The Perfecting of Paul

Michael Beck

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Saul of Tarsus was converted c. 34 A.D. From the beginning God foretold that his life would be filled with great suffering.

Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name. But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake. (Acts 9:13-16)

In April 48 A.D. Paul was stoned and left for dead in Lystra. When he writes Galatians in the following autumn he has already suffered greatly. At this time, he expresses a weariness with it, and tells those who wish to trouble him that “enough is enough.”

From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. (Galatians 6:17)

By the summer of 51A.D. he is encouraging the persecuted Thessalonian church to “stand fast” in the midst of inevitable suffering. He understands that afflictions can be used of the devil to “move” even the believer into a bad way of responding. But he also understands that through suffering we can grow, be perfected and established “unblameable in holiness before God.”

Wherefore when we could no longer forbear, we thought it good to be left at Athens alone; And sent Timotheus, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellowlabourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith: That no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto. 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. For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labour be in vain. But now when Timotheus came from you unto us, and brought us good tidings of your faith and charity, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you: Therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith: For now we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord. For what thanks can we render to God again for you, for all the joy wherewith we joy for your sakes before our God; Night and day praying exceedingly that we might see your face, and might perfect that which is lacking in your faith? Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you. And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints.(1 Thessalonians 3:1-13)

Paul’s message becomes one of “patience in tribulation,” where instead of going backward through painful situations, we grow.

Grace unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth; So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure (2 Thessalonians 1:2-4)

Paul wrote 2 Corinthians in Sept/Oct. 56 A.D. He tells the Corinthians that over 14 years ago (c. 42 A.D.) he was given “revelations” that could have “exalted” him “above measure.” At some time after that he began to be “buffeted” by a specific messenger of Satan, who he called a “thorn in the flesh.” We don’t know exactly how long this buffeting lasted, (years?); but during this season Paul grew increasingly weary and repeatedly prayed for this painful situation to end.

And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. (2 Corinthians 12:7,8)

In the midst of his weariness, Paul is given a revelation that was not only “lawful for a man to utter,” but one which proved pivotal in shaping and deepening the gospel he taught. This revelation opened Paul’s eyes to the “power of Christ” which enabled him to endure suffering without weariness or sin, even as Christ did.

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

About five years later, around 60-61 A.D. Paul is in prison in Rome. From there he writes his prison epistles.

To the Colossians, where he writes of Christ’s “glorious power” to strengthen the believer to bear suffering with joyfulness.

For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness (Colossians 1:9-11)

By this time, Paul through the power of Christ, had embraced his sufferings, and in so doing had fine-tuned his message to “present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.”

… Whereof I Paul am made a minister; Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church: Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily. (Colossians 1:20-29)

Shortly after this, in the spring of 62 A.D., Paul writes to the Philippians and tells them that through the “supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ” he is able to rejoice even in the face of other believers wishing him harm.

Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice. For I know that this shall turn to my salvation through your prayer, and the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:15-19)

Because he has learned to let the power of Christ “rest” upon him in his weakness, Paul tells the Philippians that he can do ALL things “through Christ which strengthens him.” Instead of discontentment in seasons of pain and want, he has learned to be content with the gain of godliness.

Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction. (Philippians 4:11-14)

In his last letter, written to Timothy in the autumn of 67 A.D., Paul exhorts his son in the faith to be a “partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God.” This is possible because God has given every believer the Spirit of Christ, which is one of “power, love, and a sound mind.”

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God (2 Timothy 1:7,8)

Paul had “finished his course,” he had suffered great things for the name of Christ, and in the process he had been empowered to “endure all things.” Because he let the strength of Christ be made perfect through his weakness, the gospel of power, which provides God’s saints with all they need to overcome and endure through every grief and sorrow of life, was committed to his trust.

Remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel: Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound. Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. (2 Timothy 2:8-10)

Paul was martyred in Rome less than a year later in the spring of 68 A.D.

Michael Beck is a pastor in the Dallas, TX area and the main author on Signpost. Receive a daily devotional he publishes every morning via email.