Knowing and being known...

Today, I heard one of the best sermons ever on the topic of "judging".  Chad Tagtoe was simply great!!!  I now think about "judging" from a different perspective and that made me realize that no matter how old I am, I can still learn something!!! So, I came home this afternoon feeling really good about my new found knowledge and couldn't help but re-read the chapter.  In addition to our judgments, God judges as well.  Jesus puts it this way....

Matthew, Chapter 7
 21  Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.   22  Many will tell me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty works?’   23  Then I will tell them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity.’ 

Take a moment and review the picture; I didn't know this, did you?  Add just one more tidbit of knowledge to the pile..  But, there are far more important things than just knowledge.  To my way of thinking, knowing and being known by God (in a good way, naturally) far outweighs anything that could reside in my grey matter!!!  Even those who are religious and active in their faith have a BIG PROBLEM if they are not known by God.  My prayer for both you and myself is that we know God and are known by him!!!  I would absolutely LOVE to see everyone I have ever known in heaven!!!  I know (here I go again) that this is over optimistic, but anything is possible.  Maybe if I pray about it some more...

Bible Reading, Feb. 10

Feb. 10
Genesis 41

Gen 41:1 It happened at the end of two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed: and behold, he stood by the river.
Gen 41:2 Behold, there came up out of the river seven cattle, sleek and fat, and they fed in the marsh grass.
Gen 41:3 Behold, seven other cattle came up after them out of the river, ugly and thin, and stood by the other cattle on the brink of the river.
Gen 41:4 The ugly and thin cattle ate up the seven sleek and fat cattle. So Pharaoh awoke.
Gen 41:5 He slept and dreamed a second time: and behold, seven heads of grain came up on one stalk, healthy and good.
Gen 41:6 Behold, seven heads of grain, thin and blasted with the east wind, sprung up after them.
Gen 41:7 The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven healthy and full ears. Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream.
Gen 41:8 It happened in the morning that his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all of Egypt's magicians and wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them to Pharaoh.
Gen 41:9 Then the chief cupbearer spoke to Pharaoh, saying, "I remember my faults today.
Gen 41:10 Pharaoh was angry with his servants, and put me in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, me and the chief baker.
Gen 41:11 We dreamed a dream in one night, I and he. We dreamed each man according to the interpretation of his dream.
Gen 41:12 There was with us there a young man, a Hebrew, servant to the captain of the guard, and we told him, and he interpreted to us our dreams. To each man according to his dream he interpreted.
Gen 41:13 It happened, as he interpreted to us, so it was: he restored me to my office, and he hanged him."
Gen 41:14 Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon. He shaved himself, changed his clothing, and came in to Pharaoh.
Gen 41:15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, "I have dreamed a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it."
Gen 41:16 Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, "It isn't in me. God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace."
Gen 41:17 Pharaoh spoke to Joseph, "In my dream, behold, I stood on the brink of the river:
Gen 41:18 and behold, there came up out of the river seven cattle, fat and sleek. They fed in the marsh grass,
Gen 41:19 and behold, seven other cattle came up after them, poor and very ugly and thin, such as I never saw in all the land of Egypt for ugliness.
Gen 41:20 The thin and ugly cattle ate up the first seven fat cattle,
Gen 41:21 and when they had eaten them up, it couldn't be known that they had eaten them, but they were still ugly, as at the beginning. So I awoke.
Gen 41:22 I saw in my dream, and behold, seven heads of grain came up on one stalk, full and good:
Gen 41:23 and behold, seven heads of grain, withered, thin, and blasted with the east wind, sprung up after them.
Gen 41:24 The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven good heads of grain. I told it to the magicians, but there was no one who could explain it to me."
Gen 41:25 Joseph said to Pharaoh, "The dream of Pharaoh is one. What God is about to do he has declared to Pharaoh.
Gen 41:26 The seven good cattle are seven years; and the seven good heads of grain are seven years. The dream is one.
Gen 41:27 The seven thin and ugly cattle that came up after them are seven years, and also the seven empty heads of grain blasted with the east wind; they will be seven years of famine.
