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Saturday 20 August 2022

The Great Man Paul

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Was once the terrible man Saul. There are people who believe God cannot save him. To such people I encourage them to look at Paul, the Apostle:

The Great Man Paul – (v. 1) Paul begins in Titus 1:1 by identifying himself, “1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ.” Now these are words that you could easily skip over. Because there is nothing remarkable about what they mean. His name is Paul, he is a servant of God and commissioned officer of Jesus. This is pretty self-explanatory right? But think about this, this Paul guy was originally someone very different.

Saul – Paul was originally Saul, a Pharisee of Pharisees. The first time we see him in the Bible this is how we see him described – Acts 7:54-8:3 – “54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. 58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. 8:1 And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. 3 But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.”

We see here that Paul was one of the worst kinds of people. The kind of guy that hated Jesus, hated the Apostles, and hated everything about Christianity. He was in every way a zealous persecutor of Christians and even identified himself as such, Philippians 3:6 - “6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”

We often hear it said that Paul was a murderer of Christians, and you could read his approval of Stephen’s execution this way. But this is not said directly.

His approval could mean that he was ok with it, and happy it was happening, which makes him a bad guy.

Or that they had to seek his approval to do so, in that case, then sure, then he is an accomplice to murder.  

Either way, he was happy to see Christians suffer, die and be punished in various ways. And he was definitely putting Christians in jail and persecuting them brutally, and there’s no doubt many of these Christians would have been treated harshly by the Jews in power at the time.

The closest we get to the Bible directly saying Paul was a murderer is Acts 9:1-2 - “1 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” Paul here is not being described as a murderer, but as someone who was screaming bloody murder at the Jewish Christians.

Perhaps you can read this as Paul being a murderer, and that’s fine if you do. I am not saying he wasn’t, just that it is not as clear as most say.  

But make no mistake, he would have aided in their executions and stoning’s. No doubt. But he would have seen himself not as a murderer but as a righteous agent of God’s law, which prescribed punishment for idol worshippers.

As Paul says, zealously handing over heretics to be persecuted was his duty to his people. Philippians 3:6 - “4If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”

Paul - But however, you want to exactly slice it, Paul was in every way a bad guy. He was the Taliban. He was the KGB. He was the German Stasi. He was the agent of Jewish power to bring to bear destruction against Christianity. But then he was made into not just an Apostle, but one of the greatest apostles. What happened? He encountered Jesus, there are some wonderful passages that explore this, but the one I want to look at is 1 Corinthians 15 –

1 Corinthians 15:8-11 – “8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.”

What changed Paul was that he encountered Jesus. On that Damascus road the grace of God changed him and changed him forever. Paul went from being an agent of Jewish persecution against the Church, and became a servant of God’s chosen people, the Church.

When Paul says the Church is the elect, he is saying: they are the chosen people. That is what elect means, it means we are the Chosen ones, we are God’s special people.

Imagine how this impacted Paul. Imagine the impact this had on his life. He believed he was protecting God’s people, but then he encountered Jesus and found out that he was harming God’s people.

This changed Paul forever. He was always deeply committed to the people of God, he had just gotten this wrong, because he was deceived, and once he was transformed he dedicated his life to becoming a zealous messenger of the gospel, and apostle.  

Apostle - An Apostle in the ancient world was a military commission. A general would commission one of his officers to achieve a particular task. When Jesus stands on the mountain and addresses his 11 disciples in Matthew 28, he is commissioning them as his representative officers. That is why it is called “the Great Commission”. Many would argue, and I would probably agree with them, that Jesus chose Paul to be his 12th Apostle.

Jesus chose this maybe Christian murdering, at best Christian persecuting, zealot, to be one of the greatest Apostle’s and the author of much of the New Testament. Wow!!

The transforming gospel - this highlights the transforming power of the gospel of God. Paul’s life and testimony is an important gauge of the grace of God. A lot of people misunderstand the grace of God. Some people think it just means undeserved blessings. It does mean this, but note, Paul’s summation of it shows it means much more than this.

The grace of God is effectual power that changes your life. No one can encounter the grace of God and not be radically changed, “10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.” (share Paul washer truck illustration).

The radical change in Paul’s life, shows that when God changes a man or a woman, that it radically changes their entire orientation in life. You will not become perfect, that happens in the next life. But you will become a changed person that advances the kingdom of light, just as surely as you were advancing darkness in your unsaved life.

Paul’s life highlights this in an amazing way. Which is why we should listen to Paul when he tells us what God does with his elect, let’s keep reading.

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