Paul’s Heavenly Perspective

Heavenly Perspective in Paul’s writings.

Bible scholars enjoy investigating and dissecting the writings of the Apostle Paul. Paul’s epistles are rich in theology and at times quite complex in thought, so they provide a simulating challenge for the enquiring mind.

However scholarship can amuse itself with analysis for analysis sake. Knowledge can feed the notion that the student holds some special place or privilege since “knowledge puffs up”. Human analysis of spiritual truth can weave its own intricate pretence of insight, while missing the very heartbeat of what Paul is saying.

This is not to say that scholarship and analysis are of no value, but they need to be subservient to the spirit and intent of the spiritual transaction which Paul intended, rather than to push us into the place of bystanders who can testify in a witness box of what we have seen, but who are observers rather than participants of the truth on offer.

Now that I have that off my chest let me direct your attention to some interesting considerations that Paul’s life deserves.

Paul stands in a unique place as a contributor to the New Testament. Specifically I refer to the fact that all of his encounters with Christ were with the risen, glorified Christ of all eternity, not with the human personality the disciples dealt with.

The human Jesus, fully God and fully man, had laid aside His glory, holding the place of a servant. So those who met Christ in that capacity were denied the immediate and compelling impact of the eternal Son of God, eternal Lamb of God, eternal Creator God, that Christ is.

Paul, on the other hand, met Christ as the glorious resurrected Lord of Glory speaking from heaven itself.
Paul went on to meet with Christ in heaven and to receive revelation directly from the glorified Christ (1Cor 11:23, 2Cor 12:3,4).

Paul’s conception of spiritual truth, then, was first and foremost from the heavenly perspective. He knew things too wonderful to be allowed to put in words (2Cor 12:3,4) and so impressive were his spiritual experiences that a messenger from satan was assigned the special task of keeping Paul humble (2Cor 12:7).

Paul writes from that rich context of spiritual insight.

The great Apostle Peter held Paul’s writings in great respect but admitted that Paul’s insights were hard to understand and were misinterpreted by unlearned and unstable people (2Peter 3:15,16).

Paul’s ministry was to the minds and hearts of men and women who did not hold the depth of revelation he enjoyed. He therefore had to input into them spiritual truths that they were at times resistant to, as babes unable to handle the stronger revelation of God’s Word but needing to be grounded in the first principles. He also had to deal with their tendency to be distracted by baser, fleshly urges that competed with their spiritual health, such as being drawn into factions, being impressed by charlatans intent on exploiting them, and so on.

Paul spent a year and a half in Corinth, able to function in full-time ministry for at least part of that time, thanks to the support from outside Corinth.

After Paul left Corinth he settled into a longer stint of ministry is Ephesus and it is believed that from there he wrote at least his first epistle back to the church at Corinth.

PAUL in 2 Corinthians and his focus on suffering, death and resurrection.

It is suggested that Paul had a strong focus on the resurrection of Christ and that focus prompted his frequent references to death and resurrection in his second letter to the Corinthians.

I disagree. Paul’s focus is not on Christ’s death and resurrection specifically, nor in comparing his own or other’s experiences with those of Christ, but simply to argue for a posture of abandonment on God, disregarding personal hardship in order to serve Christ.

Christ exemplifies this posture of abandonment in enduring the cross to save sinners.

Paul anticipates and lives a life of constant tribulation, but that is of no concern since he also lives in constant consolation.

There is a dichotomy of constant tribulation made irrelevant by constant consolation. This is Paul’s reality and it is the one he repeatedly confronts the Corinthian believers with.

2Corinthians 1:3-5 “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds by Christ.”

Paul’s picture of Christian life is of a life of blessing and comfort compensating for a life of tribulation.

Consider Paul’s repeated advice to Timothy that Christians will suffer persecution.
2Timothy 3:12 “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”

(See also Peter’s reference to “fiery trial” in 1Peter 4:12, and
Christ’s predictions that His followers would be persecuted, Matt 24:9, John 15:20)

Paul clearly identified himself and his peers as targets for tribulation.
1Thessalonians 3:4 “For verily, when we were with you, we told you before that we should suffer tribulation; even as it came to pass, and ye know.”

