Christianity 201

April 24, 2020

The Apostle Paul’s Personal Circumstances as Apologetic

…”I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee…”
– Paul in Philippians 3:4-6 NIV

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, and I was brought up and educated here in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. As his student, I was carefully trained in our Jewish laws and customs. I became very zealous to honor God in everything I did, just like all of you today. And I persecuted the followers of the Way, hounding some to death, arresting both men and women and throwing them in prison. The high priest and the whole council of elders can testify that this is so. For I received letters from them to our Jewish brothers in Damascus, authorizing me to bring the followers of the Way from there to Jerusalem, in chains, to be punished…”
– Paul in Acts 22:3-5 NLT

…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
– Paul in 2 Cor. 5:17 NLT

After the Gospels, the New Testament proceeds to give us a glimpse of what following Christ will look like after He ascended and after He sent the Holy Spirit. Much of this was written by Saul/Paul who is personally completely absent from the gospel accounts.

What we know about his life can be instructive.

The Apostle Paul:

Shows us what following Jesus means when you didn’t see it firsthand.

In a way, Paul is a stand-in for all of us. There’s nothing in either the gospels or Paul’s own writing to suggest he was part of the crowd when he taught in Capernaum or Bethsaida or Sychar or Bethany or performed miracles in those places. There is a natural skepticism when you didn’t see something extraordinary up close and personal. Even Thomas doubted after following Jesus for three years. Paul would be in this category. Because he never met or conversed with Jesus, in I Cor. 15:8 he goes so far as to call himself “one abnormally born.”

Shows us what following Jesus means when you follow an other religion.

Paul is an example of what it means to convert (verb) or become a convert (noun.) Here was no nominal Jew, but a man steeped in religious training who knew his faith inside-out and would go on to boast about this aspect of his life even after committing to Christ. He in effect becomes the poster boy for conversion; his life allows the possibility for anyone to walk away from their spiritual past into a new chapter.

Shows us what following Jesus means when you are an intellectual.

Even if Paul had never boasted about his training, the grammar and sentence structure of his writing betray his thorough education. I personally believe that the “Philippian hymn” which is set off as poetry citation in most of our Bibles could be an example of Paul quoting a popular early Church song written by someone else or it could be Paul quoting Paul, since training in music was part of that classical education. Today we see objections from people who think they are ‘too smart’ to believe the Gospel, but Paul showed that formal education doesn’t make one too sophisticated an intellectual to reject the simple concepts of faith.

Shows us what following Jesus means if you were formerly opposed to Christianity.

It’s one thing to be atheist or agnostic, or to follow another faith, but if you’ve been particularly vocal about it, you have to be willing to swallow your pride and say you were wrong. Most biographers of Paul characterize what happens to him in the wake of the Damascus Road encounter as being a dramatic, 180-degree turnaround. This is the simplest definition of repentance: ‘My life was going in one direction and then, in a moment, I changed trajectory and started walking toward a completely different objective.’

Shows us what following Jesus means when you are being spiritually formed.

None of any of the significant events in Paul’s post-conversion life happens until after he has been inactive while undergoing a time of discipleship and spiritual formation and simply considering the claims of Christ in a world about to be turned upside down by the life of Jesus. Some put this as a three-year period, while others have it as high as 14 years, though the latter number might have some overlap with early ministry. This might have been a tough period of Paul who would have been anxious to share his post-Damascus testimony, and it shows us that just because people aren’t entering into high-profile Christian service right away, it doesn’t mean their life hasn’t been dramatically changed.

Shows us what following Jesus means while you are suffering.

We can only speculate as to Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” though some commentators are more certain than others. There can be little doubt that it dogged Paul continually, three times bringing him to a point where he either enlisted the fervent prayers of other or spent time apart crying out to God to take the condition away. If anyone had time to wrestle with the question as to why God allows suffering, it was him. And let’s not even talk about being hungry or shipwrecked. He is convinced that when we are weak we are made strong.

Shows us what following Jesus means when you are now the one facing opposition.

