Glory Out of Failure Meditations: 12. Paul – a classic example (2)
Gal 1:13,14 I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.
1 Tim 1:15 Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst …. I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.
Sincerity: I remember, many years ago, hearing the great American evangelist, Billy Graham speak about an American Football player he once watched. There was a melee on the field but in all the confusion one man managed to grab the ball and take off with it. He ran the length of the pitch and the crowd was on their feet roaring. He was the most sincere man on the field as he touched the ball down. The only trouble was that in all the confusion he lost his bearings and ran in the wrong direction. The most sincere man on the field was running in the wrong direction! That so describes Saul who became Paul.
Paul’s Sincerity. Let’s just call him Paul for that is the name he is best known by. Before his well-known Damascus road experience, meeting Jesus, he might best be described as seriously religious. He described this when writing to the Philippians: “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; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.” (Phil 3:4-6) What a pedigree! Family background – totally Jewish – a circumcised Jew. Spiritual background – a Pharisee, a keeper of the Law, a total law-keeper. Devotional background – persecuting the church that he saw as a cult undermining Judaism. You can’t do better than that. If you had any doubt, you only have to look at his testimony to the Galatians: “intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” (Gal 1:13,14) See the underlined words there. All out for suppressing the new cult, the Way, the church. Advancing up the spiritual and social ladder of Judaism beyond others of his own age. An almost rabid or fanatical defender of the faith – his faith.
God moves on: Fifty years before, that might have been highly commendable but God has come, preparing people through John the Baptist, drawing people through His Son; it’s a new day, God has been revealing the mystery that had been there for centuries in the prophetic scriptures, the hiddenness of the Messiah, now made clear and obvious with anyone with eyes to see. But Paul’s eyes are clouded with tradition, with the past, it’s all he knows and there is no room for anything else.
Changes: But there is something here that believers need to learn – God moves on. It’s not that He changes, it’s not that the truth changes, it’s just simply that He continues to reveal that which was there all the time but which we hadn’t seen. I can remember when I was a young Christian and an itinerant preacher in the UK started teaching about ‘the body of Christ’. It had been there in the scriptures, but we just hadn’t seen it.
The Reformation: Back in the 16th century a German monk by the name of Martin Luther shook the religious world. As Wikipedia succinctly describes him, “Luther taught that salvation and, consequently, eternal life are not earned by good deeds but are received only as the free gift of God’s grace through the believer’s faith in Jesus Christ as redeemer from sin. His theology challenged the authority and office of the pope by teaching that the Bible is the only source of divinely revealed knowledge.” Seems simple to us today but not six hundred years ago. The Reformation restored Scripture to its proper place in the life of individuals and the church.
Holy Spirit being Revealed: Possibly one of the greatest areas the Church has stumbled over has been in respect of the Holy Spirit. When we consider the history of the last hundred years we see experiential faith being upturned. The Los Angeles Azusa Street Revival in 1906 brought out into the open the place and role of the Holy Spirit. This teaching and experience restored the Holy Spirit to His proper place, but mostly stayed within Pentecostal churches. With the arrival of the 1960’s, a change came bringing a fresh awareness of the existence, experience, function and role of ‘the body of Christ’ as formed and created by the Spirit. The Charismatic Movement emphasized personal Spirit-filling and gifting, and our place within the body being taught and experienced in new ways.
Sonship being Restored: At the very end of the 20th century a phenomena occurred that became known as the Toronto Blessing, a challenging manifestation of the power of the Spirit that, like all these things died away after several years after having dramatically touched and changed many (but not all) lives in the church. My own people after having been impacted by God couldn’t stop reading their Bibles, couldn’t wait for the next prayer meeting and couldn’t stop talking about the Lord. But here’s the thing, many churches weren’t touched, those who were suspicious, religious, wanting to retain control, just like Paul. After it died down I asked the Lord what it was all about. I believe He said, “I have been seeking to teach my people about sonship, about entering into a relationship of love and joy with me whereby they learn to minister in power both inside the church and outside it.” But we are always slow to learn and twenty years later we still (mostly) haven’t learned to do that.
The Glory? Paul’s greatest failure was being utterly sincere but going in the wrong direction. The things we witnessed in the Reformation and the various moves of God through the last century, reveal a church that was sincere but only part way there. As God brought the Bible to the fore, the place of His Spirit to the fore, the reality of Eph 4:12 ministries and 1 Cor 12 gifts to the fore, as expressions of the ‘body of Christ’, He has simply been showing us things that were always there but which we had simply not seen. So ‘glory’ is simply being taken from the place of shortcomings to a place of obedience, from a place of powerlessness to a place of power – provision and purpose – where we become ‘sons’ those who mature and enter into the family business, the family of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. What a privilege, what a wonder, what love, what joy! Let’s not feel we have to be in control, He’s much better at it than we are!