This is particularly poignant for Paul since his very calling from Christ identified him as set aside to suffer persecution.
Acts 9:16 “For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.”

Note also in 2Corinthians that Paul speaks of vicarious suffering, such that his own sufferings result in blessing to those he cares for. (2Cor 1:6,7, 4:12)

Paul shares with the Corinthians how terribly he was persecuted, to the point of despairing of life, but the consolation, deliverance and protection he always relies on came through. The key issue for Paul is not that of death and resurrection but of constancy of faith, being confident that even in his extremity God will remain faithful, as he proved to be.

Note the focus on where Paul’s ‘trust’ was placed in 2Corinthians 1:9,10, “But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raises the dead: Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us:”

I repeat, Paul’s focus is not in Christ as a model of death and resurrection, but on the Christian’s challenge to trust God in the reality of a Christian life where tribulation is the turf, but consolation is guaranteed to triumph over it.

Paul’s ‘affliction list’ in 2Corinthians 4:7-12 is Paul’s assertion that tribulation fails to be a problem, thanks to God’s constant care. Rather than Paul providing a litany of evils he makes a declaration of triumph, rejoicing in ‘the excellency of the power’, being ‘not distressed’, ‘not in despair’, ‘not forsaken’, ‘not destroyed’, ‘that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body’.

This is a wonderful take on suffering and dispels the fleshly, self-preservation, narcissism of natural man, pointing to a life of victorious service to our Lord, immersed in opposition and trial, so it can be constantly triumphant over all trials right down to death itself.

The Corinthian church had been taught this perspective but quickly distracted themselves with their own carnality, dropping their moral standards, engaging in factions, celebrating their own indulgence without regard for fellow believers.

Paul not only contended with them about their fleshly distractions, but he pressed upon them the model he doubtless taught them in their presence, that Christian life is not about self, but about yielding to Christ, entering into the most dangerous and oppressive challenges, and living in triumph and effectiveness in that most undesirable context, as living proof of the gospel.

Hedonism says:
It’s My Life;
I Do What I Want;
My Comfort is Paramount;
If I suffer it must be for my good (eg: pain for health, budgeting to buy better things).

Compare this with Paul’s concept of his calling by Christ:
My life is no longer mine, but Christ’s;
I do not do what I want;
My comfort is irrelevant, and I enter a life of suffering;
I do not suffer for myself but for the benefit of others.

Paul drives home this radical view of a life of trial as a high calling with great reward, pointing the Corinthians away from appearances and to eternal riches.
2Corinthians 4:16-18 “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”


The claim is made that Paul in 2Corinthians is defending his apostleship.

I challenge that perspective as distracting the student from the bigger picture of what Paul is saying in that letter.

Paul clearly has undisputed authority in the Corinthian church and has expressed that in previous demands made and in his demands related to his planned visit. There is no reason to believe Paul’s apostleship and his role as primary authority in the Corinthian church is in jeopardy.

So the suggestion that 2 Corinthians is written in defence of Paul’s apostleship necessarily detracts from the apostolic message Paul conveys.

Primary in Paul’s apostolic message is challenge of the carnality and sinfulness of the Corinthians, which Paul challenged in several ways in 1 Corinthians (babes 1Cor 3:1, carnality 1Cor 3:3,4, drunkeness and self-indulgence 1Cor 11:21) and which he bluntly confronted at the end of 2 Corinthians (2Cor 12:20,21, 2Cor 13:5).

Another resounding message of 2 Corinthians is Paul’s description of a spiritual life, compared with a selfish fleshly life focus, of willingly and happily enduring suffering so that the promise and proof of the gospel triumphing over those trials can be lived out, as it is by Paul and his companions.

Paul embarrasses the Corinthians by pointing out that they, in their flesh, have fawned over men who exploit them (2Cor 11:20) and who were nothing more than “false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ” (2Cor 11:13), while Paul is as worthy a hero as anyone else (2Cor 12:11). This addiction to people who impress them reflects the factional spirit at Corinth that Paul challenged in 1Corinthians 3.

