslave of Jesus Christ. Why did Paul present this dilemma in Romans 7:24? So that he could answer his own question by saying in the next verse, “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord,” going on in the eighth chapter to expound the law of the Spirit. Are we really to believe that this man Paul, who survived stonings, lions, the bites of vipers, who considered whether he should go to be with the Lord or stay behind to preach the gospel; that this man who was recognized by the demons of hell as having authority over them had a sin problem (2 Cor. 11:25, I Cor. 15:32, Acts 28:3-6, Phil. 1:21-26, Acts 19:15)? You see, the Body of Christ has difficulty in coming to grips with the apostle Paul. Everyone accepts that Jesus had no sin because after all, He was God incarnate. But Paul was completely human; human mother, human father, just like you and me. So this is the problem: it is a hard thing for us to admit to the fact that Paul was REALLY filled with all the fullness of God, because if we admit that it could happen to one totally human being, then we are obliged to ask ourselves if it is possible for US to be filled with the fullness of God as well. Rather than face this question, it is easier to say that maybe Paul had a sin problem. It is easier to scan the scriptures looking for some error he made or some contradiction or some fault. That would let us off the hook. Then we wouldn’t need to feel uncomfortable about the lack in our own relationship with the Lord.
I will offer you another example which has gained support among born again ranks that suggest that Paul was not quite on target. It has to do with the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas, about whether John Mark should accompany them to visit the brethren. The disagreement was severe enough to cause Paul and Barnabas to go separate ways (Acts 15). Later, in II Timothy 4:11, Paul requests that John Mark come to him, explaining that he was now profitable to Paul in the ministry. Paul, according to this fable, had a temper tantrum with Barnabas over John Mark and later saw the error in his judgment. Therefore, Paul was incorrect in his earlier dealings with John Mark. But as we examine the scriptures again, we see a different series of events. In Acts 13:13, Paul and Barnabas were in Pamphylia with several of the brethren, including John Mark. John Mark apparently abandoned the work without the leading of the Lord or the blessing of the apostle. It is clear that he deserted his brethren by leaving Pamphylia. Two chapters later, in Acts 15:38, Paul was therefore reluctant to allow him to rejoin the journey because of John Mark’s earlier instability and unfaithfulness in Pamphylia. Paul’s later statement in Timothy declaring that John Mark was now profitable to the ministry is simply a testimony of how the Holy Ghost had worked with John Mark and established him in the faith over a period of time. It is in no way indicative of a sin or temper problem with Paul. But here again, it is easier to believe that Paul was in error than to believe that God can fill all in all (Eph. 1:23). This is a subtle error crept into the church today in order to subvert your faith in God and to keep you from pressing on to the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13).
“THORN IN THE FLESH”
Or what about Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (I Cor. 12:7)? This has produced some interesting speculations and fables as well. Some say it was blindness, some say sin. But the Bible leaves no mystery, for it clearly states in the same verse that the thorn was a messenger of Satan (an evil spirit) sent to buffet Paul. It really does not matter what the evil spirit was. Some get caught up trying to figure this out. The point, as Paul went on to explain in the next verse, is that after his third petition to God to remove this thorn, he realized that God’s strength is PERFECTED in weakness, and that the weaker Paul was, the MORE PERFECT Christ was in him (I Cor. 12:9). And that is precisely the whole point of all Paul’s writing and his very ministry: that he became nothing and of no reputation that ONLY CHRIST SHOULD REMAIN. Therefore, he even gloried in this buffeting, for when he was weak, then Christ in him was stronger than ever.
