The apostle Paul is an interesting study one that is still very pertinent to each of us two thousand years later. He is responsible for at least thirteen of the books in the Bible, most of the New Testament epistles are ascribed to him, however, it is in is life and journey that we see even greater correlations between his life and our lives.
He is a an extremely unlikely prospect in our eyes, and ill suited, to become a leader in the New Testament church that he becomes – yet he does. He seems to be among the last people who would be chosen by God to extend God’s truth of love and mercy – yet he was. Paul seemed to be going in a strange direction to grow the church – yet it was the exact direction, and the exact place, where God was waiting to focus this one man’s truth seeking journey.
His resume was impressive, full of all the credentials Jewish religious leaders ascribed to but seldom achieved. Credentials that opened most any door to him by the time he was in his mid twenties. He was just 27 years old when we first meet him, he was already a Pharisee, he was holding the coats of those hurling the stones at Stephen. Then, by the very next year he was on an official mission of the religious institution to take care of the Jesus problem – to stop the growing underground followers of Christ.
The followers of Christ feared Paul very early on their faith movement. He was on no one’s radar to become their leader – yet he was God’s choice and he would become a passionate leader of the Christians.
He had all the credentials and accomplishments one would imagine for a person on the fast track to authority and power. He laid out his resume as he was communicating with the church at Philippi.
‘If anyone has reason to be confident in their own abilities and accomplishments, I assure you that I have more: I was circumcised on the eighth day after birth, I am a member of the people of Israel and of the tribe of Benjamin, I am a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the obeying and known the law, I was a Pharisee; and I had zeal, enough zeal that I was made a persecutor of the church of Jesus; and mostly if you are looking at my life as to being righteousness under the law, I am blameless.’Philippians 3:4-6
Paul’s determination and genuinely sincere passion had thrust him before the eyes of the religious institution as well as the regional Roman governing authorities. He was a young man, just short of 30 years old, as he traveled to Damascus to pursue his passion, to stop what would become known as Christianity.
The thing about Paul is that for him, all of his accomplishments were not about gaining power just for power’s sake, nor were they about achieving more accolades and bullet points for his resume. What he did, he did out of a sincere pursuit of truth, and ridding Judaism of those people and teachings that would dilute the truth and harm their faith was at the top of his list. He believed what he fought for, – there was a genuineness at the core of his being.
This answers the first question – Why did God choose Paul? God was looking for a purity in passion, a person who recognized the value and necessity of truth, one that had an unstoppable pursuit of truth, and a human to whom a truth formed challenge to his faith and politics would not cause them to abandon their journey. A person that, when finding truth, would see it as the next step, not a roadblock that had to be avoided and dismissed or plowed through. He did not respond with hostility or defensiveness when truth made him uncomfortable about his religious or political stances. In that time, when politics often dictated to faith, when the religion and governmental leaders used and abused each other, a time when to hold one political stance you had to conform your faith to that stance – it that time, he let his faith be his guide.
God looks for individuals who will not be threatened when their perceptions and beliefs are challenged and when change is essential. God is looking for those who recognize that they have much further to travel in their faith journey.
As Paul traveled to Damascus, it was in his passionate quest to maintain a purity of doctrine. This ‘Jesus’ movement, in his mind, was perverting truth and therefore would diminish the Jews’ preparation for the coming Messiah.
Jesus was the last person he expected to encounter on the road – but – Jesus was the exact person he expected to encounter on that road. He had been looking for Jesus his entire life, but it was not until this day, blinded by the light, he saw the Messiah that he had been seeking. It was Jesus, this was the truth that he had been seeking, and this was the Messiah his faith had led him to with for with all his might.
This was not a bump in the road, it was not a halt to his journey, it was not a controversial challenge, it was actually his next step. He had found the one he was looking for, he was surely surprised to discover it was Jesus – but it was Jesus.
If Paul had been any less passionate in his pursuit of truth, when he was blinded he would have scoffed at the idea of going to Damascus, there were renown experts and physicians back in Jerusalem to restore his sight. If Paul had been motivated to stop Christianity more than he was devoted to finding the truth – he would have never agreed to go to the house of a nobody named Ananias. If he had been primarily set on pleasing the religious institution and in keeping his good name before the Roman political establishment – he would not have asked for help from a follower of Jesus.