Finally, Paul calls them on their inherent sinfulness and challenges them to be sure they are actually saved (2Cor 13:5).

All of this is relegated to subsidiary status if the reader has been beguiled by the widely promoted idea that Paul is principally writing to defend his apostleship.

Further, the idea that Paul has to prove anything is demeaning of this man of immense spiritual stature and unique spiritual privilege (see 2Cor 12:1-7).

Let us free 2Corinthians from the shackles of misdirection and enjoy the rich spiritual food of a great man of God, completely secure in his place of authority within the Corinthian church, who did nothing less than escort them further on their struggling spiritual journey, with truth that we each need to imbibe as we make our own spiritual journey.

Note Paul’s focus on the sinfulness of the Corinthians.

“For I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not:lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults: And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed.” 2Cor 12:20,21

2Cor 13:2 “I write to them which heretofore have sinned, and to all other, that, if I come again, I will not spare”.

2Cor 13:5 “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?”

Corinth and Laodicea Compared

The Corinthian church, as reflected by the correction Paul has to give them in his epistles, resembles the condition of the Laodicean church of John’s Revelation (Revelation 3:14-22).
That church failed to comprehend that it was “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” but rather thought itself to be “rich, and increased with goods, and (to) have need of nothing” (Rev 3:17).
While the Corinthian church may not be in a severe a state at the Laodiceans its members display a vain concept of themselves as able to indulge their passions, tolerate immorality and identify with competing factions, all to their detriment.
Something in the culture of Corinth entangled the local church in issues that needed Paul’s continued pastoral correction, as the Laodiceans needed Christ’s pastoral correction.
Local culture was recognised by Paul as deleterious to spiritual progress, as seen in his acceptance of the cultural stereotype applied to the residents of Crete (Titus 1:12,13).
Paul also recognised that external spiritual influences can subvert the faith of a whole congregation, as seen in Galatia (Galatians 3:1).
Rather than give up on such people Paul persisted in contending with them to have the truth established in their hearts.
Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth display his faithful and persistent care for the souls of the members, contending with them and even challenging them bluntly, in order to dispel from their minds ideas and practices that have a negative effect on their faith.

Enough said. Check it out for yourself and enjoy the glorious vision of Christian life that carried this great apostle through the toughest of treatment to the most glorious of achievements for Christ’s Kingdom.

Persecution in the Early Church

A review of Church History cannot escape the word ‘martyr’, which springs up in every age and in every place. The fact that untold millions have been killed for their faith in Christ is a staggering phenomenon, which will only continue, until Christ returns. As we consider the history of the early church it is appropriate to put some of that persecution into perspective.

Jewish Opposition

The world into which Jesus Christ was born was under Jewish administration, with Roman oversight. Rome had conquered Palestine, but they relied on the existing local systems and structures to maintain the local order and peace. Roman soldiers intervened when the will of the Emperor needed to be enforced, or to maintain Roman authority if the local leaders could not handle it.

The New Testament history reveals that the Jewish religious authorities were unsettled by the emergence of the new religious characters of John the Baptist and Jesus. We have accounts of their interrogation of John and their persistent opposition to Jesus.

So it is no wonder that, following Christ’s resurrection, Pentecost and the birth of the church, the Jewish religious hierarchy was quick to engage in opposition to the early church.

Saul of Tarsus

A prominent young man (I was going to say ‘zealot’ but that has a specific meaning in New Testament times), named Saul, gave increased impetus to the Jewish opposition to early Christians. He was instrumental in the death of the church’s first martyr, Stephen. He was also involved in seeing other Christians killed, imprisoned, pressured to blaspheme and so on.

When Saul was converted to Christianity, by miraculous encounter with the Risen Christ, some of the impetus against the Christians was probably diminished for a time. But it wasn’t long before there were Jewish plans to kill Saul (who we remember best by his name Paul).

