Paul the Apostle/Part 29
|By: Dr. Wayne Barber; ©1992|
|I know you and I struggle, but it is wonderful to know that there were others who had to struggle to be used of the Lord. Why do we struggle? Because the very moment we are saved, our flesh becomes a real detriment to us. It works against the Spirit. Of course, the devil and his demons are out there trying to enhance the whole picture. There is a war that is going on. They struggled, but they learned somehow in that struggle to trust God and to let God use them in a powerful way. The apostle Paul was one of those men.|
2 Timothy 4:6-8
Paul: The Model – Part 2
Turn with me to 2 Timothy 4:6-8, as we finish up a study we began last time. It is a wonderful thing to know that in scripture God gives us examples, living examples, of men and women just like you and me who had to learn to trust God in order to be useable by Him. At the same time they struggled all the way through their life. Now that blesses me. I know you and I struggle, but it is wonderful to know that there were others who had to struggle to be used of the Lord. Why do we struggle? Because the very moment we are saved, our flesh becomes a real detriment to us. It works against the Spirit. Of course, the devil and his demons are out there trying to enhance the whole picture. There is a war that is going on. They struggled, but they learned somehow in that struggle to trust God and to let God use them in a powerful way.
The apostle Paul was one of those men. As I said earlier, I believe he is my favorite person outside of Jesus in all of the New Testament. As a matter of fact, the apostle Paul wrote half of the New Testament. There are 27 books in the New Testament, and as far as we know for sure, he wrote 13 of them. Some people say he wrote Hebrews, but they don’t know that. They are going to have to wait until they get to heaven to find out because it does not tell us who wrote the book of Hebrews. What books did he write? He wrote Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon. We are going to be studying the book of Ephesians, that wonderful book he wrote while in prison in Rome, as we saw in Acts 28.
My heartbeat has been, as we introduced the book of Ephesians by studying the life of Paul, that we get a feel of him. When you get into Ephesians, it is just going to absolutely blow your socks off. You are just going to be overwhelmed with the truths that are there, but those are really the things we need to know. I find that people in the Christian world today don’t understand the things that God has done for them. They don’t understand the character of God. They don’t understand what righteousness and faith is all about. All of this is in the book of Ephesians. It is incredible.
I studied the characteristics of the Father in Ephesians 1, and it literally took me hours to get to verse 5. I didn’t even begin to list the characteristics of Christ. We need to understand the man God used to pen words like this in the book of Ephesians.
We have studied Paul from Acts 9 to Acts 28. We’ve looked at Paul the man, for he was a man just like you and me. We looked at Paul, the missionary. He had a mission to the Gentiles which God had given specifically to him. The whole New Testament changes from the center being Jerusalem to the center being Antioch. The church of Antioch of Syria sends him out. We have gone through every single missionary journey that Paul went through. We’ve seen Paul, the messenger. God had a message He wanted to deliver through Paul, faithfully, not only as a missionary, but also as a herald for Him as He sent him to Jerusalem and as He sent him to Rome. We walked with him through those chapters.
In this study we are finishing with Paul, the model. He is a pattern, an example, for all of us. We are looking at 2 Timothy 4:6-8, which record the very last days of his life. He makes a statement as he looks back over his life. He says, “I have no regrets whatsoever.” Young people, listen to what I am saying. You are beginning your journey. Do the things that you know to be right now so that when you get to the end of the journey, you can look back and say, “I have no regrets about my life.” Many of us have made mistakes and have already messed some things up. Hey, listen, God’s grace is still there. God’s mercy is there to help you bear up under those consequences. Remember, every choice you make is going to one day bear a consequence. It’s going to be an eternal consequence in your life, somehow. So we need to start now so that one day, like Paul, we can get to the end of our journey, look back and say, “I have no regrets.”
When Paul said this, he was in a rat-infested, dirty, remote prison of Rome. Onesiphorus went to find him and could hardly find him. He had to search all over Rome to find him. It’s a very sad ending, as far as men think, for a man who was a bond-servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet he says, as he looks back over his life, “I have no regrets whatsoever.” He didn’t have two cars in his garage. He didn’t even own a house. He didn’t have several suits in his closet. He only had the clothes that were on his back. He was a man who had abandoned himself to be a bond-servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. When it comes down to the very end of his life, he says, “I have no regrets.”
