by Herman R. Rocke

"Now over all these put on love,
which is the tie of maturity!"
                    -- Colossians 3:14

EARLIER in this series, we have dealt with Paul's experiences in Syrian Antioch (Acts 13:1). It is conceivable that our Lord used the ecclesia there as a training college for Paul, to teach him how to put on his spiritual apparel; pitiful compassions, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and over all these, love, which is the tie of maturity. When Paul thus served in the ecclesia of the Syrian capital, together with four other teachers whose former experiences in the life of faith had been quite different from his own, they may have had ample opportunity of bearing with one another and dealing graciously among themselves "if anyone should be having a complaint against any" (Col.3:12-17).


      The knowledge of the Word of God may lead us to "the realization of His will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding," and may enable us "to walk worthily of the Lord for all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and growing in the realization of God." The more these divine thoughts are reflected by our walk and service, while becoming part of our prayers for other believers as well, the more will our love toward them be " realization and all sensibility" (Phil.1:9). Then we will perceive the validity of God's promise to endue us "with all power, in accord with the might of His glory, for all endurance and patience with joy" (Col.1:9-11).

      "The transcendent greatness of His power for us who are believing" is one of Paul's requests in his first Ephesian prayer. In his career, he needed power for love and endurance, power for patience with joy. So do we in our daily walk and service.

      Paul had his Lord's promise that such power was available to him in no small measure, but rather in transcendent greatness, in accord with the display of God's strength when He roused Christ from among the dead and seated Him at His right hand. The same kind of resurrection power is available to us, the same power for love and endurance, for patience with joy. If we fail to ask for this power daily, we will fail in following Paul on the path suited to transcendence.

      This path has another characteristic. Some believers seem to feel that it is the doctrinal corral which is the fence of maturity. Yet, in the Scriptures, we find that this is not so. Any form of arrogant seclusion from those for whom Christ died is said to be immaturity. Whenever we read 1 Corinthians 13, are we not reminded of our lack of scriptural maturity? There is no fence around it to keep others out, for love is the tie of maturity.

      The vicissitudes on the path suited to transcendence, remind us of the actual perils and hardships which Paul and Barnabas were facing on their dangerous journey from Perga in the fever-infested coastal region (Acts 13:14) up into the rugged mountain passes through robber-infested terrain. Wild tribes who were notorious for their banditry, exercised wide control over the steep and perilous trails of this area in Paul's day. To the "dangers of robbers" were added the "dangers of rivers" and the "dangers in the wilderness" (2 Cor.11:26) in a wild region of cliffs and narrow ravines, where mountain creeks might suddenly turn into raging torrents, and landslides might block the path of the wanderer before he reached the fertile tableland around Pisidian Antioch.


      Paul's message in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:16-41) does not yet mention the riches of God's grace which He lavishes on us. Only in his epistles do we read of "being justified gratuitously in His grace," and of "the display of His righteousness in the current era," since He is the God of the Jews and of the nations, "Who will be justifying the Circumcision out of [the] faith [which they have] and the Uncircumcision through the faith [which they receive]" (Rom.3:24,26,30). The latter fact is further elaborated in Ephesians 2:8, "For in grace, through faith, are you saved, and this is not out of you; it is God's approach present."

      The wording of the evangel is always fitted to the occasion. As the scene changes, the wording is qualified by additional details. At Pentecost, Peter offered the pardon of sins to the very Jews in Jerusalem who had crucified Christ a few weeks before. They were indeed inordinate sinners (cf Rom.7:13) because of the recent murder of the One Whom God had made their Lord as well as their Christ ("This Jesus Whom you crucify" Acts 2:36).

      More than fourteen years later, Paul addressed Jews and other God-fearing people in the synagogue of Pisidian Antioch. His proclamation differed from Peter's in many ways and for various reasons. The crucifixion of Christ was now an event of the past, and probably not one of the audience in Antioch had been among the Jerusalem crowd which had cried many years ago, "Crucify, crucify him!" Furthermore, even though the majority of the synagogue audience in Pisidian Antioch were Israelites to whom belonged the covenants and the promises, there were also "those who are fearing God" (Acts 13:16), i.e., gentiles who had either adopted Judaism or at least attended the synagogue services. Hence they were somewhat familiar with the law and the prophets which were read every sabbath; they could follow Paul when he told the audience of the things which God had done for Israel in the past, of His loving tenderness throughout their early history, culminating in His appointment of David as their king. "From this one's seed, God, according to the promise, led to Israel a Saviour, Jesus" (Acts 13:23).

      Thus the spirit of God, through the apostle, used a new approach, quite different from that used in the Pentecostal days, in order to win the response of their hearts, before the Saviour is presented in more detail.