Gen 41:28 That is the thing which I spoke to Pharaoh. What God is about to do he has shown to Pharaoh.
Gen 41:29 Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt.
Gen 41:30 There will arise after them seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt. The famine will consume the land,
Gen 41:31 and the plenty will not be known in the land by reason of that famine which follows; for it will be very grievous.
Gen 41:32 The dream was doubled to Pharaoh, because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass.
Gen 41:33 "Now therefore let Pharaoh look for a discreet and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt.
Gen 41:34 Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint overseers over the land, and take up the fifth part of the land of Egypt's produce in the seven plenteous years.
Gen 41:35 Let them gather all the food of these good years that come, and lay up grain under the hand of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it.
Gen 41:36 The food will be for a store to the land against the seven years of famine, which will be in the land of Egypt; that the land not perish through the famine."
Gen 41:37 The thing was good in the eyes of Pharaoh, and in the eyes of all his servants.
Gen 41:38 Pharaoh said to his servants, "Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?"
Gen 41:39 Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Because God has shown you all of this, there is none so discreet and wise as you.
Gen 41:40 You shall be over my house, and according to your word will all my people be ruled. Only in the throne I will be greater than you."
Gen 41:41 Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Behold, I have set you over all the land of Egypt."
Gen 41:42 Pharaoh took off his signet ring from his hand, and put it on Joseph's hand, and arrayed him in robes of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck,
Gen 41:43 and he made him to ride in the second chariot which he had. They cried before him, "Bow the knee!" He set him over all the land of Egypt.
Gen 41:44 Pharaoh said to Joseph, "I am Pharaoh, and without you shall no man lift up his hand or his foot in all the land of Egypt."
Gen 41:45 Pharaoh called Joseph's name Zaphenath-Paneah; and he gave him Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On as a wife. Joseph went out over the land of Egypt.
Gen 41:46 Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh king of Egypt. Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went throughout all the land of Egypt.
Gen 41:47 In the seven plenteous years the earth brought forth abundantly.
Gen 41:48 He gathered up all the food of the seven years which were in the land of Egypt, and laid up the food in the cities: the food of the field, which was around every city, he laid up in the same.
Gen 41:49 Joseph laid up grain as the sand of the sea, very much, until he stopped counting, for it was without number.
Gen 41:50 To Joseph were born two sons before the year of famine came, whom Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore to him.
Gen 41:51 Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh, "For," he said, "God has made me forget all my toil, and all my father's house."
Gen 41:52 The name of the second, he called Ephraim: "For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction."
Gen 41:53 The seven years of plenty, that were in the land of Egypt, came to an end.
Gen 41:54 The seven years of famine began to come, just as Joseph had said. There was famine in all lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread.
Gen 41:55 When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread, and Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, "Go to Joseph. What he says to you, do."
Gen 41:56 The famine was over all the surface of the earth. Joseph opened all the store houses, and sold to the Egyptians. The famine was severe in the land of Egypt.
Gen 41:57 All countries came into Egypt, to Joseph, to buy grain, because the famine was severe in all the earth.

Feb. 10, 11
Matthew 21

Mat 21:1 When they drew near to Jerusalem, and came to Bethsphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples,
Mat 21:2 saying to them, "Go into the village that is opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them, and bring them to me.
Mat 21:3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, 'The Lord needs them,' and immediately he will send them."
Mat 21:4 All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet, saying,
Mat 21:5 "Tell the daughter of Zion, behold, your King comes to you, humble, and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey."
Mat 21:6 The disciples went, and did just as Jesus commanded them,
Mat 21:7 and brought the donkey and the colt, and laid their clothes on them; and he sat on them.
Mat 21:8 A very great multitude spread their clothes on the road. Others cut branches from the trees, and spread them on the road.
Mat 21:9 The multitudes who went before him, and who followed kept shouting, "Hosanna to the son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!"
Mat 21:10 When he had come into Jerusalem, all the city was stirred up, saying, "Who is this?"
Mat 21:11 The multitudes said, "This is the prophet, Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee."
Mat 21:12 Jesus entered into the temple of God, and drove out all of those who sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the money changers' tables and the seats of those who sold the doves.
