“I became a servant of this [Good News of Jesus] given me through the working of His power. Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given to me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which was kept hidden in God, who created all things.” (Ephesians 3:7-9 NIV)
To read the above words, a person might look at that and think, “Man, the Apostle Paul sure had self-esteem issues.” But Paul had a realistic picture of who he was and where he had come from. He had no delusions of grandeur, but rather continually marveled that he had any part in God’s plans at all.
When we first meet the Apostle Paul in the Bible, he is known by his Hebrew name Saul. (Acts 7:54-8:3, 9:1-2) He is a Pharisee without equal and listening to a sermon by Stephen. The sermon enraged Saul and set him on a rampage, persecuting believers, arresting them and dragging them to be tried and killed, in order to purge the nation of the infection known as The Way, made up of those who followed Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah. He was an ancient bounty hunter, charging himself with single-handedly stopping these lying disciples from corrupting the pure Jews in Israel.
Saul is bound and determined to stomp out this cult of heretics, breathing murderous threats against the church. And when he had driven the believers out of Judea, this was not good enough. He was going to pursue them to the cities to which they had fled. Saul got warrants to arrest any Jews who had fled to Damascus and was on his way, like Dog the Bounty Hunter today, to arrest them and drag them back to the Jewish Supreme Court in Jerusalem.
The believers huddled in fear, praying fervently for protection from this madman, obsessed with the destruction of the church. What would God do to protect them?
As many of you know, God struck Saul down, not to kill him, but to win him to Jesus! Immediately upon seeing the vision, Saul was struck blind. At the same time, he believed in Jesus and waited for his marching orders from God (Acts 9:1-19). He became a fiery preacher for his new Messiah.
Ironically Saul’s main audience was not to be Jews, but rather Gentiles! Rather than God using this Jewish leader to go back to his own peers, God sent him in another direction entirely. God said, “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings… I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” ( Acts 9:15-16)
Side Note: God’s plan is not always like our plan. Though Paul was thoroughly schooled in the Jewish culture and a highly trained Pharisee, God sent him to work among the Gentiles. Formerly, he would have despised the Gentiles and found them repulsive in their cultural practices. Yet, these are the people to whom he devoted the remainder of his life! What illogical thing is God calling you to do?
As we explore the book of Ephesians, we pick up the story years later, toward the end of his life when Saul, or better known as the Apostle Paul, was sitting under house arrest in Rome. While sitting in custody, Paul wrote this to one of the churches he helped start in the prosperous Roman city of Ephesus.
Even at this late stage in his life, Paul still remembers his humble beginnings. Repeatedly, he denounced any exalted state and confessed that he was the “chief of sinners,” a blasphemer who cursed the Messiah Jesus, one who beat believers and was responsible for their murders!
So what turned this bounty hunter into a missionary, church planter and the writer of nearly half of the New Testament? The only way to explain this radical turn around is to believe his own story. It was a supernatural meeting with Jesus Christ Himself that brought about such a complete transformation.
So, Paul was transformed into God’s messenger with a very special message – God’s grace was for all people, not just the Jewish people. And God would make all who believe in Jesus into one new Person, one new Country, one new Family, and one new Temple (Ephesians 2:19-22, 3:2-6). God erased the divisions that so often separate us – race, gender, economic status, educational training, and religious and national/ethnic backgrounds.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male nor female, for we are all one in Christ. (Galatians 3:28 NIV)
Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Colossians 3:11 NIV)
The Apostle Paul never let anything stop him from completing this mission; not persecution or trials, not geographical distances, not financial hardships, nothing. When imprisoned, he used that opportunity to turn from preaching to writing, giving us nearly half the books of the New Testament as a result.
God calls us to have this same single-minded determination to share this good news with everyone: all people can discover God’s love and forgiveness in God the Son, Jesus Christ, who loved us so much He gave His very life for us! We are called to be His witnesses, His ambassadors, sharing this wherever God may send us.
Next Week: Secrets from Paul on Handling Suffering