Saturday, April 5, 2014

Paul or Saul?

Let me introduce everyone to a guy named Paul. For those of you who don't know who Paul is already, Christians tend to view him as the Christian of Christians. In our faith, we look to him as an example of what a Christian is. Paul is a super-Christian. He wasn't a disciple of Jesus, but instead an apostle. He wrote many, many books in the New Testament and his love for God was just massive. In short, Paul is that person we look at and say, "Man, he really has it together. I wish I could be like that."

Everyday we are confronted by people who see as this super-Christian. They look like they have this perfect life and God has just blessed them, and everything is just really going for them. I know for myself, that those people are the ones I couldn't stand. Their life was so great and God loved them so much, and here I was doing everything I was supposed to and my life was a wreck. It just didn't seem fair. Why should I have to have this crappy life and someone else get the life that I wanted and deserved? Even as Christians today, we sometimes look at Paul and think, "Why can't I be like that?" or "I'll never be good enough to like that." Sometimes I find myself being jealous and getting mad at the person Paul was because I feel like he really had it all and I just don't.

But pause. Everyone knows the saying, "don't judge a book by its cover". So we know what Paul's cover is, but read into his life. Before he was Paul, he was Saul. You know what Saul did? He killed people. Hunted them down and brutally murdered them. And Saul didn't kill just anyone, oh no, he only killed Christians. Now wait a second, am I seriously telling you that this guy who is some kinda super-Christian is the same guy who killed people for being Christians? Yes, I am.

See, that's the beauty of God's grace. When God called on Saul to his will, Saul heard it and because he chose to trade his life in for one that God would give him, God used him in incredible ways and completely changed his life. Suddenly Saul became Paul. I say this to illustrate two points: (1) God can and will use anyone for his purpose, but it is our decision to answer his call or not. No matter what we've done, God will use it for his glory, even if you've killed people. (2) No one is a super-Christian. Everyone has a past, and everyone is going through stuff. Just because we don't see it doesn't mean it isn't there. You never know what someone else is going through, and you might very well be the person who can help them. God might want to use you to help someone else that you don't even like, and it really breaks my heart to see other people suffer and if I can help just one person not feel the way I do, I would be so happy. Be aware that you're actions towards other people could be adding to their problems and causing them more hurt.

Okay, so Saul became Paul and God made him this great Christian and gave him this great life right? Nope, wrong. Paul had a pretty crappy life. He wasn't rich, he didn't have a house or family, and his friends backstabbed him and abandon him a lot. It's safe to say that Paul didn't have a perfect life. He was alone, oftentimes homeless, and betrayed. But he gets a happy ending, right? His life gets better and it all works out in the end? Well, technically he gets a happy ending. He goes to Heaven and gets eternal life. But in a stereotypical happy ending kinda way, no Paul doesn't get one at all.

Paul was imprisoned multiple times throughout his life for the sake of preaching God's word. While his death is not found in the bible, we do know that he paid the death penalty for being a servant of the Lord. We know this due to the epistles Paul wrote and historical records. At some point in time, being a Christian was unlawful and the association with Paul was a crime as well. So many people turned their backs on him, and he was made fun of and left with very few, (and by very few I mean less than 5) friends. So how did it end for Paul? He was a prisoner, ridiculed, friendless, and then murdered.

I say this to point out that it is so easy for us to look at someone and think "they're life is so perfect" or feel as if they're acting like their better than us because they're a Christian. When in reality, that's probably not the case. Not even the guy that Christians view as the greatest Christian ever had this great life or was this perfect person. I struggle with this everyday, I let my perception of someone blind me from seeing who they really are. No matter how great we think someone's life is or how perfect of a person we think we are, odds are who they are and how their life is, is just as bad as ours. Remember that you're never, ever, ever alone and there is someone who is suffering and hurting the same way you are and that someone might just be that person you don't like because you think they have a perfect life. Don't cheat yourself out of having a friend who will love you, support you, and help you through the hard times. Because in the end, that was all Paul had left aside from his love for God.