Mat 21:13 He said to them, "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer,' but you have made it a den of robbers!"
Mat 21:14 The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them.
Mat 21:15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children who were crying in the temple and saying, "Hosanna to the son of David!" they were indignant,
Mat 21:16 and said to him, "Do you hear what these are saying?" Jesus said to them, "Yes. Did you never read, 'Out of the mouth of babes and nursing babies you have perfected praise?' "
Mat 21:17 He left them, and went out of the city to Bethany, and lodged there.
Mat 21:18 Now in the morning, as he returned to the city, he was hungry.
Mat 21:19 Seeing a fig tree by the road, he came to it, and found nothing on it but leaves. He said to it, "Let there be no fruit from you forever!" Immediately the fig tree withered away.
Mat 21:20 When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, "How did the fig tree immediately wither away?"
Mat 21:21 Jesus answered them, "Most certainly I tell you, if you have faith, and don't doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you told this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' it would be done.
Mat 21:22 All things, whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive."
Mat 21:23 When he had come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, "By what authority do you do these things? Who gave you this authority?"
Mat 21:24 Jesus answered them, "I also will ask you one question, which if you tell me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things.
Mat 21:25 The baptism of John, where was it from? From heaven or from men?" They reasoned with themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' he will ask us, 'Why then did you not believe him?'
Mat 21:26 But if we say, 'From men,' we fear the multitude, for all hold John as a prophet."
Mat 21:27 They answered Jesus, and said, "We don't know." He also said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.
Mat 21:28 But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first, and said, 'Son, go work today in my vineyard.'
Mat 21:29 He answered, 'I will not,' but afterward he changed his mind, and went.
Mat 21:30 He came to the second, and said the same thing. He answered, 'I go, sir,' but he didn't go.
Mat 21:31 Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said to him, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Most certainly I tell you that the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering into the Kingdom of God before you.
Mat 21:32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you didn't believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. When you saw it, you didn't even repent afterward, that you might believe him.
Mat 21:33 "Hear another parable. There was a man who was a master of a household, who planted a vineyard, set a hedge about it, dug a winepress in it, built a tower, leased it out to farmers, and went into another country.
Mat 21:34 When the season for the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the farmers, to receive his fruit.
Mat 21:35 The farmers took his servants, beat one, killed another, and stoned another.
Mat 21:36 Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they treated them the same way.
Mat 21:37 But afterward he sent to them his son, saying, 'They will respect my son.'
Mat 21:38 But the farmers, when they saw the son, said among themselves, 'This is the heir. Come, let's kill him, and seize his inheritance.'
Mat 21:39 So they took him, and threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.
Mat 21:40 When therefore the lord of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those farmers?"
Mat 21:41 They told him, "He will miserably destroy those miserable men, and will lease out the vineyard to other farmers, who will give him the fruit in its season."
Mat 21:42 Jesus said to them, "Did you never read in the Scriptures, 'The stone which the builders rejected, the same was made the head of the corner. This was from the Lord. It is marvelous in our eyes?'
Mat 21:43 "Therefore I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and will be given to a nation bringing forth its fruit.
Mat 21:44 He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but on whoever it will fall, it will scatter him as dust."
Mat 21:45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he spoke about them.
Mat 21:46 When they sought to seize him, they feared the multitudes, because they considered him to be a prophet.



Of all of the prominent characters presented in the New Testament, Paul is second only to Jesus Christ. When we read the Acts of the apostles, Paul comes to the forefront beginning in the ninth chapter. The remainder of that treatise is an historical account of much of Paul's life, from persecutor of Christians to bold proclaimer of the gospel. Of the twenty one epistles, Paul is found to be the writer of at least thirteen of them (and if he is the writer of the Hebrew letter, fourteen).
Unlike Peter, whose impetuousness often resulted in the need for rebuking, Paul comes on the scene with relentless faith in the face of incomprehensible persecution and trial. Admittedly, I come much closer to relating to Peter than I do Paul. And while I am thankful for Peter's real-life experiences in which I find hope for myself in my own struggles, I am also thankful for Paul, who demonstrated a level of commitment toward which I can aim.
