Monday, July 23, 2018

During the Olympics the first, second, and third winners are honored with the primary one standing in the middle just a little higher than the other two.  When I think of the apostle Paul, I think of Jesus being in the middle, but Paul to his right and a little higher than the one standing on the left.  Paul authored thirteen of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament.  Luke introduces us to Saul of Taurus in Acts 7:58. Except for Acts 10:1 through 11:25, Paul fills the rest of Luke’s second book.

Paul was a Pharisee in belief and teaching.  His teacher was Gamaliel, a renown and respected Pharisee (Acts 22:3).  Paul told the Philippian church that if he wanted to brag, he could because he was “circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” Philippians 3:5-6.  When he was converted, that zeal did not diminish!

Paul stood up to saints who were more Pharisee than Christian, demanding that Gentile believers needed to be circumcised to be saved (Acts 15:1, 6).  When that view infected Peter, he stopped fellowshipping Gentile saints and Paul got in his face (Galatians 2:11-15).  In spite of negative talk against him, Paul wrote and planned to visit the brethren in Corinth to correct their problems (1 Corinthians 4:17-21; 9:1-2).  He admitted that some of the negative things said about him might be true (1 & 2 Corinthians).  He was concerned that the Corinthians would not heed his corrections.  Yet, Paul was a leader and endured much for the cause of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:24-27).  He recognized his limitations.  He realized his prayers for his own comfort would not be realized since he needed the lesson for his own good (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).  Paul implied that he had a problem with covetousness (Romans 7:8-10).  He included himself in the “all” of Romans 3:10, 23.  Although I may put him on a pedestal slightly lower than the one Jesus is on, Paul was not perfect.  Paul recognized he needed help.  Hopefully, we will share in his understanding!

Paul was a lot better at keeping God’s commands than most of us could.  If his parents wanted him to marry, he never complied, feeling his work for the Lord was more pressing.  He did not have a stipulated salary with benefits.  A modern retirement program was unknown to him.  He supported himself when needed.  He did not quit when things went South (1 Corinthians 4:9-13).  When beaten and jailed, he sang praises to God rather than complain about his wounds.  He used the word “woe” once, but not because he felt sorry for himself (1 Corinthians 9:16).  He told followers of Jesus, “imitate me, as I do Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).  Yet in all this he admitted he was chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:13-15).  Paul was a sinner because he was not perfect.  He needed Jesus, just as we do.

Our problems were also Paul’s!  He knew right from wrong and desired to do what was right.  Yet, he didn’t!  He hated doing what was wrong but ended up doing it.  This was a perplexing problem to him.  The harder he attempted to keep the Law of God perfectly, the more failure he experienced.

Paul informed the Philippians, “concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.”  “Blameless” did not mean he kept the Law without breaking it.  That was an impossibility that God wanted him and others to learn.  It is a lesson which needs to be understood today!  Paul wanted to be perfect, but his “want” never became his “was.”  Something was present within Paul that continues today.  The King James Version refers to it as “the flesh” (Matthew 26:41; Romans 6:19; 7:5, 25; 8:1, 3).  The NIV translates it as “the sinful nature.”  Paul blames his surrender to this condition three times in Romans 7:17, 20, & 23.  In this helpless condition he cries out, “What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (v.24).  If the one whom I have put on a pedestal could not live a perfect life, why do I think I can?

Under the Law of Moses, this haunting question could not be answered.  But, in Saul of Tarsus’ life, it was!  Paul answers this painful question with, “Thank God!  It has been done by Jesus Christ our Lord. He has set me free” (v.25).  Paul, you and I share the same nature.  In our mind we desire to serve God.  Yet, “the flesh” or “sinful nature” keeps us from owning that perfection.  How does Jesus solve that “flesh” or “sinful nature”?  His blood negates the sin (1 John 1:7-10).   His blood does not license us to sin, but it cleanses us, so we are not sinners.  Paul expressed it this way, “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).   Let that sink in and you will rejoice!

Imitate Paul!  Follow Jesus into “no condemnation”!