Paradoxical Blessings of Christ
The New Testament contains numerous references to the blessings of Christ. Most of these blessings are obvious and are stated in language that is easy to understand. There are other blessings that are not so obvious and represent what is called a paradox. By definition, a paradox is a seemingly contradictory statement that is nonetheless true. Some of the blessings of Christ are presented in the form of a paradox, i.e. the nature of the blessing is not easy to see at first, appearing, in fact, as a contradiction. In such cases the student must think a little harder and dig a little deeper to gain an accurate understanding and appreciation of the blessing involved as it is not stated in obvious terms. Let’s take a look at some of the blessings which we have in Christ that can be described as a paradox..
The Paradox of Slavery
Our first example is found in a statement made by Paul in Romans 6:18. “And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” On the surface Paul’s statement appears to be a contradiction. How can one be free and a slave at the same time? As we study the subject of salvation in the New Testament we learn that one must be in Christ in order to be saved (Acts 4:10-12). Getting into Chris t involves submission and obedience to His will (Acts 2:38; Gal. 3:26,27). Any one who is obedient to Christ and living in subjection to Him is in effect a slave of Christ. The Apostle Paul often referred to himself as Christ’s slave (Romans 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:1).
In one’s slavery to Christ, however, there is the blessing of freedom from sin. In Christ we have been set from the shackles of sin. Paul tells us that we are all sinners and the result of sin is death (Romans 3:23; 6:23). But our obedience to Christ sets us free from sin and its consequences. Paul says, “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered and having been set free from sin you became the slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:17,18). Furthermore, he states, “But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.” And again, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:21,23). Slavery (submission and obedience) to Christ produces eternal life and is much to be preferred over slavery to sin, which results in eternal death.
The Paradox of Suffering
Another paradox is expressed in Philippians 1:29. “For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” An apparent contradiction can be seen in this verse involving the words “granted” and “suffer.” We normally associate the term “granted” with the bestowal of a gift, blessing or honor. For example, a king might grant Knighthood to a valorous soldier; an heir is granted an inheritance; or a deserving employee is granted a promotion. In Philippians 1:29, however, we see that on behalf of Christ it is granted to a Christian that he suffer for Christ’s sake. Thus, among the blessings of Christ is the paradoxical duty of suffering. Why is it that suffering is here spoken of in terms of a grant or blessing? In what way can suffering be described as a blessing?
Different aspects of the answer can be found throughout the New Testament as suffering is a prominent gospel theme. One such passage is 1 Peter 4:12-16, which was written to Christians who had been called upon to suffer for the name of Christ. Peter states: “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings . . . If you are reproached for Christ’s sake, blessed are you, for the spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. . . .Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him glorify
God . . .” Suffering as a Christian thus identifies us with Christ and is in keeping with the treatment that our Lord received upon this earth.
Furthermore, 2 Corinthians 4:11ff teaches us that our suffering provides an occasion that “the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” And our suffering is described in the same context as a “light affliction, which is but for a moment, [and] is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Suffering, therefore – unpleasant to experience – produces in us an increased faith and the knowledge that through our faithful endurance, Christ is being glorified.
The Paradox of Mourning
Jesus’ sermon on the mount recorded in Matthew chapters five through seven is addressed to a multitude of common people who had suffered and been taken advantage of in many ways. Yet, in the midst of their misfortunes true happiness could be found. Jesus teaches them that happiness (i.e. blessedness) can be achieved through mourning. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Again, it sounds ironic. It is another paradox. We must mourn in order to achieve true happiness. What type of mourning produces this blessedness. Here Jesus is not talking about a pessimist, who complains about everything. He is not talking about a selfish person whose is bitter because his ambitions have been denied. The type of mourning that produces happiness is that mourning over our moral and spiritual shortcomings that ultimately drives us toward God. It is nice to be upbeat had positive, but Jesus came to make us good (righteous) not merely to feel good. There is a time for mourning over our lost condition (Ecc 3:4). Those who recognize the reality and tragedy of their sin will realize that only through Christ can those sins be overcome. The prodigal son of Luke 15 is a perfect example of the positive effects of mourning. This profligate did not seek the blessings of home until he came to grips with his deplorable condition. Maybe there was some aspect of good in the idea of the old “mourner’s bench” in that it reminds us of the fact that sin and the condition it produces in our lives is something to be mourned. Only when you realize that you are lost will you seek salvation. Take time to mourn over your own sins, then seek forgiveness through Christ.
The Paradox of Homelessness
Heaven is often described as our heavenly home. Speaking of the faithful of old, Hebrews 11:16 says, “But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” Receiving the blessing of a heavenly home, however, often requires that we leave the comfort, familiarity and security of our earthly home. In order to inherit the heavenly home spoken of Hebrews 11, Abraham had to leave his earthly home in Chaldea, travel to places he had never been before, and live as a wanderer for the remainder of his life. He spent his life, as did the other patriarchs, seeking a homeland.
We must also be willing to leave our homes – our “comfort zone”– in order to serve the Lord. This may literally mean leaving the land of our birth and upbringing. It may entail severing ties with our family. Jesus says in Matthew 10:37,39: “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life will find it.” How much are willing to give up to follow Christ. Our home? Our family? Our habits? Our recreation? Our friends? Our self? Again Jesus says in Matthew 10:38: “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.” The cross spoken of here is our burden of obedience. Whatever it may be! The fact is, that in order to win the eternal home in heaven, we must be willing to give up our home on earth.
Rest assured, however, that the home is heaven is incomparably better. 2 Corinthians 5:1f describes heaven as a permanent home compared with the temporary home here on earth. It is a home that will never decay, eternal in the heavens, whose builder and maker is God. Furthermore, Jesus promises that whatever we give up in our earthly home will be returned as much as a hundred fold in heaven (Mk 10:30).