We are introduced to Paul under his Hebrew name, Saul. His namesake had been the first king of Israel (1 Sam. 9-10) whose name meant "asked of God." Later, after the Holy Spirit chose him and Barnabas from among those of the church at Antioch "for the work to which I have called them" (Acts 13:2), Luke referred to "Saul, who also is called Paul..." (vs. 9) This marked the inception of the first of Paul's several missionary journeys. Whether that occasion marked any significance to the fact that Saul is thereafter always referred to as Paul I do not know. However, it is interesting to note that the name Paul was of Latin origin, meaning "little." Perhaps there is some significance that he should thereafter willingly refer to himself by this name after the humbling experience on the road to Damascus. After the events that followed that day, Paul became "little" in his own eyes. The remainder of his life was one of humility.
On that fateful day, as Saul bore down upon the city of Damascus with official documents from the chief priests in hand authorizing him to arrest and seize anyone professing allegiance to "the Way", his life changed forever. "As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. The he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?'" (Acts 9:3-4) Those words must surely have rung in his ears from that day on. "And he said, 'Who are You, Lord?' Then the Lord said, 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'" (vs. 5)
The preaching of Jesus and His claim to be the Son of God had repulsed the Jewish leaders of His day. And now, the multitudes of His followers, as they grew in number, had become a target of the Jewish hierarchy's wrath. As one of prominence among the strictest sect of the Jews (Acts 26:5), this "Pharisee of the Pharisees" had been caught up in the fervor of their cause to eradicate this "movement" and their message. In so doing, Saul had been like a stubborn ox that kicks against the prodding of its master with the sharp end of his ox goad.
How well does that describe us when we try to resist the pleadings of God's word that are intended for our good? Not unlike Saul, many in our day, in their rejection of Christ, direct their wrath at those who follow Him. Jesus forewarned His disciples saying, "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you." (Jn. 15:18) Therefore, we find Saul confessing that, "...I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities." (Acts 26:11) For Paul, all that would change.
While waiting in the city of Damascus, having been led there by the hands of those who had been accompanying him, Saul spent his next three days in the total darkness of his blindness, praying and fasting - anticipating and wondering what it was that he was to be told to do. That answer came by the words of Ananias; "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins. calling on the name of the Lord." (Acts 22:16)
Paul's thankfulness to God for what He had done for him and for the work that he had been given is evident. He said, "...I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power." (Eph. 3:7) Notice that Paul never took credit for any good thing that he received or accomplished. In fact, he wondered at the grace of God in choosing him for such a ministry; "To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." (vs. 8)
His thankfulness and the humility that he continually expressed was seated in the knowledge of his past rebellion to Christ; "For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy 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
was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." (1 Cor. 15:9-10) Even in the zeal which set him apart from the rest of the apostles in his work as a servant of Christ, notice that Paul gave glory to God, not taking any credit to himself.
Such humility of spirit and such zeal for the cause of Christ to which he gave himself, was likely the result of the debt of gratitude that he felt for the mercy extended to him by God. This is the point of the parable that Jesus spoke to the prideful Pharisee named Simon. To him Jesus said, "'There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?' Simon answered and said, 'I suppose the one whom he forgave more.' And He said to him, 'You have rightly judged.'" Certainly, Paul recognized that his past sins had been great, which made His forgiveness even greater.
Paul confessed himself to be "chief" of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15), to which he prefaced that declaration with these words; "And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus." (vs. 14) If Paul was "chief" of sinners, then he considered himself "chief" of God's mercy and grace.
Lesson learned - Humility
When Paul (Saul) found himself trembling on his knees in the dust of the Damascus road, under the heat of the noonday sun, surrounded by the brilliance of the light of Jesus' presence, his purpose in life changed. From the mission that had brought him to Damascus to persecute Christians, he would become a defender of Christ and His gospel, as well as a sympathetic encourager of those to whom he was previously so adamantly opposed. At that moment, this staunch Pharisee, whose zeal and leadership attracted the admiration of those who accompanied him on this fateful trip, was suddenly brought to his knees and humbled before his admirers. Now a blind man, he was dependent upon these admiring associates to take him by the hand and lead the stumbling, groping Saul on the remainder of his journey.
