Summary: Paul’s life story, like ours, is a wonderful example of God’s mercy with sinners through Jesus Christ.
PAUL’S STORY IS OUR STORY
A young lady goes out on a blind date and the first thing her friends ask is, “So, what’s his story?” They want to know all the details – where does he work, where did he grow up, what kind of car does he drive? It seems everybody has a story, and we want to know it. We are fascinated in knowing tidbits from other people’s lives. The media has picked up on this apparent fascination. There are magazine articles and TV programs, all dedicated to relating the biographies of the rich and famous. It seems no detail is left out; nothing is sacred. As we listen to those stories – of the modest upbringing of movie stars, the all-to-real problems celebrities face – we learn they aren’t different than any of us.
Everyone has a story. This also applies to the apostle Paul. Today, we encounter a portion of Scripture, in which Paul tips his hand and lets us in on some rather intimate details. The one thing we learn is the apostle Paul was a lot like you and me. In fact, PAUL’S STORY IS OUR STORY. It’s a story of God’s amazing grace. Like Paul, we too have been: 1) Made into a Reliable Witness, and 2) Given a Reliable Message.
1) Made into a Reliable Witness
When we think of the apostle Paul, perhaps words such as courageous, bold, or heroic come to mind. He was the apostle to the Gentiles. Much of the New Testament contains various letters had had written to pastors and congregations in order to instruct and encourage. Paul was a reliable, unyielding figure. He stood strong in the faith. In fact, he was imprisoned and eventually martyred for his faith in Jesus. Yet, Paul tells us a different story. He tells the story of a man who was wholly unreliable. He admits: “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.”
This was not for a lack of zeal. Paul confessed that he was a Pharisee of Pharisees. He was passionate for what he thought was the will of God. In his letter to the Galatians he makes this confession: 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.” Notice the apostle says that, in spite of his zeal, he was ignorant. He was an unbeliever. He had the Scriptures. In fact, Paul was an exemplary student of Scripture. Yet, his heart was hard, his eyes were blind. He failed to see Christ. All of Paul’s efforts to achieve wisdom resulted in ignorance. There’s a warning here for us. What are we zealous for? Quite often we are zealous for what we think is God’s will. We become passionate for what we think God wants us to have and do.
We become zealous with our jobs, with our personal time, even with our families. We pour so much of ourselves into what we consider important because we want to feel good about ourselves. We want tangible proof that we’re O.K. Simple blessings are, then, turned into obsessions. Pursuit of physical happiness becomes our goal.
And at the end of the day, what do we find? We find people so tired and so drained because we’ve poured ourselves out that we can’t muster the energy to even pray. Our zeal to achieve what we think is important leads us to ignore the greater things. We ignore God’s Word. We fail to meditate on it. We do not trust it with our hearts. We fail to trust God with our lives. And in the process, we become ignorant.
Just like the apostle Paul, we are unreliable. We pour ourselves out in an attempt to look good to ourselves, our neighbors, even before God. Yet, we prove to be nothing more than blasphemers and persecutors as well. To ignore God’s Word is to not trust it. This is blasphemy. It is an open defiling of his holy Word. And just think of the example we tend to set to those around us? What impression do we give to our families or our friends when they see that God’s Word is less than important in our lives? This is persecution by example. We persecute the church with our lack of zeal for the Lord. We hinder the proclamation of his Gospel when we ourselves fail to let it shine first-and-foremost in our own lives.
Yet, what amazing grace and mercy our Lord showers upon us! Even as we are busy pouring ourselves out into our own selfish desires and pursuits, God is just as busy pouring his mercy out on us. Consider Paul’s words: “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” That is an amazing testimony of God’s faithful love! Even as we are tempted to foolishly abandon God, he still seeks us out.