In verse 6 he does something that is very precious. He is in this cell. Verses 9 through 13 show us that he was cold, lonely, bored and about to meet his death. In verse 6 Paul says, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.” Paul takes an inward look. Now you say, “Where do you get that out of the scripture?” Well, you have to learn what it means to be poured out as a drink offering. Spendo is the Greek verb there. It means to be poured out, to pour out one’s life, to pour out one’s blood, to make a libation. A libation is a drink offering.
To understand a drink offering you have got to go to the Old Testament. A drink offering in the Old Testament was something they did upon a sacrifice. They would pour it upon a sacrifice that was on the altar. It was usually wine, and it would evaporate immediately. After it evaporated, it left a soothing, sweet aroma to the sacrifice. It enhanced the sacrifice. That is a very precious picture here in 2 Timothy. Paul says, “Now I am the drink offering. I am being poured out like a drink offering.” In the New Testament it means when you and I pour out our lives as a drink offering and we spend our lives as a drink offering for the sake of Christ and for the sake of others, we are selflessly doing something in obedience to Christ. As a result of that, it sweetens the aroma of the gospel and the integrity of what Christianity is all about.
Let me illustrate. When you find a man like Paul who is willing to suffer for the Lord Jesus Christ, for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ, what that does is sweeten the testimony of others when they share what Jesus did for us on the cross. People say, “You know, I hear you talking about Jesus. I see your walk, living and serving Him and suffering for Him. There is something to this. This has got to be real, because I can see what God is doing in your life.” It sweetens, softens and soothes the way the people receive the message of the gospel of Christ.
It also sweetens the testimony of other Christians who are living righteously before God. You see what’s happened in our country in the past several years, the shame that has been brought on Christianity. It has not sweetened the testimony. It has not sweetened the gospel. It has soured it. But when you and I are willing to live lives and walk worthy as we are supposed to walk worthy, we sweeten that testimony once again. It doesn’t sour. It sweetens it in people’s minds. When they think of Christians and when they think of Christ, they see something that they want in their own life.
So when Paul says, “I am being poured out as a drink offering,” I think what he is doing here is looking inward. Why have I spent my life? What have I done in my life? Have my motives been pure? I think Paul is saying, “I’ve not been perfect. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but the reason I did what I did was for the sake of Christ and the sake of others. I had nothing in it for myself. I only wanted to please God.” To say that Paul lived perfectly would be erroneous, even though we don’t have the illustrations of the mistakes that he made. We still know he was a person just like you and me. He looked back and said, “If I’ve got to sum it up, I’ve got no regrets. I’m being poured out as a drink offering. My martyrdom which is coming, my impending death, my dying for the sake of Christ and for the sake of others, is pure in my heart “ By the way, when a Roman citizen died under the Roman penalty of death, it was usually by the sword, which meant he was going to be beheaded. Paul was thinking, “I have no regrets whatsoever. I would not go back and change anything.”
Now I don’t know what that does to you, but that excites me to know that one of these days when I face the last days of my life, it’s possible for me to look back and know that I can have no regrets. I’ve come a little further than last year. It gets a little further every year. It’s amazing how that works. Listen, New Year’s resolutions don’t mean anything because most of us never keep them anyway. However, when we finally go on and nail it down and purpose in our heart, we are going to be what God wants us to be. When we start living that way, we have just guaranteed something. We have just guaranteed the fact that when we come to the end of our days, there will be no regrets whatsoever in our life. That is what Paul is saying. He took an inward look, and his motives were pure.