But he was a true seeker of truth – and he knew that he had blindly found that truth exactly where it was waiting for him. In this blindness, he was beginning to see.
Why did God choose Paul, because Paul was the one who was looking for God. Notice that God did not alter the direction that Paul was going, he still sent him on to Damascus, his original destination, however, now he saw things differently, now he saw the truth that didn’t match up with his mission, his mission changed but his journey had just gotten on the right course.
Blindness didn’t halt Paul’s mission, it just refined it, it filled in the gaps, he was beginning to see better than he had ever seen before. He was not going to stop this new Jesus movement, he was going to be a part of this movement.
On this day, on this road, this man who sought truth, was blinded by God in order that he could see. On this day, on this journey, Paul eyes could no longer see any truth in the things he had accepted through his religion and in his politics. Suddenly, he began to notice the earthly afflictions of his people, he began to experience the incongruency of the collusion between his religious institution and the Romans politicians, he saw the contrast between those teachings and his God who he now saw.
About 3 decades after Paul met Jesus on that road to Damascus, he writes a letter to his dear friends, the believers in Philippi. In this letter we see Paul reminding the believers of his achievements as well as the proof of his faithful to God that has been evidenced in his life.
‘Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.’Philippians 3:7-9
Paul is not calling his Jewish faith as rubbish, nor is he saying that his achievements and accomplishments were a waste of time – instead, he is proclaiming that it is not about him, it is about Christ. While there was a time when he thought his acts of persecution done for the cause of stopping the Jesus movement were holy, now he realizes that it was not, now he is grateful that his search for truth changed that pursuit. Looking ahead he says,
‘I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.”Philippians 3:10-14
Let’s look at a few basic from the example of Paul, basics that are very pertinent to us.
- Paul was chosen by God because he was willingly available to God. He was not only a truth seeker, but he when he discovered truth he permitted it to make the changes and refinements that needed to be made in order to continue to be usable.
- Paul’s pursuit of truth resulted in truth being applied to every area of his life, regardless of the risk. When he met Jesus on the road, this discovered truth became the filter that guided his life and his passions. With this he was able to see how the practices of his religious institution and the impact of his politics were not aligned with truth. As he began to see the suffering of an oppressed people, his eyes were opened to the inconsistencies of the message of God and the message of religion and politics. Honoring truth over his earthly pursuits, opinions, views, politics, and religion caused him to lose friends, power, position, security, and more. This loss, however how hurtful it must have been, was nothing in comparison to the truth he found in Jesus Christ.
- Paul genuinely felt that following Christ was a natural next step in his faith, and truth, journey. It seemed to be the most honest way. As we saw in our look at Romans 9-11, he was genuinely shocked and disappointed that his own people, the Jews, had rejected Jesus. In the end, he admitted that he did not understand that rejection and, at the same time the choseness of the Jews, he knew that all that God had done in the Jewish history was from God for this people and that God would still keep his promises to the Jews even though it was an almost overwhelming mystery to Paul.
- Paul lived in the ‘in-between.’
Paul considers himself to be living in a state of in-between-ness. He is trapped or suspended in the middle of a journey. The longing for arrival is strong, but what he has in front of him is the journey. The arche (beginning) of this journey is Paul’s Judaic background, the telos (goal/aim/end) is his new Christian identity. Paul clearly shows his deep embeddedness in a Jewish tradition. He is from a Benjamite tribe, his is a Pharisee, he is passionately zealous about his Judaic identity, and so on. He describes himself as the best of the best. Abandoning this Jewish identity should be unthinkable to him. To be clear, it is not his Jewishness that he considers as “rubbish”- it is the idea that he can be considered blameless, that he has achieved his goal, that he has arrived, that is what is rubbish. He says that he has not reached the goal of being perfect. In other words, Paul argues that he has not achieved the telos, the goal, the end, the perfection. Paul seems to understand himself and his life as an ongoing process – His existence is in between “what lies behind” and “what lies ahead”. Paul’s outlook is that to know Christ is to to realize that no one has arrived yet. Everyone is on a journey, in the process of making.Ekaputra Tupamahu
Paul continued to be a seeker of truth until his death. He continued to face the challenges of his journey with genuine consideration, he continued to give that truth the freedom to confront every area of this life. On this earth, he knew his journey would not ever end.
May we allow this holy journey of Paul, a journey to know Jesus more every day, may that journey be an example to us in our journey as we work out our salvation.