From a literary perspective, the story comes full circle; the man who opposes the teaching of Jesus ends up facing the same type of opponents; the proverbial shoe is now on the other foot. Many of the epistles are called “Paul’s prison letters” because he spends a section of his life under house arrest. A faith in Christ needs to be anchored firmly and be resilient in the face of challenge.

Shows us what following Jesus means … period.

From Paul’s famous love chapter, to the fruit of the spirit, to his message of economic, ethnic and gender egalitarianism, to his imagery of living the Christian life as one running a race, to his theological treatise in his letter to the Romans; in all these things Paul shows us what it means to live the Christian life.

 

-PW

 

 

April 11, 2013

Watch for Burning Bushes

Exodus 3 New International Version (NIV)

 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

Someone I recently met is the product of a burning bush experience.  God is definitely getting his attention. But I didn’t draw that comparison until a friend pointed it out.  He also mentioned another God-attention-getting moment, from the New Testament.

Acts 9 New International Version (NIV)

9 Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.

I’ve deliberately cut off both off both of these stores before the “what happens next” moment. It’s very easy to have a dramatic, supernatural experience, and then just live in the excitement of what happened without considering the why behind God trying to get your attention.

Physically blinded, Saul was more than a little inclined to be obedient to what God had for him to do next.  The story continues,

Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah…

28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him. 30 When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. 31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.

The calling of Moses was initially less persuasive, as Moses doubted his ability to convey God’s message.  In the next chapter, Moses gets another sign, his staff turns into a snake, but still he says,

4:13 But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

How many signs is it gonna take? Moses agrees to a tag-team ministry with Aaron, and in Exodus 5 the story really gets rolling.

In either case, both with Saul (Paul) and Moses the story could come to a screeching halt if neither acted on the thing for which God was getting their attention. Or worse, the experience could be idolized.

Fortunately, there is no “Church of the Burning Bush.” (Well, not many.) There’s no “Church of the Blinding Light.” (Maybe a few fringe ones.) There are however many churches “…Of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  It’s all about who is trying to get our attention and what He wants us to do. Not about the how, or the means he uses to do get us focused.

November 17, 2012

Did God Reveal it To You, Or In You?

The beauty of scripture is that no small detail has been omitted and nothing has been included by accident. This discovery was taken from the blog of Baptist pastor Brad Whitt where it appeared under the title, The Location of Revelation.

“…to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles…” Galatians 1:16

Paul is describing for us the process of his personal salvation – the light of His Lord that he saw from heaven on the road to Damascus. In doing so he gives us a very unique insight regarding the location of that revelation. He tells us that it pleased God “to reveal His son in me.”

Why did he say “in me”? Why didn’t he say “to me”? Wasn’t the light that blinded him and arrested him on that dusty Damascus road an outer vision? Didn’t it stop him in his tracks with a brilliance that was brighter than any noonday sun? Didn’t it block the way to his old nature and cause his life to halt in the middle of its journey? Absolutely. Surely then, this was a vision of his Lord that was presented as a picture to his eye. Not at all. Because you see, no picture can only be a picture to the eye. A thing can only be revealed to me if it has first been revealed in me.

Are the beautiful mountains I am so blessed to see simply a picture that is presented only to my outward vision? Again, no. You see, there could in reality be no beauty without if there was not first revealed a sense of beauty within. Is the music that I hear only revealed to my ear? No, or I would always be deaf to its beauty. There would be no harmony without if there was not first a sense of harmony within. Such is it with the one described as “the fairest of ten thousand.’

I must confess. Many times I have secretly envied those who were permitted to look upon the bodily form, the physical person of Jesus. I have found myself jealous of those who were able to see the smile on His face, to hear the encouragement and comfort in His voice. Yet, wasn’t it those very ones of whom it was said, “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you.” So, in reality it was not the eye who saw the smile or the ear which heard the comfort. It was the heart, the life, the soul. It was the responsive spirit that was bearing witness with His Spirit. The open heart that ran out to meet its completion and found in Him the fulfillment of its salvation because it found in Him all that it ever desired.