Secondly, he took a backward look. In other words, he looks back and looks at his ministry. You say, “How do you know that, Wayne? It is not in the text.” It’s by implication. He mentions three things here that unless they are in a person’s life, they do not have a profitable ministry. When he looks back, I think he senses that his ministry has been profitable. Now, I don’t mean monetarily. I am talking about spiritually. It has blessed and touched the lives of people. That’s what we are all about. If we are doing it for the sake of Christ, we certainly want to affect others around us. There are three things that must be a part of our life if our ministry is to be profitable. Every one of us have a ministry. What are they?
First of all he says, “I have fought the good fight.” I love that because the word for “fight” and “fought” is the same word for “struggle.” I have struggled the good struggle. It’s in the perfect tense. It means it’s over with now. It is done, and now I’ve got something else to look forward to. In other words, all of my life is filled with a struggle. You may be a Christian and you are worried about your salvation. Every day you struggle and struggle and struggle and you even wonder if you are saved sometimes because you don’t want to do what the Spirit wants you to do. Listen, folks, that’s the Christian life. To say there is no struggle involved in it is to miss completely what it is all about.
Paul says, “Hey, I have fought the good fight.” The word for fight, agon, is found many times in Scripture. Almost every single time, it deals not with the fight with the devil, not with the fight over the gospel, but the fight between the flesh and the spirit. Paul is saying, “I have won the battle over myself.” The biggest enemy I have in the world today is what I looked at in the mirror when I got up each morning. It is not very pretty. It’s me. Do you know how to win the battle over self? How it is defeated? By saying “yes” to the Lord Jesus Christ you’ve just said “no” to your old wicked self, your flesh. “Oh, but Paul wasn’t like us. Paul didn’t have the same like passions as we have.” Oh, yes, he did! Whatever makes you think that? He was just like we are. He had the same temptations. He had the same problems, but in his struggle, he said, “I have fought. It is over with now and I have won the battle over myself.” That didn’t mean some skirmishes were not lost along the way, but the overall victory in his mind was, “I have no regrets whatsoever.”
Now where is that struggle? In Philippians 1:27-30, he was struggling in his walk. Do you struggle in your walk as you attempt to walk worthy of Christ every day? We have to make choices. You go out in the market place. I know some of you say, “You preachers don’t know what life is all about.” Well, probably not, but I am glad that you do what you do and I do what I do. You tell me what it is like. As you go out in the world, you are no different from anybody else. There is going to be a struggle in your walk if you try to walk worthy of Christ. I guarantee you there is going to be a struggle. Anybody who says there is not is totally deceived and is either lying or doesn’t understand. There was a struggle in Paul’s walk.
In Colossians 2:1, we saw there is a struggle in his work. Paul had the struggle of trying to make people understand something in the flesh that they could only understand in the spirit. That was his struggle. You are going to have struggles in your work.
Not only that, you are going to have struggles in your witness. Every time Paul witnessed, he either got put in jail, was beaten up or something else. Paul probably got tired of it. He told the Thessalonians, “I just came out of Philippi, and they beat me up. Now I am over here and I have had a struggle in this whole thing.” I guess he did. He was getting tired of getting hit. Sure enough, he got the same thing. He started a riot in Thessalonica. Everywhere you follow him, he is always in a fight. After a while you may say, “It’s not worth it anymore.” There is a struggle in your witness.
Do you ever struggle with what someone may say to you if you try to share Christ with them? There is the possible embarrassment and the fear of being humiliated. Hey, welcome to the Christian life. That’s the normal Christian life. You and I are going to struggle with those kinds of things, but listen, we can live the kind of life so that one day we can look back and say, “I have no regrets. I fought the good fight.” It is a good fight. The word good, kalos, means “inherently good.” It is something that comes along with the turf. It is not something we initiate. It is something God initiated when He came into our life, and it’s a fight that is going to go on until the very day that we die. He fought the good fight. Now when you win that fight, your ministry is profitable. People are going to be blessed, not by you, but by the Holy Spirit of God manifest in Christ through you.
Secondly, Paul finished the course. He said, “I have finished the course.” What does the word “finished” mean? Well, it is a word which means “completing a goal, accomplishing a goal.” In other words, Paul is saying, “God stopped me on the road to Damascus. I am an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and to the very end I never bailed out. I let Him use me. Now in the last days of my life, I have no regrets whatsoever. It cost me, yes. But it has been absolutely worth it all to be a servant of the Lord Jesus.”