Throughout Paul’s ministry he consistently faced opposition from the Jews. Reading the book of Acts we are left with the impression that the church’s main antagonists were the Jews.

Jewish Persecution

Initially Christianity was seen by the Roman authorities as an off-shoot of Judaism. Jewish leaders were often told to deal with Christianity themselves, as it was a matter of their own religion. This accounts for the energy which the Jews put into persecuting those who followed ‘the way’.

Jewish persecution of Christians in Rome became so intense that in 51AD the Roman authorities expelled Jews from the city, since they were behaving as disruptive trouble makers.

The Romans

Initially the Roman authorities functioned as protectors of the Christians, especially in the case of Paul, who was a Roman citizen due to his birth at Tarsus. The Roman leaders refused at times to hear the Jewish claims against Christians, seeing it as simply a matter of semantics and competing religious claims in their own localised religion.

Christians, however, became an increasing presence and concern to Rome, since the faith was spreading quickly and widely, and Christians refused to acknowledge any other deity, including the Emperor.

Roman persecution of Christians was first unleashed by Nero, following the Fire of Rome in 64AD which destroyed about three quarters of the city. Nero faced suspicion for having part in the fire, and so it seems he chose the Christians as his scapegoat. There is no reason to suggest that Christians had any connection with the devastating fire at all.

Roman Persecution

Nero attacked Christians with savagery, even using Christians doused in flammable liquids as torches to light up his gardens. While it cannot be confirmed it is understood that both Peter and Paul were killed in Rome at this time.

Roman persecution of Christians continued to varying degrees until the time of Constantine’s conversion. Toward the end of the first century Emperor Domitian came to power and persecuted both Jews and Christians. In 98AD Trajan became Emperor and instituted a policy of not hunting out the Christians, but putting them to death if they came to the attention of the authorities.

The symbols of early Christian persecution are usually those of the Colosseum, and the Roman catacombs. This is a worthy connection, since Roman Emperors delighted in making public sport of killing Christians.

Joy in Tough Times

In a day and a culture where taking it easy and getting it easy is the rule, it is challenging to see some of the Biblical instructions which speak of dealing with tough times. How good are you at being happy in tough times? How much joy do you think you could muster when you are under duress?

Well, the Bible tells you to be joyful under pressure, so let’s have a look at that and see if we can’t help you move in that direction.

Under Orders to by Happy!

Take a look at this verse from the Apostle James, who was both a half-brother to Jesus and also the leader of the Jerusalem church.

“My brothers, count it all joy when you fall into divers temptations” James 1:2

That could be paraphrased to say, “Men, have a positive attitude about the whole variety of pressures you are coming under”.

This is not a heavenly suggestion, but a fairly direct instruction. You are under orders to be happy! You are instructed to be joyful when you find yourself in various challenging situations.

The Natural Response

I can be fairly confident that it is not your natural response to be joyful when things go wrong and you are put under pressure. If you are like me you are probably keen to live your whole life without a care.

Our natural attitude to life’s problems can be to resist them and resent them. Some Christians try to blast them away with “faith”. Others complain to God about the frustrations they encounter. Some blame God for their problems.

The issue with this instruction is actually one of Maturity. James points us to a clear understanding of temptations and advises several mature responses. The bottom line is that temptations indicate areas of growth that we need to move through.

Temptations and Tough Times

What James said in the original Greek language in which he wrote, is that we will fall into a variety of tests. The Greek word for “temptations” is peirazo, which, among other things, means, “to try, make trial of, test: for the purpose of ascertaining his quantity, or what he thinks, or how he will behave himself”.

So these temptations are in fact “tough times” of difficult situations. They are circumstances in which you will be tempted to react and show the real quality of your inner self.

The word does not mean “lure to sin” as much as it means “put to the test”. So the various problems that you fall into are each tests to see how you will react and what will come out of you.

The Joy Response

Joy is not the natural response. Usually our response to a new problem is frustration, resentment, anger, discouragement or some similarly negative reaction. If we respond with joy it says that we have gained a level of maturity and that we have less junk inside us to come bursting out under pressure.

