by M. Jaegle

Wisdom in Paul's epistles - 1

WE WILL NOW approach the great problem of the book of Acts, the callousness of Israel, in the Pauline epistles, and will find it not only solved, but transformed into divine beneficence especially the book of Romans which shows clearly how the stubborn, God-opposing conduct of the Jews was transformed into an enlightening and healing operation, as it is set forth in the following convincing demonstrations:

Their offense -- Salvation for the nations Rom.11:11
Their offense -- Riches for the nations Rom.11:12
Their discomfiture -- Riches for the nations Rom.11:12
Their casting away -- Conciliation for the nations Rom.11:15
Their stubbornness -- Mercy for the nations Rom.11:30

As the Hebrew Scriptures know only of blessing for the nations by means of a converted Israel, so, naturally, its callousness would be a hindrance to this divine blessing. Yet, O marvel of divine wisdom! This very dam, obstructing the outflow of these blessings, He uses as a means to bring to them the much greater gifts of grace! Here we first learn that there are two different classes of blessings for the nations. One comes through an obedient Israel, while the other comes through this people's tripping. We must also note this difference: in the millennium the peoples as such, through the obedient priest nation of Israel, will be brought to Ieue. The Pauline message, on the contrary, which is based on Israel's being cast away, calls only the elect out of Israel and the nations, who form the body of Christ, and find their future, not on earth, but among the celestials.

In this heavenly body, Israel, as the terrestrial people of Ieue, can have no share, not even when they are obedient. Certainly, they had proved their unfitness for serving God and the nations, and were justly set aside. But, when we delve deeper into God's secret operations, we see that it was not primarily their sins, but God's hidden purpose that required their repudiation, in order to open the way for the revelation and heralding of the secret evangel, which is the conciliation of the world. One of the vital points in this secret for today demands that God, apart from the mediation of Israel, turns to individuals in the nations, and beseeches them, through His ambassadors, to be conciliated to Him (2 Cor.5:18-21). Such an intimate relationship, with aliens, is unknown to the Hebrew Scriptures.

These truths show us Israel's departure from Ieue in a new light. We see it in a remarkable double picture. One aspect shows Israel as the murderer of God's Son, yet the other as the Priest of Ieue who, according to His will and command, sacrifices the offered Lamb.

After Pentecost we have the same picture. In their stubbornness this people withstood the witness of the holy spirit, and delayed once again the coming of the kingdom. Yet the revelation of the conciliation transmutes this offense into one of the most noteworthy milestones in the plan for the reconciliation of the universe. That God uses His people, even in their enmity toward Him, to reveal Himself, in just this we see His wisdom's bright beams. So wisely did He include their opposition in His plan of reconciliation, that this did not really hinder, but help His purpose forward. The divine alchemy of turning evil into good is illustrated here.

For a pentecostal believer it would be too much to keep on believing that the kingdom would eventually come despite the increasing callousness of His people. Yet Paul leads us to see the wonder that, out of Israel's offense, comes our conciliation. So Israel, by its disobedience, twice becomes a blessing to others, even to the universe. It is to be regretted that a teaching could find root, that there is no longer any possibility of salvation for them. To be sure, even if He uses Israel's offenses for His gracious purposes, He does not overlook their stubbornness. This is evident from the severe judgment which has come over them for nearly two thousand years. Indeed, He urges us to perceive His severity on those who are falling (Rom.11:22). But the righteous God, Who so arranged His loving plan that Israel had to sin in order to reconcile all, will not judge them permanently! For His wisdom-filled transformation of Israel's double sin into good must bring about the reconciliation of this people. A right-thinking believer could not fully enjoy his own blessings, when this people, by whose tripping he was reconciled to God, were eternally being judged.

A close parallel is Judas and his sin. His traitorous conduct was base and heartless, and his awful end accords with the seriousness of his sin. Even worse will probably be his judgment at the great white throne. But there is weighty evidence in his favor. He was compelled to do as he did, because all this was foretold of him (Psa.41:9,10; John 13:18). Therefore, at the consummation, he will be justified by God, and will be reconciled with Him. Alueim Himself chose him for this traitorous service and put him in the worst circumstances, in order to display His transcendent wisdom to all the universe. We are reminded of the word of our Lord, which He spoke concerning His own sufferings. "How, then, may the Scriptures be fulfilled, seeing that thus it must occur" (Matt.26:54)? We should not boast that we are saved, and condemn Judas, who had a hand in it! That would be contrary to God's love and righteousness and wisdom.