You see, God cares more about how you finish than how you start. I hear people all the time saying, “Years ago, God really used me. I used to witness. I used to be in the Word.” Listen, if you can look back and find a time when you loved Jesus more than you love Him right now, then you are not finishing very well. You might have started great; however, the key is not how you start, it is how you finish. Paul said, “I have finished the course, regardless of what it cost me. Now look at what He gave me. I am in a dirty, rat-infested cell. I am about to have my head cut off, but I have at least allowed God to accomplish in me what He wanted to accomplish. I have no regrets whatsoever.” Would you like to live a life like that? Boy, I would. I would love to face those last days and be able to look back and not regret the missed opportunities of letting God use me.
Well, thirdly Paul kept the faith. What does it mean to keep the faith? Well, he is talking here about the counsel of the Word of God, not just the gospel. Yes, that’s part of it, but Paul is talking about the Word of God. “He didn’t have all the Word of God,” you say. That’s right, but what he had, he kept. He never changed his message. The same is true of us today. We can never waiver from what the Word of God says. Paul was not on his own agenda. He was preaching what God’s Word said.
How did he keep it? The word “kept” has the idea of observing, obeying and preserving something. The way he preserved it was by proclaiming it faithfully. The way he observed it was by obeying it in his life. He kept the faith. You say, “Well, how do you know that his ministry was profitable?” Well friend, listen, when you keep the faith, somebody is going to be blessed by that in the sphere of influence that you have. That’s the only way it is ever going to happen. We could have programs. We could streamline everything we do, and all we would have are numbers and flesh. That’s all we are going to have. But when we start getting right with God and start living honorably before Him, God reaches in and through us makes our ministry profitable in the changing hearts of others.
Well, now we come to Part 3 of this study. I had to show you that he took an inward look, his motive was pure, and he had no regrets. He took a backward look, and his ministry was profitable, and he had no regrets. Now he takes an upward look. Paul is in prison about to be martyred, and he looks up to what’s ahead of him. It says there in verse 8, “in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” The third point is Paul took an upward look and he saw that his mandate was priceless.
What is a mandate? It is an order, a command. Paul has been living as an apostle, a bond-servant of Christ, and God has commanded him in his life. He has lived obedient to that. The mandate that he has lived under is priceless. What do I mean by that? Nothing in this world could ever, ever, ever, ever reward him for what he is doing. Only God Himself could reward him. As far as the things of this world is concerned, the mandate Paul was under was priceless. He was privileged to be under the royal mandate of what God had given him. He looked forward to the reward one day, when He would be in the presence of the Lord Jesus Himself. No wonder Paul could be used like he was used.
There is one thing you find about the apostle Paul that blesses my heart. Paul could not be bought. Paul was his own man. No, he wasn’t his own man, he was God’s man, and he wasn’t about to let anybody buy him. Nobody could get him on their side. He was on God’s side. He was single-minded in everything that he did. As a matter of fact, as a result of that, he says in Galatians 1:10, “If I start pleasing men in any way, shape or form, I have ceased, at that moment, to be a bond-servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul understood that. Paul said, “What I do is not for personal gain. What I do is not to make people like me. What I do is in obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Oh, if we could all live that way. Stop worrying about what people think and only be concerned about what God thinks. When you are right with God, you are going to be right with others. That’s the way it works. Paul was a man who was sold out. He was so sold out he chose never to take money from churches. Now that was unusual. It wasn’t wrong to take money from churches. As a matter of fact, he defends ministers being paid by the churches. But because his ministry was to the Gentiles, Paul chose never to take a dime for anything that he did. He did not want the Gentiles to misunderstand what he was doing. He wanted them to know, “I am here to give you something, not take something from you.” He had to explain himself to the rich church at Corinth for his refusal to take money. He said, “Listen, if I have the right to take it, don’t I have the right not to take it?” That carnal church at Corinth had given him problems because they said he wasn’t a real apostle. They couldn’t understand why he refused to take the money. That is why he could say in Philippians 4:11, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances that I am.”