The truth is, there is no such thing as a super-Christian. No matter how much someone loves God and no matter how strong their faith is, they aren't perfect and they aren't better than anyone. Think about all the preacher's you hear about that cheat on their wives or have some weird sex thing going on. That preacher might really love God and they might have a really strong faith, but they struggled with a sin just like me and you. I am so guilty of this and I see it almost everyday, but it's like we are just waiting for that person who we think acts like they're so perfect to fail. And when that person makes a mistake, we just pounce and rip them apart and we find ourselves saying, "Guess they're not so perfect, look at what they did." or "Oh yeah, they're such great Christians...guess that's why they did this." We convinced ourselves that someone was something they weren't, and instead of helping them when they stumbled, we used it to destroy their character and we a lot of times use it to say they aren't even a Christian and we judge them. But when we sin and we make mistakes, we don't want to be judged or have it used against us. And why is it okay for you to commit a sin and not be judged, but it's not okay for a Christian to commit that sin and receive no judgement?

We have no authority or rights to judge anyone on anything. How dare we do something to someone else that we don't want done to us. How dare we think that we are entitled to do something over someone who is following God. And how dare we try and tear down someone else's beliefs. Everyone is a sinner, everyone makes mistakes, and no one is perfect or better than anyone else. Paul, as great as a Christian he was, continuously told people that he was the worst sinner, and he calls himself the "sinner among sinners". Paul was viewed as a really strong Christian, and yet he told others that he was the worst sinner out there. He never forgot that he wasn't better than anyone, and he never said he wouldn't make mistakes.

The bible says that when we damage someone's character we are committing murder. Every time we talk bad about someone to other people, gossip, start a rumor, or backstab...we just committed murder! And ladies, every single last one of us is guilty of this. Trust me I know! I've murdered a lot people. So don't let not a one of us find ourselves saying, "well what I say to other people about them is true" or "well they deserve it" or "I'd say it their face". And anyone reading this who knows me can attest that I do this all time. I have literally said all of those statements in order to justify what I'm doing. So don't think that isn't something I don't ever do, because I can promise you that I do this all the time. But I am working on it. We just really, really have to watch what we say about someone else. Don't ever let what you say hurt someone or tear them down, instead let it be uplifting and build them up.

Now, does this mean that someone is doing something wrong or harmful or whatever that we shouldn't say anything because it might hurt their feelings? NO! Being honest and helpful and concerned is part of what being a good friend is. If someone is doing something that isn't right or is harmful, then you need to confront that person privately, confidentially, and in a way that is going to reflect your love and concern for that person. Don't take it to everyone else and ask for advice, because that is wrong. It's not anyone else's business. Now you've just put that person's dirty laundry out there for everyone to know about and you have damaged their character. Yes, the intentions were good, but the way you handled it wasn't. And it's hard, I really, really struggle with this; so I get it.

So I know I really jumped all over the place and if you're wondering what Paul had to do with any of this, I have made a nice little list of the points I wanted to make and why Paul's life and character reflect that:

- There is nothing you can do that God can't use for his glory. God doesn't care about your past, he doesn't care about what you've done. He thinks you are so great that he wants to forgive you, change you, and use you. 
God didn't care what Paul had done, he wanted to use him and redeem him.
"But Lord,' exclaimed Ananias, "I've heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem! And he his authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon your name.' But the Lord said, 'Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel.' "
Acts 9:13-15

- Don't judge a book by its cover. Don't let your idea of a person blind you from seeing who they really are.
"All who heard him were amazed. 'Isn't this the same man who caused such devastation among Jesus' followers in Jerusalem?' they asked. 'And didn't he come here to arrest them and take them in chains to the leading priests?' "
Acts 9:21

"When Saul arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to meet with the believers, but they were all afraid of him. They did not believe he had truly become a believer!"
Acts 9:26

- Be a good friend to everyone you meet. Be uplifting, compassionate, honest, and be strong for that person when they are weak. Don't treat others unkindly because you're only adding to their grief. Uplift and build up everyone, don't tear down anybody. 
"Timothy, please come as soon as you can. Demas has deserted me because he loves the things of this life and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus has gone to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me in my ministry."
2 Timothy 4:9-11
Paul had been imprisoned and knew his life coming to an end. All he had at this time were his friends, and some had even left him.

"They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone."
Titus 3:2
Paul writes this in his letter to Titus regarding how believers should treat others.

