The Apostle Paul’s Mystical Perspective: Part III

 

Prayer

Throughout his writings, Paul’s own personal mystical practices are revealed. First, Paul differentiates between private devotion and public worship. He says he speaks in tongues “by the Spirit” more than all the Christians in Corinth (1 Cor. 14:18), yet he would rather speak the word of God in a known language in the assembly so that all may receive edification.

And by comparing his intercessory prayer life to the groanings of childbirth, bringing to life new children into the Kingdom of God, Paul relates the fervency of his devotion. To the Galatians he relates his disappointment that they have received the teachings of the Judaizers, who taught that gentile Christians must be circumcised and follow Moses’ Law: “My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you”  (Galatians 4:19).

And in a significant passage in his letter to the Romans, Paul describes his experiences of praying in the spirit, a form of prayer that is beyond language: “

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  (Romans 8:26-27)

Paul also compares his experiences with intercessory prayer as a spiritual battle, waged not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers, the rulers of this world of darkness and wickedness in high places (Eph. 6:12).

Paul’s teachings are also permeated with references to mystical secrets and revelations, from the mystery of marriage, a man and a woman becoming one flesh as a reflection of Christ’s relationship with his bride the Church, to the “mystery of the gospel” as a whole.  The gospel, Paul relates, was once kept secret, hidden for long ages, but now has been manifested to all nations (Rom. 16:25). These mysteries were kept hidden from the spiritual rulers of this world, the forces of darkness:

But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, a wisdom which is hidden, which God ordained before the world, unto our glory: which none of the princes of this world knew; for if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.  (1 Cor. 2:7-8)

But the mysteries were hidden in order to fulfill God’s plan, a plan which is now revealed through the Church to all nations (Eph. 8:11). These mysteries of the Gospel are exceedingly rich, particularly for the gentiles who were once excluded from the promises of God. This mystery, Paul declares has been hidden for ages and generations, but has now been manifested to all.

Furthermore, God desires to make known the riches and the glory of this central Christian mystery, which is the possibility of oneness with God through Christ (Col. 1:26-27). To know Christ, to be identified with him, to be joined to him in one spirit, to be changed into the same image from glory to glory, to be seated with him in heavenly places, to be a part of his kingdom rather than finding one’s citizenship in this world—all these mystical ideas find expression in Paul’s teachings of the mysteries of the gospel of Christ, for in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3). If the Christian is dead, then he lives only by the animating spirit of Christ:

Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.  (Colossians 3:1-4)

Paul also speaks of the “mystery of iniquity” (2 Thess. 2:7) which will work in the world until the time of the appearance of the Anti-Christ and Christ’s triumphant return; yet the mystery of godliness is far greater, for Christ Himself is the mystery: 

He who was revealed in the flesh,
Was vindicated in the Spirit,
Seen by angels,
Proclaimed among the nations,
Believed on in the world,
Taken up in glory.  (I Tim. 3:16).

Paul implies that while a believer’s standing in Christ is not a result of works, the deeper mysteries of the Kingdom of God which are themselves unfathomable and may only be seen in this life through a “glass darkly,” may be received through diligent devotion and imparted by God’s grace.

Paul refers to Moses’ shining countenance when Moses descended Mount Sinai, noting the Israelites’ inability even to look on his face. Paul compares their inability to receive full and direct spiritual revelation to the same blindness the Corinthians have in reading the Scriptures. Moses had to wear a veil because the Israelites could not look at his face, even though Moses brought to them a law which was only temporary. This same veil remains upon their hearts, for their eyes have not been opened to see the truth of Christ’s appearance (2 Cor. 3:13-15).

As with Paul’s own blindness after his experience on the road to Damascus, this blindness is removed upon conversion and the receiving of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 3:16-17). And as a result of the new believer’s ability to receive revelation in the freedom of the Holy Spirit, he is able to truly see Christ and the manifestations of his glory.

Consequently, the believer is metamorphosized and transformed into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18). Paul’s belief in continual transformation and revelation is communicated in his prayer in the Letter to the Ephesians that “God might give them a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Christ, that their eyes might be enlightened to see the riches of their inheritance (Eph. 1:17-18). Thus, unlike the esoteric mysteries of the Greek mystery cults, all may receive the mysteries of the Kingdom of God if only they will turn aside from man’s wisdom and come in humility to Christ.

Finally, until a future Blog post, Paul describes how we are transformed or “metamorphosized” into the image of Christ.  Unlike those who believe that “practice” and diligent discipline, along with trial and error, are necessary to keep the laws of God, Paul relates that followers of Christ are under no such bondage.  Instead, we are changed into the image of Christ by seeing Him:

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

This is a confusing verse, but allow me to explain it the best I can. 

Since we believers have become new creatures in Christ, the veil of unbelief and carnality has been taken away and we can see into the realm of the Spirit.  Paul says that as we look into the mirror we see not ourselves, but instead we see the “glory of the Lord.”  Consequently, when we see Him, we are changed into the same image.  We become Christlike by seeing Him, not by seeing our faults and sins.

The term “glory” is in itself mystical, but I define it as “the acts and the attributes of God in self-manifestation.”  In other words, it’s just a reflection of who God is, just because He is God.  It’s the totality of the things God is and the things God does, just because He is God. 

Thus, when we look into the “mirror,” instead of seeing ourselves, we need to see the mystery (secret God wants to reveal) of Christ in us, the hope of glory:

Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God,  that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.  (Colossians 1:25-29).

Thus, Paul strove to see Christ Himself manifested in the lives of the believers he was teaching.

 

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