Friday, July 17, 2015

PAUL'S MOST ASTOUNDING SENTENCE (PART 2)

(Scroll down for Part 1, or click on the title to the right)

Climbing Mountains 

In studying these verses of Ephesians, we have been using the analogy of climbing a mountain in order to gain a perspective from the height of its lofty peak. I do not want to give the impression that I am an experienced mountain climber of the world’s tallest mountains, but I have enjoyed hiking up many smaller peaks in some of the areas of the world where I have lived.

Many years ago, I lived for a couple of years in India, where I traveled with frequency to spend time in the Himalayan Mountains. Later, after I was married and had children, my family and I lived in the Andes Mountains of Venezuela, and much of my work was in the Andean
countries on the west coast of South America. We also lived in Guatemala, where from the roof of our home, we could see the peaks of four volcanos, two dormant ones and two active ones.

One of the activities that I
enjoyed while living and working in these places was hiking to the top of some of these mountain peaks. The climb, at times, was strenuous. Often as I climbed, I wanted to give up. It seemed as if I had no more strength left in my legs. However, I knew that if I would give in to my desire to quit, I would always wonder what the view from the top would have been like.

It is true that I could have listened to someone’s description of what it was like on the summit. I could have asked a successful climber to describe the details of the view, and I could have even looked at his photographs. However, nothing could have compared with what I saw when I myself reached the top of the mountain. Any description, any photograph, falls far inferior to actually standing on the pinnacle and looking at the 360° panoramic view.

Besides this, there is more to the experience than what you can see with your eyes. It also includes breathing the thin, cool air and feeling the cold breeze on your face; it is the feeling of accomplishment of having attained your goal; it is the final assurance that all of the effort was worth it.

As I said, oftentimes when I have climbed a mountain, in the exhaustion of the ascent I did not want to continue. The muscles in my legs had reached their limit of strength (or so I thought) and my body was sapped of energy. Reason told me that I could not continue.

Yet I did continue. I knew that if I would give up, I would probably regret it for the rest of my life. I would have to bear the disappointment of hearing the description of the summit by someone else who had not given up and who had reached the top. I knew that try as I might, I would not be able to understand all that he said. However detailed his description, it could never attain to what one actually sees when he is standing at the top. Besides this, as I have mentioned, there is also the very feeling that is involved with the experienced that simple words cannot describe. 

Spiritual Climbs 

In some ways, it is the same when Paul talks about the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. Paul was an experience climber of spiritual mountains, and when he tells us about what he has seen, it is sometimes difficult for us to understand. But we should know that Paul speaks from experience when he talks about the view from some of the spiritual summits that he had climbed.

It is true that Paul himself did not yet consider that he had reached the goal of his life with God, for in a letter to another church, this one in the city of Philippi, he said, “I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14 NAS).

Paul was still climbing. 

Preparation for the Climb

Actually, it might be helpful for us to look at this letter to the Philippians for just a moment, because it helps us in our analogy of climbing a mountain. Paul, in this letter, is talking about the discipline needed to continue in our walk with Christ. Remaining faithful in our walk with Christ is not something that comes naturally to us, and we often want to give up.

Many do. Many simply give up. But speaking of the discipline needed, Paul says this: 

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Philippians 3:7-12 ESV) 

You will notice that in setting out to discover spiritual blessings, similar to preparing to climb a literal mountain, one must make several sometimes difficult choices. First of all, the climber must go into training. We can well understand this in the physical challenge of climbing a mountain, but it is no less true in the spiritual. Indeed, there is sometimes a relationship between the two.

You will also notice that Paul speaks of giving up that which he had before gained – that for which he had previously strived and worked hard to achieve. In Paul’s case, I think that he was perhaps talking about a level of self-righteousness that he had achieved in thinking that he could reach the spiritual summit purely by his own efforts through learning to live by the Law of Moses.

However, for you and me, that which we must give up for the sake of our training may just as well be something physical. Perhaps we have worked hard to gain wealth or property. Perhaps, up to this point, these goals of this world have been the focus of our lives.

But Paul is telling us that if we really wish to experience the spiritual blessings in the heavenly places, we must re-prioritize our lives. These things such as wealth or status must become to us what they had become to Paul – rubbish. That does not necessarily mean that we suddenly have to deny that these things (whatever they may be), are a part of our lives. However, it does mean that we must recognize that there is nothing in them that will help us achieve spiritual blessings.

Indeed, there is much in them that have the possibility of inhibiting us. In our quest for spiritual summits, we will never make it to the top if we burden ourselves with our backpacks full of worldly concerns.
 
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In a couple of days I will tell about a view from a spiritual mountain that Paul had climbed

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