For the proclamation of the Gospel and the edification of the Body of Christ
The Pattern of the Christian Life in the Life of Paul
"But God being rich in mercy because of his great love with which he loved us even when we were dead in our transgressions made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) and raised us up with him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus." (Ephesians 2:4)
We are sharing the mystery of His Will based on the letter to the Ephesians. I ask the Lord to reveal His Will to us. Now in order to enter into the depth of this book, let us start from the life of Paul, because his life speaks of the normal pattern of the Christian life.
We know that after he was converted, his spiritual life lasted almost thirty three years. It is very close to the earthly life of our Lord Jesus Christ, because Paul said, not I, but Christ who lives in me. So the pattern of the growth of life in Paul was according to Christ.
The pattern of the life of Christ
According to the gospel of Luke, the life of Christ started from the manger and ended up on the throne. So that's the pattern of growth of that life. We remember how that life can be divided into three stages. The first 30 years were silent; how our Lord lived in the presence of His Father like a root out of dry ground. And we saw how that living water was accumulated in him. So when the first stage concluded, heaven spoke, This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.
So this reminds us that those thirty years finally came to a conclusion and our Father was well pleased; not only with his life, but also with his work. Then God lifted up that dam, and we saw the river of living water flowing here and there and how our Lord bore much fruit. The first thirty years were silent, and therein lay the secret strength of the life of Christ. Now with that strength came the river of life which bore much fruit. So finally, on the Mount of Transfiguration, once again the heavens spoke; this is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. So that means our Lord's life came to another turning point.
Now our Lord was on Mount Hermon, so that life had really reached a peak, and our Lord was well able to ascend to heaven by that time. Now as far as the life and the work of Christ are concerned, he had obeyed the Will of God. And so now he was able to return to his Father. But we know very well that he refused to ascend to heaven by that time because he had to die for us on the cross, for your sin and my sin; he had to accomplish his work of redemption.
But more than that; because he is the only begotten Son of God, the life was in him, he is the source of life, and only in him do you find the fountain of life. He is God's only begotten Son; that life is so unique, and that's why the bible said he was the only Son of God. So in the whole universe, now only in Christ, the beloved Son of God will you find the beauty and glory of that life. It pleased the Father not only to reveal his Son to us, but according to the eternal Will of God, to bring many sons through Christ unto Himself.
In the beginning, it was the only begotten Son of God, but now because of his work in resurrection, now he will bring many sons to the Father. How could that happen if that life can only be found in Christ, the only begotten Son? Now one way is this, he had to release his life; he had to impart his life to other people. So he had to pour out his life. But in order to pour out that life, he had to go through suffering; he had to go through a winepress. All those grapes were ripened and matured, and this speaks of the fullness of life. But remember, if this life was to be released, our Lord had to go through a winepress. So my brothers, now you understand the meaning of the way of the cross.
That was the way for our Lord Jesus, so what does it mean when he finally reached the cross? It means he accomplished the work of redemption. That work was done by our Lord Jesus alone. He was utterly alone on the cross. He was the only one who could accomplish the work of redemption. We have nothing to do with it. We have no part in it because he is our savior and only he can save us. For, "there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved."
So let us remember, this is the work that Christ alone could accomplish on the cross. The cross was also a winepress and has a positive side; redemption. So we see the redemption of the cross. But there is another aspect to it; there is the fellowship of the cross. Some only know about the redemption of the cross, and not about the fellowship of the cross. The cross is a winepress that our Lord has gone through, and out of that suffering, like a mother going through birth pain, a baby was born. That suffering was not deserved. It was not because the mother had done something wrong, but it was necessary. So brothers and sisters, for that reason, we now understand that the cross is the path to glory; the cross is the path to the harvest. So, "unless one grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone." When he died for us, he bore much fruit.
So now we understand that the way of the cross will lead us to the harvest. Then he will bring many sons to glory. That's why in the last part of the life of our Lord Jesus, he walked under the shadow of the cross for six months. He descended from the highest mountain in Israel, Mount Hermon, and then went through the Jordan river, the Jordan valley and went deeper and lower and lower. Finally he died for us on the cross; he went through the winepress. Yes, on that cross, on that winepress, that wonderful life that had finally reached its summit had now been disfigured, broken and died. But thank the Lord, because of what he did on the cross, now that wine really flowed from the upper winepress to the lower winepress. From there, the wine began to flow out to the whole world. So brothers and sisters, now you see, this is the life of our Lord.