“THE PROBLEM WITH WOMEN”
And still yet, some would rob you of your faith would tell you that Paul was in error because he was prejudiced against women (I Cor. 14:34). Paul was not a social reformer any more than Jesus was. By the time Jesus went to the cross, the Romans were still in power, which was a disappointment even to the disciples. The gospel addresses something much deeper than social reform. It addresses the transformation of the heart by the Holy Ghost. We know, for example, that in the Old Testament there is much discussion about a reference to a birthing-type experience, which we know is the birthing forth of Christ (Gal. 4:19). You and I are called to bring forth Christ as a woman brings forth a child (See Is. 21:3, 6:17; Jer. 22:23, 48:41, 49:22, 50:43; Mi. 4:9 for a few references to a birthing experience). Shall women say to men that they cannot bring forth Christ in the Spirit because they are incapable of childbearing in the natural? Of course not. But why is this ridiculous? Because we know that in the things of the Spirit THERE IS NO DISTINCTION BETWEEN MALE AND FEMALE and that ALL are called to bring forth Christ, man and woman alike. There is a natural order and there is a spiritual order, of which Paul was aware. We must not confuse the two orders. The spiritual order SUPERCEDES the natural order. God is not and never has been a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34). This is clear. Esau should have had the blessing, but Jacob received. Reuben was entitled, being the firstborn of Jacob, but Joseph became ruler over Egypt and received his father’s blessing. David, the youngest of Jesse, was anointed king of Israel. THE SPIRITUAL ORDER SUPERCEDES THE NATURAL ORDER. The very fact that God sent Paul to the Gentiles, by which grace we are saved today, proves magnificently that God is no respecter of persons. This includes male and female in the things of the Spirit. God does not care whether the earthen vessel is black, or Puerto Rican, or female. It is always the way of flesh to pigeon-hole people into higher and lower categories. It is the way of carnality (Ja. 2:1-4). But the call of God is to WHOSOEVER WILL. It is not related to anything of the outward appearance, but it is completely related to the heart, which knows no color, no nationality, and no gender (I Sam. 16:7). Paul spoke to the Corinthian church about women. This was the most carnal flock of the day and surely Paul recognized this. The Corinthians were still having trouble with very fundamental truths. They were still involved with fornication, incest, and idol worship (I Cor. 5:1). And so Paul ministered to them on a level they could understand. He shared with them the milk of the Word, being babes in Christ (Heb. 5:13). But meat belongs to them that are of full age (Heb. 5:14). Therefore, to another body, he had the liberty to share the truth: in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, bond or free, male or female (Gal. 3:28). They could receive this truth.
“ONE OUT OF SEASON”
Why have we elaborated so long on these questions about Paul? Do we worship Paul? God forbid. Paul said he was one born out of due time or season (I Cor. 15:8). When apples are in season, then all the trees bear their fruit at that time. It would indeed be a strange thing for only one apple tree to bear fruit in a whole orchard. Yet this is what Paul said about himself. Another way of saying out of season would be, “before the appropriate time.” Paul would not have spoken of being out of season unless there was coming a season of similar fruit at a later time. Through the eye of the Spirit, Paul knew that the “season” for others like himself was coming (Eph. 1:10). This is why it is so important that your faith should not be robbed by those who tell you that Paul, an apostle to this generation, had fallen short of the mark. Paul knew that others would come who, IN THEIR NATURAL LIFETIME, would surrender their wills, their ambitions, their desires, and die daily to win Christ. He knew that others would come who, IN THEIR NATURAL LIFETIME, would have the treasure of complete Christ in earthen vessels (2 Cor. 4:7) ; who would bruise Satan under their heels (Rom. 16:20); who would pull down strongholds and be recognized by the powers of darkness because it was only Christ that was seen in them. In fact, he knew that an ENTIRE GENERATION would come forth, in season, who would be the revealing of the Lord in the earth, who would be the mouth of the Lord to speak only His words, the arm of the Lord mighty in battle, the feet of the Lord who bring good tidings, who jointly fit together as Christ, His Body; not separated from the Head, but completely and perfectly controlled by the Head. One Christ, many members; He who fills all in all. That season is upon us for the rest of this orchard to bear fruit. That season is upon us for the remnant who are willing to go the way of the cross to become the manifested presence of the Lord Himself, who have given up everything so that ONLY CHRIST REMAINS in an earthen vessel. Many people followed the ministry of Christ, they pressed in for healings and deliverance and blessings. People got what they needed. Praise God, He meets our needs. So too today, thousands press in continually to have their needs met. But have you noticed who the Holy Ghost chose to tell us about? Those who went beyond receiving blessings to also lay down their lives – their SELF-LIVES – that they might receive the prize of the high calling, that Christ should be allowed to express Himself through them without hindrance.