That’s why God had to reveal His son in me. You see, I needed more than an audible voice, for I might mistake it for another. I needed more than to simply see handwriting in the clouds, because I might have been like a child who can’t read looking at letters in a book. I needed Him to reveal Himself in me.

You see, not even the most accurate description of a sunset could declare its splendor to one born blind, and likewise no description of Jesus could properly present His glory to a loveless soul. That’s why the Spirit of love must breathe into the heart the new sensation of loving, the new experience of being loved. He must unseal the soul’s eye, unclog the spiritual ear, so that the harmonies and symmetries of His creation might be revealed. It is only in His light that we will firstly and fully see light. Only when we are rooted and grounded in love will we be able to understand His love. That love, though revealed and familiar to all those who belong to Him, is still beyond our finite comprehension.

So, Paul says to you, “You will see the King in all of His glory and beauty when His glory and beauty is revealed in you.”

 

~Brad Whitt

Image source

February 4, 2012

What’s in a Name? Saul Becomes Paul

Thanks to those of you who recommend blogs or specific posts.  If I don’t use your suggestion, feel free to re-submit the idea. 

Today we introduce the writing of Darrell Creswell, where today’s post appeared as Why Did Saul Change His Name to Paul?

By divine sovereignty the Lord intervenes in Saul’s life and he is genuinely converted during an encounter with the Lord Jesus. Under the ministry of Ananias he is also healed and filled with the Holy Ghost. Saul immediately began preaching Christ in the synagogues of Damascus. It is uncertain when Saul’s name was changed to Paul. The first reference in the sacred record to this name change was while Paul was ministering on the Isle of Cyprus during his first missionary journey (Acts 13:1-9).

  • Acts 7:58 – Saul is introduced in the New Testament giving approval to Stephen’s death
  • Acts 8 – Saul continues persecuting the church
  • Acts 9 – Saul travels to Damascus and is converted by Jesus in the process
  • Acts 9:19 – Saul (no name change yet) begins preaching Christ in Damascus
  • Acts 13:1-3 – Saul and Barnabas (still no name change) are set apart by the Holy Spirit for missionary service
  • Acts 13:4 – Saul and Barnabas set sail for Cyprus
  • Acts 13:9 – Saul or Paul name “change” takes place
  • Acts 13-28 – Saul goes by the name Paul for the remainder of the book and the remainder of the New Testament

The Bible does not tell us how or when Saul’s name was changed to Paul. In the book of Acts, Luke simply identifies Saul as the one who is also called Paul.

Acts 13:9 “Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him.”

So why the change from Saul to Paul?

There are two possibilities.

The first is found in the first book of Timothy when the Lord informs Saul that he would become an apostle to the Gentiles.

1 Timothy 2:7 “For which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle. I am speaking the truth in Christ, a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.”

One reason that Paul may have converted his Jewish Saul to the Gentile equivalent Paul is so that non-Jews would accept him more easily. Jews were intensely hated throughout the Roman Empire and very few Gentiles wanted to listen to or be around Jews.

The second possibility and the topic of this piece may be that his new identity reflected a new life in Christ Jesus. After his conversion on the road he was a new man with a new heart. The old man Saul with his persecution of Christians was a thing of the past. I personally believe that Paul knew that this new man with a new heart required a new name.

The name Paul is a fully Romanized name that means “small”, with no Jewish roots attached to it.

Did God change Saul’s name? If He did, the Bible doesn’t say so, and if it wasn’t done by God, then Paul must have done it.

Paul referred to himself as the “least of the Apostles”, a pun on the meaning of “Paul” meaning small in Greek.

It is no small wonder that it was most probably Paul that introduced the word  tapeinophrosune into first century literature. The word was first introduced in Ephesians in about 61 AD. Ephesians 4:2 with all humility (tapeinophrosune) and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love.

