Portrait of a Man "In Christ"

The description Paul gives of himself is "A Man in Christ".  He was in Christ with three strong qualities:  Resolution, Fortitude and Courage; characteristics which became purified and used effectively by his Master.  Not only was he in Christ in his position, but in Christ for his condition; not only in Christ for standing, but in Christ in his daily walk; not only in Christ as before God, but also the atmosphere of his daily, hourly life.

Because Christ's revelations to Paul were so "inexpressible" he could find no words to tell what he saw and heard (II Cor. 12:1-7).  The Lord gives these radiant experiences not to live in, but to encourage us in the valleys of day to day ministry, where we are daily reminded of our weaknesses and helplessness.  The Lord wants us to avail ourselves of His grace and His strength -- He alone is our sufficiency.  He doesn't want us to depend on our Paradise experiences.  Don't regret the passing of the mountain-top experience, don't think you've fallen from grace when you find yourself in the valley.  You are still "in Christ", you are still joined to the Lord and "accepted in the beloved".  Neither height of glorious experience, nor depth of depression shall separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Be content to turn, as Jesus did, from the glory of Transfiguration on the mountain, to the valley which led to His suffering and death on the Cross.

God's Grace is Sufficient:

In evaluating Paul's life-work, he himself claimed that it was through his weakness, his "thorn in the flesh", that he was driven to avail himself of Christ's strength and sufficient-grace.  Whether it was a physical "thorn" doesn't really matter, because considering the many difficulties he endured the only way he was able to overcome victoriously was through God's power.  He persevered through stonings, beatings, being forsaken by friends, pursued by foes, in physical weakness, and still accomplished a greater work through God's enabling might than he could have done through his own strength.  Instead of sitting down in despair and doing nothing, Paul bravely claimed the promise:  "My grace is sufficient for you" -- sufficient and at its best when his weakness was most profound.  He appropriated God's sufficiency and accomplished more through his sufferings and hardships than the strongest of men who depend on their own strength and favorable circumstances.

In Paul's epistles we see the process of claiming Christ's sufficiency in (II Cor.) to living in joy and contentment while in prison (Phil.).  Then finishing his course with satisfaction looking forward to his  crown of righteousness because he had fought the good fight and kept the faith.

1.  A Man of Many Dimensions:

Wherever he went, Paul stood out as a man of unusual authority, and force of personality.  A man who was every inch a leader.  What is the mark of a good leader?  Look behind him, see who is following and whether they are taking over the mantle of leadership, themselves as trained disciples.

Paul's leadership provides us with an encouraging and inspiring example of what it means to continue pressing toward maturity.  His singleness of purpose, yet flexibility in dealing with people and problems are very instructive to us as leaders and disciplers.  There is no rigid conformity in Paul's leadership style.  He was like a mother, caring and nursing, or a father, teaching and exhorting; he could thunder if necessary, but was full of generous praise and affection (I Thess.2:7-18; II Cor.13:2-3).  One striking feature of his leadership is that he never "retired", he remained the model and leader of a group of younger men even when he was "Paul the aged", and Paul the "prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ".

2.  Courage and Decisiveness:

The test of courage in a leader is being able to maintain an ideal balance when meeting devastating situations, and to take firm action when necessary.  Paul's moral courage matched his physical courage.  He was never deterred from his path of taking the gospel to the uttermost parts of the world either by raging mobs or physical dangers.  He lived by the truth which he later wrote to his young disciple Timothy, "God had not given him a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power" (II Tim.1:7).  His courage did not slip into rashness, however, because his letters reveal how fearlessly, yet tenderly he grasped and handled a critical situation.  Paul never allowed things to get out of hand to spare himself the heart break and potential rejection from the necessary discipline he applied.  For example, when he rebuked Peter, the leader at Antioch (Gal.2:11).

Vacillation and indecision were foreign to Paul's nature:  to be given direction by the Holy Spirit of the will of God was to go into action regardless of consequences, and take responsibility for failure as well as success.  Procrastination and vacillation are fatal to leadership, a sincere though mistaken decision is better than no decision.  In fact, no decision IS a decision. For example:  the decision that the status quo is acceptable because it is comfortable when God has shown the necessity to move ahead.  This decision may "feel" good and not rock the boat, but is not God's will.  In most decisions, the problem is not in knowing what we ought to do, but in getting up the courage and decision to take action.  This was never any problem with Paul.  To see his duty in accomplishing God's will was to do it forthwith.

