by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 9 Paragraph # 1 Study # 3 July 29, 2008 Lincolnton, N.C.
(420)Thesis:Embracing pain and futility means laying down two more of our idols to make room for God's work of our sanctification.
Introduction:In our last study we raised the question of our understanding of the nature of God as it addresses the willingness of Christ to be "accursed from the Father" for our sakes. We raised this issue because it is my clear conviction that Paul's attitude toward his "kinsmen according to the flesh" is nothing more, nor less, than a mirror of God's attitude toward His personal creatures.
In that study we took the approach that is often a problem for people who look at the claims of the Gospel in a superficial way: the idea that Christ's death for sin was such a "temporary" reality that it cannot have a serious meaning for the thoughtful. But, our argument is this: the "event" was over in something over thirty-six hours, but the "impact" on God will never be over. For men, whose nature requires a certain degree of both forgetfulness and lack of focus, the impacts of events often lose their vitality over time. But God, Who is beyond time and infinite in all of His attributes, has neither forgetfulness, nor an unfocused awareness, and those two realities insist that God will never be free of the price He paid so that we will not have to. Such is the grace and love of God.
This evening we are going to press on into our consideration of Paul's personal attitude toward his "kinsmen according to the flesh" as an indirect "T"heological declaration. The issue we are going to address this evening is this: What was driving Paul's willingness to endure eternal "P"ain in order to escape what the AV calls his "great heaviness and continual sorrow"? My argument is going to be this: men have two idols that must be rejected if they are to be real mirrors of the character of their God. These idols are: 1) the lust to escape pain; and 2) the lust to be "effective". We fear "pain" and "futility" beyond reason. In order to permit love to cast out these fears, we must face them. Apparently Paul did, and he did it as the outworking of his own relationship with God. So, let us get into this text again.
I. The "Humility" of Paul.
A. When he wrote that he "was wishing" (imperfect indicative; not optative, not subjunctive) that he could be accursed from Christ, he was either being enormously presumptuous, or he was being significantly humble.
1. If there was even a smidgen of the thought that his actions could, perhaps, do what Christ's did not, there is no higher arrogance in the universe.
2. On the other hand, if his thought was that he had finally come to understand God so that he was entering into His character by his wishes, the level of humility was profound.
a. To be willing to perish forever for the sake of another is to really believe that another's value transcends one's own: this is genuine humility [likewise the opposite].
b. To claim three ways that he is writing "truth" in making the claim means that it has become a part of Paul's grasp of the character of the God of Humility.
B. When he wrote 9:8 and following he revealed that he had jettisoned more than pride: he had also jettisoned his fear of "futility".
1. On the face of it, Paul was "wishing" for something that was not going to happen: this is futility.
2. On the face of it, Paul was, by his own words, suffering continuously over something that, by the will of God Himself, was not going to happen: this is futility.
3. On the face of it, Paul presented Christ as the origin of his own suffering: this means that we need to make some room in our thinking about God and futility.
4. Without debate, man's fear of futility is nothing more, or less, than a fear that he will be proved to be "of no significance".
a. This is simply pride in disguise.
b. Committing oneself to "futility" ultimately means this: another's decision will be given priority over one's own so that, no matter what one does, it can/will be trumped by someone else's decision.
5. It is the essence of humility to accept "being of no significance".
II. The "T"heology of Paul.
A. We must recognize that Paul was a mirror of his own message about God.
B. As a mirror, his attitudes, when expressed in the terms of 9:1, mean that we have to come to grips with the character of the God behind the attitudes.
C. Men have been notorious for creating a picture of God that suits them rather than submitting to the Truth about God.
1. Fear drives out love and logic.
a. As long as men fear "uninterrupted pain and sorrow" they cannot love God or think straight.
1) It is fundamental to man's fear that "God cannot be 'loving' to allow uninterrupted pain and sorrow."
2) That the Gospel clearly indicates that He is loving precisely because He allows uninterrupted pain and sorrow (upon Himself).
3) It is not "love" that says to God, "I appreciate Your being willing to endure uninterrupted pain and sorrow, but do not ask that of me."
4) It is not "clear thinking" to say that God seeks to bring men to godliness and also say that men cannot be subject to the true experience of God's own character.
b. As long as men fear "having emotional distress over what will never be" they will not come to humility.
1) The ultimate sense of futility is to grieve over what will not be.
2) Men are notorious for denying that God grieves over what will not be because, say they, God will not accept "futility".
3) In this denial men create "doctrines" such as an "insensible" God and the futility of "unlimited atonement".
4) They do not realize that by so doing they make God proud so that they may be.
a) It is no accident that "God does all things to glorify Himself" is a doctrine of "final" purpose for a system of theology that is engulfed in the pride of exalting reason over revelation.
b) Nor is it an accident that "predestination" is extended to an absolute in every particular so that there is no such thing as "slop in the gears".
c) Thus, it is no surprise that those who hold to a God of pride also walk in it themselves.
2. Love drives out fear and false thinking.
a. Paul clearly loved so that he was not afraid of being subject to either uninterrupted pain and sorrow or a final futility.
b. Having so loved, he could explain the Gospel as a message from a God Who was willing to endure unending pain and final futility.
D. The Biblical picture of God is a complex revelation of opposites held in extreme measure while maintaining absolute non-conflict.
1. We are familiar with justice and mercy, love and hate, patience and explosive anger, wrath and forgiveness, etc.
2. We are not as familiar with pain and joy or wisdom and futility.