Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Paul – ‘a giant of a little man’

By Colleen Podmore

Often we can take the Scriptures and use them to confirm or prove our particular point of view. That is, we start with an idea and then look for verses that will back it up. For example we might say that it is ok to drink alcohol because there are no Scriptures forbidding the drinking of alcohol, but we forget that we are not to stumble our brothers and sisters with our actions (1Cor 10:24, 32). We forget that we are to be filled with the Holy Spirit, not the Jack Daniels spirit (Eph 5:18). We forget that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and that drinking alcohol can lead to immorality and the Scriptures say a lot about that – no drunkard will inherit the kingdom of God (1Cor 6:10).

It is also important to study the Scriptures in their context, to know the historical backgrounds, to know who the author was and why they wrote what they wrote – then we can get an idea of the meaning behind what is written and this will inform our doctrine about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the purpose of the church and our place in God’s plan.

Our starting point must be that ALL Scripture is inspired by God and we cannot pick and choose what we will believe and what we will not believe (1 Tim 3:16).
Men were guided by the Holy Spirit and wrote things down according to how He directed them (2Peter 1:20,21). So regardless of which of the 66 books of the Bible written by 44 different authors we study, we can be assured that God had a purpose.

Our brother Robbie quite rightly pointed out last week that it is not what goes into a man that makes him unclean but it is what comes out of our mouths (Matt 15:11). I would like to add to that and also include that which we write – our text messages, our emails. If we must guard our tongues and what we say, we should also guard our words and what we write.

I’ve been intrigued by the Apostle Paul. I’ve been trying to put myself in his shoes and see things through his eyes in order to understand a little more this ‘giant of a little man’.

Tradition has it that he was quite short – I’m not sure exactly how short but perhaps 5ft, 5ft 6in? Apparently he was thin on top, a bit bald with a hooked nose. His face could be likened to an angel at times. He was not that impressive. People were saying of him ‘…his letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.’ (2Cor10:10
But Paul himself was not concerned. He said, ‘...I came to you with weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.’ (1Cor 2:3-5)

Tonight I would like to give a brief over-view of Paul’s life, then to focus on some of his words to the church of Philippi, then to look at some of his words of advice.

Paul was born around 5AD and tradition has it that he was beheaded around 68AD under the persecution by Nero when he was about 63yrs old. He was born in Tarsus and his father was a Roman citizen and his mother a Jew. As a young child and man he studied under the rabbi Gamaliel in Jerusalem.
There is no doubt that he was extremely intelligent and zealous about religion. He describes himself as being a ‘…Hebrew of the Hebrews, in regard to the law, a Pharisee, as for zeal, persecuting the church, as for legalistic righteousness, faultless,’ (Phil 3:5,6) and ‘I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.’ (Gal 1:14) Acts 23:6.

Paul’s Jewish name was Saul, and he is described in the book of Acts as Saul of Tarsus. The first mention of him is at the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:58), one of the first Christian martyrs.
I don’t know if Paul saw Jesus or heard Him preach. He doesn’t say so in any of his writings. He describes himself as an apostle, one sent by Jesus Christ, and asks the question in 1Cor 9:1, ‘Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?’ It is believed that this refers to the time of his conversion (Acts 9:1-19).
But before his conversion, Saul of Tarsus, didn’t know Jesus and that is why he persecuted the followers of Jesus, believing them to be a sect which polluted true Judaism.  I’m sure we all know of Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus. He saw a bright light and spoke with Jesus and the rest as they say is history. Saul of Tarsus became Paul the Apostle – Paul being a Greek version of Saul.

After his conversion Saul preached in Damascus for 3 years. He went to Arabia briefly during that time and then he went to Jerusalem to preach but he was so provocative that the Jews tried to kill him. He left Jerusalem and returned to his hometown of  Tarsus where he stayed for 10 years.
Barnabas retrieved him from oblivion and brought him to the church at Antioch to help with the growing number of converts. After a year there he began his first missionary journey in AD 46, when he was 41 yrs old and it became clear that he was an apostle to the Gentiles and he worked tirelessly to preach the gospel and establish churches as far away as Rome. For 20 yrs he worked and his life was not easy but he did everything for the glory of God and for the church of Jesus Christ.

Over his lifetime Paul wrote 13 letters or epistles to the churches he had established and the one I want to focus on now is my favourite – Philippians. It is such an encouraging joyful letter.
Paul wrote a letter to the church at Philippi in AD61 when he was under house arrest in Rome. He was around 56 years of age, about my age. If I was in prison, how would I feel? Would I be bitter, disillusioned, wondering where on earth God was and what was He doing? Probably, but not Paul, he was rejoicing! 
As we read his words to the Philippians we can get an idea of the heart of Paul.
I’ve just picked out a couple of examples:
(i)                 Chapter 1:3-6 demonstrates his uncompromising goodwill toward the people at Philippi .
He has a friendly disposition, benevolent and kind.
(ii)               Chapter 1:12-18 demonstrates his positive attitude toward his situation. I might write, ‘Look, I don’t know why God is allowing me to suffer like this under house arrest when I could be out sharing the gospel. Satan also has the victory because some people are spreading rumours about me and the reason I’m in prison. Where is God? Please pray for me.’
But no, this is what he says – read Phil 1:12-18. He was rejoicing in his situation!

(iii)             His main and his only concern was that Christ was glorified. He wasn’t concerned about his reputation, his health, his freedom – no in whatever circumstances he found himself – his goal was to glorify Jesus. (Phil 1:20)

Finally, even though he was writing to thank the Philippians for their gift and to give them news of Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25), he couldn’t help also including some good advice for them.

Firstly, in chapter 2, he exhorts them to ‘be like minded’, doing nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility considering others better than yourselves’.

Secondly, in chapter 3, he exhorts them to ‘rejoice in the Lord, and to put no confidence in the flesh, encouraging them to keep ‘pressing on, forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead’

In chapter 4, his advice is to ‘stand fast in the Lord’ and ‘whatever is true….. to think and meditate on these things!

Paul was an amazing ‘giant of a little man’, who went from being Saul of Tarsus to Paul the Apostle. God used his past to shape his future because Paul had met Jesus and knew the power of the risen Lord. His desire was ‘to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like Him in His death (Phil 3:10)
Paul had learned the secret of being content in any and every situation (Phil 4:12). Paul was a man just like you and me. Let’s listen and put into practice his advice.

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