Paul wanted to know his Lord. He wanted to know the power of Christ’s resurrection. And he wanted to share in his sufferings. He strives to become like him in his death and so attain to the resurrection. And it seems clear that he did not simply acquire this knowledge as a result of his conversion. It was his hungry pursuit at the time of his writing. Paul was quite explicit that he is still acquiring this knowledge.
Can we ever be confident of God’s specific will for our lives? It is always amazing how confidently Paul expresses his thoughts on God’s specific will for his own life and that of others as well. Talking from prison where he was awaiting an imperial decision as to whether to execute him or not, Paul had this to say:
For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress in and joy in the faith, so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.
There are a number of startling aspects to his mindset that deserve further attention.
Origins of the Word Confidence that Paul Uses
In verse 25, given above, Paul uses a word that the English Standard Version of the Bible translates as “convinced”. That word is peitho is defined as:
“…to persuade, to have confidence …”
The HELPS Word-studies has this to say:
“The Lord persuades the yielded believer to be confident in His preferred-will”
This is not an unusual word in Scripture. In fact, we find this small word and its derivatives 53 times in the New Testament and 22 times in Paul’s writings. Paul has already used it twice in this letter:
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ … And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
Philippians 1:6,14 ESV italics mine
It was obviously a favourite word of Paul’s and amongst the believers of his day. The idea of confidence, of assurance, and growing in confidence was central to their understanding of their Christian walk. But the question remains. We can grow in assurance or certainty as to our eternal destiny. But can we ever be confident as to God’s specific will for our lives? In order to answer that question we need to grasp Paul’s full understanding of this term.
Confident in God’s Sovereignty
The authorities of the day were weighing up the decision as to whether Paul should live or die. But here in his personal account on the subject, he does not refer to any of the factors that would have been decisive in their decision-making.