A Paradox

For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. (Paulís words about himself, 1 Corinthians 15:9, 10)

There are numerous stories that serve as illustrations. You probably have heard all of them in some version: the farmer who put a latch on his barn door after a fire in his barn scattered his animals never to be found; the man who put house locks on his doors after a thief stole everything he owned; the man who never left his keys in his new car after his older car was stolen because he always left the keys in it.

All the stories make the same point: it is too late to prevent a tragedy after the tragedy has occurred. I have wondered (many times) the feelings that Paul the Christian felt when he passed places where Paul the persecutor had harmed others. Remember Acts 8:1-3?
Saul (Paul) was in hearty agreement with putting Stephen to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.

After he knew Jesus was in fact Godís Christ (Acts 9:1-9), it had every impact on what he did in the future, but it changed nothing he did in the past. In past acts, Christian men and women were still dragged from their homes, wives still saw Christian husbands killed, and orphans still existed because of what happened to Mom and Dad. Nothing Paul did could undo what he had done before his understanding that Jesus was the Christ. Unfortunately, we all have to live with our past. No matter how we use our future (read 2 Corinthians 11:22-33), our past still occurred.

No matter what we do after we learn Jesus is the Christ, we still are what we are because of Godís mercy and grace. Wise is the person who never forgets that truth. The Christian Paul never did!

Yet, the wise, mature Christian who gladly accepts Godís forgiveness of his or her past, uses an understanding of the past to demonstrate the incredible blessing God gives us through Jesus Christ. The same incident which causes us intense shame or grief becomes the incident that communicates Godís love and forgiveness.

Oh, the arrogance of the person who convinces self that acts of obedience obligate God by somehow intimidating Him! With all Paul did, he never forgot that he was least of the apostles and did not deserve to be called an apostle. Never did he forget he was what he was through Godís grace.

We each are what we have become in Christ, not because we are self-made, but because we are God-made in Jesus Christ.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Bulletin Article, 17 July 2008


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