Everyone has their heroes – people whose experience inspires us to think in new and hopeful ways. Paul (or Saul, at this point) is one of those guys for me. He is a living demonstration of repentance – one who was traveling with purpose and passion in one direction and then, after a divine ambush, began traveling in the exact opposite direction. In a matter of weeks, he went from breathing threats and murder to speaking out boldly and arguing in Jesus’ behalf!
His life also highlights God’s sovereignty. It is pretty clear that Saul was elected and was the blessed victim of irresistible grace. The gospel Paul heard was a snap of light that knocked him off his horse. Ringing in his spirit as he lay upon the ground was the question, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He might have thought “that” is a very good question but instead he asked, “Who are You, Lord?”I would love to know the involuntary convulsion of Paul’s heart when he heard his answer, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”
Saul was stunned but no more so than was Ananias – God’s special currier, who actually protested his assignment. Given Zacharias’ (John the Baptist’s dad’s) experience, Ananias may be lucky he even had a voice. (Perhaps Jesus is more patient than Gabriel?) But Jesus prevailed, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.”
Chosen? To suffer? The linkage of these two ideas (except in regard to dead apostles) is alien to most of us in modern evangelical Christianity. In fact, even though it is false, there is a great deal of doctrine that wars against this pairing. The root lie goes something like this; “After all, we are the head – not the tail. We are sons, not slaves.” (These are beautiful truths but only if viewed within the whole council of scripture.) Most of us see Paul as one set apart and above the type of lives the rest of us are called to live. While I recognize Paul’s unique calling as an apostle, I also recognize God’s unique way of raising his children.
Although He was a Son, He (Jesus) learned obedience from the things which He suffered.(Hebrews 5:8)
I don’t believe Jesus and Paul were exceptions. The New Testament does not teach this; why should we believe it?
“As He (the Son of God) is, so also are we in this world.” (1 John 4:17)
“A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.” (Luke 6:40)
“Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me (Paul).” (1 Corinthians 4:16)
Jesus influenced Paul. Paul influenced Timothy. Timothy, in turn, was faithful to influence those God entrusted to him. Who influenced us? The circle is not unbroken. Has evangelical teaching even attempted to draw from the way God parented his original disciples? The apostle’s current relevance seems to have far more to do with the doctrines they advanced than with the lives they lived. I believe this is a tragedy.
While I am no fan of suffering, of trials, of tribulations or testings, they are part and parcel of life in Christ. (At least this was true in the scriptures.) In God’s economy nothing has to be wasted. However, I believe that treating the New Testament as a mere historical account of the early church is a recipe for bad stewardship. Relating to the second generation (Jesus was the first) of a new race of men as if it were something childish that must be put away is the ultimate expression of burying one’s talents.
What would be involved in digging up our treasure? Of seeing the glory of God resting upon his Bride – the Church? Shall we wait for God to knock us off our horses? Or, having the New Testament as living words, could we simply dismount of our own accord and repent of any notion that would discount the present value of the apostle’s lives?
Do not move the ancient boundary which your fathers have set. (Proverbs 22:28)
Father, we have always had a propensity to misunderstand your heart. In this hour, take whatever measures you must to insure that we are on the narrow (yet secure) path of life in your Son. May your Church be built up once more and go on in the rightful kind of fear and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit. As we revisit your role as Father and Lord, may we reframe our understanding of suffering and bear your name with the same honor as did your first disciples. Amen.