1 Corinthians 15:9-10
“For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.”
The Example of Paul
The apostles, the original 12 apostles, were normal everyday Joes in the eyes of most humans. These are blue collared working guys out to make a living. You had your tax collector who seemed at the time one of your most unethical people going but no one supported murder as we know. Judas, the one who gave Christ over ended his own life and was never restored to fellowship with Jesus like the other 11 who scattered. Then there is the apostle Paul.
Saul of Tarsus was circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless, Philippians 3:5-6. This is how Paul would describe himself before Christ entered his life. The harshest words that Christ had for people during His ministry were for the Pharisee’s. Matthew 23:27 has Jesus saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.” Matthew 23:33 also quotes Jesus as saying, “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?”
From the words of Jesus it does not appear that He had a special place in His heart for Pharisee’s. How about Paul? Paul was a Pharisee under the name of Saul who persecuted the church. He was at the stoning of Stephen and gave hearty approval although he may not have picked up a stone. Acts 8:3 says, “But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.” The NIV translates this as, “But Saul began to destroy the church.” Saul’s mission was to destroy the church. He wasn’t doing it ignorantly. His mission was to destroy the church and he did it with much zeal.
Saul was on his way to Damascus when he was blinded by a bright light and heard these words from Jesus, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”- Acts 9:4. The life of Paul would never be the same from that point on. This is the point where Saul the Pharisee a hater of Christ and the church become Paul the apostle who loved Jesus and became united to Christ and His mission. This may be one of the most amazing conversion stories ever and we get to read it over and over as encouragement to us.
Why is this encouraging to us? Well, we are not unlike Saul of Tarsus. We may not have persecuted the church but we are former haters of God. If it wasn’t for the grace of God in the form of Jesus Christ intervening in our lives we would still be haters of God. In 1 Corinthians 15:9-10 Paul says that he worked harder than all of the apostles but it was not him who worked but the grace of God within Him.
When the Lord intervened in the life of Paul, things changed. Paul became a lover of Christ and the church of Christ. Was he proud of His works? Not at all! He gave all the credit to God. Paul’s life changed because God came to live with him and in him. The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ made this possible. It comes down to the fact that God, the creator of all things, the one who sustains all things, the one who speaks and things are created, the one who knows all the planets by name and numbers each or your hairs, the one who gives the oceans it boundaries, made a way just to be with Paul. God didn’t just take Paul and set him aside, He began to live through Paul. God showed Paul grace every moment of every day by living in and through his broken, sinful flesh.
2 Corinthians 12:10 reads, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” We as Christians will tend to dwell on our weaknesses in a woe is me type attitude. Paul hated his sin as documented in Romans 7:24 referring to his flesh as a body of death but is quick to tell us about his faith in Romans 7:25. It is the place where Jesus wants us to live as well. We are not unlike Paul. We are weak, broken and sinful but God still wants to be with you and to live through you. We are His chosen vessels to display the glory of His grace.
Let your hearts be encouraged by the example of how Jesus used the apostle Paul. You have a body of death like Paul but Jesus will work through you anyway. Paul is an awesome example of never trusting in himself but relying on the grace of God through Jesus Christ by the power of His Spirit. He knew his flesh was sinful but he never trusted in his flesh. He trusted in the Lord to accomplish His will through him. May we adopt the mindset of Paul and rejoice because God can take a broken vessel like ours and use it for His glory. What an awesome God of love we have!