In Greek pre-Christian writers, the word tapeinos is with a just a few exceptions used by Plato and Platonic writers, in a bad or inferior sense–meaning something evil or unworthy. In secular Greek literature, the adjective (Greek) “humble”, or “lowly” was used always in a derogatory and negative way, most commonly of a slave, bum or a vagrant. It described what was considered unfit, unclean and having little or no value.

If I were to say to you in the year 20AD, “Hi Buddy, your wife sure is humble”. You would go ahead and punch me out. That is how bad the word humble was. But just as Christ came to change the world, He came to change the word tapeinos to tapeinophrosune and give it a new meaning changing the negative definition to a positive and eternal meaning. Jesus’ death on the Cross and the sharing of that message gave us the meaning of the word we now know as humility, now that’s powerful. Paul understood that as the Holy Spirit directed him to write God’s word. And humility as a believer goes even a step farther than the secular world.

It is Paul who first penned the word as found in the New Testament as a  noun that is translated “humility” (Col 2:18, 23); in several other places in the New Testament it is also translated “lowliness” and “lowliness of mind”.

Neither the Romans nor the Greeks had a word for “humility”. The very concept of humility was so foreign to their way of thinking that they had no term to describe it. During the first several centuries of Christianity, pagan writers borrowed the term (tapeinophrosune) humility from the writings of the Paul  in the New Testament. The pagan writers always used it derogatorily—mostly in reference to Christians—because to them humility was a pitiful weakness. Thus, it is not surprising that the word “humility”, has not been found in any Greek literature outside the Bible before the 2nd century.

The word humility (tapeinophrosune) in the New Testament always has a positive connotation. Humility of mind and spirit is the opposite of pride, pride being the sin that has always separated men from God. Christ through the power of His Blood has transformed the word humble from that of shame in the eyes of man, to that of humility (tapeinophrosune) which carries glory, strength and honor, and is exalted in the eyes of our Lord.

The prominence that humility has gained in Christian scripture indicates the power of this concept in our relationship to God, ourselves and to our fellow man. Jesus not only strongly impressed His disciples with the need of humility, but was in Himself its supreme example. He described Himself as “meek and lowly (tapeinos) in heart” (Matt 11:29) “Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled; and whosoever shall humble himself shall be exalted”.

Philippians 2:3-4

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility (tapeinophrosune) consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Here Paul gives us the Scriptural “antidote” for pride, selfish ambition and the pursuit of our own egos and glory. We are to view others as being above and better than ourselves, and to hold ourselves as lower than them, which is exactly the opposite of what our flesh desires to do. The word indicates the esteeming one’s self as small or recognizing one’s insufficiency but at the same time recognizing the powerful sufficiency of God! This the power of the word tapeinophrosune (humility), transformed by the Blood of Christ.

It is not a weakness when we surrender, but in strength when we reject our own wants and desires and look after the needs of others.” It is good to show humility to the world as we follow Christ and humble ourselves that our “labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1Cor 15:58).

This is perhaps Scripture’s clearest portrait of the humility called for in the Gospel. It is not a weak man’s surrender, but a strong man’s rejection of selfishness and determination to be actively concerned with the needs and interests of others. In Christ there are no empty, meaningless lives, only strong eternal lives through humility.

Humility is the understanding of our own insignificance, in light of His significance. I think that what Paul is trying to teach us here in understanding humility is

Colossians 3:12 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience

The word humility here refers to the saints, to see themselves as sinners saved by God’s grace, to esteem others better than themselves; in ascribing all they have, and are, to Christ; in doing works of mercy and righteousness without ostentation, or boasting of them, or depending on them; owing all to Christ Jesus in humility.

So it is fitting that Saul whose name was changed to Paul after his conversion would refer to himself as the least of the apostles and coin the noun tapeinophrosune (humility) for all of recorded history from the time of Christ to see. The word for humility used by Paul is but a reflection of how he saw himself in Christ Jesus -– Small and Humble. A wonderful legacy in Christ Jesus to leave for us all to see and read.

~Darrell Creswell