Isn't it interesting how quickly the Lord can put us in our proper place? Circumstances can change our lives in a moment. It should be a lesson to us that there is no place for arrogant pride as we live under God's watchful eye. Paul learned this lesson beginning on that day just outside of Damascus. But he would continue to be a student of humility throughout his life.
When Paul wrote his second letter to the church at Corinth, he made this point very clear as he related another experience that he suffered and the lesson that he learned from it. At some time in his life, Paul "...was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter." (2 Cor. 12:4) Paul's humility would not allow him refer to himself as the one who experienced this vision, but rather introduced his experience saying, "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago - whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows - such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man - whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows -" (vss. 2-3) Then he said, "Of such a one I will boast; yet of myself I will not boast, except in my infirmities." (vs. 5) Paul's former arrogance was by now long-since gone as he refrained from boasting or bringing upon himself any undue recognition as he continued by saying, "...But I refrain, lest anyone should think of me above what he sees me to be or hears from me."
(vs. 6)
As Paul now identified himself as being the one having received such an exalted vision, he proceeded to relate the humbling experience that followed and the reason he was allowed to suffer it; "And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure." (vs. 7) Exactly what this "thorn in the flesh" was we are not told. However, we know that it was something unpleasant that plagued Paul because he said, "Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me." (vs. 8)
God's mercy manifests itself in some unexpected ways. In Paul's case, it was allowing the constantly annoying discomfort of a "thorn in the flesh." The purpose of that malady was to keep him humble lest he allow such privileged information to give him the "big head." Such a reminder is described as "a messenger of Satan" and for good reason. Satan stands at the threshold of our stumbling to catch us in his grip, because, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." (Prov. 16:18) Then we read that it is "Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud." (vs. 19)
The Lord's answer was obviously not that which Paul had hoped for; "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." (2 Cor. 12:9) It should be noticed that the "grace" which the Lord described as being "sufficient" would have reference to the very thing Paul had asked to have removed - the "thorn in the flesh." What we may often view as an annoyance may just be what we need for our own good. Paul learned that lesson as you hear him reply, "Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (vss. 9-10)
Many people have a tendency to "look down" on others when they know more about something than their counterparts. Preachers often distinguish themselves from others by wearing special clothing and allowing themselves to be referred to in elevated terms such as "reverend" or "father." Jesus described the motives of such self-esteeming people as being for the purpose of being "seen by men." (Mt. 23:2-10) But He warned that "...whoever exalts himself will be humbled." Sooner or later, all such high-minded people will be humbled, "For it is written: 'As I live, says the Lord, Every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.' " (Rom. 14:11)
Greatness is not achieved by deliberate effort, but rather is conferred on one deemed worthy by another who is higher in order. Jesus said, "When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, 'Give place to this man.' and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, 'Friend, go up higher.' Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Lk. 14:8-11)
At the final judgment and for eternity thereafter, "...the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Mt. 13:43) and "...those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake,..." and "...shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever." (Dan. 12:2-3) God will see to it that His children are appropriately recognized in due time and with great fanfare - and He doesn't need our help to accomplish that.