What we see in 2 Timothy 4:8 is that finally Paul is getting close to what he has been looking forward to all along. He wasn’t doing what he was doing for earthly rewards. He was doing what he was doing for a heavenly reward. As far as the earth was concerned, it was priceless. Nobody can match it. He was looking forward, not to what men thought was priceless, but to what God thought was priceless. One day he would be in the presence of the King. Since he had observed and preserved the faith, he knew that God had reserved something for him in heaven. He was looking forward to it: “in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge will reward to me on that day.”
Now I want us to look at that verse and see what we can pull out of it, because there are some rich truths that are found in this verse. What are you living for? What are you looking for? I had a friend one time that called me up and said, How much are you making?” Well, I told him. He said, “I am only making such and such. I have only got a small church, and my car doesn’t work.” I could tell from the way he was talking that he was evidently looking for something more in this life. We talked and shared. It was precious to be able to share with him what God had to share with me through a brother years before. This is not what we live for. We are not in this world to get bigger salaries and more things. We are in this world to do the will of our Father so that one day the reward will be something that is so eternally precious that it will bless us for all time.
Well, look at what Paul says. He says, “in the future there is laid up for me.” The term “in the future” is the Greek word loipon. It refers to what is left or what is remaining. Paul is simply saying, “There is something remaining now, and it is bigger than what I have had before. I am turned another way now. Now I am looking upward. I am going out of here, and I’ve got something left. I’ve got something remaining, and it is going to be an eternal thing that is going to happen.”
Now what is laid up for him? He said, “there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness.” We need to talk about that. “There is laid up” is a verb that is in the present middle voice. Now, I am sorry. When I use that I am not trying to confuse you, I am trying to tell you something. There is an importance in watching the tenses of these verbs. Present tense means it’s consistently going on right now. Middle voice, however, means that it is on its own. It’s keeping itself. Now that’s important. I’ll try to explain it. The verb is not in the passive voice. God is not keeping it from me. It’s keeping itself.
What causes it to keep itself? Because Paul lived consistent down here, there was something remaining in heaven consistently keeping itself. In other words, Paul says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” By the consistency of his life, he guaranteed himself something in heaven that was keeping itself for Paul one day when he got there. Let me say it another way. What Paul learned is what we need to learn. He was determining, by the consistency in his own life down here, a reward that was waiting on him up there. People don’t seem to understand that. They think they can live anyway they want to live down here, make any kind of choices they want to make and get to heaven, and it’s all going to be equal for all men. No, it’s not! Listen, folks, he struggled. He struggled like I struggle. He struggled like you struggle. But he made up his mind in the midst of the struggle, not to give in to it. He decided to go on and say yes to the Spirit of God. As a result, he caused something to happen in heaven. As a result of that, that reward was keeping itself, holding itself, and waiting on Paul to get there. It was directly parallel and in proportion to his life of consistency down here on this earth.
Who is going to give that reward to him? He said, “there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness [we will talk about that in a moment] which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day.” God knew his life down here, and one day there was going to reward him for it.
What’s the crown of life? The term for crown is stephanos. We get the names “Stephen and Stephanie” from that word. It’s not a ruler’s crown; that’s a diadem. Stephanos is a victor’s crown. It means somebody has paid the price. It means somebody has been willing to put out. The effort has been made to obey. As a result of the consistency of all of that, there is a reward now for that individual when he gets to heaven.
Look at 1 Corinthians 9:24. It gives you a picture here of an athlete. I love this. Paul uses almost the same parallel in 2 Timothy. He compares himself to a runner. He said, “When I started the race I was running all the way through. Now, not only have I finished the race, but I can look forward to the wreath, the crown that is given in recognition for having done what God wanted me to do.” In 1 Corinthians 9.24 he says, “Do you know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.” He is not saying that if we all get out and shoot the gun, only one of us is going to get the prize. I would run over you to get it. He is not saying that.