"So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up."
Romans 14:19

- Remember that Christians aren't perfect or above anyone else. No one is perfect and no one has the authority to judge or condemn someone. There are no "super-Christians"! Only people who love God and try their hardest to live a life pleasing to him.
This really goes for anyone. Don't hold someone else to a standard you wouldn't hold yourself to.
"So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgement seat of God. For the Scriptures say,
'As surely as I live,' says the Lord,
'every knee will bend to me,
and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.'
Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. So let's stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall."
Romans 14:10-13

"You have made me act like a fool--boasting like this. You ought to be writing commendations for me, for I am not at all inferior to these "super apostles", even though I am nothing at all."
2 Corinthians 12:11
Paul wasn't saying that he was better than these "super apostles", he was defending himself from those who were saying that he wasn't just as good. Paul was given the ability to perform miracles through the Holy Sprit, and never once says that he is better than anyone. He calls himself "nothing at all." Paul wasn't worried about defending his reputation, he was worried about others hearing the wrong message about Christ. 

"So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now!"
2 Corinthians 5:16

- No one has a perfect life. Everyone has struggles and hurt and makes mistakes. 
"As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of death is near. I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful."
2 Timothy 4:6-7
Paul was a great man for God, but his life wasn't easy. Even through the hard times and knowing he was facing death, he held onto to God. 

"Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God's law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin."
Romans 7:24-25

"Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold without enough clothing to keep me warm."
2 Corinthians 11:24-27

- The Golden Rule. Treat others how you want to be treated.
"And when I was with you and didn't have enough to live on, I did not become a financial burden to anyone. For the brothers who came from Macedonia brought me all that I needed. I have never been a burden to you and I never will be. As surely as the truth of Christ is in me, no one in all of Greece will ever stop me from boasting about this. Why? Because I don't love you? God knows I do. But I will continue doing what I have always done. This will undercut those who are looking for an opportunity to boast that their work is just like ours."
2 Corinthians 11:9-12
Paul is writing this to the church of Corinth. Corinth had let people who were claiming to be apostles, but were twisting and misteaching God's word. These "apostles" caused the church of Corinth to question and discredit Paul's teaching. Paul had given a lot to the church and he loved them, and even when the church began to push Paul away he never changed the way he treated them. When we're kind to others, even when they're not nice back, God shines through. 

"Make allowance for each other's faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful."
Colossians 3:13-15

- Don't be a Saul, be a Paul!
"Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murders don't have eternal life within them."
1 John 3:15
So this verse doesn't come from Paul, but I did mention before how damaging someone's character is murder. Even though you might not "hate" someone, the bible tells us to love each other and if we don't love someone then we "hate" them. So anytime you dislike someone for whatever reason, you are committing murder at heart. 

Saul literally killed people until God changed his life, and Paul didn't want to hurt anyone but instead lead them to the glory of God. We are all Sauls, we are all sinners. When we give it all to God and stop living for ourselves, we are redeemed and forgiven and we become Pauls. While Paul wasn't perfect, he is a great example of what to do when following God. He's a great example of big and great and powerful and loving our God is.

"I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him, even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and disbelief. Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus."
1 Timothy 1:12-14

Choose to stop being a Saul, and run to God's grace and mercy and love so that you can be a Paul. Even though Paul was beat, imprisoned, abandoned, and killed, it is in his struggles that God shined the brightest. Paul knew that he was face a lot of strife following God, but he did it anyway. Paul understood that he didn't belong to the world, he knew that there was nothing anyone could do to him that could take away his eternity. As believers, we have God in our corner. Paul never asked God "why?", instead he praised him and glorified him until his death. He knew that if he lived, he was going to get to lead more people to God, and if he died...he was going to be with the Father. Let's be Pauls. 

"Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later."
Romans 8:18

"Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect."
Romans 12:2

"This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!"
2 Corinthians 5:17

"That's why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
2 Corinthians 12:10

"We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. Yes, we live under constant danger of death because we serve Jesus, so that the life of Jesus will be evident in our dying bodies. So we live in the face of death, but this has resulted in eternal life for you."
2 Corinthians 4:6-12

"For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God's glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous."
Romans 3:23-24