The key repeated word in our lesson today is distress. Synonyms to distress are anguish, torment, pain, suffering. Distress is not the same as fear or anxiety, it is not doubt or uncertainty, but it is physically and mentally hurting. Another synonym is heartache.
Why? Why is Paul in such agony and pain? What is it that is bringing this wise and well educate man anguish and distress? In large part it is the confirmed realization that he is not in charge. He is not the king of anything, the master of anything. He does not even have control of his own actions and emotions. He wants to do one thing and he does the opposite. He wants to fill his thoughts with one thing and he is filled by the opposite. He is utterly incompetent at controlling any ongoing dynamic of his spiritual life and has little control of his physical one as well.
The reason this matters is because, the thing that separates man from any other living creature is supposed to be reason and self-control. We are not mere animals caving to every animalistic yearning. But, Paul finds his own mastery lacking. This is something we all find as well if we honestly assess our situations and power.
Which leads us to the fact that we cannot free ourselves from the bondage of slavery. We do not have enough control to be right and pure. We do not have the power to resist sin. We don’t have the strength to stand up to temptation. The waves of life crash over us and we are cast about like a ship without sail or anchor. A shipwreck is eminent.
Who will save us? Who will redeem us?
At the answer to this question Paul pivots the discussion he has carried us through in the past 7 chapters into a new direction and new realization. We need a Lord of our life. We need a Master who is in control. We would prefer that Lord and Master be one who is compassionate and desires to help us and save us and grow us and not one who is set on our destruction. In either case, the fact is we do not have the power or ability to be the master ourselves. Our master is another, it is either the author of salvation of the speaker of lies, the source of light to the world or the purveyor of darkness.
Paul expresses his choice in whom he gives thanks. “I give thanks to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In that sentence, he acknowledges and gives thanks that Jesus is his Lord because Paul knows that Paul himself is not Lord of anything.
But, like anyone who has spent time in rough seas, the fact that he has been rescued and now stands on solid ground has not stopped the sea sickness raging in his body and continuing to feel the churning of the waves in his head. His equilibrium is still off. He is unbalanced. His senses and desires are not yet acclimated to this new reality because they carry the remnants of the prior situation.
I know with my head and heart that I belong to Jesus and He is my Lord and Master, but there is also a part of me that is still churning in the rough waters and tempted to grab ahold of all the wrong things to rely upon other than God.
I’m looking forward to how Paul continues this dialogue into the next chapter.
He has looked in the mirror after witnessing and seeing Christ and sees more clearly the presence of unmitigated sin in his life. This happens each time one of the prophets came into the presence of God. We see our unclean lips, our wicked tongues, our stiff-necks and our sin.
God delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord.
There is no other deliverer than Jesus. We cannot save ourselves.
I felt overwhelmed with family struggles last week, heavy weight on shoulders and inability to do anything to affect change and lasting improvement. Prayer brought peace. Nothing changed, but I no longer felt in charge.