Paul: When Rights Become Gifts

There are few things in life more meaningful than a sincere, obviously felt "thank you!" Almost everyone has a deep appreciation for genuine gratitude. When someone is sincerely grateful for a kindness we extend, that gratitude within itself is deeply rewarding. In fact, gratitude is one of the most powerful motivations we know and experience.

We as a people have contributed a lot of money to help the people on the gulf coast who lost everything through the furry and storm surge of hurricane Katrina. At first we gave because of feelings of empathy and need. Many of us realize this is not a "one gift" need. We realize there must be a lot of continued giving if these people recover from their great loss. What will determine if we continue to give? Gratitude! If our impression is that these people are genuinely grateful for our help, we will continue to give. However, if the impression is ever created that these people think we owe them, the giving will cease.

Never, never underestimate the power of gratitude!

That brings up an interesting situation. How do you feel if all you can do is say, "Thank you"? When we genuinely appreciate a kindness, we commonly want to express our appreciation with something more than words.

Back in the early 90s, Joyce and I did some follow up studies with "Let's Start Taking" students. These were people who advanced their knowledge of English earlier by doing one-on-one studies in one of the gospels. We were working with people who showed special interest in New Testament Christianity after those studies.

Both Joyce and I worked with a number of students for about three weeks. When our time was coming to a close and we would soon leave Poland, two of my students came to me to say thank you. But those words were not enough. All they could afford to give me as an expression of their gratitude were two small carvings about 1 and 1/2 inches high. They wanted to give me something to add substance to their words.

What do you do when you have nothing to give to go with your words of "thank you"? When you feel deeply that words are not enough, but have nothing to give, what do you do?

The Christian Paul was very much in that situation. He was aware of the fact that God in Christ did so much for him, and there was nothing special he could give to God.

The man who had nothing to give found something to do.

  1. If you think I am exaggerating Paul's situation, listen carefully to this reading.
    1 Timothy 1:12-17 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
    1. The Christian Paul clearly understood the experience of totally misunderstanding God and in that misunderstanding acting against God.
      1. The prechristian Paul did not do what he did because he rebelled against God.
        1. He thought he was obeying God!
        2. He thought he was expressing great faith in God!
        3. He thought he was defending God's purposes!
      2. The prechristian Paul did what he did because he was ignorant.
        1. He was ignorant of the fact that Jesus was God's son.
        2. He was ignorant of what God accomplished in Jesus' death and resurrection.
        3. He was ignorant of the fact that Israel was God's means to a specific objective, not the objective itself.
    2. The prechristian Paul did some horrible things that the Christian Paul would never consider doing.
      1. He held the robes of those who angrily executed the Christian Stephen.
      2. He dragged Christian Jews out of their homes in Jerusalem and took them to prison.
      3. He encouraged the deaths of Jewish Christians.
      4. He went to synagogues, found Jewish Christians, and abused them in a deliberate attempt to make them blaspheme.
      5. He was furiously enraged against any Jew who believed that Jesus was the Messiah (Christ) that God promised Israel.
    3. Paul said of himself in those days when he was not a Christian:
      1. "I was a blasphemer."
      2. "I was a persecutor."
      3. "I was a violent aggressor."
      4. Though he was all those things, God showed him mercy.
        1. Why?
        2. God showed him mercy for two reasons.
        3. Reason one: he was ignorant of who Jesus really was.
          1. He was not willfully, knowingly rebelling against God!
          2. He just did not know who Jesus was--he did not understand God was at work in Jesus in a truly special way.
        4. Reason two: he would be the forever proof that if God could forgive (save) him, God can forgive (save) anyone.
          1. Paul understood there could not be a sinner worse than he was.
          2. Therefore, if God could forgive him, God could forgive anyone.
          3. In Paul God demonstrated His perfect patience, so God used Paul's salvation as an example that all have hope in Jesus Christ.