3.  The Role of Friendship in a Leader's Life

A person's ability to make and maintain enduring friendships will generally by the measure of their ability to lead.  Paul possessed in a unique degree the ability of capturing and holding the intense love and loyalty of his friends, his love for them was real and ran very deep.  He seldom did the Lord's work alone and became very lonely when isolated in prison, for example.  Few men in the world have had better friends.  His best work was accomplished when accompanied by trusted fellow workers, and he was at his happiest when they were with him.  Inevitably, Paul involved his friends in all sorts of risks for Christ's sake, but they followed him cheerfully because they were assured of his love and concern for them.

The great secret of Paul's friendships was his capacity to love unselfishly, even if his love was met with nothing in return (like Christ's love).  "So I will gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well" (II Cor.12:15).  Sacrificial love, which is the mark of genuine friendship, will do more to draw the best out of your disciples.  Paul's capacity for friendship was a prime factor in his ability to reproduce himself in Christian leadership of all ages.

Paul was very conscious of his own failures and shortcomings, especially since his standard was measured by the "fullness of Christ" (Eph.4:13).  But instead of discouraging him from further growth, Christ's example only caused him to "strain toward his goal".

Several of his incidental sayings reflect his self-image:  "What is Paul?  Only a servant through whom you believed" (I Cor.3:5).  "Not that we are competent to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God" (II Cor.3:5).  Yet Paul daringly exhorts the Corinthians to "follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (I Cor.11:1).  Knowing that what he had achieved had been done by Christ, "I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me" (Rom.15:8).      

4.  "The Whole Measure of the Fullness of Christ" (Eph.4)

The transforming miracle of conversion is seldom more strikingly illustrated than in the case of Paul.  Not only had Paul seen the living, exalted Christ, but now he demonstrated the transforming power of being "In Christ".

Paul lived in the humility of a great repentance.  He never forgot that he had ruthlessly persecuted the church of God, and that caused him to have a humble self-image.  Yet he understood and appropriated God's grace to a greater degree than any other disciple of Christ.  "Although I am less than the least of all God's people this grace was given to me" (Eph.3:8).  "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners - of whom I am the worst" (I Tim.1:1)  Through the boundless love of Christ poured into Paul's heart by the Spirit, his love was immeasurably increased and its horizons widened to include all mean and women, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, rich and poor.

In addition, the impatient early disciple Paul became the patient evangelist and persevering discipler of others.  Patience is Christian steadfastness.  It is victorious endurance under all kinds of trials, allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us through the worst times into Christ-likeness.  Paul had the courageous and triumphant ability to bear all things, even passing the breaking point and not breaking.  This quality, or virtue, of patience is essential in the discipling relationship we have with others.  The leader who is impatient with the weaknesses and failures of others will be defective in leadership.  "We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak" (Rom.15:1).  We need to know how to adapt our discipling pace to the young and immature, leading by persuasion rather than by command, allowing your disciples to make their own decisions by becoming convinced themselves.

Sensitivity to your disciples is best expressed by listening.  It is never time wasted. Rather, by listening you are most likely to promote growth in your disciple and provide solutions to their problems.  A problem is often half-solved when it is brought out into the open and shared with a sympathetic listener - never get so busy you don't listen.  Paul was a discipler who knew the value of listening when the people in the church of Corinth were floundering with many insurmountable problems for which they had no solution.  They knew they would find an understanding heart and listening in Paul.  His first letter to them was full of his answers to their problems, and also full of grace.

5.  Paul's Sincerity and Integrity:

Even before Paul's conversion, this quality of sincerity was his.  "I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience" (II Tim.1:3).  He was just as sincere in building up the church after his conversion as he was in trying to destroy it before he met Christ.  "We do not peddle the Word of God for profit.  On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, sent from God" (II cor.2:17).  Paul did not shrink from God's scrutiny, and was always conscious of maintaining his own integrity before God and man.  "So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man" (Acts 24:16).