I ran track when I was in prep school. We went over to VMI and ran against their freshmen. They have a tunnel inside this big field house. I don’t know if you have ever run track or not. When we ran through that tunnel, strange things happened because there was only one prize. The people going through that tunnel knew that. People would knock you down. They would rip your jersey off. Why? They wanted that prize.
That’s not the way it is in the Christian life. Paul says in the same verse, “Not only do I have a crown, but everybody who loves His appearing has the same crown.” It is not as if I have to run over you to get the crown. No, I’ve got my own lane. If I am willing to run the race and if I finish the race, paying the price, the result is I will get the same crown Paul got. You will get the same crown Paul got. We will all get the same crown that Paul got. Isn’t that wonderful? That’s the reward at the end of the race.
Paul, in his last days, said “I look forward to that reward.” In verse 25 he said, “And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things.” They do it to receive a perishable wreath or a crown. We receive an imperishable one. Verse 26 continues, “Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim [Paul said, “I know what is coming]; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.” That doesn’t mean “kicked out of the kingdom.” It means “benched.” Nobody likes to sit on the bench, right?
Paul says, “I want to me right in the midst of the action. I want to be on the front line until the day I die. Therefore, I have made some choices, and I am going to serve God regardless.” Now at the end of his life he is getting the reward of that. Now he turns and looks forward. “I have finished the course.” Hey, that has to happen first. Then they have the ceremony of giving the rewards. He says, “Now, I am looking forward to the reward from my Lord, whom I served on this earth.”
Let me say this about the crown. The crown is a picture and a symbol of recognition. Now listen very carefully. Paul was recognized on this earth for having lived righteously. That’s nice, but it is far greater to be recognized in heaven for having lived righteously on earth. The word “righteousness” has to do with relationships. Hang on to that. If I say I am righteous, it means I am right with God, and I am right with my fellow man. The very moment I am not right with God is when my relationships show it because I am not living the life God would have me to live. Paul said, “I have lived a life that has been right with God and right with man. They may not have been right with me, but I was right with them. To this very day I look back and have no regrets. I am not ashamed to go on in to heaven because I am looking forward to the crown of righteousness that will be given me there.”
When is this crown going to be given? This is very important. He says, “in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge [that’s very important because He is the only one capable of giving this crown. He knows what Paul has done. He is the only one who knows.] will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” Now what in the world is Paul talking about? What is “that day”? Well, “that day” is not a 24-hour period. It is a time period longer than that. It is a time when many events are involved in the picture. It starts with the rapture of the church. Some of you may believe that the church is not going to be raptured. I am not going to let you be my enemy. I am just going to tell you straight out. Stay here if you want. I am going with the first load. It is clearly taught in 1 Thessalonians 4 that God is going to come in the clouds and take us up to be with Him. We know that God is coming for His church.
When He comes for His church and immediately when we get into His presence, we are going to experience what they call the Bema, the Judgment Seat of Christ. The purpose of the Bema is not to “get us.” It is to reward us. Some people are scared to death of the Judgment of the Christians. It is not to judge our sins. Those were judged on the cross. It is to judge our deeds that were done in the body. It is not supposed to be a bad thing. It is supposed to be a good thing. It is supposed to be something that we look forward to. As a matter of fact, he says, “…to all who have loved His appearing.” The word “appearing” there is epiphaneia. It means “the outshining, the time when He makes Himself known to men.” We associate that with judgment, but you have got to be real careful.
The word epiphaneia can also parallel the word parousia. That’s the word that we really hang on to. Look in 1 Thessalonians 4:14, and I will show you. These are synonymous with each other. There are certain events that are going to take place in this world. Paul says, “I look forward to that day.” Now listen, Paul lived hundreds of years ago. When he died, did he get his reward then? No, he has to wait. He is going to get it the same time we get ours. It is a programmed set time when the rewards are given for faithful service to the Lord Jesus Christ. “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.” When Paul says “those who have fallen asleep” he means those who have died, the righteous, dead people. Now if God is going to bring them with Him, how can they be in the ground? How could he be talking about the body? He is not. You see, the moment a believer dies immediately his spirit goes to be with the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul says to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.