Even if God passed a severe judgment over Israel, there is in it something different, in principle, from punishment. As Israel's offense was an important part of God's plan, it had to occur. Also, for this reason, God will bring about their restoration. To attain this goal, He uses judgments. Israel is also His firstborn among the nations (Ex.4:22), and God's judgment will be in accord with Heb.12:5-10, for their expedience, for them to partake of His holiness. The way is long and hard, yet God will reach His goal. Their cry: "His blood be on us and on our children!" will have a double fulfillment. First by judgment, which has lasted 1900 years already, then in salvation. Many will experience the salvation in the kingdom, but many of them not until the consummation.

Paul proceeds to enlarge upon this dual position of Israel, expressing it thus: "As to the evangel, indeed, they are enemies because of you, yet, as to choice, they are beloved because of the fathers" (Rom.11:28). Enemies and God's beloved at the same time! That is another fruit of divine wisdom that unites the bad and the good, the light and the darkness, in His people, in their disobedience. Even in its callousness Israel remains God's prophet. By means of them He displays His deepest revelations through His wisdom. In their opposition to Him God is in the best position to show that He can use Satan with all his machinations. Israel's opposition to the operation of God's spirit reached its highest point when Paul was entrusted with the evangel to the nations, and was sent to them. Because of their zeal for God, this made them His determined enemies (Acts 22:21,22; Rom.10:19).

God's purpose for us, the nations, has made it necessary that the Jews become His enemies. Yet that is only one side. When Ieue considers His selection of their forefathers and the promises He made to them, then Israel must remain His beloved people, because He can never regret His promises, but will fulfill them to the limit. In general, both foes and friends counteract each other. According to the usual idea, foes are only bad, but God's wisdom manages to use both bad and good together, and shows this plainly through Israel.

Following this, Paul gives us important information concerning the methods which led to our salvation. These should be heeded by us more than is the case (Rom.11:30,31): "For even as you once were stubborn toward God, yet now were shown mercy at their stubbornness, thus these also are now stubborn to this mercy of yours, that now they also may be shown mercy."

Bluntly the apostle reminds us that we were once just as stubborn as Israel. We did not obtain mercy because we were better than they, but on account of their stubbornness. Therewith he convincingly proves what is written. "We previously charge both Jews and Greeks to be all under sin" (Rom.3:9), "for there is no distinction, for all sinned and are wanting of the glory of God" (Rom.3:23). Now if the Jews, in their jealousy, are stubborn as to our mercy, we must not deduce from this that they have locked themselves up forever, out of the realm of divine, saving mercy. Rather, through the apostle's teaching, we should learn that they, through their stubbornness, just as we through ours, will at last come under divine mercy. How very different are God's thoughts concerning Israel from the human doctrine that they, through their continual disobedience, have forever forfeited all further mercy!

And now Paul goes further, and applies this divine principle universally: "For God locks all up together in stubbornness, that He should be merciful to all" (Rom.11:32). As the counterworker lured Eve to disobedience, even then it was that the seed of opposition to God was implanted in all. Here Paul speaks freely of this act of Satan as an act of God. This gives this event a different appearance. It is no longer merely an offense against God, but rather a means by which He attains a great goal. God wanted Satan to do a thing which would make all men sinners, since only through such could He reveal His deep compassion to those who needed to be compassionated. That God, by way of their stubbornness, would bring them into the scope of His mercy was a secret up to the writings of Paul. The apostle himself was overpowered by this revelation, which he received by the inspiration of the spirit, so he breaks out into a jubilate: "O the depth of the riches and the wisdom and the knowledge of God" (Rom.11:33)!

In this exclamation of praise we see how Paul looks at and interprets the way in which God subjects His creatures. It is not merely a fruit of His wisdom, but of the depths and riches thereof. The sin of opposition to God is transmuted into a blessed means of revealing His loving heart. Paul speaks not only of God's compassion as the deepest feeling of His limitless love, but proves it to be the fruit of His wisdom. He shows how God is gloriously justified through it, for having brought evil into creation. Now that it is revealed as the deepest blessing, the moment has come to say it openly: "out of Him and through Him and for Him is all" (Rom.11:36). That absolutely all that exists in the creation is out of Him can be accepted only if the previous dissertation on the purpose of stubbornness has been fully grasped.

