12. The Apostle Paul
Why was Paul so very important to the shaping of the early church?
This is even more amazing when you consider how Paul (his Jewish name: "Saul") started out his career as a young man.
- For one thing, in his writings he contributed more to the making of the New Testament than any other writer. He wrote:
- 1st and 2nd Corinthians
- 1st and 2nd Thessalonians
- 1st and 2nd Timothy
- For another, he was raised within both a Jewish but also a Greek-Roman world and knew both cultures well. Thus he proved to be extremely valuable to the new Christian faith because he could explain things that happened in Jewish Palestine to the larger Greek and Roman world which otherwise would have had a very difficult time understanding what it was exactly that God did in/through Jesus the Jewish Messiah (Greek: "Christos").
- He went on a number of long mission trips into Asia Minor and Europe and started many new churches along the way, helping to spread Christianity through the Roman empire.
What happened to change him?
- Paul himself tells us:
- "I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees" (Acts 23:6).
- (I was) "circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee." (Phil. 3:5)
- "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city [Jerusalem], educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God" (Acts 22:3)
- "I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers." (Gal. 1:14)
- He tells us also how, as a young man, he hated the Christians--and made it his chief work to destroy them:
- 'Lord,. . . these men know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.' (Acts 22:19-20)
- Read Acts 7:51 - 8:4. Here Luke tells the story of the fiercely anti-Christian Saul in horrid detail.
- Why do you think young Saul hated the Christians so much?
- Could it be that he worshiped his Jewish religion rather than God?
- Could it be that he thought that the way to God was through religious achievement (through the careful study and practice of the Jewish religious law) --and resented the fact that Jesus really didn't seem to place much importance on such religious achievement as the way to God?
- Could it be that he hated the idea that anyone, even the failures of society, could so easily be restored to God's favor--simply through repentance and surrender of their lives to God in full trust or faith in God's care?
- Could it be that all his religious achievement left him merely uptight, with no sense of peace at all with God, that all this left him angry at the world and even at himself?
- Read Romans 7:9-24
- Here is the cry of a man who was once in deep pain--because despite all his efforts to be righteous according to the Jewish law, his efforts made him feel all the more to be a bad person, a hopeless sinner, who would never be able to live up to the high standards of the Law. Thus all the Law did was just make him feel worse and worse about himself. No wonder he was such an angry young man.
- And angry young men hate happy people, espcially when they have come to the point where they believe that they themselves will never be able to know such happiness. The joy and peace of the Christians simply infuriated Saul.
How strongly did Paul believe what he preached?
- Read Act 9:1-22
- Notice that for probably the first time in Saul's life God paid serious attention to him--but certainly not because Saul was doing anything to please God. And yet God in Jesus Christ was not angry with him--only determined to see that Saul should become a new person.
- This left Saul (who after his conversion starts using his Greek name, "Paul") deeply impressed with the understanding that God has no use for our silly religious achievements. All that hard work Paul had undertaken to impress God had left God totally unimpressed. And yet God still loved Paul, one who had even murdered the people that God clearly loved deeply, the Christians.
- Read Romans 8:1-11.
- Paul now had died to the old man, the man of the world, the man imprisoned in his own sinful flesh--and by simply the free and unearned grace and mercy of God, Paul had come to be "reborn" by God's own Holy Spirit: to be a new man, a spiritual man in Jesus Christ.
- Basically this is the message that Paul (and soon the whole church) preached over and over again: forget the world and its ways; free yourself from the hold over you of your fleshly instincts; let die that old man--and be born anew with a new spirit that draws us to God through faith in Jesus, the human/divine bridge that God gave us to lead us back in faith to him.
- Now do you understand why Paul detested the idea that the way to God was through works, even good works, even good religious works? To Paul (and every other great figure in the history of the church) the only way to God is through our simple faith/trust in the Savior Jesus Christ that God out of simply his grace and mercy.
- In his gospel, John says exactly the same thing (it is in chapter 3 of the gospel of John that we get the language "born again."). Centuries later Saint Augustine, said much the same thing--as did the church reformers Luther and Calvin during the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s.
- But certainly the person who said it first and most often was Paul. Every one of his letters brings us back to this simple formula: we are saved by God through his grace alone, through our faith alone in God revealed in Jesus Christ.
- Read 2nd Corinthians 11:21-29
- To him the Good News or Gospel of Jesus Christ was more valuable than life itself.
- Do you know any Christians that would go through all of that because their faith in God was so strong, so important that nothing else mattered quite as much?
Continue on to the next section
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Miles H. Hodges - 2002