Lesson learned - Properly directed zeal
There was one attribute that Paul possessed that he didn't have to learn after his conversion, and that was zeal. Prior to his encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, Paul had shown himself to be a leader among men. He was known by his Jewish brethren for his fervor even as he pointed out to king Agrippa; "My manner of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation at Jerusalem, all the Jews know. They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee." (Acts 26:4-5) To the Jewish mob that tried to kill him, Paul said, "I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers' law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today." (Acts 22:3)
Paul's diplomacy before an enraged crowd bent on killing him is seen in his effort to reason with them by using their own zeal as a positive foundation upon which to build his defense. The same zeal that motivated them to want to kill Paul because of his allegiance to Christ, is that which had previously driven him to persecute Christians; "I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women." (vs. 4)
Paul's zeal had been part of his "confidence in the flesh" and a point of boasting along with his past heritage as is seen in his remarks to the church at Philippi; "circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless." (Phil. 3:5-6) But his confidence in the flesh had given way to Christ; "But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ." (vs. 7)
Paul's zeal had been something that he had once included as part of his identity, but upon his conversion he had resigned all of these things to Christ. He said, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." (Gal. 2:20) This does not mean however, that Paul lost his zeal. On the contrary, he became more resolute in his zeal as he even surpassed the twelve apostles who preceded him. Paul said, "For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy 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 was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." (1 Cor. 15:9-10)
Paul merely redirected his zeal, and thus he went from persecutor of Christians to defender of the gospel of Christ. Thereafter, he bemoaned the plight of his Hebrew brethren who yet remained opposed to Christ and His gospel. We especially see this in his comments to those at Rome when he wrote, "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God." (Rom. 10:1-3) Having once had "a zeal for God," (Acts 22:3) "but not according to knowledge," Paul's awareness of those who still remained where he had once been was a deep concern to him.
Lesson learned - Patience
In Paul's zeal, it would be easy for him to become impatient with others who did not share his level of zeal and commitment. We see this happen on one occasion after Paul and Barnabas had gone on their first missionary journey. In the early days of that first expedition they set sail for the island of Cyprus with "...John as their assistant." (Acts 13:5) They preached the gospel there from the town of Salamis to the town of Paphos. "Now when Paul and his party set sail from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John, departing from them, returned to Jerusalem." (Acts 13:13) We are not told John's reason for leaving so soon into their mission as he did. But we later see that it became a point of contention when plans began to be made for Paul and Barnabas to go on a second missionary journey.
"Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, 'Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.' Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God."(Acts 15:36-40)
It seems that Paul's zeal got ahead of his patience on this occasion and it resulted in ill feelings between brethren. So Barnabas, which means "son of encouragement" (Acts 4:36), took John under his wing, obviously seeing more value in him as a servant of the Lord than did Paul. Perhaps Barnabas' patience exceeded Paul's zeal at this point in time, however, Paul would come to learn how to bring both zeal and patience together in harmony with his maturity in the faith.
Peter taught about the course of spiritual maturity when he wrote, "...giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love." (2 Pet. 1:5-7) But Paul taught about the pinnacle of our spiritual growth when he began to define love in this way; "Love suffers long and is kind." (1 Cor. 13:4) In short, patience that is born out of love is one of the greatest marks of spiritual maturity.
Paul learned patience in the multitude of his trials as a servant of God's grace. And regarding John Mark - listen to Paul's plea to Timothy years later from his prison cell; "Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry." (2 Tim. 4:11)
Lesson learned - Love and compassion for his brethren
As Paul reminisced about his past misbehaviors, it was not with pride but disdain. He said, "...although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief." (1 Tim. 1:13) Paul makes no excuses for his past by claiming ignorance. Rather, he identifies ignorance and unbelief as being the cause of such sinful behavior. His claim that these things were characteristic of his former behavior is not a boast, but are stated in contrast to the mercy of God from which he had learned its value.
Paul identified himself as having been a "persecutor." Those who were the target of his misguided zeal became the victims of his ignorance and unbelief. He said, "I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities." (Acts 26:11) These were Christians - God's people against whom Paul had marshaled all his energy to punish, humiliate and eliminate. He said, "...many of the saints I shut up in prison...and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them." (vs. 10)
After Paul's conversion "Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. Then all who heard were amazed, and said, 'Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?' But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ." (Acts 9:20-22) Among his own Jewish countrymen his drastic change in allegiance had become too obvious to ignore. Therefore, "...after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him. But their plot became known to Saul. And they watched the gates day and night, to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall in a large basket." (vss. 23-25)
These who rescued Paul from certain death were Christians who also had previously been on his "laundry list" as those marked for imprisonment and perhaps death. Their act of kindness was an extension of compassion and brotherly love for one who had, only days before, hated them. Instead of vengeance, love prevailed in their selfless act of mercy, and an object lesson on love was being learned by Paul.