Three stages in the life of Paul
Students can never be greater than their masters. The Apostle Paul was one of the disciples of our Lord. Now if the master lived that life, then we understand the secret to the life of Paul. Because Paul said, it is no longer I but Christ who lives in me. If this is so, then when Paul lived his life on this earth, then we discover that his life could also be divided into three stages, each consisting of eleven years. That life did not belong to Paul; he could only live the life according to Christ. It was no longer I but Christ who lives in me. So if that life truly grew in Paul, what would the pattern of that growth be? If our Lord began with the manger and ended up on the throne, then the same will be applied to Paul. The first eleven years were silent years in the presence of his Father and the second eleven years were the most fruitful years, when Paul made three missionary journeys. He brought the whole world to Christ; he led the whole world to Christ in just eleven years. How fruitful Paul's life was, because the secret was found in the first eleven years. So brothers and sisters, do you see that? This is the pattern of the growth of Paul. And then, when he came to the peak of the second stage, then we discover he was put under chains. In the final eleven years, he was twice imprisoned. He always walked under the shadow of the cross. Again, the last eleven years remind us of the way of the cross.
Sometimes we think, why such waste? God ought to use Paul more than for just eleven years. After twenty years of training; after twenty years of working, finally you will find a vessel like Paul fit for the Master's use. He was a man of three worlds; the religious world of the Hebrews, the cultural world of the Greeks and the political and militant world of the Romans. Now because he was a man of the world, he truly brought the world to Christ. He conquered the world to Christ. That's how God used Paul. We pray that God will somehow raise up more Pauls. If it took God twenty years to create a vessel like Paul, God ought to use him for many, many years. But when Paul reached the height of his ministry, for some reason which we do not know and can only guess from the Word of God, Paul lived under the shadow of death in his last eleven years. So this is the pattern of growth for Paul's life and is the same pattern for you and me.
Sometimes people ask, "Why the way of the cross?" Because this is the only way to the harvest. And sometimes we think that when Paul was in prison, he was limited, and that if he had had free hands, many more souls would have been brought to Christ. But God's ways are always higher than our ways. The student can never be greater than the master. If our Lord walked this way, if we are a follower of the lamb, there is no other way.
So brothers, within the context of the life of Paul, we can now try to understand his epistles. Out of his wonderful experience with Christ, Paul received revelation. Out of that revelation, he wrote 13 epistles. But now the important thing to know is when he wrote his letters. So to start with, I'd like to give you some facts. Try your best to remember them, because they are very important. This is not just to give you information. From that information we are able to derive some very important spiritual principles. No wonder Watchman Nee used to say that if you discover the facts from the bible, you already have half of the light that you will receive from the Lord. Sometimes we don't have light because we don't have the facts in the Word of God. So brothers, please remember these facts.
Now my point is that it is a wonderful time to sit at the feet of our Lord Jesus and listen to his words. But the important thing is this; we have to remember some important facts. Now we already mentioned 3 groups of eleven years. Now during the first eleven years, Paul went through infanthood: the infant stage. Then when you come to the second eleven years: his adolescent period, and then the final stage: adulthood; eleven years, eleven years and eleven years.
In his first eleven years, we don't find any letters from Paul. But then, when his life really began to mature, when he reached the adolescent period, in the middle of the second eleven years, he wrote his first two letters: First Thessalonians and Second Thessalonians. Now these are the two books you should remember. So that's the first group. Then when you come to the end of the second stage, then he wrote the second group of his letters: Romans, Galatians, First Corinthians and Second Corinthians.
Then we come to the third stage of Paul's life, and again you come to the middle of that period when he wrote the third group of letters, and at that time he was in a Roman prison; he was in chains. But thank the Lord, out of that Roman prison, he wrote four letters: Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and Philemon. Before his martyrdom he then wrote the last three books: First Timothy, Second Timothy and Titus.
Now let me review that, the first group, in the middle of the second stage: First Thessalonians and Second Thessalonians. Then when you come to the end of his adolescent period, four books: Romans, Galatians, First Corinthians and Second Corinthians. Then when he became even more mature, when he had truly grown into maturity, in the middle of the last period, when he was in prison, then he wrote the third group of letters: Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and Philemon. So you have four books here. Then when he reached the final stage of his life, before he became the drink offering on the altar, he wrote First Timothy, Second Timothy and Titus. So these are the thirteen epistles. Do you understand?
The epistles of infancy
Now that's very important. While he went through infanthood, he learnt many lessons from that period. So when the Lord really used him in his first, second and third missionary journeys, in the middle of the second stage, he wrote the letter to the Thessalonians. Now remember, when Paul wrote those two letters, the church in Thessalonica was only newly born; only several months old.
