|"Now over all these put on love,
which is the tie of maturity!"
-- Colossians 3:14
EARLIER in this series, we have dealt with Paul's
experiences in Syrian Antioch (Acts 13:1). It is conceivable that our Lord used the
ecclesia there as a training college for Paul, to teach him how to put on his spiritual
apparel; pitiful compassions, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and over all these, love,
which is the tie of maturity. When Paul thus served in the ecclesia of the Syrian capital,
together with four other teachers whose former experiences in the life of faith had been
quite different from his own, they may have had ample opportunity of bearing with one
another and dealing graciously among themselves "if anyone should be having a
complaint against any" (Col.3:12-17).
THE PATH SUITED TO TRANSCENDENCE
The knowledge of the Word of God may lead
us to "the realization of His will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding,"
and may enable us "to walk worthily of the Lord for all pleasing, bearing fruit in
every good work, and growing in the realization of God." The more these divine
thoughts are reflected by our walk and service, while becoming part of our prayers for other
believers as well, the more will our love toward them be "superabounding...in
realization and all sensibility" (Phil.1:9). Then we will perceive the validity of
God's promise to endue us "with all power, in accord with the might of His glory, for
all endurance and patience with joy" (Col.1:9-11).
"The transcendent greatness of His power for us who
are believing" is one of Paul's requests in his first Ephesian prayer. In his career,
he needed power for love and endurance, power for patience with joy. So do we in our daily
walk and service.
Paul had his Lord's promise that such power was available
to him in no small measure, but rather in transcendent greatness, in accord with the
display of God's strength when He roused Christ from among the dead and seated Him at His
right hand. The same kind of resurrection power is available to us, the same power for
love and endurance, for patience with joy. If we fail to ask for this power daily, we will
fail in following Paul on the path suited to transcendence.
This path has another characteristic. Some believers seem
to feel that it is the doctrinal corral which is the fence of maturity. Yet, in the
Scriptures, we find that this is not so. Any form of arrogant seclusion from
those for whom Christ died is said to be immaturity. Whenever we read 1
Corinthians 13, are we not reminded of our lack of scriptural maturity? There is no fence
around it to keep others out, for love is the tie of maturity.
The vicissitudes on the path suited to transcendence,
remind us of the actual perils and hardships which Paul and Barnabas were facing on their
dangerous journey from Perga in the fever-infested coastal region (Acts 13:14) up into the
rugged mountain passes through robber-infested terrain. Wild tribes who were notorious for
their banditry, exercised wide control over the steep and perilous trails of this area in
Paul's day. To the "dangers of robbers" were added the "dangers of
rivers" and the "dangers in the wilderness" (2 Cor.11:26) in a wild region
of cliffs and narrow ravines, where mountain creeks might suddenly turn into raging
torrents, and landslides might block the path of the wanderer before he reached the
fertile tableland around Pisidian Antioch.
THE WORDING FITTED THE OCCASION
Paul's message in Pisidian Antioch (Acts
13:16-41) does not yet mention the riches of God's grace which He lavishes on us. Only in
his epistles do we read of "being justified gratuitously in His grace," and of
"the display of His righteousness in the current era," since He is the God of
the Jews and of the nations, "Who will be justifying the Circumcision out of
[the] faith [which they have] and the Uncircumcision through the faith
[which they receive]" (Rom.3:24,26,30). The latter fact is further elaborated in
Ephesians 2:8, "For in grace, through faith, are you saved, and this is not
out of you; it is God's approach present."
The wording of the evangel is always fitted to the
occasion. As the scene changes, the wording is qualified by additional details. At
Pentecost, Peter offered the pardon of sins to the very Jews in Jerusalem who had
crucified Christ a few weeks before. They were indeed inordinate sinners (cf
Rom.7:13) because of the recent murder of the One Whom God had made their Lord as well as
their Christ ("This Jesus Whom you crucify" Acts 2:36).
More than fourteen years later, Paul addressed Jews and
other God-fearing people in the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch. His proclamation
differed from Peter's in many ways and for various reasons. The crucifixion of Christ was
now an event of the past, and probably not one of the audience in Antioch had been among
the Jerusalem crowd which had cried many years ago, "Crucify, crucify him!"
Furthermore, even though the majority of the synagogue audience in Pisidian Antioch were
Israelites to whom belonged the covenants and the promises, there were also "those
who are fearing God" (Acts 13:16), i.e., gentiles who had either adopted Judaism or
at least attended the synagogue services. Hence they were somewhat familiar with the law
and the prophets which were read every sabbath; they could follow Paul when he told the
audience of the things which God had done for Israel in the past, of His loving tenderness
throughout their early history, culminating in His appointment of David as their king.
"From this one's seed, God, according to the promise, led to Israel a Saviour,
Jesus" (Acts 13:23).
Thus the spirit of God, through the apostle, used a new
approach, quite different from that used in the Pentecostal days, in order to win the
response of their hearts, before the Saviour is presented in more detail.
