“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: From now on there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
“For to me to live is, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
I believe many brothers and sisters must be quite familiar with these two classic sayings spoken by Paul. And the words “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: From now on there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness” are even seen by many brothers and sisters as maxims of wisdom, and have become the force that drives them to toil for the Lord. It was the same with me. I had always taken Paul’s words as the basis by which I sacrificed and expended for the Lord. It was not until the other day, when I read a fellowship concerning Paul on awebsite, that I achieved a new interpretation of the two sayings. I have summarized it in the following two points.
1. Paul’s Original Motive for Suffering, Paying a Price, and Preaching the Way of the Lord Was to Gain Blessings
Paul said, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: From now on there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.” These words gave voice to Paul’s thoughts, and revealed his motive for his preaching the gospel: rewards and the crown. Paul had unreasonable requirements for God. In his belief, as long as he worked, ran about, and suffered, then God should bestow the crown of righteousness upon him. He ran about, worked, and fought the good fight in exchange for the crown of righteousness and to achieve his aim of being blessed. Everything he did could basically be considered as a business transaction between him and God; it was not to satisfy the Lord’s will, and moreover was not to fulfill the duty of a creation of God.
Then were Paul’s motivations and pursuit correct? And could they receive God’s praise? The Old Testament says, “For I am the LORD your God: you shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy …” (Leviticus 11:44). God is holy, so He requires us to be holy. We should work and expend for God without any intentions or ulterior motives of our own, and we shouldn’t do it in order to make a deal with God or to obtain God’s blessings. This is the sense that we should possess, and also is what God demands of us. Preaching the gospel is God’s entrustment, and also the mission and bounden duty of every Christian. There is no correlation between fulfilling our missions and obtaining blessings. As a creature of God, we enjoys the sunlight, air, and food supplied by God, as well as the truth and the life that God has bestowed upon us. Besides, the Lord was nailed to the cross in order to redeem mankind. So, even if God does not bestow blessings on us, we should preach the gospel and bear witness to God to pay back God’s love—this is what a man who has humanity and good consciences should do.
Take Peter, the disciple of thefor example. He spread the gospel far and wide, running down many paths and enduring lots of suffering, but he never asked the Lord to reward him or bestow a crown upon him. He knew that the Lord Jesus had come from God and was the Savior who had redeemed mankind. He experienced God’s love and salvation for man, and knew that spreading God’s gospel was what the Lord had entrusted to him, that it was the Lord’s will for more people to come before Him and gain His salvation. So he spread the Lord’s gospel with deep gratitude and love only to fulfill His desire. He expended himself for the Lord without transactions or intentions, and regardless of whether he received blessings or suffered misfortune, he continued as always spreading the gospel to witness for God. Therefore, he was the one who was possessed of humanity and sense.
However, Paul did not have such knowledge, nor was he possessed of such humanity or sense. All that he paid was for the sake of his own destination and of obtaining God’s blessings. He was so selfish that he was full of deceit and transactions. God’s disposition is righteous and holy; how can He allow us to deceive and make a deal with Him? So, as to whether Paul’s faith really obtained God’s approval, and whether his pursuit conformed with, I believe that as long as we think about this carefully, we will get the answers.
2. Paul Never Bore Witness to the Lord Jesus, but Merely Testified to Himself
Paul said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). This sentence shows that although Paul preached the gospel for the Lord, he did not know the Lord Jesus or the work of the Holy Spirit. Further, he did not exalt or bear witness to the Lord Jesus to bring people before the Lord. Paul believed that the work he did was done by relying on his own abilities and what he spoke of was his real knowledge; he thought his hard work was meritorious, so he said that for him to live was Christ. In saying this, he wanted to make people worship him and treat him as Christ, and to bring people in front of him. In addition, it can be seen from Paul’s letters that he never mentioned what the Lord Jesus had said or how much truth Jesus had expressed, nor had he ever mentioned the Lord Jesus’ loveliness. Paul never bore witness to the Lord and said: “We believe in the Lord Jesus because He was nailed to the cross for the redemption of our sins and has redeemed us. In addition, the Lord has expressed many truths to guide us onto a correct life course. So we should follow the way of truth expressed by Him and put it into practice. Only by doing so can we be after God’s will, and this is also a manifestation of the true obedience to God.” Paul’s letters had never said any such important things, this shows Paul did not love the Lord Jesus.
Paul never testified to the Lord Jesus, nor did he love the words spoken by the Lord Jesus; instead, he only bore witness for himself. This is sufficient to prove that he was arrogant and conceited, and did not have a heart of reverence for God at all. He was so arrogant that he said for him to live was Christ, but could he really become Christ just because he said so? We all know the Lordcame from God; He is the incarnate God, the embodiment of the truth, holy and unblemished. How can a man who has been deeply corrupted by Satan and does not get perfected say that for him to live is Christ? Even if one is perfected, he cannot become Christ, because the difference between Christ and those who have been made perfect is heaven and earth. Man’s substance is man, whereas the substance of Christ is divinity. Man can never become God—even if man is perfected, he will never be able to become God. This is the knowledge we should have. However, Paul dared to say that for him to live was Christ. What is the problem here? Isn’t this too arrogant and absurd? Is this not vying for status with the Lord Jesus and opposing God?
Through reading the fellowships online, I have had a new understanding of what Paul pursued as well as his humanity and character. He worked and preached for the Lord with the intention to become blessed. Besides, in the course of spreading the gospel, Paul did not exalt the Lord Jesus or bear witness that the Lord Jesus is Christ and the Savior, but instead exalted himself and testified that he himself was Christ. All this proves there was not the slightest change in his life disposition. He did not gain the truth and the life from the Lord Jesus, much less did he know God. Meanwhile, the fellowships also made me examine anew the path I had taken in my faith in God: I have always imitated Paul and made Paul my exemplar. If I continue down this path, can I really win God’s praise? It’s really worth reflecting.
Dear brothers and sisters, now have you gained a new awareness of the path you have taken in your belief of God, just like me? May the Lord lead us to understand His intentions. Amen!