Now how can a baby of only seven months survive without her mother? And we can imagine how Paul's heart was intimately connected to the newborn baby. Paul was a great thinker, Paul was a great bible scholar, but now he was facing a newborn baby. Now how are you going to help that baby to grow? Now in that letter, Paul addressed them, and poured out his heart; he said that he was almost like a mother to them, nursing the baby. He was also like a father to them.
So brothers, if you study those two letters, you discover that Paul was trying to help a newborn church. The church was in its infant stage. Even though he was a bible scholar, he was not able to bring the classroom beside the cradle. He could only feed them with milk. When a father tries to teach children, it is never like the professor teaching in the classroom. When adolescents are in school and study physics, algebra and Chilean history, everything is systematic, everything is logical, because now their lives had reached the stage where they were ready for solid food.
No wonder that when you study these two letters, even though these are undoubtedly the Words of God, - Paul could only feed them with the Word of God - but nevertheless you will discover that these letters are very different from Romans. They are so different. When you study Romans you have justification by faith, sanctification by faith, and then glorification by faith, chapter 1 to chapter 8. Brothers, the Word of God is full of wisdom, full of logic; His Word is a systematic Word. His Word is just like His universe, there is a great design behind it; it is so accurate. But brothers, remember that Paul could only write Romans to the church in Rome when the church reached the stage of adolescence. Do you see the picture here? Because Paul had learnt something from his infanthood, he could try to write out everything that he had learnt in the presence of the Lord.
So if you study these two letters, then we will understand how to live in infanthood. In that stage you will learn what kind of temptation you are going to meet. What kind of difficulty you will go through. Now brothers and sisters, through these two letters we are able to know the Christian life in its infanthood. Because Paul tried to explain to them as a father teaches his children. He taught the Will of God but don't forget, he did not use the term "the mystery of his will." That would be too much for the baby. Do you see that? You may be a wonderful professor, a wonderful teacher, but now this is a newborn baby, and you are too great for them. Do you understand?
Now Paul was great, but he had to help a church in its infancy, so now we can see how he truly helped them. Paul spoke of the Will of God, but remember, for the baby, the Will of God is very, very abstract. They can only learn from their experience. For example, a mother loves her baby and the baby understands that love. But now, how can the baby learn to love in return. Love is very abstract. I don't know if you have a sesame cake here? Now when the mother tries to teach the baby love, sometimes the mother will say this, "Now this cake is for you, and it is full of sesame seed." The mother then asks "do you love me? I am not asking for the whole cake, I only ask for one sesame seed." Now when the baby gives that sesame seed to the mother, then the mother will say to the baby, "Now you love your mother." Do you understand?
That is the way the Lord teaches us how to love Him. Everything was given to us by the Lord, just like the cake given by the mother. But then sometime God asked, "Would you like to give your sesame seed to me? I do not ask for the whole cake, even though that is what I gave to you." So sometimes we say, "Yes, Lord, I will give you the sesame seed." And then you know the mother would be so happy eating it in the presence of the baby. Now in this way, the baby will begin to know how to love his mother.
Do you remember the story when our Lord had already risen and He appeared to the disciples? Our Lord already lived a resurrected life. Yet he asked a very simple question: "Do you have anything to eat?" And they said "yes." So then they gave just one piece of fish to the Lord, because they had already finished their supper and were satisfied. It was a leftover. Now brothers, we are told our Lord was eating in their presence. Our Lord had already risen and was not hungry at all, but he ate in the presence of His disciples. Remember, sometimes when we consecrate ourselves to the Lord, when we give something to the Lord, we always give our leftovers. But our Lord is so pleased that he even accepts our consecration. So in this way, the baby begins to understand what the meaning of love is. Now some very abstract concepts will gradually become a reality in their daily life.
So brothers and sisters, that's the way Paul tried to teach the Thessalonians what the Will of God is. In First Thessalonians, there you discover when Paul talked about the Will of God, he said, "This is the will of God:" Do you see that? Because it is so difficult for the baby to know what the Will of God is, he said, "This is the will of God." What is the Will of God? "Your sanctification." Brothers your sanctification is the will of God. (1 Thess. 4:3).
