Summary: The author of Philippians demonstrates a tremendous faith and devotion to Christ. Who is this and how can I have what he has?
Who is Paul and who are the Philippians?
These are important questions that God has given us the answer to. Last week we introduced a series on the letter to the Philippians where we read that, according to what this letter says, Christ is our purpose, our pattern, our prize, provider, peace and our power. We read statements within this letter where the author says:
1:21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Christ - our purpose.
2:5 Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus. Christ - our pattern.
3:8&14 Indeed, I count everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whose sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (And vs. 14) I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Christ - our prize.
4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Christ - our power.
Again, Christ our purpose, Christ our pattern, Christ our prize and Christ our power!
Who is this author that seems so committed to Christ, so devoted to knowing him, so willing to give up all for him, and so confident in him and contented through him?
Who is this Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ? We don't have to guess or wonder. God supplies us with the story of Paul's life before during and after his conversion to Christ. We can read it for ourselves written by one of Paul's own traveling companions: Luke, who wrote the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. Isn't it amazing what God's word reveals to us? Paul's story is told in the book of Acts.
When we meet this man, Paul, his name is Saul from Tarsus. He is Jewish, but he is also a Roman citizen. His dad was a Pharisee (Acts 23:6). He was trained up in the best Jewish school available under the best teacher of their times. (Acts 22:3). He grew to be a man of amazing devotion to his faith and a genius of his own time. Paul was an alpha, a top achiever, a talented, brilliant man with an internal drive that placed him in the top ranks of his class. As a young man his giftedness catapulted him into leadership within the Jewish religious authorities. He was known by the High priest and Jewish high counsel and he trusted in their religious viewpoints and what he called the "traditions of our fathers" and was submissive to their authority. (Acts 23:4-5).
When we meet him in the book of Acts, Saul is a young man. Do you remember what he is doing? Acts 7:58 is the first mention of this man in the Bible. There we meet Saul holding the coats of those who stoned Stephen to death. Saul gave hearty approval to their killing of Stephen, a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. The irony of this is gripping.
At this point, Saul is not the kind of person we would want to have visit our services here at the Signal Mountain Church of Christ. Saul hated the church. His view of Jesus was not that Jesus is the Christ, but that Jesus was a fraud! Jesus was a blasphemer of God! In Saul's mind, Jesus got exactly what he deserved when he was crucified! In fact, if Saul could have it his way, everyone who followed Jesus as the Christ would end up on a cross. Saul fulfilled Jesus' own prophecy in John 16:2 They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.
Look at Acts 8:1-3, 9:1-2. This shows us the "before" picture of Saul. Everyone has seen ads that use before and after pictures haven't you? Well, here's a picture of Saul of Tarsus before he meets the resurrected Jesus. What is Saul like? He hates Jesus and has dedicated his life to destroying Jesus' disciples. Saul is a Christian's worst nightmare. He didn't wait for us to go to church. Saul made house calls! He dragged off men and women and put them in prison! Why? Because they dared to confess faith in Jesus as the Christ!
By the way: Freedom of religion was not a concept that Saul either knew of or appreciated. In fact, our modern concept of freedom of religion both blesses and curses us. It blesses us in that it allows us to enjoy our religious choices and practices without interference from those who differ with us. It curses us in that it makes us think that religious choices and practices do not really matter all that much, and that we have to be careful not to let our religious choices and practices become so important to us that the get out of hand. (see WEEK mag. article on Politics and Faith: 9-9-11, p. 4). Freedom of religion in this country is quickly turning into freedom from religion.