‘Rejoice, rejoice,’ says a Graham Kendrick song, ‘Christ is in you, the hope of glory.’ He’s quoting the apostle Paul, drawing it from Colossians 1:27. And I am sure the songwriter did not intend it to be triumphalist even though some singers sing it that way. Anyway, Paul was no ‘triumphalist, either in testimony or doctrine.
Of himself, he testifies: “I am the foremost of sinners” 1 Tim 1:15; “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is in my flesh. I can will what is right but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do… wretched man that I am!” Rom 7:18,19,24 .
Some people regard him as over-bold, but of himself he writes: I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling.” 1 Cor 2:3 When he went to Macedonia he suffered “fears within”. 2 Co 7:5 And his opponents taunted him that “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account”. 2 Cor 10:10 In fact, in Galatia, it was a “bodily ailment” that held him there to preach the gospel to them in the first place. His condition was a trial to the Galatians. Gal 4:13-14
So Paul suffered from sin in the flesh, physical disabilities and emotional turmoil. And to keep him humble (!) he experienced a “thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass him” 2 Cor 12:7; something which God refused to remove on the grounds that, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Co 12:9 So, when it came to boasting, Paul was happier to boast of his weaknesses than of his revelations. “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities; for when I am weak, then am I strong”. 2 Cor 12:10
However, this ‘strength’ has to be exercised in fortitude, perseverance, courage and obedience; and in competition with every feeling of weakness and fear, every surge of temptation. So, in regard to the flesh, Paul boxes- not shadow-boxing, beating the air- he pommels his own body to subdue it. Of course, this doesn’t mean self-flagellation (!) but, as the Amplified Bible puts it: “I buffet my body- handle it roughly, discipline it by hardships- and subdue it”. 1Cor 9:26-27 He doesn’t want to be rejected as a counterfeit. And this strenuous self-discipline is actually the proof of Christ in him, the evidence of the hope of glory in him. He is not running aimlessly; he is running so as to win the prize.
Paul is Christ’s example to the church. What is true of him must be true of me, of us. His remedies are ours: Wrestling, fighting, praying and pommelling! So be it. Amen.