Now for the baby, you have to spell this out in detail. So the bible says, "and that is that you abstain from sexual immorality." So you see it's very simple. Paul did not talk about sanctification by faith; he did not present a theory of sanctification here. No, this is the minimum requirement for your sanctification. And then he said, "That each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor." So you see that's how Paul taught them the Will of God. The Will of God is your sanctification, and what is sanctification? One ought to know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification. Now here we are told it is our body; the physical part of our being. Now brothers, it is not something very high, but it is the Will of God. And for that reason, Paul really spelled it out to them. But more than that, if you come to chapter 5, and verse 16, rejoice always,(That's only one verse) pray without ceasing, (Another short verse) in everything give thanks, for this is God's Will in you in Christ Jesus. Now what is the Will of God? Rejoice always. So if you rejoice always, it means you are obeying the Will of God. And pray without ceasing, so that when you do that, you are obeying the Will of God. In everything give thanks, now when you do that, you obey the Will of God because you are presenting your own vessel in sanctification. Now that's the Will of God. So brothers, for the babies, the Will of God is something very abstract. Now that's the lesson Paul has learned, while he went through the first stage; Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks
Now brothers, Paul told us, for this is God's Will for you in Christ Jesus. So brothers, it is very clear here, that when Paul tried to teach them, he spelled out the Will of God for them. So the first two letters were for the church when it was in its infanthood. Now we understand how Paul tried to explain through experience, so if you rejoice always, and pray without ceasing; if you are doing all this, you are obeying the Will of God. After you really obey the Lord in this way, then you will have the experiences. When you talk about the Will of God, you understand it through your experiences. And then you know, whenever you possess your body in sanctification, when you resist the temptation of the enemy, you remember this is the Will of God. So brothers, when you go through that period, when you experience all these experiences, after so many of them you begin to know the Will of God. So brothers, this is the first stage and that's why in the first two letters, the church was in its infanthood and Paul tried to teach them what he had learnt from his infanthood. So this is very important. These are the first two letters.
The epistles of adolescence: The School of Christ
When Paul reached the end of his adolescent period, he wrote four letters: Romans, Galatians, First Corinthians and Second Corinthians. Now when he wrote those letters, the church in Rome, the churches in Galatia and in Corinth, had already reached the adolescent period and because of that, Paul brought them into the school of Christ. Now because these people were in the school of Christ, now they would have to go through a learning process; they would need to know the Will of God. Yet because they were now in the school of Christ, they were no longer in a family atmosphere, so if you compare First and Second Thessalonians with Romans, you will find many differences. Why? Because when Paul presented the Word of God, he presented it in a very systematic way. In the first 8 chapters of Romans, you discover it can be divided into two parts. Now in the first part, the word "sins" in the plural is dominant, but when you come to the second part, "sin" in the singular becomes dominant. So, how does one deal with "sins" (plural)? By the blood of Jesus which was mentioned in the first part. How do you deal with the sinful nature? The cross is the solution.
When Paul presents the Word of God, he presents it just like the universe of God; God is a God of wisdom. So in the beginning you have justification by faith, then in the middle you have sanctification by faith, and when you come to the end of the eighth chapter, you have glorification by faith. Now brothers, because these people were in the school of Christ, and more than that, when they reached the adolescent period, they needed a lot of adjustments, a lot of corrections. Just like a tree which in its infanthood simply grows at random, when it reaches adolescence, its growth needs to be corrected. If the tree is growing toward a certain direction, in order for the tree to grow healthily, then you have to correct it.
When we are in the school of Christ, our Lord told us we have to deny ourselves and we should take up our cross and follow him. Now the working of the cross tries to correct us, it tries to adjust us. Now you discover that you, just like a growing child, when reaching the adolescent period, not only discover the Will of the Father, but also discover your own will. When you were in the infancy period, most of the time you said "yes" but when you grew older, the tendency was to say "no." Why "no"? Because you discovered yourself; you discovered you had your own will.
Now brothers and sisters, when you come to the school of Christ, you know the Will of God, but you also discover your own will. There you find the two wills in conflict. But remember, when you are in the school of Christ, on the one hand, you live a life of conflicts, but if you yield to the Will of God, finally you enter into harmony.
No wonder, when Paul wrote Romans, when you come to chapter 7, then Paul discovered, in my flesh, (that is, in me,) there is no goodness. That was a great discovery when he discovered that in himself there was no goodness. There you discover that to will is one thing, but to do is another. He wanted to do something good, but ended up doing something bad. So brothers and sisters, he said, oh wretched man that I am, who will set me free from the body of this death? Paul was in trouble; Paul was in conflict. He wanted the Will of God, but finally he ended up with his own, because in his own will there was no goodness. But later he discovered, when you reach chapter 8, such a harmony.
Now brothers and sisters, when the Holy Spirit controls our life, after the conflicts, then you will find harmony. Remember, with any adolescence, you discover you ought to go through that period of conflict and harmony, conflict then harmony, conflict and then harmony until finally you grow. Sometimes we experience something that Paul experienced in Romans chapter 7 and you don't know what is going on. You are going through a growing period, a growing process, a growing pain. But thank the Lord, in the school of Christ, what you learn is to deny yourself and take up your cross and follow the Lord.
