was Paul so very important to the shaping of the early church?
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.
This is even
more amazing when you consider how Paul (his Jewish name: "Saul")
started out his career as a young man.
Paul himself tells us:
"I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees"
(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."
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.'
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.
to change him?
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.
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.
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.
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.
did Paul believe what he preached?
Read 2nd Corinthians
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?