Read His Words Before Ours!
When we think of Paul the apostle, we might be in awe of his ministry. He traveled throughout the ancient world, teaching, preaching, and planting churches in the name of Christ. Much of his ministry was to Gentiles; he wanted everyone to hear and receive the Gospel of Christ.
Along the way, he endured many hardships. (2 Corinthians 11:24-29) He was imprisoned and placed under house arrest several times. He was beaten and stoned and finally martyred for the cause of Christ. His intense suffering for and dedication to the gospel could elevate him to hero status in our books.
But Paul didn’t start out so passionate for Jesus. He began life as Saul, the son of a tent maker in Tarsus (part of modern-day Turkey). A Roman citizen by birth, he was raised in a Jewish household, but his father’s tents were sought after throughout the known world, so Saul was exposed to and learned how to engage with people from all over the world. This skill set later served him well as a servant to Christ.
He was intelligent enough to earn a coveted spot in religious training with Gamaliel, a learned Hebrew scholar. Through his training, the Law and Torah became Saul’s life. He went on to join the Pharisees, the strictest sect of the religious groups in Jerusalem.
Saul had studied the prophets, but when he encountered word of a slain and resurrected Messiah, his devout practice of the Law and the strict traditions of the faith spiritually blinded him to the reality of Jesus. He joined with other Jewish leaders and Rome, the ruling government, in attempting to put a decisive and violent end to the gospel and followers of Jesus.
He became so vehement in his opposition to Jesus and His followers that when the opportunity arose, he began to hunt down the disciples of Jesus. Saul was instrumental in the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr.
After proclaiming Jesus as the fulfillment of Jewish Messianic prophecy, Stephen was stoned, “[a]nd the witnesses laid their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.” (Acts 7:58)
This was a sign of respect and acknowledgment of the leadership of Saul. That incident seemed to fuel the anger and violence in Saul, “[who] was ravaging the church. He would enter house after house, drag off men and women, and put them in prison.” (Acts 8:3)
At this point in Saul’s story, I think we’d readily agree with his assessment of himself as the worst of sinners. (1 Timothy 1:15) There’s nothing good or godly about this villain, we’d mutter as we disgustedly scratch his name off our list of Bible heroes. Champion of the faith? I don’t think so.
And we’d be right.
There was nothing special or heroic in Saul, only a heart bent toward self-righteousness, and the status and power to widely enact his cruelty.
The champion of his story is Someone else entirely.
For then came a trip to Damascus.
“Now Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. He went to the high priest and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
As he traveled and was nearing Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him. Falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’
‘Who are you, Lord?’ Saul said.
‘I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting,’ he replied. ‘But get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.’
Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing.”
It took a literal blindness to open his spiritual eyes to the Truth.
As was custom following a significant life event, Saul changed his name to Paul. His name wasn’t the only thing that changed, though. After his encounter with Jesus, the trajectory of Paul’s life shifted radically.
He’d met his Champion, and with the Spirit of God living and breathing inside of him, nothing would stop him from spreading the very Gospel he once despised . . . not those shipwrecks or beatings or even the threat of death.
In Paul’s story, we find hope for ourselves.
Throughout his letters to early churches, he reminds his listeners where he came from and if he can come to know Christ and be saved, so can they.
“‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’—and I am the worst of them. But I received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate his extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in him for eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:15-16)
I imagine Paul’s words echoing across the generations to us, beckoning us to meet our Champion, encouraging us no one is beyond the reach of His mercy and grace.
There is much to commend Paul for, and much to learn from him.
Whole libraries could be filled with books written about Paul, both the parts of life that serve as a cautionary tale, and the parts that reflect a dedicated servant of Christ.
For today, we’ll close with this simple invitation, the same Jesus who loved and transformed Paul is reaching out to you. Come, your Champion awaits.
Embracing God’s fullness in our lives is rooted in scripture and memorizing His word is vital to our continued growth and depth with Jesus. Tap and hold from your mobile device to download this week’s verse and make it your phone’s lockscreen!