Thursday, June 14, 2012

True fulfillment thriving amidst unfulfilling circumstances

Colossians 1:28-29 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. 29For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.

The man who had every reason to be unfulfilled
At the time of his composing the letter to the Colossians, Paul had been following Jesus Christ for nearly 30 years.  He had been on three missionary tours, saw many conversions and even wrote other New Testament books.  With a resume like that, one would think Paul's life would be filled with ease and great comfort.  Yet quite the opposite was the case. 

In surveying the wider context of Acts 21-28, we can see what all Paul had went through in the four years prior to his writing of the Letter to the Colossians.  Though having every reason to be bitter and unfulfilled, yet Paul, by Christ's supernatural power, was able to retain his true fulfillment in Jesus Christ.  Merrill C. Tenney in his book "New Testament Survey" writes: "Furthermore, these chapters of Acts have great biographical and theological value because they reveal more of the inner thought and teaching of Paul than do most others passages in Acts." (313)  With those thoughts, let's consider what Paul experienced:

1. Persecution.  Acts 21:15-40
There are some remarkable parallels between what Paul experiences here in the closing chapters of Acts to that of Christ's experience in the closing chapters of the four Gospels.  Just like Jesus, Paul experienced increasing persecution for his preaching and missionary activity.  And just like Jesus, Paul ended up being siezed and brought into the temple courts at Jerusalem.

2. Prosecution. Acts 22:1-26:22
Just like Jesus, Paul stood before three Jewish groups and three Gentile groups in which he was being prosecuted.  In each of those settings, Paul testfied of how Christ aone was His fulfillment.  He did this before the Jews in the temple (Acts 21:15-40); before more Jews (Acts 22) and before the Jewish Council (Acts 23:1-35). 

Paul also testified of God's saving grace in his life before the governor Felix (Acts 24).  Paul continued to have personal conversations with Felix for two years.  The next Gentile group was Paul having audience with another official named Festus (Acts 25:1-22) and Agrippa (25:23-26:32).  Despite intense prosecution and false witnesses, Paul's faith remained intact, because his true fulfillment was in Jesus Christ.

3. Peril. Acts 27:1-28:10
After Paul's series of prosecutions, it was decided he would be sent to Rome to be under house arrest and chained to a Roman Soldier.  Had Paul been faithless? No.  Had he done anything wrong? No.  As he was under chains on a Roman ship, a huge storm swept in on the course of the journey, eventually leading to a ship wreck.  Things were going from bad to worse.  Yet Paul testified of God's saving work in Jesus Christ.  Despite the peril to his physical life, Paul still found fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

4. Prison. Acts 28:11-31
It is in these set of verses that we get the more specific setting in which Paul wrote his Colossians letter, urging his readers to find their true fulfillment in Christ.  After the ship wreck, Paul was delivered to Rome under guard.  Day and night, for two years, Paul was chained to a Roman guard.  Though he could receive visitors, he was nonetheless a prisoner.  However, his faith and ministry were unchained.    

The man who had the only reason for being fulfilled
But despite those circumstances, many of which would had made many people bitter and unfulfilled, Paul persevered.  He kept on preaching the Word.  Despite his hard circumstances, Acts 28:31 records: "preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered."  If Paul had not been imprisoned in Rome, the Gospel would not had been preached in that area.  If anything, this season of intense persecution, prosecution, peril and prison enabled Paul's ministry and message to circulate to a wider audience.

Paul's true fulfillment was in Jesus Christ.  As we saw in the opening verses of today's blog, he did what he did through Christ's power that worked mightily in Him.  May the same be said of us. 

Resource quoted in today's blog:
Tenney, Merrill C. New Testament Survey. WM. B Eerdmans  
         Company, Intervarsity Press. 1985
This wonderful book is an excellent summary of the background and overview of the New Testament.  I would recommend it to anyone desiring a greater grasp of a general understanding of the main thoughts, background and key figures in the New Testament.