In this post, I will to look at the life of Paul (Saul) in the New Testament. Solomon in the Old Testament discovered joy through having it all. Paul discovered joy through coming to nothing. The theme of Paul’s life, as it relates to our topic of discussion seems to be joy in all circumstances.
Let’s delve right into Paul’s life. Like many characters in scripture, he has a name change at the time he has a heart change. His life in scripture begins as Saul. Our earliest glimpse of him in action is in Acts 7:58. Acts is the story of the birth of the church, seeing the Holy Spirit descend as the gift of God’s presence among man once again, with the hearts of His believers being the new temple. We first see Saul as witness to the stoning of Stephen, as follower of Christ who had just shared the Gospel with a group of people. The men stoning Stephen, are laying their outer cloaks at the feet of Saul to go about their dirty work. There is some debate about what Saul’s exact role is in this scene, but from the following verses and his own testimony later, we know for certain that Saul did not believe in Christ as the Son of God at this time. In fact, he was one of the first to persecute that early church. If nothing else, this event at least fuels a campaign in which Saul begins rounding up Christians for execution. You have to wonder though if Stephen’s actions impressed him and that, just maybe, his heart began a process of softening. We aren’t told those details, but it makes you wonder. (Acts 8:3)
His actual conversion from “persecutor of Christ” to “follower of Christ” comes from a direct confrontation with Jesus while on the road from one town to the next. You can read about that here. Not to minimize his conversion by an means – because it is an incredible chapter in scripture that I highly recommend you take the time to read – but I want to focus more on his later years of ministry for the purposes of studying joy.
From his conversion, Paul begins immediately to preach Christ. With his new name, Paul, soon begins one his first of many missionary journeys throughout that region. He wins many hearts for Christ, establishes and trains churches, and is just generally an encouragement to all believers. He writes letters to several churches, divinely inspired, that we have canonized into doctrinal scripture.
Here’s a list of the books Paul wrote, called the Pauline Epistles. He wrote these to churches he established or helped established in various cities throughout the region. Much of the tenants of our faith are contained in these scripture, as well as guidelines for maintaining Christ-like peace and love in various different cultural and personal relationships. Some he wrote to churches from other churches, and some he wrote from prison. Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians; and it generally believed he wrote Hebrews, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon
With all this good that he had done for God, don’t you think he would just be happy-go-lucky without a care in the world? Shouldn’t God have said, “He’s mine, can’t touch him.” We might think that or want that, but we all know that is just not how it works. As long as we are on this earth, we live under the rule of sin nature. God is just. God left the world to the sin it chose for itself with the promise to return and bruise the serpent’s, (Satan) head (Gen. 3:15). That bruising came with the arrival of Jesus’ birth. With His coming, death, resurrection and ascension, came the promise of the second coming in which Christ would come and remove sin from the world completely; and then He will reign here Himself.
In the meantime, Jesus left the Holy Spirit to establish His temple in the hearts of those who chose Him. In the Old Testament, God dwelt in a tent among the camp of His people chosen to be priests to the world. Only lengthy ceremonial cleansing could make allowance for communion directly with God. At that, only the priests, who lived severely consecrated lives were allowed into the Holy of Holies, the very presence of God. Everyone else had to come to God through the priests. The Israelites came to God through priests, and the world came to God through the Israelites – that is important to note for later.
When Christ left the Holy Spirit, or when the Spirit entered the first believers at Pentecost, communion with God became attainable directly to those on whom His Spirit fell, on those who invite Him into their lives. This joy that we are studying is a direct fruit of that Spirit, as are all the fruits mentioned in Galatians 5 and every other place in scripture. Ironically, that passage in Galatians was written by Paul.
So, no Paul didn’t live the charmed life of one untouched by anything but God. Because he lived in a fallen world, as do we, he was persecuted by the leaders of his time who feared the spread of this idea of “freedom” in Christ. Much of that part of the world was conquered at that time under oppressive Roman rule. Those non-citizens longed for the privileges of freedom and many in Christ’s time believed He had come to free them physically from that rule. So teachings of freedom were not received well by the Romans. Numerous times, Paul was beaten or imprisoned for sharing his faith and causing “uprisings”.
To give some clarity, we know from a few brief mentions in Acts (Acts 22:23-29; Acts 25:1-11), he was born a Roman citizen, though he did also claim Jewish heritage. As a Roman, he had certain rights that non-citizens were not afforded. You could say he was privileged and protected under his Roman citizenship. That does help him a few times in his early ministry, but because Roman citizenship could also be revoked, by operating in Christian ministry, he walked a very fine line.
Paul, like all of us, had to make a choice. He could have gone back to persecuting Christians instead of joining them. It would have saved his life. However, Paul met Christ, very literally and found that true joy is found only in God’s glory. When Paul recognized God’s love for him and chose faith in God, (we sometimes call that “getting saved”), the Spirit of God began dwelling in Him. Through trial he learned his joy was not dependent on his status as a Roman citizen or whether or not he was imprisoned. That freedom allowed him by the Roman empire was actually bondage to sin for him. Instead, his joy was found simply in Jesus. No power of hell or scheme of man, could ever pluck me from His hand, as the hymn says.
So in all Paul’s sufferings, he adopted a unique attitude. He believed just as it says in James 1:2-4, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” The end of this verse might make more sense after my next post about building His kingdom, so let’s just put a mental pin in that one too. In fact, I recommend that you spend time dwelling on it, don’t wait for me to post the next one. See if you can connect some dots. The Spirit in you can reveal God’s truths to you.
As you may have guessed by all my “pinned” side notes here, there is one more piece to this puzzle that I want to go into before going on to study another fruit. It relates to our study of the fruits, but it is too full a concept to include in this one post. So there will be another post coming soon about building God’s kingdom. Remember when I said earlier in this post, “and God came to the world through the Israelites”? And remember when I said about Paul, “the Spirit of God began dwelling in Him”? Those statements will play a key role in the next part of this study. I don’t think this will necessarily pertain to any one particular fruit, but I believe it to be a key concept to the work of the Spirit in and through us as we operate in the fruits. It will be some of the glue that holds this all together and makes it all relevant.
In the meantime, I encourage you to spend some time reading the Pauline Epistles in the links above. Try looking at your faith with fresh eyes and see how closely tied the New Testaments really is to the Old Testament. If you have never done a study on the Tabernacle, I highly recommend it. The lengths to which Christ went to fulfill the old covenant is fascinating and will renew your faith. The fruit will have much more meaning to you if you understand the significance of the Spirit dwelling in you.
I will close today with this hymn, In Christ Alone … listen to the doctrine-rich words and let your heart rejoice.