      "The word of this salvation" had not been received by the majority of "those dwelling in Jerusalem and their chiefs, being ignorant of Him and of the voices of the prophets which are read on every sabbath" (Acts 13:26,27). When Paul emphasized this fact in the Pisidian synagogue, he wanted to show that people everywhere may be inordinate sinners, even when they appear to be very familiar with the Scriptures. This implication would apply to his present audience as well, should they not believe "the word of this salvation" dispatched to Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:26), i.e., that God raised Jesus, His only begotten Son, from among the dead, offering through Him the pardon of sins together with justification from any failure in keeping the law of Moses (Acts 13:32-39).


      There is no record of Paul's next address which he gave on the following sabbath and which was mainly directed to the gentile population of Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:44-48). It is conceivable that on this occasion he preached justification in some of the fullness to which his epistles testify. It is interesting to note that at the end of verses 46 and 48 in Luke's report on this event, there are the two only occurrences of the adjective eonian in the book of Acts. The blaspheming Jews in Antioch are described as judging themselves "not worthy of eonian life," while the gentile believers of this city "rejoiced and glorified the word of the Lord, and they believe, whoever were set for life eonian" (Acts 13:46,48).

      When pondering on the outcome of the apostle's first public address given to a predominantly non-Jewish audience, we may well say that these young believers were indeed glorying in the expectation of the glory of God; they were about to take the steps of faith described in the fifth chapter of Romans:

      "Justified by faith, we may be having peace toward God, through our Lord, Jesus Christ, through Whom we have the access also, by faith, into this grace in which we stand, and we may be glorying in expectation of the glory of God.

      "Yet not only [so], but we may be glorying also in afflictions, having perceived that affliction is producing endurance, yet endurance testedness, yet testedness expectation ...seeing that the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the holy spirit which is being given to us."


      A combination of five little Greek words ou monon de alla kai is used twice (Rom.5:3,11) in the Original in order to impress us with the fact that there are various ways of glorying in the life of faith. The first is the result of a new spiritual perspective; through our Lord Jesus Christ we have the access into this grace, and we stand in it. This being a divine fact, God is commending His love to us while we are still sinners, since Christ died for our sakes and we are now justified in His blood.

      All of this is sufficient reason for our "glorying in expectation of the glory of God. Yet not only [so], but we may be glorying also in afflictions..."

      Now, being conciliated to God through the death of His Son, we become ever more aware of our peace with, and our nearness to God, through our Lord, Jesus Christ. Not only are we conciliated through His death at Calvary's cross, we shall also be saved in His resurrection life at the right hand of His Father. When we die together with Christ, we shall be walking in newness of life, freed from the lordship of Sin, but now enslaved to Righteousness.

      All of this is included in God's approach present for us, hence we may be glorying in expectation of further aspects of the divine glory. Yet not only [so], but through our Lord, Jesus Christ, through Whom we now obtained the conciliation, we are glorying also in God Himself, while we are walking worthily of the Lord for all pleasing, bearing fruit in every good work, and growing in the realization of God.

      Once we were in want of the glory of God (Rom.3:23), but righteousness and peace having become ours, nothing can exclude us from His glory. Since we shall be saved from His indignation (Rom.5:9), we can joyfully anticipate our access into His glory for which our access into His grace has fitted us.

      This anticipation of His glory cannot even be dimmed in our present afflictions. For "we are aware that God is working all together for the good of those who are loving God, who are called according to the purpose that, whom He foreknew, He designates beforehand, also, to be conformed to the image of His Son, for Him to be Firstborn among many brethren. Now whom He designates beforehand, these He calls also, and whom He calls, these He justifies also; now whom He justifies, these He glorifies also ...[hence] what shall be separating us from the love of God in Christ Jesus? Affliction, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?...Nay! in all these we are more than conquering through Him Who loves us" (Rom.8:28-30,35,37).

      When we are thus rooted and grounded in His love, any kind of affliction will bear its fruit; endurance, testedness, expectation, "seeing that the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the holy spirit, which is being given to us." The fruits of affliction are not gained on the Damascus road, but in the hours of trial which exercise our hearts and detach us from everything on which we once depended, and bring us closer to the Lord, so as to become aware of the fact that we are garrisoned by the power of God, through faith (1 Peter 1:5).

      In addition, when we stop worrying, and make our requests known to God with thanksgiving, then the peace of God which is superior to every frame of mind, shall be garrisoning our hearts and our apprehensions in Christ Jesus (Phil.4:6,7). Even though our protection is in the spiritual sphere, we can perceive, with the enlightened eyes of our hearts, God's garrisons, both within us and around us. Our twofold protection is compared to a military force, a garrison, which no enemy will ever be able to conquer. At this juncture, we may once more emphasize those five little words: Yet not only [so] but also in all the vicissitudes of the path suited to transcendence, "we are more than conquering through Him Who loves us."


