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The Apostle Paul

 

By Dr. Richard Ing

October 23, 2002


FAVORITE APOSTLES

            Of all the apostles in the New Testament, there are three that stand out to me.  The first was Peter, the brash fisherman who once proudly bragged that he would be willing to die for Jesus and would never deny Him.  Mt. 26:35.  Indeed he would die for Jesus one day, but not until he found out the true condition of his heart when the rooster crowed twice.  Mk. 14:67-72.  Peter was so humbled by his experience that God was able to use him to become the leader of the Church in Jerusalem and to minister mightily to the Jews.  It was Peter who later bravely stood up and defended the faith (Ac. 2:14), and it was Peter who raised the dead (Ac. 9:40) and whose shadow would touch the sick and bring healing (Ac. 5:15). In the end, historians say that when Peter was to be executed through crucifixion, Peter chose to be crucified upside down because he felt unworthy of dying the same way Jesus did.  Peter was a person that men familiar with hard labor and physical exertion to earn a living, can identify with.  He was uneducated and rough, impetuous and loud but had a heart of gold.  I picture Peter as a big, burly sort of man with a booming voice - a natural leader.

            Then, there was the apostle John, who was the youngest of Jesus’ disciples. It was John who laid his head on Jesus’ breast during the last supper. There was a special love relationship between John and the Lord.  John became known as the apostle of love because the major theme of the Book of John and 1st and 2nd John is love.  Nothing much is said of John’s ministry, but it must have been great and penetrating.  His ministry so irritated Rome that John was eventually banished to the island of Patmos where the cruelest and most incorrigible criminals were left to die. It was there that God gave the final revelation of the end times that we find in the Book of Revelation.  John must have been a kindly, soft-spoken man who smiled all the time.  Although he was around ninety years old when he was on Patmos, I always see him as a young man who followed Jesus around like a puppy dog and who was a light-hearted, unassuming kind of guy, who saw Jesus like an older brother.

THE APOSTLE PAUL

            But, of all apostles, my favorite is Paul, who was once called Saul.  Perhaps, it is because Paul was a scholar who studied under the famous teacher Gamaliel (because I’m a pseudo-scholar myself).  It was said that those privileged to be picked to learn from Gamaliel were known for their brilliant minds.  Students of Gamaliel were almost guaranteed a prestigious position in the temple, even to eventually become the chief priest.  It meant fame, recognition, respect of men, wealth, power and admiration.  Here was somebody who had everything going in his favor in the world before he met Jesus.  Phil. 3:5,6.  Maybe I favor Paul because he was a lawyer who expounded the Word and could argue against the best scholars of his time.  Before he became a follower of Jesus, Paul (who was Saul at the time) was an enemy of Christianity and killed and imprisoned many of God’s people.  He was destined for hell.  But, God’s amazing grace was upon this unique man.  On the way to Damascus to persecute more Christians, Paul was knocked off his horse and blinded.  You know the story. Ac. 9:1-18.

            Meeting Jesus changed Paul’s life forever.  The blind Paul couldn’t drink or eat for those three days.  I can only speculate on what was going through Paul’s mind.  He knew that he had made a mistake so big that he had brought upon himself the ire of God.  At that moment, Paul knew that his life was over either way.  He’d either die or if he lived, he would never be the same again.  When you meet Truth head on, your eyes are opened to eternity.  Everything he had enjoyed in life, all his goals and expectations, all of his possessions, wealth, position and friends, and all that he had stood for was wiped out in an instant.  They held absolutely no meaning for Paul from that moment on.  Paul had met the power of the universe and it blew him apart at the seams.  Paul was thoroughly crushed.  He had nowhere to go.  When Ananias, an unknown follower of Jesus, appeared and laid hands on Paul, Paul received his eyesight back.  His gratitude knew no bounds.  He knew without a doubt the depth of God’s grace and mercy.  Here he was - a man who had killed God’s people and who had resisted God, standing before the Lord of all creation and being spared his life.  From that day on, all Paul could say was, “Lord, what wilt thou have me do?”  Ac. 9:6.  Paul no longer belonged to Paul; Paul belonged to Jesus.

            Paul’s story is your story and mine too, if we let it.  We were gross sinners before we met Jesus.  Unlike Paul, however, none of us has yet to be struck blind.  In a way, we were already blind and now we see (hopefully, and with tongue in cheek).  It took a cataclysmic event to change Paul’s mind and heart.  His old man died when he fell off that horse.  From that day on, he considered the best that the world could offer to be like dung, compared to knowing Jesus.  Phil. 3:8.  Life on earth held nothing for Paul.  Paul later said, “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful of you.”  Phil. 1:23,24.  His choice was to go to heaven to be with Jesus.  He was a complete and empty vessel for God’s use.  Something tells me that all of us need to meet God head on and be knocked off our high horse.