"The word of this salvation" had not been
received by the majority of "those dwelling in Jerusalem and their chiefs, being
ignorant of Him and of the voices of the prophets which are read on every sabbath"
(Acts 13:26,27). When Paul emphasized this fact in the Pisidian synagogue, he wanted to
show that people everywhere may be inordinate sinners, even when they appear to
be very familiar with the Scriptures. This implication would apply to his present audience
as well, should they not believe "the word of this salvation" dispatched to Paul
and Barnabas (Acts 13:26), i.e., that God raised Jesus, His only begotten Son, from among
the dead, offering through Him the pardon of sins together with justification from any
failure in keeping the law of Moses (Acts 13:32-39).
THEY GLORIFIED THE WORD OF THE LORD
There is no record of Paul's next address
which he gave on the following sabbath and which was mainly directed to the gentile
population of Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:44-48). It is conceivable that on this occasion he
preached justification in some of the fullness to which his epistles testify. It is
interesting to note that at the end of verses 46 and 48 in Luke's report on this event,
there are the two only occurrences of the adjective eonian in the book of Acts.
The blaspheming Jews in Antioch are described as judging themselves "not worthy of
eonian life," while the gentile believers of this city "rejoiced and glorified
the word of the Lord, and they believe, whoever were set for life eonian" (Acts
When pondering on the outcome of the apostle's first public
address given to a predominantly non-Jewish audience, we may well say that these young
believers were indeed glorying in the expectation of the glory of God; they were
about to take the steps of faith described in the fifth chapter of Romans:
"Justified by faith, we may be having peace
toward God, through our Lord, Jesus Christ, through Whom we have the access also, by
faith, into this grace in which we stand, and we may be glorying in
expectation of the glory of God.
"Yet not only [so], but we may be glorying also in
afflictions, having perceived that affliction is producing endurance, yet endurance
testedness, yet testedness expectation ...seeing that the love of God has been poured
out in our hearts through the holy spirit which is being given to us."
YET NOT ONLY [SO], BUT...ALSO
A combination of five little Greek words ou
monon de alla kai is used twice (Rom.5:3,11) in the Original in order to impress us
with the fact that there are various ways of glorying in the life of faith. The first is
the result of a new spiritual perspective; through our Lord Jesus Christ we have the access
into this grace, and we stand in it. This being a divine fact, God is
commending His love to us while we are still sinners, since Christ died for our sakes
and we are now justified in His blood.
All of this is sufficient reason for our "glorying in
expectation of the glory of God. Yet not only [so], but we may be glorying also in
Now, being conciliated to God through the death of His Son,
we become ever more aware of our peace with, and our nearness to God, through our Lord,
Jesus Christ. Not only are we conciliated through His death at Calvary's cross,
we shall also be saved in His resurrection life at the right hand of His Father.
When we die together with Christ, we shall be walking in newness of life, freed from the
lordship of Sin, but now enslaved to Righteousness.
All of this is included in God's approach present for us,
hence we may be glorying in expectation of further aspects of the divine glory. Yet not
only [so], but through our Lord, Jesus Christ, through Whom we now obtained the
conciliation, we are glorying also in God Himself, while we are walking worthily
of the Lord for all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and growing in the
realization of God.
Once we were in want of the glory of God (Rom.3:23), but
righteousness and peace having become ours, nothing can exclude us from His glory. Since
we shall be saved from His indignation (Rom.5:9), we can joyfully anticipate our access
into His glory for which our access into His grace has fitted us.
This anticipation of His glory cannot even be dimmed in our
present afflictions. For "we are aware that God is working all together for the good
of those who are loving God, who are called according to the purpose that, whom He
foreknew, He designates beforehand, also, to be conformed to the image of His Son, for Him
to be Firstborn among many brethren. Now whom He designates beforehand, these He calls
also, and whom He calls, these He justifies also; now whom He justifies, these He
glorifies also ...[hence] what shall be separating us from the love of God in Christ
Jesus? Affliction, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or
sword?...Nay! in all these we are more than conquering through Him Who loves us"
When we are thus rooted and grounded in His love, any kind
of affliction will bear its fruit; endurance, testedness, expectation, "seeing that
the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the holy spirit, which is being
given to us." The fruits of affliction are not gained on the Damascus road, but in
the hours of trial which exercise our hearts and detach us from everything on which we
once depended, and bring us closer to the Lord, so as to become aware of the fact that we
are garrisoned by the power of God, through faith (1 Peter 1:5).
In addition, when we stop worrying, and make our requests
known to God with thanksgiving, then the peace of God which is superior to every
frame of mind, shall be garrisoning our hearts and our apprehensions in Christ
Jesus (Phil.4:6,7). Even though our protection is in the spiritual sphere, we can
perceive, with the enlightened eyes of our hearts, God's garrisons, both within us and
around us. Our twofold protection is compared to a military force, a garrison, which no
enemy will ever be able to conquer. At this juncture, we may once more emphasize those
five little words: Yet not only [so] but also in all the vicissitudes of the path
suited to transcendence, "we are more than conquering through Him Who loves
IN ACCORD WITH THE MIGHT OF HIS
POWER FOR LOVE, ENDURANCE, PATIENCE WITH JOY
Because of the persecution by blaspheming
Jews in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:45,50,51), Paul and Barnabas fled to Iconium, about
eighty miles away, where "the same thing occurred at their entering into the
synagogue of the Jews and speaking, so that a vast multitude of both Jews and Greeks
believe. Yet the stubborn Jews rouse up and provoke the souls of the nations against the
"Now as there came to be an onset both of the nations
and the Jews, together with their chiefs, to outrage and pelt them with stones, being
conscious of it, they fled for refuge into the cities of Lycaonia: Lystra and Derbe, and
the country about. And there they were bringing the evangel...
