Archive for the ‘St. Paul’ category

Why the Conversion of St. Paul (Jan 25th) matters so much?

January 27, 2011

The Conversion of the toughest enemy and persecutor of Christians into the most zealous Apostle and Christian missionary around the year 35 AD changed the course of human history. It certainly merits our attention, too. If later Western Christianity, which has so thoroughly formed all of Western civilization and culture, is what it is thanks to the Apostle Paul, then we should definitely ask ourselves what it was that formed the mind and activities of this great man.

The short answer is given in the opening verse of Paul’s magnum opus, the Letter to the Romans:

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God

Jesus made Paul a servant of the gospel. Paul lived for the gospel. Not just God, not his commandments, not his Church, not the Bible, but the gospel. Why the gospel? And what is the gospel? A preliminary answer is found in Romans 1:16

I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth

The gospel is paramount because it saves. “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.” (1 Cor 15:2) The gospel is what Paul wishes to remind his believers of as of “first importance” (1 Cor 15:3) – surely there can be nothing more important for us than our salvation. He also gives the content of the gospel, all in the famous traditional formula found in 1 Cor 15:3-5, one of the most important texts not only in the Bible but in all human literature:

that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve.

The same terminology of Christ’s death and resurrection is found in Paul’s teaching on the sacrament of baptism, which incorporates us into the salvific mystery of the gospel and makes us its partakers. Consider Rom 6:4 and Col 2:12

* we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

* having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God

The moral change the gospel effects in us as well as its content is again eloquently presented by Paul in Col 1:21-23. Notice also that it is precisely in the gospel preached by Paul that our reconciliation and the hope of the world rests.

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospelthat you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

The power of the gospel is not only salvific but also creative, its beauty shines in our hearts and makes us new creations (2 Cor 5:17). Paul himself, in 2 Cor 4:6, describes his conversion experience as follows:

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

The gospel gives us a totally new life, so wonderful that in comparison everything else is trivial. Paul illustrates this autobiographically in Phil. 3:7-11. Note again the content: Christ’s death and resurrection and our participation in it.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

So what is Paul’s message to us today? Simple enough, as we read in 2 Tim 2:8:

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel

Remember the gospel. Remember who it’s about. Remember who it was given to. Because guess what – one day God is going to judge us all according to – yes, Paul’s gospel. Read Romans 2:16:

God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.

Lest anyone think that Paul’s gospel is simply one among many, Galatians 1:8-9 should be recalled. If Paul’s gospel is saving and true, then no contradictory gospel can be true and saving at the same time. Note that even “we” (ministers of the Church) and “an angel from heaven” are excluded as hypothetic preachers of false gospels.

But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed

If you’re a Christian, you’re supposed to believe the that Paul’s letters, as contained in the Bible, are the inspired Word of God. If that’s the case, the question to you is whether Paul’s gospel is “of first importance” (1 Cor 15:3) in your faith. If you’re not a Christian, you need to consider Paul’s claim to be an apostle and a teacher of truth (1 Tim 2:7):

I was appointed a preacher and an apostle, I am telling the truth, I am not lying as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

Paul himself says he is not a liar. Let us remember he suffered a martyr’s death for his faith. He was faithful to the end. No material gain, but the sword of a Roman soldier. Would he go that far for a lie? Would you? Christian or not, we need to lend our ears, especially today, to Paul’s questions in 1 Cor 9:1 and seek an honest answer.

Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?

If our answer is in the affirmative, then we should seriously start reading through Paul’s letters. We should try to understand his faith, make it our own, and spread it all over. If your answer is in the negative, thinking that Paul was simply delusional, then you should also read through his letters once more and see for yourself whether you think a lunatic wrote them, for example the following (from 1 Cor 13):

And yet I will show you the most excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.