  2. Paul dramatically, suddenly, in a moment, understood how wrong he had been. (Acts 9)
    1. Let's conduct a little interview.
      1. "Paul, where are you going?" I am going to Damascus, Syria.
      2. "Syria is not a part of Israel--why are you going there?" I am going to the synagogue in Damascus--I understand there are some Jews there who think the dead Jesus is the Messiah (Christ)."
      3. "Why are you walking over 150 miles with these Jewish guards to find Jewish Christians in a synagogue in another country?" I am going to arrest these people and return them to Jerusalem for trial by the Jerusalem sanhedrin.
      4. "Why? That seems like a lot of trouble to endure for an insignificant objective."
        1. Insignificant! You have to be kidding!
        2. These people are the enemy of Judaism--if someone does not stop them, they will destroy Judaism!
        3. If they are the enemies of Judaism, they are the enemies of Israel!
        4. If they are the enemies of Israel, they are the enemies of God!
        5. God's enemies must be stopped right now!
    2. Then it happened as he was close to Damascus.
      1. A light brighter than the noon day sun engulfed him.
      2. The light was so bright it knocked Paul to the ground.
      3. Then suddenly he heard a voice calling his name and asking him by name why he was persecuting him.
      4. Paul did not know what was happening, but whatever was happening he knew it was time to show respect.
        1. He asked, "Who are you, Lord?"
        2. To his total astonishment, the voice replied, "I am Jesus, the man from Nazareth, the person you are persecuting."
    3. Suddenly, his mind was flooded with realizations.
      1. Jesus was not dead--he is alive!
      2. The resurrection is real, not a lie!
      3. Jesus really is God's son!
      4. Jewish Christians were not opposing God! I have been opposing God!
    4. Then he received some simple instructions.
      1. Get up!
      2. Go on into to Damascus!
      3. Go to Straight Street and stay in the home of Judas.
      4. He is expecting you--I gave him a vision while he was praying.
      5. It is at that place you will be told what you must do.
      6. The Christian Paul in a court appearance said in Acts 26:15-18 he was also told this:
        Acts 26:15-18 And I said, 'Who are You, Lord?' And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.'

  3. Paul quite willingly did as he was told to do.
    1. The entire ordeal was quite traumatic for Paul.
      1. When he got up, this self-confident, self-assured man was blind.
        1. The one who knew he was right was helpless!
        2. The leader now had to be led!
        3. From the time he entered Judas' home, he prayed and fasted.

  4. Paul knew how wrong he had been, and Paul was terrified.
    1. Yet, God was merciful to Paul.
    2. Paul was extremely grateful for the forgiveness and mercy of God.
      1. But he had nothing to give God to show his gratitude.
      2. I want to read with you 1 Corinthians 9:1-18.
        1. As we read, see if you can understand Paul's gift.
          1 Corinthians 9:1-18 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. My defense to those who examine me is this: Do we not have a right to eat and drink? Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or do only Barnabas and I not have a right to refrain from working? Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? For it is written in the Law of Moses, "You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing." God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written, because the plowman ought to plow in hope, and the thresher to thresh in hope of sharing the crops. If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ. Do you not know that those who perform sacred services eat the food of the temple, and those who attend regularly to the altar have their share from the altar? So also the Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel. But I have used none of these things. And I am not writing these things so that it will be done so in my case; for it would be better for me to die than have any man make my boast an empty one. For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. What then is my reward? That, when I preach the gospel, I may offer the gospel without charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.

        2. Paul's gift to God: he gave up some of his rights to demonstrate his gratitude to God.
        3. Every Christian has the option to give up some rights!

Someone says, "I am curious. What was Paul told that he must do at Judas' house?" God sent to Paul a highly respected Jewish Christian named Ananias. He laid his hands on Paul, and Paul got his sight back. Then he told Paul, "Get up! Be baptized and wash away your sins."

What sins? The sins of blasphemy, persecution, and opposition against God by being a violent aggressor against God's people.

May I ask you some questions? Have you seen the light of Jesus' resurrection? Have you responded to what God did for you in Jesus Christ? How have you said, "Thank you," to God for giving you the living Jesus Christ? How do you now say, "Thank you," to God in your life right now?


David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 25 September 2005

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