            According to Bible historians, Paul’s intellect was prodigious.  Paul was short in stature, probably less than five feet tall, and had an unsightly “weeping” eye that served as a “thorn in Paul’s side.” 2 Co. 12:7.   Paul had been given so much revelation from God that this affliction was to remind him that God was in control and that Paul was just a vessel and conduit for God.  It kept him humble and probably kept the women away at the same time.  Here’s a great man of God who healed the sick, cast out devils and raised the dead, and he couldn’t even heal himself.  When he prayed to God that the affliction would be taken away, God said, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”  2 Co. 12:9.  To that, Paul said,

            Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.  I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing.  2 Co. 12:9b-11.

            Paul never looked back.  He never regretted losing everything he had previously lived for.  He began to see eternity through the eyes of God, like no other man before him (except Jesus and David) and few since.  He was willing to pay whatever price it required:

            Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.  Phil. 3:8-10.

Paul’s total focus was the Lord Jesus Christ.  There is nothing in that statement that smacks of self.  Paul gladly gave up everything this world had to offer, just to follow Jesus.  That was what was burning in Paul’s heart.  He went through many sufferings on earth and willingly endured countless trials and deprivations, just to please the Lord.  2 Co. 4:8-12; 2 Co. 6:4,5; 2 Co. 23-27.  He considered all the sufferings “light affliction”:

            For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.  2 Co. 4:17,18.

In the end, Paul received the crown of righteousness that had been laid up for him.  2 Ti. 4:8.  That reward was worth everything to Paul.  His eyes were on eternity.

A HEART FOR THIS HOUR

            I believe that the heart of Paul (which is the heart of Jesus) is being required of all Christians today.  Many saints have tried to emulate Paul and many have succeeded.  There have been countless martyrs and champions of God that were buoyed by Paul’s statements throughout the ages.  Now, we come to the end of the age when the greatest generation of Christians ever formed will make its appearance on earth.  Anyone who desires to be in that elect group must have what Paul had.

            In sharp contrast to Paul was the rich, young man in Mark 10.  In a sense, he was a Paul (or Saul) before meeting Jesus.  Jesus loved the young man (Mk. 10:21) and the youth was zealous to inherit eternal life.  Mk. 10:17.  But when Jesus instructed him to sell whatever he had, give to the poor and take up his cross and follow Him, the young man walked away from Jesus. 

            Plainly speaking, this is what separates the sheep from the goats.  Many Christians want just so much of Jesus and that’s it.  When it starts to touch their money and possessions, or their pursuit of the same, they walk away from Jesus.  When following Jesus starts to bring trials and afflictions, they draw back.  When their fun-filled life is threatened, they turn their backs to the Lord.  And so, the question for you and me is, “Are you a Paul, or are you that rich, young man?”  

            Making a decision to pursue God and go all the way with Him requires more courage than most people have.  It separates the sheep from the goats, the winners from the losers and the overcomers from the luke-warms.  In the natural, many athletes may “risk it all” to climb Mt. Everest or to be the best race-driver or jockey; but all their efforts are for self, not for God.  Businessmen may “risk it all” in an investment calculated to make them rich, but God is not the goal.

            Following Jesus requires a faith that will risk everything, even your very life.  All the champions of God had it in their heart to risk it all.  David had it in abundance.  He would rather die than not trust God.  The young David risked his life to fight the lion and the bear. 1 Sa. 17:34,35.   He risked humiliation and death when he challenged the giant, Goliath.  Throughout most of his life, David was not focused on himself.  He was bent on doing God’s will no matter what.  He was not really interested in palaces, riches, many wives and power.  If God wanted David to be a shepherd the rest of his life, David would have accepted it in an instant.  He just wanted to please God.

            I believe that this one quality set David apart from all others. This attitude of the heart is so precious to God that he promised that there would forever be a son of David on the throne.  Jer.  33:17.  Jesus fulfilled that promise as the “root and offspring of David, the bright and morning star” (Rev. 22:16) who shall forever rule on the throne.

YOU AND ME

            How I pray that some of you will have the heart that David and Paul had.  Then I will know that my efforts have not been in vain.  Light of the World Missions is a strange church.  All we talk about is “changing the heart” and all we care about is being like Jesus and doing His will.  People drop off like flies because they cannot stand the seriousness of this church.  I pray that we will be like Moses, and Elijah, and John the Baptist, and David and Paul - trusting in God and willing to lay our lives down for His great name’s sake. 

            The remnant of God has always been a tiny group of people.  That’s because very few are willing to risk it all to follow God. 


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