“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God…” Romans 1:1 Considered by many to be the greatest missionary of Christianity and it’s foremost theologian, writing thirteen books of the New Testament while being a focal point of the Book of Acts, Paul is known to have traveled extensively throughout Asia Minor, the Grecian Peninsula, Italy and possibly Spain (Romans 15:24) and Great Britain. Traveling tremendous distances, suffering many hardships, experiencing both success and opposition; he influenced the world in ways like few others. He is a model of Christian sacrifice and obedience, an example of what God can do with a man fully devoted to Him, allowing God to work through him to the extent that a new being is created. (2 Corinthians 5:17) But to know Saul before he became Paul would not inspire admiration nor emulation.
Saul was a free-born Roman citizen, with all the perks and potential for success and wealth that was available to him as a result; yet a practicing Jew with the high calling, tradition and privilege of a leader of Judaism. (Acts 22:3,25-28) He was proud of his pedigree and heritage, “Circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal,… (and) legalistic righteousness, faultless.” Philippians 3:4-6 Paul was well-educated, his letters reflecting the influence of Greek rhetoric, his expounding on the theology of Christ demonstrating a formal education in Jewish law. (Galatians 1:14) He had been trained by the renowned scholar Gamaliel, his pride leading him to strike out in defense of all he held dear. (Acts 8:3)
He was a witty, quick-tempered man driven to action by a set of convictions he was unwilling to examine or question – until his encounter with Jesus. (Acts 9) As a result of that confrontation, Saul was a broken man, now capable of being mended. The Psalmist declaring that the sacrifice God expects and accepts is that of a broken spirit and a contrite heart. (Psalm 51:17) Isaiah assuring us that one of God’s purposes then is to revive the hearts and spirits of the truly contrite. (Is. 57:15) But what does it mean to be broken-hearted, contrite and poor in spirit? (Matthew 5:13) Humbled at the realization of our shortcomings, remorseful for sin, feeling deep sorrow for hurt inflicted by deed or neglect; a startling realization that what was thought to be right and what was used as a basis for life’s decisions was wrong and unworthy of the effort invested in it up to this point. A complete surrender to another way shown to be superior to our own with the understanding that the mistakes of our past can’t be made up for yet won’t be held against us as a result of the actions taken on our behalf by someone else. From the ashes of Saul’s former life rose the new man, Paul, who declared, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Galatians 2:20, as “…whatever (formerly) was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” Philippians 3:7
We all have personality traits – strengths and weaknesses that are inherent to our genetic makeup predisposing us to respond in certain ways. But they can be recognized as such and tempered, modified and controlled; both the positive and negative aspects of our personalities submitted to the Lord’s will. Paul held high standards, laboring long and hard; expecting the same from those around him. This created tension and contention between him and some of his closest companions. (Acts 15:36-39) He did however learn patience, developing the ability to look for – and find – the best in others as evidenced by his reconciliation with John Mark and their mutual love and respect for each other expressed in 2 Timothy 4:11 and Colossians 4:10. Paul could still be somewhat obstinate and confrontational (Galatians 2:11-14), unimpressed by other’s “rank” and credentials seemingly to the point of disrespect (Galatians 2:6,9); but sometimes those traits need exercising – very carefully and selectively. At times he was still impatient and short-tempered, sounding almost violent; especially by today’s standards of tolerant acceptance and political correctness. (See Galatians 5:12! and Philippians 3:2) And yet, in less contentious moments he expressed a profound concern and willingness to serve and sacrifice in response to his great love for people. (Romans 9:2,3) This resulted from his realization that they were as he once was, “…zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.” Romans 10:12 These adjustments to his natural inclinations allowed him to become more accommodating, more understanding; motivated by love to do all he could to share Christ with others. Prompting him to exclaim, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” 1 Corinthians 9:22 (See also 2 Corinthians 11:23-28)
This occasionally flawed man should inspire and encourage us as his greatness grew out of humble beginnings. Imperfect, unstable and unpredictable at the start; he grew into a mature, dependable man of God. This came about in large part as a result of Paul coming face-to-face with his own limitations as he attempted to be more of what God wanted and expected of him; achieving effective servant-hood through God’s power, not his own. (2 Corinthians 12:10)
In his broken state Paul exclaimed, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do… (As a result of) my sinful nature… I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing… So I find this law at work, when I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind… What a wretched man I am!” Romans 7:15-18,19-21,22-24
Paradoxically this allowed him to proclaim as well, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of the Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” 1 Timothy 1:12-14Encouraging us with the example of his life, which was in imitation of Christ, he instructs us in the true nature of our relationship with our Savior (1 Corinthians 4:16 & 1 Thessalonians 1:6), exhorting us on to greater service as well. “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” 1 Timothy 1:15,16
During this time of year, many are quick to make resolutions for change and just as quickly forget all about them. Looking to Paul’s example, let’s all resolve to seriously evaluate ourselves in the light of our Savior and commit ourselves to become all we can be in Him.
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