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Point of Reference

    by Fred Price

The In-Between-Times
Date Posted: April 12, 2024

Almost immediately after Paul’s conversion on the way to Damascus, he began to energetically and persuasively preach the gospel of Jesus Christ; surprising those he had only recently been persecuting and confounding those he had just as recently been supporting. Both found his motives suspect and his actions unbelievable. He was a “man without a country” and nearly lost his life, as those he once supported began plotting his death, those he now supported shying away from him out of fear and distrust.

Those who did believe his turn-about was legitimate secreted him out of the city, Paul stating that from there, “I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.” Galatians 1:17 (Arabia here referring to the area of the Sinai Peninsula, modern-day Jordan and the deserts of Lebanon and Syria.) This experience mirroring that of a number of Old Testament characters as well as John the Baptist and Jesus, who spent 40 days there in prayer. Paul spent three years in the wilderness and Damascus, undoubtedly reflecting on all that had happened to him, in the process receiving a revelation from Jesus himself. ( Galatians 1:11,12) Devising the theology of Christianity through a process St. Anselm characterized as “faith seeking understanding.”

Paul was trying to make sense of the unbelievable and what exactly the implications of his experience were? Did it contradict all he knew of the Torah and prophets or confirm them? Had his extensive education been a waste of time, or had he been being prepared for a career he couldn’t have imagined only a short time before? And incidentally, he doesn’t seem to doubt the reality of seeing and hearing a dead man address him – but seriously – how often does happen?

Paul’s comprehension of Jesus revelation to him did not occur only on the Damascus Road, but over a period of time spent in prayer, study and contemplation, seeking to work out the meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection as well as its effect – not only for him – but for Jews and Gentiles alike. (After which he did travel to Jerusalem to see Peter, spending fifteen days with him in conversation; possibly comparing “notes” and discussing ministry.)

The development of Paul’s ministry is similar to the phenomenon of the emergence of many of today’s entertainment and sports stars. Suddenly a new star emerges, one who none-the-less spent countless years of effort in preparation for their break-out performance. Paul’s flash of insight coming as a result of three years of solitude, listening to and for God’s voice through reflection and study; rethinking everything he knew about the Messiah and the Law while reframing his knowledge and conviction concerning righteousness. These so-called silent years consisted of waiting on the Lord – not in idleness but in preparation for his life’s mission once the waiting was over. (See Psalm 27:14; Is. 30:18 & Acts 1:4) This in-between-time preparing Paul for monumental, world-shaping service as he developed the theology that largely became the basis for “Western Thought.”

Paul’s relationship with Peter was complicated but important. Peter, although un-educated, had the advantage of having spent three intense years with Jesus. Paul, highly educated in both Jewish theology and Greek thought, had a vision of Jesus but had not spent intimate time with him in ministry and conversation. Both had much to learn from the other.

It is significant that in Paul’s recorded preaching and letters, little is said of Jesus’ life, there being only a few direct quotes or allusions to things Jesus said or did. Possibly because Paul assumed all those details had been covered by the gospels; his focus being on the consequences of Jesus’ life with particular emphasis on the meaning of His death and resurrection as foretold in Old Testament prophecy.

Which again, predictably, got him in trouble. His friends once more spirited him out of Jerusalem, sending him on his way home for Tarsus. Galatians 2:1 noting that it took Paul fourteen years to return to Jerusalem again. And even though there is some debate as to what he did during that time (Some believing his first missionary journey may have occurred during that time), he once more certainly spent a significant part of this in-between-time gaining head and heart knowledge of himself, his Lord, and his mission.

Again, waiting in anticipation of doing. There often being a delay between the moment God saves us for a specific cause and when those things actually happen. (Consider the 25 years of waiting between Abraham’s designation as the father of a great nation with a population as numerous as the stars of heaven, and the birth of a single child on whom that promise rested. Or the 20 years between Joseph’s visions of greatness – which really only complicated his life, and the day in Egypt when those dreams finally became a reality. How about the 40 years of wandering in the desert by Moses, finding himself and his calling; before the 40 years of wandering, he led the Israeli people through in their pursuit of freedom and the Promised Land. And David, who spent 25 years between the time of his anointing by Samuel for kingship, and the realization of that dream and calling. Even Jesus, whose early life we know next to nothing about, spent twenty or so years between his experience in the temple and the start of his ministry. Shrouded in mystery though it was, it was hardly uneventful as he grew in wisdom and stature as well as favor with God and man. ( Luke 2:52)

This pattern is hardly unique to these admittedly special people of scripture, but common-place in different ways and times for us all, where we work as we wait during the in-between-times of our lives. And in the waiting, God prepares us, transforms us, readying us for what lies ahead.

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Biography Information:

Fred Price - married (50 years), father of two grown children, grandfather of six.

Fred retired earlier this year after 42 years as a factory worker.  He has always had a heart for young people and the challenges they face today.  Over the years Fred has taught Discipleship Groups for High School and college students.  

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