“BUY OF THE LORD”
Isaiah 55:1 says, “Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters and he that hath no money; come ye, BUY, and eat; yea, come, BUY wine and milk without money and without price.” A widow who met Elijah “bought” for herself a never-ending supply of oil by her obedience to the prophet’s command to give (I Ki. 17:10-16). Five virgins were instructed to go and BUY oil for their lamps (Mt. 25:8). In Matthew, a man sold all that he had to BUY a pearl of great price. And in Revelation, we are counseled to BUY of the Lord gold tried in the fire (Rev. 3:18). How can this be, if Christ paid the price, that we should need to buy anything of the Lord? Before Christ, it was not possible to “buy” anything of the Father at any price. The veil was not yet rent in twain making His presence and His life unavailable to us. The sacrifice of Christ makes available to us what was never available before; the fullness of God (Eph. 3:19). When you get saved, you “buy” with your repentance what Christ has made available by the blood; you accept your salvation. As you go farther and farther in your walk with the Lord, He shows you more of what is available to each individual what and how much they will “buy.” You can buy a little, or you can buy a lot, or you can buy EVERYTHING. You can have a thirty fold, a sixty fold, or a hundred fold increase. It is up to you. The hundred fold increase speaks about the total fullness of God in a totally surrendered life. We cannot buy with our money. We cannot even buy with our time and labors, for we know that our works are insufficient (Eph. 2:8 & 9). But we can buy God’s fullness with our hearts. Each time you humble yourself to know the Lord, you are BUYING of Him (Ja. 4:6-10). Each time you ask for forgiveness or forgive another, you are BUYING of Him. Each time you come to a Gethsemane in your life and choose God’s way instead of your own, you are BUYING gold, wine, milk, and oil which are in the Spirit representatives of more of the Lord. You purchase this fullness with the laying down of your self-life. It is the narrow way Jesus spoke about. Jesus did it. Paul did it, being totally human. The point is, IT IS AVAILABLE TO YOU BY CHRIST. Any teaching that tells you it is not available is sponsored by a spirit of unbelief that limits God by not confessing that with God all things are possible (Heb. 3:19). The powers of darkness would love you to believe that Paul had a sin problem. They would love you to believe that you are not really joint-heirs with Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:17). They would love you to believe that it is not possible for us, being human, to be only earthen vessels containing nothing but Christ. I declare to you by the Spirit, it is not only possible, but the hour is at hand when the prayer of Jesus in John 17 that we should be one in Him shall become a reality. That remnant shall declare that the works they do are the works of the Father. They shall declare as Jesus declared that whoever has seen them has seen the Father because Christ is ALL THAT REMAINS IN THEM. You can buy of the Lord as much as you want. But, as the man considered the cost of the house before he built it, consider what you are willing to buy (Luke 14:28). Let God arise in you and all His enemies – not a few, but ALL – shall scatter (Ps. 68:1). Who are His enemies? Not the prince of this world, for he is already cast down (Jn. 12:31). The enemy of God is the flesh that yet remains IN US, resisting the work of the Holy Ghost. As you buy of the Lord, He will increase more and more, and you will decrease (John 3:30) until, if you buy enough, He is all that is left: that pearl of great price (Mt. 13:46). There is no glory to the shell the pearl comes in. It is cast out and forgotten. But the pearl is that for which a man will SELL AND BUY.