      Because of the persecution by blaspheming Jews in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:45,50,51), Paul and Barnabas fled to Iconium, about eighty miles away, where "the same thing occurred at their entering into the synagogue of the Jews and speaking, so that a vast multitude of both Jews and Greeks believe. Yet the stubborn Jews rouse up and provoke the souls of the nations against the brethren...

      "Now as there came to be an onset both of the nations and the Jews, together with their chiefs, to outrage and pelt them with stones, being conscious of it, they fled for refuge into the cities of Lycaonia: Lystra and Derbe, and the country about. And there they were bringing the evangel...

      "Yet Jews from Antioch and Iconium come on, and, persuading the throngs, and stoning Paul, they dragged him outside of the city, inferring that he is dead" (Acts 14:1,2,5-7,19).

      When the gentile mob in Lystra, instigated by out-of-town Jews, had stoned Paul and had dragged his body, battered and bleeding, outside the city, he remained unconscious for some time. It may well be that on this occasion, when he was not aware of anything (2 Cor.12:2-4), he experienced another revelation of His celestial Lord, and was snatched away to the third heaven, where he heard ineffable divine declarations which he was not allowed to speak until later in his career.

      If he had such a revelation at that time, it certainly was given in a setting calculated to reveal God's grace toward inordinate gentile sinners who had just stoned the chosen vessel God had sent for their salvation. In his vision of the third heaven, he may have seen undeserving gentile saints ruling the celestial realms as members of Christ's body and blessed "with every spiritual blessing among the celestials" (Eph.1:3).

      Since Paul seems to refer to his stoning at Lystra in his second letter to the Corinthians (11:25; 12:1-4), he may well have alluded to the same event at the beginning of this epistle:

      "Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of pities and God of all consolation, Who is consoling us in our every affliction...seeing that, according as the sufferings of Christ are superabounding in us, thus, through Christ, our consolation also is superabounding...

      "For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning our affliction which came to us in the province of Asia, that we were inordinately burdened, over our ability, so that we were despairing of life also. But we have the rescript of death in ourselves, that we may be having no confidence in ourselves, but in God, Who rouses the dead, Who rescues us from a death of such proportions, and will be rescuing; on Whom we rely that He will still be rescuing also; you also assisting together by a petition for us, in order that, from many faces He may be thanked by many for us for the gracious gift given to us."

      Because of this gracious gift, Paul reckoned himself and all believers as having died, and as walking in newness of life, thus living a resurrection life while still in this body of our humiliation. Yet even Paul was not so sure that he would realize such resurrection power at all times. When he wrote Philippians, he had not yet obtained it; he was still pursuing the path suited to transcendence, he was still grasping for power to love, to endure, to be patient with joy, even though he knew Christ, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, [almost] conforming to His death.

      If Paul received his greatest vision and revelation at Lystra when he was unconscious and not aware of anything, then this was indeed a very special unveiling, comparable to the one given to John when he was in the island of Patmos. These two men of God have another thing in common; their emphasis on love divine which should be reflected in the conduct of every believer. The Greek equivalents for both the noun and the verb LOVE agapee, agapaoo occur 258 times in the New Testament, 102 times in John's writings and 109 times in the Pauline epistles. This should indicate to us the importance of this subject to these two men of God, for the seven other authors of the remainder of the New Testament writings have used the two words only 47 times.

      John writes in his first letter (3:14), "He who is not loving is remaining in death." In his first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul writes in a similar vein, "If I...have no nothing do I benefit" (13:2,3). Hence, as long as we are not sympathizing with our suffering fellow believers, and even with potential believers, we are nothing. Our assumed maturity, our knowledge about spiritual understanding does not benefit us at all. We are remaining in the sphere of death; no rivers of living water will flow out of our innermost being when we ignore or evade the fellowship with others, for whose sake Christ also died.

      When John wrote (4:18) that "fear [of judgment] is not in love, but perfect love is casting out fear," he alluded to fear as the motive power in the pagan religions of his day, just as we would allude to fear as the motive power in superstitious Christendom of our day. In addition John's word has a definite application in a believer's everyday life, where love divine is the motive power which casteth out any fear, as it certainly did in Paul's case, for he returned to Lystra where he had been stoned.

      Paul's path of love was suited to the transcendence of the divine revelations which he had received. The apostle did not remain in secluded stagnation for the rest of his life after he had attained maturity and had outstripped others (Phil.3:15,16).

      Stagnation is a synonym for inactivity and lethargy and thus reminds us of the sphere of death. Paul did not remain in that sphere when his disciples surrounded him (Acts 14:20). He did not retire from his missionary work after the trials in Lystra, but felt even more closely tied to his task by love, both for the brethren and for others, who might try once more to kill him. This love, which he put on day after day, was the tie of maturity. He knew that Christ had ordained him to proceed on the superexcellent way where love-in-action is the evidence of mature spiritual life.

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