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.
- If you think I am exaggerating Paul's situation, listen carefully to this
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
- The Christian Paul clearly understood the experience of totally
misunderstanding God and in that misunderstanding acting against God.
- The prechristian Paul did not do what he did because he rebelled
- He thought he was obeying God!
- He thought he was expressing great faith in God!
- He thought he was defending God's purposes!
- The prechristian Paul did what he did because he was ignorant.
- He was ignorant of the fact that Jesus was God's son.
- He was ignorant of what God accomplished in Jesus' death and
- He was ignorant of the fact that Israel was God's means to a
specific objective, not the objective itself.
- The prechristian Paul did some horrible things that the Christian Paul
would never consider doing.
- He held the robes of those who angrily executed the Christian Stephen.
- He dragged Christian Jews out of their homes in Jerusalem and took
them to prison.
- He encouraged the deaths of Jewish Christians.
- He went to synagogues, found Jewish Christians, and abused them in a
deliberate attempt to make them blaspheme.
- He was furiously enraged against any Jew who believed that Jesus was
the Messiah (Christ) that God promised Israel.
- Paul said of himself in those days when he was not a Christian:
- "I was a blasphemer."
- "I was a persecutor."
- "I was a violent aggressor."
- Though he was all those things, God showed him mercy.
- God showed him mercy for two reasons.
- Reason one: he was ignorant of who Jesus really was.
- He was not willfully, knowingly rebelling against God!
- He just did not know who Jesus was--he did not understand God was
at work in Jesus in a truly special way.
- Reason two: he would be the forever proof that if God could forgive
(save) him, God can forgive (save) anyone.
- Paul understood there could not be a sinner worse than he was.
- Therefore, if God could forgive him, God could forgive anyone.
- In Paul God demonstrated His perfect patience, so God used Paul's
salvation as an example that all have hope in Jesus Christ.
- Paul dramatically, suddenly, in a moment, understood how wrong he had
been. (Acts 9)
- Let's conduct a little interview.
- "Paul, where are you going?" I am going to Damascus, Syria.
- "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)."
- "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
- "Why? That seems like a lot of trouble to endure for an insignificant
- Insignificant! You have to be kidding!
- These people are the enemy of Judaism--if someone does not stop
them, they will destroy Judaism!
- If they are the enemies of Judaism, they are the enemies of Israel!
- If they are the enemies of Israel, they are the enemies of God!
- God's enemies must be stopped right now!
- Then it happened as he was close to Damascus.
- A light brighter than the noon day sun engulfed him.
- The light was so bright it knocked Paul to the ground.
- Then suddenly he heard a voice calling his name and asking him by name
why he was persecuting him.
- Paul did not know what was happening, but whatever was happening he
knew it was time to show respect.
- He asked, "Who are you, Lord?"
- To his total astonishment, the voice replied, "I am Jesus, the man
from Nazareth, the person you are persecuting."
- Suddenly, his mind was flooded with realizations.
- Jesus was not dead--he is alive!
- The resurrection is real, not a lie!
- Jesus really is God's son!
- Jewish Christians were not opposing God! I have been opposing God!
- Then he received some simple instructions.
- Get up!
- Go on into to Damascus!
- Go to Straight Street and stay in the home of Judas.
- He is expecting you--I gave him a vision while he was praying.
- It is at that place you will be told what you must do.
- 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.'
- Paul quite willingly did as he was told to do.
- The entire ordeal was quite traumatic for Paul.
- When he got up, this self-confident, self-assured man was blind.
- The one who knew he was right was helpless!
- The leader now had to be led!
- From the time he entered Judas' home, he prayed and fasted.
- Paul knew how wrong he had been, and Paul was terrified.
- Yet, God was merciful to Paul.
- Paul was extremely grateful for the forgiveness and mercy of God.
- But he had nothing to give God to show his gratitude.
- I want to read with you 1 Corinthians 9:1-18.
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.
- Paul's gift to God: he gave up some of his rights to demonstrate his
gratitude to God.
- 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?
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 25 September 2005
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