Monday, July 9, 2012

Paul's Best Life Then

Here are some thoughts on the footnotes from Philip Schaff.  Earle Cairns, in chapter 4 of his book, mentioned a growing upper class in the Roman empire that employed slaves and oppressed people.

Paul still brought his message to them.  After his conversion in Acts 9, he started by preaching in the Damascus Synagogue.  In Galatians 1, Paul mentions that he spent three years in Arabia.  Since he was an apostle, I assume this means that Jesus himself taught him for three years like he had the original apostles.  This is why seminary training takes 3 years, as young ministers need to know what they are preaching, although they are not apostles.

Schaff speculates that Paul journeyed as far as Sinai.  There he realized that his life before was full of rules, prestige, and comfort, but it was empty.  "For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." 2 Corinthians 3:6b. Christ showed him the futility of trying to be perfect to regain God's favor by executing infidels without understanding their story. 

Schaff quotes a man named Godot, "Paul was a unique man for the task."  The footnote explains that Godot thinks of Paul neither as a replacement for Judas nor James who had been killed.  Israel rejected Christ and his love for all humanity, so he rejected them and saved Paul as Apostle in place of "hardened Israel."

Schaff also speculates that Paul fulfilled his intentions of journeying to Spain, although Scripture does not affirm that.  He did make it to Rome, and Christianity traveled west mostly because of Paul's influence.  One cannot be sure, however, that Paul physically made it out of Rome.

Just like in Damascus, when Paul went to a new town, he first preached to the synagogue there.  Romans 1:16 says he was sent to the Jew first, not because they were superior, but because God the Father first chose them to receive his benefits.  Here Paul extends a hand of forgiveness if they would only take it.

Paul also learned the trade of making tents so that he could earn his living and not be a burden to his budding churches.  How often to ministers finish seminary and then leave for some mission without attempting to pay of loans or working to earn more than donations?  Remember, Paul did not start his journeys for another 15 years.  He spent time in Antioch with the apostles.  People did not live that long in Paul's era.  We certainly have all the time in the world to pay off our debts, minister domestically for a while, and then, if God wills, to journey far off to spread the Gospel to an unreached people.

Then, while ministering to the Gentiles, Paul experienced his "best life now."  "Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Three times was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, three times I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day have I been in the deep; in journeyings often, in perils of rivers, in perils of robbers, in perils from my countrymen, in perils from the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren: in labor and toil, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Besides those things that are without, there is that which presseth upon me daily, the anxious care for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and I burn not?" 2 Corinthians 11: 24-29.

He was "pressed on every side, yet not straitened; perplexed, yet not in despair; pursued, yet not forsaken; smitten down, yet not destroyed."  2 Corinthians 4:8-9.  The Roman world reveled in luxury and comfort, but Paul considered that all a loss compared to his life with Christ.  He left that all to reach the poor and oppressed with the only life worth living: one in anticipation of God's glory, and perhaps even reached the rich owners with a life that had so much more meaning and satisfaction than the one they found in their possessions and status.  May we be willing to despise our comfortable shelters in order to do what God wants us to do.

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