So in the second group: Romans, Galatians, First and Second Corinthians, one word that best describes these four letters is cross. Now brothers, you discover if you want to grow, the flesh is the hindrance, the world is the hindrance, and Satan is the hindrance. Only the cross can deal with and remove all these hindrances and then we can grow.
So brothers, when you come to the second group of letters, on the one hand Paul presents the Word of God in a systematic way. In Romans and in Galatians, Paul presents the Word of God as the Word of gospel truth. But on the other hand, in First and Second Corinthians, Paul presents the Word of God as the Word of the cross. So brothers and sisters, these people, in their adolescent period were ready to receive solid food. Now they were ready to hear the Word of gospel truth. Now they were ready to hear the Word of the cross.
Brothers, in Romans, Galatians, First Corinthians and Second Corinthians, Paul also talks about the Will of God. Yet it is no longer in the same way as he taught the people in Thessalonica. Paul said you should "present yourselves as a living sacrifice." Here he talks about the pleasant Will of God. Now in Greek, the Will of God is in the singular, so now you see brothers and sisters, when you go through the first period, the Will of God is your sanctification; rejoice always, in everything give thanks, so according to your experiences you think that God has many wills. But brothers, when you come to Romans chapter 12, that Will is singular. So now you can understand, when they reach the adolescent period, now they are able to appreciate the pleasant Will of God.
So as far as the revelation of Paul is concerned, when he reached the end of the second period, when he wrote Romans, Galatians, First Corinthians and Second Corinthians, let us remember, he had almost reached his peak. No doubt, through Romans and Galatians, we really begin to know the Word of gospel truth. Through First and Second Corinthians we really begin to understand the Word of the cross. Now brothers, when we are in the school of Christ, we can understand all this revelation through the Word of gospel truth or the Word of the cross. Now brothers, if you want to know anything about our salvation you read these four books. If you want to know anything about the way of the cross, read these four books. So no wonder that the word cross is able to summarize these four books.
Paul wrote these four books at the end of the second stage of his life. In other words, when Paul reached the end of his adolescent period, and when his ministry had reached its peak. You remember very well when Paul said farewell to the elders in the church in Ephesus, what did he tell them? He said As far as the whole counsel of God is concerned, I never withheld anything that I did not preach to you. In other words, while he was in Ephesus, in those two years, he really ministered the Word of God. Then sometimes we may want to ask, is it possible for us to know what he was teaching? He was there two years, he formed a school, and in that school they had a routine just like in Chile; they had school in the morning and then they would go for lunch and in the evening they'd begin another session at the school. So then, Paul used that time between lunch and the evening to preach the word of God.
According to the bible, all the people in the area of Asia heard the Word of God. For two years, for almost five hours everyday, we wonder what Paul was teaching about. Now according to his words to the elders in Ephesus, As far as the whole counsel of God is concerned, I never withheld anything that I did not preach to you. Now do you see that? So in other words, by that time, at the end of the second period, while he was in Ephesus, his revelation must have reached its peak. So then we want to know, what is that whole counsel of God? We wish that we too could get a glimpse into that whole counsel. Now, very interestingly, if you want to know what it was that Paul was teaching by that time, you just read Romans, Galatians, First Corinthians and Second Corinthians. Anything that the Holy Spirit wanted to preserve was already preserved in these four books.
So what is the theme of these four books? According to Paul at this time, this is the whole counsel of God, because that was according to the light that he had received by that time. In other words, when Paul reached the end of his second stage, his revelation had reached the summit.
Now we think that his revelation could never go any higher. Do you see that? He had written the letter to Rome, because Rome was the heart of the Roman Empire and because Paul was ready to bring the gospel to the end of the earth. By that time, if you reached Rome, you had already reached the end of the earth. So Paul said, "I must also see Rome". Why? Because he wanted to bring the gospel to them. So remember, when Paul addressed the people in Rome, he was addressing the world and he was telling us what the gospel of God is. So we could say that as far as the gospel of Jesus Christ is concerned, these four books will almost give us the highest revelation. So we might say that that was the best time in Paul's life. As far as his work was concerned, it was very fruitful and according to his own words, the door of the gospel was open wide and also very effective.
When he preached the gospel in Ephesus, it was with such impact, and as far as revelation is concerned, he had reached the peak, and as far as his life was concerned, he had almost reached the summit of the adolescent period. Now you begin to see the sign of maturity in Paul. We thought that Paul would never go any higher, we thought that that must be Paul's great contribution to the world. But brothers, Paul was too small, God is much greater. So God surprised us.
