Why did Paul suffer?

(from In Christ—The Church At Ephesus, forthcoming.)

So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory. For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith–that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. –Ephesians 3:13-19

And what made his suffering bearable? Paul was explaining that his suffering for Christ and for them served a great purpose. And serving that purpose provided much more joy than could be annulled by the pain of suffering. The purpose was “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (v. 17). Here we see Paul’s incarnational theology.

He didn’t say that the purpose was for the ideas, principles or morals of Christ to dwell in our hearts, but for Christ Himself to do so. And how can Christ dwell in someone’s heart? The actual Person of Christ can actually dwell in the heart of another only through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And because God is Triune, the wholeness of God is fully contained in each of the Trinitarian Persons of the Godhead.

The actual Person of Christ is necessary because apart from the Personhood of the Godhead, God is nothing more than a mechanical algorithm. The dynamism of life requires a dynamic God. This does not mean that God Himself changes. He doesn’t. But the circumstances of life change, and as they change various other heretofore unrealized characteristics of God are revealed to meet the new demands of life.

Jesus Christ is the fullness of the Godhead manifested in history, and the Bible is fully adequate to communicate that fullness. But God’s fullness is not communicated all at once. Rather, it unfolds in history, in time. So, as history continues, it creates a longer time-line for reflection, which reveals the character of God in greater detail and depth.

God is most fully known through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit through regeneration. Regeneration then produces a perspective that knows God personally. Knowing God personally then reveals the fact that others also know God personally, and their knowledge of God is both similar and different than one’s own. Thus, God is known most fully by knowing these similarities and differences. And these are known by knowing both Scripture and God’s people, through whom He manifests various of His character qualities.

Faith is the means through which God dwells in the hearts of believers. Another word for faith is confidence. The faithful are confident in God and in God’s understanding and expression of truth—His Word. Faith is a trusted pathway to the highest desire of the soul. Faith functions like a gyroscope that maintains an upright position in constant balance.

The fact that the Person of Christ dwells in the hearts of believers does not mean that Christ’s Person is therefore devoid of the ideas, principles or morals of Christ. Far from it! Rather, the presence of the Person of Christ insures that His ideas, principles and morals are both adequately and correctly applied to the exigencies of life. For apart from the actual present of the Person of Christ through the Holy Spirit the ideas, principles and morals of Christ can be too easily misapplied and/or diluted to the point that they are not efficacious.

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