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BULLETIN ONE HUNDRED AND NINE
From Romans 7 to II Timothy 4,
a vast journey, in a spiritual tour de force
in which God is the force, and in Christ is the faith
In Romans 7, you find a desolated, a dissuaded, a debilitated, an unvictorious Paul, cllosely analysed and a marked man for failure. The law incited him to covet by prohibiting the practice, a strange perversity; his mind soared, but his body strayed, his passion was for good, his achievement however was far less than his aim. It was an incubus to fail, fail, and an outcome wholly undesired.
In Romans 8, he is seen clothed in Christ, covered in His garments of grace, active in His service, alert in His Spirit, aided in His prayers by His presence.
This is taken as basic, foundational and the normal for a spiritual life, duly found and founded in Christ, activated by His Spirit, owned by His grace. Indeed, in Philippians 4:13, his characterisation of his Christian way in these terms: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!"
How the change ?
In II Corinthians 1, we see once again, though only through one failure - that to find Titus in a tensely challenging missionary situation - the temporary outline of this distemper; but here he despairs even of life. However, this is an episode, rather like a spiritual nose-bleed. It can be quite acute but it is not a way of life, only a sudden challenge. Paul saw his error. He had to learn, he tells us, in nothing to trust in himself, since that is inherently an error, but in the God who is not only trustworthy but empowering to match His character and meet the challenges of His redeemed. So Paul was afflicted no more, renewing in this episode the realisation that it is all too possible to begin having your own equations, made by yourself, as if in some way ultimate, with your own limits as if in some way these were final, and your own weaknesses as a complete barrier when transcending need arises.
His renewed realisation in this episode constituted a purge, a reminder, and gives us some context for the language of Romans 7 amidst all his remarkable works and ways in the midst of situations such as those described in I Corinthians and II Corinthians, Ch. 4 in each case. Such an array of triumphs in adversity, overcoming in what the flesh could construe as wildly impossible, to the self-trusting being was mere pretence, in such endurance, such outcomes, such continuities amid vast and potentially overwhelming physical challenges, abortions of normalcy, catastrophes waiting to consume hope, in such numbers, so often constituted however not defeat, but on the contrary, a staggeringly admirable testimony.
It is one however that he is insistent, comes from being alive, indeed, but to and in Christ, so that the life he now lives he lives by the faith in the Son of God who loved him and gave Himself for him (Galatians 2:20). There is a potency in Christ which nothing can overcome, whether it be in "journeyings often", shipwrecks or scourgings, deep concern and action to comfort churches, the looming murder by Nero, or the weight of the challenges correctly and now verified, to be coming later to the Church ( II Timothy 4:1-16).
Near the imperial death penalty as in II Timothy 4, he cries:
"But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me,
so that the message might be preached fully through me,
and so that all the Gentiles might hear.
"Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.
And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work
and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom."
In all this, Paul shows the overcoming spirit despite the treachery faced, the weakness met or the scurry of adversities experienced. It is a personal triumph engineered by Christ, enacted through Paul, sustained by the very power of God, bidding farewell with such a paen of delight in the Lord in such words, style and spirit as to constitute an example and inspiration for all time.