So in the second four books, we are brought into the school of Christ. The God of the trinity is working here. When we are in babyhood, there is a family atmosphere. God is our heavenly Father. That's how we are brought up in that atmosphere. Then when we grow up God the Son takes over, and now we are in the school of Christ. So brothers, now we begin to know the Word of the gospel truth. Now our lives begin to go through some adjustments. Now we experience the working of the cross. It is so painful but we know it is part of a growing pain.
But more than that, brothers and sisters, when we are perfected in the school of Christ, is that the whole story? Hadn't Paul already reached the peak? Yes, he was more mature now, he had received much revelation, and he was one of the most useful servants of God in the history of mankind. What more could Paul expect?
God the Father provided us with a family atmosphere so that we could grow, but God the Son provides us with the school of Christ that we might take up our cross and follow him. But much more than this, when you read Romans chapter 8, the Holy Spirit is praying for you and for me; we don't know how to pray, only he knows how to pray for us, only he knows what we need. He knows that we have already reached the adolescent period and that we are most satisfied. But the Holy Spirit is not satisfied; he has a goal, and unless we reach that goal, the Holy Spirit will never stop working. When the Holy Spirit prays, the Father answers and then all things work together. Now brothers, why do they all work together? Why never by accident? Nothing is by accident with Christians. Because the Holy Spirit is praying for you and for me, and for one purpose; that one day we would be conformed into the image of Christ. Now brothers, before we reach there, God will never stop His working.
The epistles of maturity
So because of that, it is not just a family atmosphere, and not just a school atmosphere; now God would use our grave circumstances so that all things would work together. Now come the north winds, the south winds, the east winds, and even the west winds with the purpose that the fragrance of Christ may be spread. When you see all these different winds, all things work together to prove to us that God was listening to the prayers of the Holy Spirit. We don't know how to pray by ourselves, so don't be afraid of any circumstances, all things work together for the good. Why? Because through all these different circumstances we will be conformed into the image of Christ. So my brothers and sisters, not only God the Father is working, not only God the Son is working, God the Holy Spirit is also working.
When you see the north wind blowing, or even the south wind, don't forget, there is a purpose behind it.
The only reason for those circumstances is that through those winds He will transform you into His image. In other words, we will be matured through all these winds. Sometimes, north, south, east and west winds blow together and that's the whirlwind in the bible. Now a whirlwind means that the north, south east and west winds blow together and that's what happened to Job. Sometimes we just don't understand why God used a whirlwind to perfect Job from one level of perfection to another.
So brothers and sisters, now you understand that's what the Lord was doing with Paul. Now brothers, when Paul reached the end of the second period, when Paul received the highest revelation, we discover that all of a sudden he was in chains. He was arrested in Jerusalem and spent some time somewhere else. Then finally, he was in chains all the way to Rome. Now brothers, something that we just cannot understand, we know that when Paul reached the end of the second period, he should be able to reach the top. But don't forget, God wanted to mature Paul. For that reason, God allowed him to be arrested, God allowed him to be put in prison.
So in these four letters, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon, Paul always reminds us of his chains. When he wrote these four letters, he did not write with free hands. He was limited; he was confined in the prison; he was chained, and then he wrote these four letters. There you discover that by the sovereign hand of God, Paul was growing into maturity. He would grow in freedom but that freedom was from his imprisonment. The more he was limited, the more he was alive, the lower he went, the higher he went. So when he was in prison, he wrote these four letters, especially Ephesians, Colossians and Philemon which were written at the same time. It was the same revelation that governed these three letters. So in these, you will find the thought of the Holy Spirit.
With this background, brothers and sisters, we should be able to get into the depth of the letter to the Ephesians. Now that you can see that these four letters were written in prison, let us remember, when Paul was with chains, when Paul was arrested, according to Romans, he was surprised; he was not ready for that. According to his plans, after the trip to Jerusalem, he would go to Rome with a joyful heart. And then he wanted to go to Spain. So in his timetable, in his plan, the Word of God would be enlarged and he would reach even remote lands such as Spain. More than that, he wrote to the Romans and he said now he would like to go to Rome with a joyful heart. On the one hand, God answered his prayer, finally he was in Rome, but on the other hand, God did not follow his plan. In Paul's plan, he wanted to go to Rome with free hands and a joyful heart, but brothers, he reached Rome in chains. So remember, this was a surprise for Paul. He was not ready for that; he was ready to preach the gospel to Rome, but now he was in prison. How was he going to preach the gospel to the Roman Empire? According to his methods, that was the end of his ministry; when his hands were in chains that would be the conclusion of his ministry. So brothers, for that reason, when Paul finally reached Rome, he spent two years in prison.
