Sunday, April 12, 2020

To Follow and Be an Example

  Paul begins the amazing book of Romans with this simple expression, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus”.[1]
  Yesterday, I had a very negative reaction to this. My initial thought to wondering what it would be like for Paul to write me a personal letter was scary. Nothing got passed him. How could I feel anything but lower than a snake’s belly if he started dissecting how I was doing at following Jesus.
  But then it settled into my soul that, because Paul was “a servant of Christ Jesus,” he would relate to me with the same “truth in love” quality I have come to expect of my Savior.[2] Paul’s writings are an expression of God’s own words directing me into his lovingkindness through a real-life servant who knew Jesus as well as he can be known this side of heaven.
  As everything in Romans now sits before me awaiting my exploration, the thing that settled in as a guide for the whole journey was the fact that Paul is an example to be followed. As a servant of Christ Jesus, he teaches us how to live as servants of Christ Jesus.
    Here are some ways this is expressed in other letters.
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.[3]
  First, there is no doubt that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.[4]
  Second, there is no doubt that Paul was imitating Christ the Lord.
  Third, there is no doubt that Paul should be imitated in his imitating of Christ.
  And, fourth, there is an expectation that our imitating of Paul’s example would be to the same quality as Paul’s direct imitating of Christ.
  Conclusion: we are called to join God’s work of imitating Paul. Simple!

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.[5]
  First, any of us who have salvation in Jesus Christ are one of the brothers, so this applies to us.
  Second, “join” means that imitating Paul is a church activity, something we do together.
  Third, Paul is worthy to be imitated by churches all over the world through all the rest of time because the legacy he left us is of one who imitated Christ throughout his whole ministry and in a very exemplary way.
  Fourth, Paul showed that he was not interested in being the sole example of imitating Christ, so he called the church to keep our eyes together on others who were walking according to the example the believers had in “us”, meaning those with Paul who were setting an example together.
  Fifth, the generations of discipleship are seen in that the “us” is clearly referring to Paul and Timothy. Timothy was Paul’s son in the faith,[6] so that is two generations. There were others Paul recognized as walking according to the example that both he and Timothy were showing, which makes them a third generation of the discipleship. And, the brothers at Philippi joining together to imitate Paul as these others were doing was the fourth generation that would now continue reproducing itself indefinitely.
  Conclusion: imitating Paul’s example is a group experience and we must join with other believers to grow up in these things.
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.[7]
  First, everyone who reads the New Testament has learned, received, heard and seen things in Paul’s life that we can and ought to put into practice.
  Second, when we are putting into practice what we have learned, received, heard and seen in Paul’s ministry, the “God of peace” will be with us just as he was with Paul.
  Conclusion: the peace of God so many church folks are looking for comes from the God of peace who will be with us in our imitating Paul just as he was with Paul in setting us an example.
Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.[8]
  First, Paul taught Timothy “sound words”.
  Second, Timothy “heard” the sound words directly from Paul.
  Third, the sound words were in a recognizable “pattern” that could be repeated from one believer to another.
  Fourth, the pattern that was seen and heard in Paul’s life could be followed in Timothy’s life.
  Fifth, the only way we can follow Paul’s pattern of sound words is in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. After all, that’s where Paul found them!
  Conclusion: Paul is not the scary leader who operates under law and condemnation, but the shepherd who operates in the faith and love that are in our Savior and teaches other shepherds to do the same.
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.[9]
  First, “you then,” means, us then. There is no doubt that every page of Scripture has some variation of “you then,” that requires us specific people to do something to let the words of Christ dwell in us richly.[10] No exceptions.
  Second, “my child,” indicates a very personal relationship with Paul in which Paul was the father and Timothy was the son. This is the relationship Scripture holds out to us, that Paul is a father to us all, guiding all us children into the fullness of walking with God as he has already experienced it.[11]
  Third, “be” signifies something that should happen to us. Before we even know what it is, we already know it is something that should be real in our lives.
  Fourth, “strengthened” is a universal quality of growing up. While our earthly bodies go through a few decades of being strengthened before plateauing and then declining, our spiritual life can continually be strengthened day by day. As we know there are things we can do to strengthen ourselves physically, there are greater things we can do to keep strengthening ourselves spiritually. Paul is showing us how!
  Fifth, we are “strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus”. This is encouraging. Physical strengthening requires significant participation on our part. The older I get, the harder I must work to maintain my strength. On the other hand, spiritual strength comes from God’s grace expressed in Christ Jesus. Grace is the activity of God doing good things for his children that have nothing to do with our efforts to experience them. We “be” strengthened by receiving that grace by faith.
  Sixth, we now have a clear picture of the four levels of discipleship in the kingdom of God. First, there is Paul teaching things “in the presence of many witnesses” as the grace of God led him to do so. Second, there is Timothy who heard and saw the things Paul taught these many witnesses. Third, Timothy was to take these same things and “entrust” them “to faithful men”. And, fourth, the faithful men needed to “be able to teach others also.” This pattern can be repeated throughout all the rest of time in every place that people gather in Jesus’ name.
  Conclusion: every one of us is in this pattern. For me, I am in the “faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” level. I need to grow in being faithful, and grow in teaching others. Some of you may be there as well. However, all of us are in the “others” level who can receive teaching from men who are over us in the Lord.
  Why is it so significant to begin Paul’s letters with the awareness that he is, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus,” who sets such an honorable example of following Christ that we will all benefit greatly from following in his steps?
  Because, at least in part, when we read anything Paul expects us to do in our relationship with Jesus Christ our Savior, we can be sure that he was already following Jesus in those same ways. He not only taught us what to do, but showed us what to do.
  Two things immediately stand out very glaringly.
  First, Paul received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ”.[12] The characteristic of obedient faith in my life has a model in the obedient faith of our older brother Paul.
  Second, one thing stood out as the reason Paul was willing to suffer in so many ways to bring us into that obedience of faith.
  For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”[13]
  Paul’s example tells us that, a genuine experience of the “good news of great joy”[14] will bring us into “the power of God for salvation” that we will not be “ashamed of the gospel.” He continues to invite us to know what he knew, and he continues to lead the way in how to experience just that.
  It was said of Abel that, “through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.”[15] The same is clearly true of “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus.” He served faithfully to the end, and following his example will help us do the same.
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Romans 1:1 (that one sentence continues through Romans 1:1-7).
[2] Paul talks about the church “speaking the truth in love,” in Ephesians 4:15 because Jesus was the truth speaking to us in love and we are to be like him. Read the whole context of Ephesians 4:1-16 to see how this truth-and-love fellowship helps the body of Christ grow.
[3] I Corinthians 11:1
[4] Philippians 2:11 (in the context of Philippians 2:1-11)
[5] Philippians 3:17
[6] Philippians 2:22
[7] Philippians 4:9
[8] II Timothy 1:13
[9] II Timothy 2:1-2
[10] Colossians 3:16
[11] I Corinthians 4:14
[12] Romans 1:5-6 (repeated at the end of the letter in the Doxology of Romans 16:25-27)
[13] Romans 1:16-17
[14] The way the gospel is announced in Luke 2:10-11.
[15] Hebrews 11:4

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