So what Paul is saying here is, “There is going to come a day when He is going to bring with Him those who have fallen asleep. Their spirits are going to come with Him.” Then he says in verse 15, “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord [The word there is parousia. It is synonymous with epiphaneia, the revealing of the Lord, the appearing of the Lord.] shall not proceed those who have fallen asleep.” In other words, when He comes their spirits are going to be with Him, and their bodies are going to come up out of the ground. Isn’t that incredible? What about the person who got blown up in Vietnam? I don’t know. God will speak them back into existence somehow. They are going to have a body, but it is going to be a glorified body to wrap around their immortal spirit. That is going to take place in the twinkling of an eye. That means before you can even blink.
Verse 16 reads, “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ [their bodies] shall rise first.” Remember, their spirits come with Him, but their bodies shall rise first.
Then verse 17 says, “Then we who are alive and remain shall be [here is where you get the teaching on the rapture. It is never used as a noun. It is only used as a verb. It’s the word harpazo] caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord.” That has got to happen first. Paul, hundreds of years ago, knew that he was about to be martyred. He also knew that in the future, way in the future, there was going to come a time when the Lord, the righteous Judge, was going to give him a crown, a recognition for having lived faithful to Him hundreds of years ago. At the same time, He is going to give it to you and me. If we are taken up alive, then we are all going to be in the company of some pretty good folks when the rewards are passed out. Part of those present will be those who have lived to receive that crown of righteousness. I don’t understand it beyond the fact that it is a recognition up there for having lived down here the way God wanted us to live. That’s all I know. From that point on, I have to bail out.
I know that the word parousia was used in secular Greek. It was used of a time when the governor would come to the province. When the people of the province knew he was coming, they would take up a tax. They would use the money to make a crown, and when he got there, they would give him the crown. So the crowns were not for the people. The crowns were to be given back to the one who was the judge. If that same symbolism carries over, when the crowns are given out, what are we to do with them? We are to turn around and give them back to Him, because we don’t deserve them. It is because of Him that we received the crown to begin with. I don’t know if that can be taught.
Paul said, “There is coming a day right here in this rat-infested cell. I haven’t got anything except the clothes on my back. I am lonely. I am cold, and I am bored. The end of my life is coming, but I have no regrets. Man, when I look at the future, when I look at what is coming for me, my mandate on this earth was priceless. There is nothing in this world they could give me to compare with what is coming for me one day when I stand before the righteous Judge and He gives me the crown of righteousness.
Do you look forward to that day? Do you look forward to the Lord looking at you and saying, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” I think Paul is trying to tell us something in all of this. In Ephesians we are going to get into the great truths of who Christ is and what He has done for us. Let’s remember a man who lived everything we are going to study in Ephesians. He lived it. He not only knew it, but he lived it. As a result of living it, at the end of his life, he could say, “I have no regrets whatsoever. I look back, and I wouldn’t change a thing. I didn’t have it like everybody else had it. I was beaten. They tried to assassinate me. I was in shipwrecks and on and on and on. It was worth it all. When I look at the future, I look forward to that day when I will receive that crown. Then I can take that crown and put it back at the feet of Jesus.”
Folks, to me that is the way to live a life without regrets. Take an inward look. Are your motives pure? Why do you do what you do? Take a backward look. Look back over your life. Do you have any regrets? I want to tell you something. When you take it into your own hands and try to make things happen, it’s not going to sweeten the aroma. It is going to sour it. We have got to continue to come back to a truth that holds us accountable in every area of our life. “Jesus, be Jesus in me, no longer me, but Thee. Resurrection power, fill me this hour, Jesus be Jesus in me.” I can’t, and God, You never said I could. You can, and You always said You would. If we will learn to let that truth hold us accountable, one day we will come to a point, look back and say, “You know what, I have no regrets whatsoever. Lord, when I see it, I see Your hand all over it. I look forward to the future because I am not ashamed to stand before the righteous Judge one day.” I want to hear Him say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”