This was true of Paul because he disciplined himself for godliness in two areas:  He waged war with his body and with his thoughts (I Cor.9:26, II Cor.10:4-5). He didn't want to be defeated through over-indulgence of physical appetites and laziness, nor through excessive fatigue and exhaustion.  Either extreme leaves the leader an easy prey for our adversary.  Paul knew that overt sin starts in the thought life, so he made it his constant goal to bring his thoughts under the control of Christ.

6.  Paul's View of Life "In Christ"

One of Paul's favorite expressions is "In Christ" (200 times in his writings), and he applies the expression to himself quite freely, but he never says "in Jesus" indicating that he has the exalted Christ in mind.

The words apply to individual Christians and also to churches (II Cor.12:2; Gal.1:22).  Sometimes the expression means simply "Christian", "The faithful in Christ Jesus" (Eph.1:1); if anyone is "in Christ they are a new creation" (II Cor.5:17), and "there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus" (Rom.8:1).

For Paul, all of his life was lived "In Christ" meaning much more than just being a Christian.  He speaks of his ways, his attitudes, his walk, being crucified with Christ, etc.  He brings out the centrality and deep meaning of the expression "In Christ" as he teachers the wonder of being associated with Christ and all the newness that our life can come to mean.

The attitudes that should characterize a person "In Christ":

  • Be of the same mind in the Lord (Phil.4:2).
  • Stand fast in the Lord (I Thess.3:8; Eph.6:10) giving way to opposition is not part of being in Christ.
  • Faithful and confident in the Lord (I Cor.4:17; Gal.5:10)
  • Liberty in Christ Jesus - freedom (Gal.2:4, 5:1)
  • Consolation and rejoice in the Lord (Phil.2:1, 3:1, 4:4)
  • Love in Christ Jesus (I Cor.16:24; Rom.16:8)
  • Glory in the Lord (I Cor.1:31)

The deep spiritual experience of being "In Christ" is what Paul dwells on as he spells out the riches of the life Christ has made available.  He brings out the centrality of the cross not only in salvation, but also in our identification with Christ.

  • We have died with Christ (Rom.6:8; Col.2:20)
  • We have been crucified with Christ (Gal.2:19)
  • Our old mans was crucified with Him (Rom.6:6)

But Paul does not stop with death.

  • We have been raised with Christ (Col.2:12; Rom.6:4)
  • We have been made alive with Him (Eph.2:5; Rom.6:11; Col.2:13)

But wonderful though that is, it does not exhaust the riches of the life Christ has made available.

  • Our lives are hidden with Christ in God (Col.3:3)
  • To me to live is Christ (Phil.1:21)
  • Whether we wake or whether we sleep we shall live with Him (I Thess.5:10)

Paul looks for the day when the God who raised Jesus "will raise us also with Him" (II Cor.4:14).  He wants to "depart and be with Christ" which he see as "far better" (Phil.1:23) for then the believer "will always be with the Lord" (I Thess.4:17).

Suffering is an inevitable part of the believer's life here, but if we suffer with Christ now we will be glorified with Him in the hereafter (Rom.8:17; Col.3:4).  Paul is not proceeding from some abstract theoretical basis, but from what God has already done.  The cross is eloquent evidence of God's love and care for His people.  We may be absolutely sure that the God who has done so much will fulfill all His promises to us in the future.

Paul insists that truly Christian work is work done "In Christ".  The Corinthians are Paul's "work in the Lord" (I Cor.9:1-2), and he labors at presenting "every man perfect in Christ" (Col.1:28).  Finally Paul says, Christians should "abound in the work of the Lord" (I Cor.15:58).

Sometimes Paul put this the other way around.  Just as it is true that the believer is "In Christ", so it is true that Christ is "in" the believer.  Christ lives in me (Gal.2:20).  He is most anxious that this should be the experience of his believers in Galatia:  his travail "until Christ be formed in you" (Gal.4:19).  He prays that "Christ may dwell (be at home) in the hearts" of the Ephesians (Eph.3:17).  This certainty of the close bond that unites Christ with His people motivates Paul as Christ's bondservant doing His work here on earth.