Summary: We are moved to honor and glorify our King because of his incredible patience - both directly in the life of the Apostle Paul and as his pattern for our lives as well.
Osama bin Laden. That may be the most reviled name in America today. That name arouses anger and incites rage in many American hearts. For many Americans that name represents the physical manifestation of evil. I’m guessing that the thoughts of many Americans concerning Osama and his terrorist cohorts were reflected in a statement made by Senator John McCain shortly after the attack of September 11, when he said, “God may forgive you, but we will not.” That sentiment is echoed in a song I heard on the radio recently entitled, “Osama Must Die.” I’ve also heard reports of that same attitude expressed on makeshift banners unfurled from highway overpasses with the words, “Kill Osama!” scrolled across them. Why? Because many Americans want revenge! Many people want America to reign down the same kind of terror on him that he allegedly has reigned down us. With vindictive anger others take matters to the ultimate extreme wishing that Osama would forever burn in hell because of what he is suspected to have done.
I don’t know how each of you has reacted to the events of September 11 and the weeks that have followed, but I am certain that these things have challenged us all. They’ve challenged our national confidence that’s built on the strength of our intelligence efforts and economic prosperity. They’ve challenged us in matters of faith as we hear how the assassins carried out their dastardly deeds with the conviction that they were doing God’s will. They’ve challenged us to better understand the mind of God. They’ve challenged us in our walk of faith as we struggle to respond to these unprovoked attacks in a truly God-pleasing way.
Through the inspired pen of the Apostle Paul God reveals his will to us to help us overcome these challenges. As we meditate on the words of the text God gives us a glimpse into his mind and his actions. As we catch that glimpse into the mind and activity of the true God we, together with the Apostle Paul are led to give: Honor and glory to our patient King! 1) Because of his patience with Paul, and 2) because of his pattern of patience through Paul.
The Apostle Paul. I’m confident that Christians the world over have a soft spot in their hearts for that name. In the text the Apostle Paul confesses that it wasn’t always that way. Before he became a Christian his name actually raised terror in the hearts of Christians. Paul confesses in his letter to the Galatians, “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (Galatians 1:13,14). In the text before us Paul admits that he was passionate for what he thought was God’s will. As he looks back on that life he realizes that in his zeal he was actually a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violent man. He confesses that despite his religious fervor it was all a product of his ignorance and unbelief.
Why did God let Paul get away with all of this for so long? Why didn’t God send the fire of heaven down on Paul to give him what he deserved for his sins? Jesus Christ, the exalted King of heaven and earth, didn’t bring his wrath on Paul because Jesus had another purpose, a higher purpose in mind. Jesus Christ our glorious King wanted to deal patiently with Paul. Instead of punishing him, Jesus filled Paul’s heart with his undeserved love that overcame Paul’s hatred. Jesus dealt patiently with Paul by overcoming his heart of unbelief and replacing it with a heart of faith. In patience Jesus changed Paul from a persecutor of his church. Patiently Jesus filled Paul with strength and faithfulness to zealously carry out the public work of the ministry of the gospel to which Jesus called him.
Perhaps many Christians of the first century also questioned why God would allow Paul to terrorize people, especially Christians, just as we wonder why God allows people like Osama bin Laden to terrorize the people of the world today, including Christians. Why was God “slow” to take action with Paul? Because the true God is not a God who wanted to give Paul exactly what he deserved. The true God is the one who wanted to save Paul from hell by bringing him to know his Savior! Our God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever wants that for all people, namely that they would find salvation in knowing Jesus Christ as their Savior from sin. That’s God’s desire even for those who are responsible for masterminding the murderous attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in rural Pennsylvania!