Yesterday, we spoke a bit about Paul’s history. Paul was not one of the original disciples/apostles but had a rather unique transformation on the road to Damascus and his life was forever changed. (see Acts 9 for more) Before his unique encounter, he was known as Saul. Saul was a Jewish man who was very learned and lived his life according to Jewish law. He had also been one who persecuted these early followers of Jesus, now called Christians. In 1 Corinthians 15: 3-11, Paul describes himself this way: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.”
Paul was very aware it was nothing but the grace of God that allowed one who had formerly persecuted Christ’s followers to be called and transformed into a great preacher and teacher of the gospel of Christ. When speaking of the apostles, Paul considered himself the least of them. After all, they had walked with Jesus throughout His ministry, while Paul had persecuted believers. Paul played a huge role in the spread of the gospel and he would continue to advance the gospel and the early church. Paul remained humble and always mindful that it was by God’s grace alone that he was who he was. He also knew with out a doubt it was God alone who enabled him to do the things he had done. Because of his past history, Paul worked hard to prove that God’s grace and trust was not in vain. He was always sure to point out to everyone that it was only by the grace of God within him that he was able to carry these things out. What a testimony! Paul took credit for nothing, but gave credit to God for everything he accomplished. He wanted to make sure everyone knew it was God who should get complete glory for everything that had been accomplished through his life and that without God’s grace nothing of benefit would have been accomplished.
As we continue along our grace path through the different letters written to the early church, we will get more glimpses of this man named Paul. We will see that he is a strong man, bold and confident and we will see that he is also very human as he struggles with a ‘thorn in his flesh’ or a burden that was ever part of his life. Some might protest that it is easy to acknowledge God’s goodness and grace in our lives when things are moving smoothly along. We will see that was not the case in Paul’s life; all was not smooth and easy for Paul, honestly his life was anything but easy. Many times he was beaten and inprisioned. He was ship wrecked and snake bit. Yet, Paul was committed to loving people, telling them about Jesus, bring hope and a future to them. He choose not to boast in his strengths, but give credit to God. He also choose not to let his weaknesses define or limit him. Paul entrusted them to his Heavenly Father and loudly proclaimed that in his weakness, God was strong. He would encourage those around him to imitate him and he imitated Jesus.
May we each find that place in our lives where we are centered as Paul was, with Jesus being the center. Whether we are experiencing good times or hard times; in our strength or in weakness; health or sickness; may we be able to say, “by God’s grace, I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain.” May Jesus’ light shine through our lives, His love through our hearts touching all those we encounter and may the glory be His alone!
Grace and blessing to you in the name of our Lord!