The compassion of these Christians in their helping him to escape was accomplishing two things. Paul was learning the humility that had begun on the road to Damascus when he was blinded, and he was also learning the meaning behind Jesus' words to him; "I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you" (Acts 26:17) It was by their hands that he was being rescued according to the protection that the Lord was providing him. We are not told if Ananias ever related to Paul what Jesus said to him in his vision (Acts 9:10-16), but if he did, Paul was also learning those words of Jesus now; "...I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name's sake." (vs. 16)
Suffering has an humbling effect which allows ones eyes to be opened to the compassion extended to them by the hands of others who care. Paul was now hated by many of his own countrymen and the help of his newly acquired brethren was an eye-opening experience for him. But his experiences after this initial indoctrination to suffering would also serve as part of his continuing education.
Sometime after having escaped from Damascus, Paul came to Jerusalem, the city from which he had initially gone "Christian hunting" with papers in hand from the high priest who resided there. His reception was not an easy one. "And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple." (vs. 26) Paul had previously taken great pride in striking such fear in those whom he persecuted, but now he must look at these same people as his brethren in Christ. Their fear was legitimate because this same Paul had hurt them and their families deeply. As he came to these Christians in an attempt to join himself to them, he was looking into the eyes of people whose relatives he had likely imprisoned or cast his vote against for their execution. How humiliating could that have been? It is no wonder that they were reluctant to accept him into their number.
"But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out." (vss. 27-28) Paul was learning a lesson on grace as Barnabas took him under his wing and vouched for him. He was also learning this lesson from the acceptance of people who had suffered at his own hand, yet took him into their number as "one of them." In overlooking Paul's past and embracing him as one of their own, they were demonstrating the essence of love as Paul would later write about - a love that "thinks no evil [keeps no accounts of evil] (but)...bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." (1 Cor. 13:6-7)
While writing of Christ's love for them, Paul was condemning his own past behavior; "Who shall bring a charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword ?...Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." (Rom. 8:33-37) Paul, the one who had tried to separate them from Christ, had learned to love them. From persecutor to Christian, his love extended now to the lost; "...I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh." (Rom. 9:2-3)

Lesson learned - Sacrifice
Paul came a long way from the heritage and birthright of his Pharisee background. His circle of admirers along with their respect and approval of his zeal had been part of the influence of his past. As one who could boast of having been "... brought up...at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers' law..." (Acts 22:3), he eventually came to the realization that in spite of his education, he had acted "...ignorantly in unbelief." (1 Tim. 1:13)
There was much in Paul's past for which he could boast. In writing to the church at Philippi, he noted that "If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so; circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless" (Phil. 3:4-6) All of these things for which he could once boast were part of who he had been and were part of his identity. But Paul learned that these fleshly benchmarks of life were only superficial, that in spite of such credentials that set him in the limelight among men, Paul had been lacking something.
We can all certainly relate to the dissatisfaction of earthly standards by which we are judged or by which we measure ourselves. The problem in such an imperfect standard of measure is that it falls short of that in which we can become complete. If our standard of measure is the world and the accomplishments of the flesh, we will always be less than what we could otherwise be in Christ. Paul warned that "...we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise." (2 Cor. 10:12) Therefore, Paul's critics were not an influence on his character. He could confidently say that "...with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court ...but He who judges me is the Lord." (1 Cor. 4:3-4)
All that had once meant something to Paul as important and worth boasting about soon lost their luster. After having pointed out some of the things that had once meant so much to him, Paul said, "But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ." (Phil. 3:7-8) Paul had learned the lesson of sacrifice.