A Biblical Perspective on Challenges

Using this instruction from James as a starting point, let’s take a look at the Biblical perspective on the challenges we face.

We see that temptations and challenges are not out of the ordinary. They come in various shapes and sizes and they do come along.

Paul, writing to his disciple, Timothy, declared that everyone who is a Christian will face persecution.

“Yes, all who will live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” 2 Timothy 3:12

Peter also spoke about how these challenges test our faith.

“Wherein you greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, you are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” 1 Peter 1:6,7

Trials Have a Purpose

I mentioned already that temptations and trials cause what is in us to be revealed. But they also have another purpose. Immediately after James instructs us to “count it all joy” he goes on to explain why we do so.

“Knowing this, that the trying of your faith works patience.” James 1:3

Trials have a purpose. They are to create deeper godly character in us. They cause patience to come up in us.

So, next time you face an unexpected challenge and you are tempted to respond with some ugly attitude, pull yourself together and realise that this is a good situation. You will grow in godly character through that trial. So now you can be joyful. It isn’t what your flesh wants to endure, but it is what you know will be good for you.

George Fox Stirred By God

This is the day that … George Fox was born, in 1624.

Converted at the age of 19 – through the reading of the Scriptures – George Fox took off on an itinerant preaching ministry.

His spiritual journey involved two revelation experiences; one on his conversion where, he recounts, “I heard a voice which said, “There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy condition,” and when I heard it, my heart did leap for joy. Later he felt led to climb a great mountain, Pendle Hill in Northern England. There he experienced a vision of “a great people to be gathered.”

He became an itinerant preacher and came upon some independent congregations which received him. He formed those groups into the Publishers of Truth, later renamed as the Religious Society of Friends, nicknamed the ‘Quakers’ by their enemies.

Fox’s own experiences of inspiration led to a strong focus on spontaneous inspired moments for his followers.

In 1649 he was gaoled for interrupting a preacher (“Dost thou call this place a church? Or callest thou this mixed multitude (the congregation) a church?) – and so dead was the state church of his day that his question might not have been without some justification.

Again, in 1650 he was gaoled for alleged blasphemy.

“He was beaten with dog whips, knocked down with fists and stones, brutally struck with pike staves, threatened by mobs, imprisoned eight times in filthy prisons and dungeons … yet he went straight forward with his mission.”

Fox preached an evangelical message, although his over-reaction against ritualism caused him to do away with the ordinances (as did the Salvation Army).

George Fox died at the age of 67.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at

John Wesley and the Methodists

This is the day that … John Wesley was born, in 1703. And during his remarkable ministry we know of two early Methodist preachers who were converted on this day.

John Nelson was a Yorkshire man who first heard Wesley preach at Moorfields (17 June, 1739). “As soon as he got on the stand, he stroked back his hair and turned his face to where I stood, and I thought, fixed his eyes upon me” (Early Methodist Preachers, page 2).

John Nelson continues, “This man can tell the secrets of my heart, but he hath not left me there; for he hath showed the remedy, even the blood of Jesus” (page 3).

In the years that followed John Nelson became one of Wesley’s loyal friends, preaching the old-time gospel.

Richard Rodda has also left his testimony for us in writing.

“On 17 June, 1758, God gave me a clear sense of His forgiving love,” he wrote to John Wesley (page 88).

Rodda was 15 years of age when his conversion took place, and by the age of 20 he was often found preaching three times a day in various places. At Worcestershire, “they brought gunpowder with them and almost filled the place with the smoke of it” (page 90). “Some of them pelted me with dirt and broken tiles.”

In Heresford, “a wicked man gathered dirt out of a kennel and threw it in my eyes and face … I could proceed no further.” In Cornwall, “the mob gathered and pelted me with rotten eggs” (page 92).

And so it goes.

Any “Christian” who is too lazy to get out of bed or turn off the TV to go to Church ought to read of the sufferings of Wesley and his early preachers, as they confronted the mobs with the claims of Christ!

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at