“THE THINGS WHICH HAPPENED UNTO ME”
One of the striking features of Paul’s epistles is the great number of times in which he talks about himself and describes things that he did, or things which happened unto him. No other apostle says so much about himself, or conveys the details of personal experiences and the like, as the apostle Paul does. And this isn’t simply because Paul wrote more epistles than any other apostle did. For in just about any one of Paul’s epistles he makes more personal references and relates more personal experiences than either Peter or John, for example, make in the total number of their respective epistles. Paul’s profuse talking of himself is something which is even recognized and often latched onto by Bible critics and scoffers. They ridicule Paul for being an egotist. He preached against idolatry, they say, but he himself was the biggest “I”-dolator. Paul had an ‘eye problem’ alright, they say, but it wasn’t of the physical kind. It was with his “I do this,” and “I do that”; along with his “I am this,” and “I am that.” They brand Paul as a braggart and an arrogant boaster. It is evident, they say, from the way Paul repeatedly draws attention to himself, that he was simply an opportunist who saw a means for self-promotion in the controversy surrounding Jesus, and he made the most of it.
Though the conclusions of infidels and ignorant men are not bothersome, it is nevertheless important that we ourselves understand and appreciate why it is that God had the apostle Paul say so much in his epistles regarding himself. For, in truth, it was by Divine design that Paul wrote what he wrote. It is in connection with God’s own purpose that Paul says so much about himself and what happened to him. Paul, therefore, did not talk about himself and his experiences as a braggart, but as the apostle of God, Who desired him to do just that for some very specific reasons. Reasons, once again, which we should greatly appreciate.
Of all of the reasons God had for Paul saying so much about himself and his experiences, two in particular stand out from the rest, and are also clearly set forth by Paul as being the major reasons for why he did so. And neither reason had anything to do with promoting himself, but instead with magnifying the grace of God, and the magnificence of Himself and what He is doing.
The first of these two major reasons for why God had Paul talk so much about himself is so that the great dispensational change which He ushered in when He raised up Paul would be magnified and be made evident. As Paul explains to the Roman saints….
“Nevertheless, brethren, I have written the more boldly unto you in some sort, as putting you in mind, because of the grace that is given to me of God,
That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.
I have therefore whereof I may glory through Jesus Christ in those things which pertain to God.” (Rom. 15:15-17)
As he ends this epistle, Paul is underscoring to the saints in Rome the truth of the great dispensational change which God has brought in. First, he reminded them of how things were in time past with Jesus Christ as the “minister of the circumcision” and Gentile reception awaiting the fulfillment of God’s program with Israel, just as the prophets set forth.
“Now I say that Jesus Christ WAS A MINISTER OF THE CIRCUMCISION for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers:
And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name.
And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people.
And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people.
And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust.” (Romans 15:8-12)
Again, this is how things were before God brought in this dispensation of grace. As Paul set forth in detail in Romans 9-11, God has now set aside for a time His program and dealings with Israel and has turned to us Gentiles. God has now ushered in a great dispensational change. He has a new and different program in effect now with us Gentiles. Hence, Paul says that Jesus Christ “WAS A MINISTER OF THE CIRCUMCISION…” He isn’t functioning as such now. In connection with this great dispensational change God raised up Paul as a brand new apostle and established him as “the apostle of the Gentiles.” Though the Romans knew the truth of this great dispensational change, Paul wanted them fully assured of it. And so, as Paul says, he “put them in mind” regarding it, boldly reminding them of the distinctiveness of his apostleship and the “grace that is given to me of God” in connection with what God is now doing. It’s in view of this that Paul says in verse 17,…
“I have therefore whereof I may glory through Jesus Christ in those things which pertain to God.”
Paul had a reason not only for why he “may glory through Jesus Christ” in connection with what God is now doing, but for why he should glory. God had revealed the great dispensational change to him and had made him “the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles,” and was accordingly manifesting the truth of the change through him both by “word and deed.”
For this reason God had Paul glory in connection with who he was. For this reason God had Paul repeatedly talk about the grace given unto him, his gospel, and the things Christ worked by him. Therefore, not only in Romans but in all his epistles Paul speaks boldly concerning who he is and what God has done with him in raising him up. Not to promote himself at all, but to magnify the grace of God in “the offering up of the Gentiles” which is now going on, and to, as with the Romans, provide all the members of the “new creation” with the constant reminder and full assurance of the great dispensational change God has brought about. Hence, we find Paul talking about himself and his minisry repeatedly, as in the following few examples.
“For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles: I MAGNIFY MY OFFICE.” (Romans 11:13)
“Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to MY GOSPEL, AND THE PREACHING OF JESUS CHRIST ACCORDING TO THE REVELATION OF THE MYSTERY, WHICH WAS KEPT SECRET SINCE THE WORLD BEGAN,…” (Romans 16:25)
“For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles,
If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to youward:
How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words,
Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ)
Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit;
That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel:
Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power.
Unto me, who am the less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;…” (Ephesians 3:1-8)
The second major reason why God had Paul talk so much about himself and relate to us so many of his personal experiences was to provide us an example from which to learn how God’s grace and the excellency of the power of God’s word is to work within us in the details of our lives. Through how God comforted and strengthened Paul we are to learn about the provision and operation of God for comforting, strengthening, and empowering us in this dispensation of grace. Paul declared that this was the case with him in II Corinthians 1:3-4.
“Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;
Who comforteth us in all of our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.
For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation aboundeth by Christ.
And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.” (II Corinthians 1:3-4)
Paul also pointed this out to the Corinthians in connection with all the particular afflictions and troubles he was experiencing,…
“For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God.” (II Cor. 4:15)
The “all things” Paul refers to in this verse are all the things he was going through that he noted in the previous verses of chapter 4 — the “trouble,” the “perplexity,” the “persecution,” being “cast down,” “always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus.” (See vs.7-12) They were for the sake of the Corinthians and us. This is because in Paul and his example God set forth the issue of “the excellency of his power” working within the soul to produce stability and the glorification of God in the face of tribulations and sufferings, which naturally tend to produce the opposite. In Paul God sets forth for us the example of the “spirit of faith” in His word that He wants us to likewise have. God has provided for us, along with Paul, to glorify Him with thanksgivings for His “abundant grace” and the effectual working of His word within us.
In similar manner Paul wrote to the Philippians,…
“Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.” (Phil. 4:9)
Paul’s doctrine, along with his example, were to be followed by the Philippians. They saw in him the effectual working of God’s word that produced the peace in his soul and the contentment in the midst of all he went through. He was a living example unto them of God’s sustaining grace through the excellency of the power of His word working within.
For this reason Paul made an example out of himself repeatedly in this epistle, and in all of his epistles. In him God has provided for teaching us the issues of how His grace and the effectual working of His word is to operate in the various details of our lives.
Thank the Lord for His wisdom and grace in having Paul relate to us “the things which happened unto me.” No arrogant boaster is he, but rather the Divinely designed manifestor of the great dispensational change God has ushered in, and the demonstrator of the mechanics of living under grace, and by grace, to the glory of God. – K.R. Blades