Remember, Paul was no angel, he shared the same flesh and blood as you and me. He was just like any other human being. When he was free, he was a most active person, but now he was confined; he had exchanged his freedom for chains. Think about this; you are a very active person, and then one day, to your surprise, you become paralyzed. If you study the psychology of people who have become paralyzed, you can understand how frustrated they must be, how depressed they must get. They were once free to move around, but now they are confined by their body. You can imagine when Paul was in prison, he probably felt like he was a paralytic.
Paul used to be a very useful servant in the hands of God but now he became useless. You can imagine a servant of God who was actively involved in the Work of God; God used him in a great way, and he even saw his own fruits and achievements. So brothers and sisters, to his surprise, instead of going to Rome joyfully, he went there with sorrow, and limited with chains. What was Paul's future? Do you think Paul would go higher? Do you think God would continue to use him? Do you think his life would continue to grow? When you are active your life continues to grow but when you are in prison, what life do you expect to grow there? For life to grow, you need good soil. Do you expect life to grow in prisons? You can imagine in Paul's mind, this must be the last chapter of his life. Now brothers, yes he worked for God, labored for God, he shed a tear for the churches, the churches needed him, but brothers and sisters, now he was imprisoned, he was no longer free. You can't imagine how paralyzed he felt.
Now the interesting thing is that when you are sick, you remember that you have a body. Before you are sick, you have a body but you don't feel it. Now normally you use your hand but you barely notice that it exists. But when your hand is wounded, your eyes always look at the wounds. So you can imagine, when Paul was in prison, according to our natural response, according to our natural life, our eyes will definitely turn to our self. So for someone who is in prison, it is like being cast down into a very, very deep pit.
Now if you study the bible, many great servants of God reached the heavenly heights, but they also went through the deepest pits. That emotion is unbearable. That is what we call depression. You never know how much you can suffer depression if you have never been to the summits. If one day the Lord has used you, if one day you have been to the peak, the depression is unbearable. You can imagine when Paul was in prison, he was not only in the Roman prison, he was also in the prison of Paul! Anyone who is in prison is surely also in his own prison. What is depression? It means someone who has gone down into his own prison.
Now what is the interpretation of what happened? Brothers, what is the meaning of a prison? Thank God, through these four books, Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and also Philemon, you discover something. We thought that Paul was in prison. No! He said we are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms. Now remember, this is the most unexpected place for you to look for Paul. When Paul was in prison, when he was very low, thank God, now the Work of God began and somehow although he was in a prison, God's working somehow lifted Paul into the heavenly places. So then Paul wrote about his experiences. So if you study these four letters then you discover Paul was actually in the heavenly places despite the fact that he was in prison. Do you see that?
Now what is the Mystery of His Will? This is the mystery of His Will. Yes we are in prison, yet we are in the heavenly places. How do you understand this? Remember that Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon were actually the product of Paul's experiences. When he wrote Romans, Galatians, First Corinthians and Second Corinthians, he was a man of the world, he was like any typical Jew. Now the dream of a Jew is that one day there will be a golden age of the Messianic Kingdom. Now when that happens, remember, Israel will no longer be the tail but the head of all nations. And then in that world, if you go to the Old Testament, from the place of sunrise to the place of sunset, the name of the Lord will be exalted. This is always the dream of any Jewish person. One day, when the Messiah comes, He will come with glory and the knowledge of Jehovah will fill the earth just like water fills the whole ocean.
Remember, Paul was a typical Jew, and so in his mind, he thought that he could win the whole world to Christ; that was the dream that he had. Now brothers, you know very well, their forefather was Jacob and in the bible, it says, "you worm Jacob". Why? Because God's blessing is always for the people of Israel. As far as this planet is concerned, that blessing is always an earthly blessing. Now you know that the worm, while it is moving, only has a two dimensional concept. It can conquer the whole world, but this is only flat land. Now that's God's promise to all the Jews. That is very clear.
To Jacob's surprise he saw the heavenly ladder; he never imagined that there was a third dimension called heaven. So that was Jacob's dream. Remember, for the normal Jewish people, their world is this world. So one day, the Messianic Kingdom will come to be a global kingdom. But brothers and sisters, that's Romans, Galatians, First and Second Corinthians. The gospel will go out and reach the whole world, so here you will find a global concept. This vision is a global vision. When you study the second group of Paul's letters, you discover that that vision is a global one. Paul never expected, even though he knew there was a third dimension, that God would put him into prison with a higher purpose. He was to experience something he had never experienced before. When Paul wrote Romans and Galatians he was almost at the top, but in the prison, God took him even higher, his vision went even higher.