"Yet Jews from Antioch and Iconium come on, and,
persuading the throngs, and stoning Paul, they dragged him outside of the city, inferring
that he is dead" (Acts 14:1,2,5-7,19).
When the gentile mob in Lystra, instigated by out-of-town
Jews, had stoned Paul and had dragged his body, battered and bleeding, outside the city,
he remained unconscious for some time. It may well be that on this occasion, when he was
not aware of anything (2 Cor.12:2-4), he experienced another revelation of His celestial
Lord, and was snatched away to the third heaven, where he heard ineffable divine
declarations which he was not allowed to speak until later in his career.
If he had such a revelation at that time, it certainly was
given in a setting calculated to reveal God's grace toward inordinate gentile sinners
who had just stoned the chosen vessel God had sent for their salvation. In his vision of
the third heaven, he may have seen undeserving gentile saints ruling the celestial realms
as members of Christ's body and blessed "with every spiritual blessing among the
Since Paul seems to refer to his stoning at Lystra in his
second letter to the Corinthians (11:25; 12:1-4), he may well have alluded to the same
event at the beginning of this epistle:
"Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus
Christ, the Father of pities and God of all consolation, Who is consoling us in our every
affliction...seeing that, according as the sufferings of Christ are superabounding in
us, thus, through Christ, our consolation also is superabounding...
"For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren,
concerning our affliction which came to us in the province of Asia, that we were
inordinately burdened, over our ability, so that we were despairing of life also.
But we have the rescript of death in ourselves, that we may be having no
confidence in ourselves, but in God, Who rouses the dead, Who rescues us from a death
of such proportions, and will be rescuing; on Whom we rely that He will still be
rescuing also; you also assisting together by a petition for us, in order that, from many
faces He may be thanked by many for us for the gracious gift given to us."
Because of this gracious gift, Paul reckoned himself and
all believers as having died, and as walking in newness of life, thus living a
resurrection life while still in this body of our humiliation. Yet even Paul was not so
sure that he would realize such resurrection power at all times. When he wrote
Philippians, he had not yet obtained it; he was still pursuing the path suited to
transcendence, he was still grasping for power to love, to endure, to be patient with joy,
even though he knew Christ, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship
of His sufferings, [almost] conforming to His death.
If Paul received his greatest vision and revelation at
Lystra when he was unconscious and not aware of anything, then this was indeed a very
special unveiling, comparable to the one given to John when he was in the island of
Patmos. These two men of God have another thing in common; their emphasis on love divine
which should be reflected in the conduct of every believer. The Greek equivalents for both
the noun and the verb LOVE agapee, agapaoo occur 258 times in the New Testament,
102 times in John's writings and 109 times in the Pauline epistles. This should indicate
to us the importance of this subject to these two men of God, for the seven other authors
of the remainder of the New Testament writings have used the two words only 47 times.
John writes in his first letter (3:14), "He who is not
loving is remaining in death." In his first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul
writes in a similar vein, "If I...have no love...in nothing do I benefit"
(13:2,3). Hence, as long as we are not sympathizing with our suffering fellow believers,
and even with potential believers, we are nothing. Our assumed maturity, our knowledge
about spiritual understanding does not benefit us at all. We are remaining in the sphere
of death; no rivers of living water will flow out of our innermost being when we ignore or
evade the fellowship with others, for whose sake Christ also died.
When John wrote (4:18) that "fear [of judgment] is not
in love, but perfect love is casting out fear," he alluded to fear as the motive
power in the pagan religions of his day, just as we would allude to fear as the motive
power in superstitious Christendom of our day. In addition John's word has a definite
application in a believer's everyday life, where love divine is the motive power which
casteth out any fear, as it certainly did in Paul's case, for he returned to Lystra where
he had been stoned.
Paul's path of love was suited to the transcendence of the
divine revelations which he had received. The apostle did not remain in secluded
stagnation for the rest of his life after he had attained maturity and had outstripped
Stagnation is a synonym for inactivity and lethargy and
thus reminds us of the sphere of death. Paul did not remain in that sphere when his
disciples surrounded him (Acts 14:20). He did not retire from his missionary work after
the trials in Lystra, but felt even more closely tied to his task by love,
both for the brethren and for others, who might try once more to kill him. This love,
which he put on day after day, was the tie of maturity. He knew that Christ had
ordained him to proceed on the superexcellent way where love-in-action is the evidence
of mature spiritual life.