Have you ever wondered why St. Paul occupies so much of the New Testament?
Well I have!
Think about it: he wrote 13 out of the 27 books of the New Testament, and in the book of Acts, which describes the early church, he is the center of attention in 16 of its 28 chapters. No one in the entire New Testament except for Jesus Christ Himself gets anywhere near the airtime that Paul does.
Why? Why Paul, and why so much about one man whose not even God?
There must be something special about Paul, and there is. More than anyone else, he is the person who most personifies Jesus Christ and represents the Church continuing to say and do the things that Jesus began to say and do when He was on earth. He is, if you will, an icon of Jesus Christ, as we are all to be icons of Jesus Christ.
In fact, isn’t this the meaning of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in each of us who are Christians? Just as Jesus is the image of the invisible God, we are the image of Jesus Christ, as was St. Paul. I find that having a Paul is of immense value in my attempting to follow and imitate Jesus Christ, just as having real, live Christians in my life are invaluable in my following Jesus.
For this reason, Paul can dare to write, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1) and again, “Therefore I urge you, imitate me” (1 Corinthians 4:14). That sounds a little audacious, dontcha think? Shouldn’t Paul simply say, “Imitate Jesus Christ”?
But he doesn’t. I think we need not only Jesus Christ but also Jesus Christ in Paul and Jesus Christ in all who truly have faith. Jesus Christ didn’t come in the flesh only to deprive us of it: instead, He now dwells in the person of each believer, and together we constitute His Body. But sometimes, it’s more powerful to have one specific icon like Paul to focus on.
I find that if I think of myself as being Paul in Acts 26 I learn a lot about who God is, who I am, and who God has made me. In fact, these are 4 questions that I look for in just about every Bible text:
1. What does the passage teach me about God?
2. What does the passage teach me about myself?
3. What does the passage teach me about what God has done and is doing to me?
4. What does the passage teach me about how I should respond to God?
From Acts 26, I learn a lot about who St. Paul was, back when he was Saul sans St. He was a person who did many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. He shut up saints in prison, and he cast his vote against them to put them to death. He punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme, and being exceedingly enraged against them, he persecuted them even to foreign cities.
This is who Paul was. At first glance it doesn’t look much like me at all. Even if you rewind my life and look at a time when I was less sanctified, he still doesn’t look much like me. I didn’t do any of these horrible things or even anything like them.
But what if I were to examine my life as it would appear without Jesus Christ in it, and suppose that the godly influence of my parents and the Christians they put in my life had not been there? I still may not have done the things that Paul did, but consider what a miserable and terrible sinner I would have been. Consider how far from God my life would have been.
Look at Saul of Tarsus as described in verses 9-12. There, but for the grace of God, go you! He is a picture of you without God in your life.
But now look at who Paul had become by the grace of God. He saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around him. When he fell to the ground, he heard the voice of Jesus speaking to him, telling him how sinful he had been and that He had appeared to him to make him a minister and witness both of the things he had seen and the things which would be revealed. He had been turned from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. He had received the forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are being sanctified by faith in Jesus Christ.
Doesn’t Paul now look like you? Isn’t this a fair description of you, after Jesus Christ has knocked you down? Doesn’t He shine brighter than the sun in your life, and don’t your hear His blessed and blessing voice? And haven’t you been appointed to be a minister and witness of the things you have seen and heard and will see and hear? It’s you, and not just St. Paul, who have received the forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are being sanctified by faith in Jesus Christ.
Suddenly, Acts 26 is no longer just about Paul before another ruler: it’s about you and Jesus Christ in you. In Acts 26, Paul is a Before and After advertisement for Jesus Christ. Before is the most hideous, foul creature imaginable, and After is the most glorious, beautiful person! The difference is Jesus Christ in his life.
Paul’s life has a lot more amplitude than my life (lower lows and highers highs), so that we all can see God and ourselves more clearly. God could have put my life or a similar one into Scripture, a life that started in a household of faith and that was lived in slowly increasing sanctification. But none of us would have seen much in it.
What Paul’s life shows me, through his increased amplitude, is the real truth about my own life. In the low lows of Paul’s ugly Before picture, I see myself as I would have been and am reminded that without God I could have been worse still. But in the high highs of Paul’s After picture I see what I could be and am reminded that in heaven even my lowest low will be far more perfect and glorious than Paul’s highest high on earth!
To use another picture, Paul’s life uses all of the visible light portion of the spiritual electromagnetic spectrum to show what God can do in a man’s life. My life may be painted all in greens and have a much more limited range. But even Paul’s illuminated life shows only a narrow range of what man will one day be, either with God or without Him. Look at this picture of the electromagnetic spectrum. http://www.yorku.ca/eye/spectru
Paul’s life is the visible light, and mine is the green. The life without God in Hell is a life diminished far, far to the left, on beyond the gamma rays and into the infinitesimally small and godless realm. But a life in Heaven with God is a life magnified far, far to the right, on beyond the AM radio waves and into the infinitely large and godly realm.
Why Paul? Now you know.
Prayer: O God, who, through the preaching of the blessed Apostle Saint Paul, hast caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world; Grant, we beseech thee, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show forth our thankfulness unto thee for the same, by following the holy doctrine which he taught; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Point for Meditation and Resolution:
I resolve to reflect on what my life would be like without Jesus. I further resolve to take time to respond with joy and thanksgiving for what God has done for me.
© 2012 Fr. Charles Erlandson