Now brothers, how did he write the letter to the Ephesians? This is just like the story of the worm. You know the story of the silkworm. Now when the silkworm is going through a process, one day this worm will be imprisoned in a place called a cocoon, which means that that life has been limited and confined. But don't forget, that worm has a life of resurrection, the life of a butterfly. Yes it has been confined in that prison but because of the life within, finally that butterfly breaks through the wall and can fly into the sky. Now you experience a third dimension called heaven.
Paul was a worm; his vision was only global. But now God wanted to enlarge his vision. When he lived as a worm, his vision was great; it was global, but it never reached the heavens. God wanted to do something greater. So because of that wonderful life, when Paul was in prison, his vision began to enlarge. When Paul decreased, actually he began to increase. His vision went from a global one to a universal one.
When you study Ephesians and Colossians, you begin to see the whole universe. The whole universe is much bigger than the global planet. For that reason, it is no wonder that when we study Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians and Philemon, on the one hand, Paul was in prison, yet on the other hand, he was being seated with Christ in the heavenly realms. No more depression, no longer in himself, he had been delivered from himself into Christ. He had been delivered from the earth into heaven. So brothers this experience is the experience of ascension. No wonder that in the first chapter when he talked about the power of resurrection, he also talked about the power of ascension. Now brothers through that power of ascension, yes he is in prison but he is also in the heavenly places.
When you read these four books, what is your impression? It is a life on the earth, a life in prison, yet a life in the heavenly places. So brothers and sisters, we are on earth, yet we are in heaven, this is heaven on earth. Now in these four books, we are going to be taught how to live heaven on earth. Thank the Lord, that vision is now universal.
When the church is the body of Christ, you discover a Universal Man. And this Man's head is in heaven, and his body is on earth. So brothers, do you see that? For that reason our eyes need to be opened. It is wonderful for you to have a global vision, but God is the God of the universe, who created this universe. Paul could still go higher. Now brothers, we are called to live that heavenly life, so if you try to use one word to summarize these four books, what word is that? Christ. So brothers and sisters, in the second group of books: cross, in the third group of books: Christ, the heavenly Christ. Here we discover the Universal Man. For that reason, now we discover that Paul is going higher and knows how to live heaven on earth. He was in prison, yet he encouraged the people in Philippi to "rejoice, I say again, rejoice always."
We understand that that is Paul's background. So when we come to the mystery of His Will, now you understand that in this stage, Paul was being transformed into the image of Christ.
A summary of the thirteen epistles
So finally, let us summarize these thirteen epistles. The first group represent the springtime of Paul's life. The second group, the summertime of Paul's life, the third group the autumn season of Paul's life. Finally, First Timothy, Second Timothy and Titus represent the winter season of Paul's life. Now brothers, "no longer I but Christ who lives in me." Now what is that? It is not a proclamation; you can shout a proclamation but after two minutes it is gone. This statement will be with us forever. We will pass through the springtime of our lives, then the summertime, then autumn, then the final winter season. Now brothers, in this way, we will really grow up.
Now I must say, many people think they have knowledge about the letter to the Ephesians. If they are intelligent enough, if they are smart enough and read enough reference books then they think they have understanding of the book. But unless you go through almost the same experiences that Paul went through, only then will you begin to appreciate this wonderful letter.
More than that, we not only discover Paul is in the heavenly places, we also discover Paul has been brought into the eternal past. Then Paul discovered how we had been chosen since the foundation of the world. Now in the eternal past, God had a Will and based on that Will, God had an eternal plan, and based on that eternal plan, God began to work. So brothers, only in the book of the Ephesians, and the letter to the Colossians are we told the eternal Will of God. The eternal Will of God means this: from eternity past God already had a Will and wanted to reveal that Will. This is called the mystery of His Will.
Now brothers, I think we are ready to penetrate into the mystery of His Will. For that reason we have to be prepared. For that reason Paul prayed for us that we may have the spirit of wisdom and revelation. This ought to be our prayer in these days; every one of us has to pray for our Lord to give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation. Otherwise we may hear the Word but won't know what it means. When you see that light it is a wonderful privilege.
Now brothers and sisters, in the book of Ephesians, in the letter to the Colossians, for the first time in human history, God has revealed the secret of this universe. That secret is connected with the mystery of His Will. We thank God that we are so privileged; each one of us ought to understand the mystery of His Will, and I think with this background, now we are able to enter into this grand subject which is revealed in the letter to the Ephesians.