Becoming the Apostle Paul (10)
What happened to turn the hateful persecutor Saul into the Great Apostle Paul? How could a man of such overpowering will and set purpose be suddenly turned into the instrument that would spread that very faith he was determined to destroy over the known civilized world? We have the testimony of Scripture, but even so to deeply reflect on this event is to be drawn into a state of awe and wonder.
Just above we read this apostle’s words, “at the right time.” When we consider the astonishing rise of Christ’s church, which happened one saved soul at a time, perhaps one lens that we should look at it through is this “right time” one.
Is it possible that part of Saul’s rage was due to a felt but deeply suppressed realization that the faith of his fathers was proving powerless to deal with the real issues, spiritual and practical that he faced? We have reason to suspect so from the Apostle’s own hand.
What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I should not have known sin. I should not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, finding opportunity in the commandment, wrought in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died; the very commandment which promised life proved to be death to me.
Yet, many feel such conflicts and still go through life clinging to the known. In Saul’s case he left everything – family, career, friends – to become a slave of Christ.
The mystery lessens when we lift our eyes from this one event and view the larger sweep of Christianity’s spread. For then we begin to realize that individuals by the hundreds, then thousands, ten-thousands and hundred-thousands gave up their security, families, social standing, economic well-being even their very lives for this same Christ – “at the right time.”
Saul was not the exception – he was the rule. We focus on his conversion because its tremendous consequences led Luke to include it in the Book of Acts along with accounts of the missionary journeys.
Finally, some might claim that this was the greatest conversion to Christianity in history. From the human point of view, seeing the consequences for the spread and theological grounding of the Church this may be a supportable position. However, I would argue that from God’s sovereign point of view every saved soul is equally precious.
“Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Yes, the Great Apostle must be given his due for what he accomplished. But if we were able to ask him for what he is “great,” my guess is that he would respond along the lines of ‘great in Christ’s love for and forgiveness of me,’ ‘great in Christ’s comfort and strength to me’ and ‘great in the honor to serve and suffer for my Savior.’ Perhaps when we get to heaven we will be able to ask Paul ourselves. But I suspect he will be difficult to find, so low will he be bowed in worship and adoration of his beloved Father, Savior and Spirit.