This is the wisdom which God designates for us before the eons (1 Cor.2:7), which He hid in Himself for so long. The context shows that it deals with the divine use of stubbornness for carrying out His most profound purposes of blessing. Paul then proceeds to speak of the chief men of this eon, probably including the chief priests. He says that these would never have crucified Christ if they had known this wisdom, by which God uses His enemies to work for Him. They intended to get rid of this Jesus, Whom they hated. Had they had a glimmer of the idea that, by doing so, they would fulfill God's purpose of love, of elevating Him to the highest place in the universe (Phil.2:10,11), they certainly would not have crucified Him. That which they sought to hinder, they really promoted. In the synagogue at Antioch, Pisidia, Paul openly told the Jews that, "Those dwelling in Jerusalem and their chiefs, being ignorant of Him and of the voices of the prophets which are read on every sabbath, fulfill them in judging Him" (Acts 13:27).

That God, through the ignorance of Israel and their chiefs, fulfilled the prophesies concerning Christ as the suffering, sacrificial Lamb, was revealed to Peter and the other apostles through the holy spirit. So he said to his brethren, "And now, brethren, I am aware that in ignorance you commit it, even as your chiefs, also. Yet what God announces before through the mouth of all the prophets - the suffering of His Christ - He thus fulfills" (Acts 3:17,18). So wisely is God's plan formulated that He fulfills the deepest prophecies by means of the ignorance of His people. But that their prolonged ignorance, which led to further opposition after Pentecost, would once more bring divine blessing through the fulfillment of a secret purpose, was quite concealed from Peter and His fellow apostles. This they could not find in their Torah, and had to learn it from Paul. The wisdom in this revelation was neither perceived by the eye, or heard by the ear, nor did the heart of man ascend to it (1 Cor.2:9). It was a gift prepared by God for those who love Him, that is, for the members of Christ's body, who live in the administration of transcendent grace today.

The fact that God has provided this gift for all does not mean that anyone may possess it. Only those believers who have gone beyond minority and have a measure of maturity are able to grasp this wisdom in their hearts. It may be the cause of much loss not to outlive the early stages in spiritual life. This included also the rejection of the knowledge that evil is in line with God's intention, and used as a means of blessing. Some have not enough inner strength to take up the load and bear this knowledge. Or it may be, as Paul says, that they are fleshly minors in Christ, who need milk, who are not able to take solid food (1 Cor.3:1-27). It is hardly worthwhile to speak to them about this knowledge. Their inability to digest these things is not the worst of it, but the fact that, in many, they provoke opposition and antagonism.

In order to enjoy the full brilliance of this wisdom of which Paul spoke among the mature, we must go to his latest letters. From them we learn that the deepest secrets given to the ecclesia, come out of His wisdom, and can be grasped only by means of spiritual strength. We will begin with one of the mightiest truths of Ephesians. In this letter the depths of God's wisdom, through which He brought the riches of His grace to the nations as a result of Israel's offense, is conclusively set forth. The first and fullest account is in Eph.1:10. Paul declares that a secret administration for today was given to him, and he is to enlighten all concerning it, as to what it is He explains this in chapter three, verse six.

Before the revelation of this secret, the Scriptures spoke only of the earthly kingdom, in which Christ will rule with Israel, and the nations have a subordinate place. In the whole range of God's Word, except Paul's epistles, this is so unalterably settled, that it could never come up in any human heart, how God planned a much higher place for an outcalled company, not, indeed, in the terrestrial kingdom, but above, among the celestials, where they have a part in Christ's allotment and rule, on the same plane as the believing Jews who will have a part in this body. Indeed, who could have dreamed that God, in His wisdom, would bring such blessed results out of Israel's obstinacy! The blessing is not confined to this ecclesia alone, but extends to the whole universe, because Christ, with this instrument of salvation, His spiritual body, will bring the reconciliation, which He accomplished, into the celestial realms. God could not make known His glorious consummation of this creation until He had begun to bring about His purpose for the ecclesia which is Christ's body. So the two got together, the deepest revelations concerning the present ecclesia and the divine design for the universe. In the prison letters they are fully explained.

M. Jaegle

(To be continued)

[Return to main indexpage]