Sacrifice is the giving up of something of value in exchange for something else. Paul did this, viewing it as an excellent exchange. It is what all must do who wish to gain Christ. Jesus illustrated this point when He taught that "...the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it." (Mt. 13:44-46) We, as Paul, must learn that fame and fortune do not measure up to that which the Lord offers. Paul said that, "God...has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3)
The life that Paul lived after his conversion was one that was characterized by much suffering. (2 Cor. 11:22-28) Yet in spite of such things, he viewed his former life of relative ease and prominence as "rubbish." He had learned the lesson taught by Jesus that so many never learn; "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Mt. 16:24-26)
Paul's exchange of all that he had once been and which he had counted of value was forever behind him. There is never any indication that Paul ever longingly looked back with any hint of regret or desire for what he had walked away from. He was truly converted from his past and devoted to Him in whom he had put his trust. Paul wrote to Timothy of his sufferings for the sake of the gospel saying, "...I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day." (2 Tim. 1:12)
Such commitment focused its attention on that for which he had sacrificed all things with no consideration or regret for that which he had given up. This becomes obvious in these profound words of Paul; "Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 3:12-13)
Paul learned the lesson that many fail to learn. Where there is no sacrifice, there is no real commitment. We can sacrifice things, yet fail to let go of them with our heart. The Israelites are a case in point. As they departed from Mt. Sinai to make their way into the wilderness en route to the promised land, they became discontent with God's daily provision of manna. Therefore they began to look back with regret at what they had left behind. "We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!" (Num. 11:5-6) Jesus said of this attitude, "...No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." (Lk. 9:62)
In Paul's learning to let go of his past, he threw off the encumbrances that can shackle our hearts to this world. In so doing he learned yet another lesson.

Lesson learned - Contentment
In Luke's historical account of the early years of the church, his biography of Paul ends at Rome, where we learn that "...Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him." (Acts 28:30-31) This was Paul's first imprisonment and the place from which he wrote the letter to his brethren at Philippi. (Phil. 1:7-14; 4:22) This letter was partly in reply to a gift (or a "care package"), which they had sent to him by way of Epaphroditus. (4:10, 18) And while Paul experienced the privileges of house arrest as opposed to confinement in a cold dungeon, he was none-the-less bound by a chain to "...the soldier who guarded him." (Acts 28:16)
The inconvenience of Paul's two-year confinement was but one of many things he suffered for the cause of Christ. He said that "From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city , in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness - besides the other things, what comes upon me daily; my deep concern for all the churches." (2 Cor. 11:24-28) Yet in the midst of such suffering, and while chained to a soldier, Paul could write to these brethren and say, "...I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need." (Phil. 4:11-12)
Having learned the lesson of contentment, Paul could encourage Timothy saying, "Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content." (1 Tim. 6:6-8) All those things that we may accumulate between birth and death have little significance compared to a life lived where Christ is its center and heaven is its goal. Paul expressed this sentiment when he said, "Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ." (Phil. 3:8) And again, he said, "Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (vss. 13-14)
Paul learned that contentment does not come from "having it all," but rather from knowing where all of it comes from with the assurance that God will provide what we need. Listen to what Paul said about this; "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (Phil. 4:6-7) The money-hungry world whose concept of contentment and security is a big bank account, have their trust misplaced in that which they must leave behind at the grave. There is no peace to be found in such an empty false security.
Paul's life is a testimony to the fact that peace and contentment are not realized by virtue of a life that is free from challenges, inconveniences or even some discomforts. The "thorn in the flesh" that the Lord saw fit to allow Paul to suffer was intended for his good. God's reply to Paul's request for its removal was, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." (2 Cor. 12:9) Once Paul recognized that fact, he could reply, "Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong." (vs. 10) The key to contentment is in our perspective. When we view such things as part of God's grace, such burdens become blessings for which we can give thanks. Without thankfulness there is no contentment.
Never do we hear Paul complain of his lot as a suffering servant of the Lord. God's grace toward Paul, even in the form of a thorn in the flesh, was viewed by him as a matter of abundant mercy in light of his past sins. He told Timothy that "...the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." (1 Tim. 1:14-15)
Paul's summation of God's grace in those words is an answer to every person who looks upon their life as being too sinful for God to forgive them. Paul was saying that, if God could forgive me, He can forgive anybody. And indeed, that was the idea behind God's great mercy for one who had once been such an enemy of Christ. Paul continued, "However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first, Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life." (vs. 16) Christ's abundant mercy toward Paul was a demonstration of His great patience that stands as the benchmark toward which all mankind can look with hope and assurance toward eternal life.
In view of heaven's promise, Peter said, "Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation - as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you." (2 Pet. 3:14-15) Therefore we can sing, "When peace like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, 'It is well, it is well with my soul.'"
- Gary V. Womack - March / April 2005