Grace, Grace, God's Grace!
Over the years, when reading through the wonderful stories in
the Bible, the ones I read the most seldom were about the life of the Apostle
Paul. For some reason, I considered him a faithful, stalwart, but obnoxious
little chap who, owing to his skin like a rhinocerous (my perception), was able
to spread the gospel of the grace of God, while feeling little or no rejection
to himself. When going through a study called 'To Live is Christ' (by Beth
Moore), my eyes were opened to many things. I don't normally like to be proven
wrong but this time it was a positive delight and I have learned so much about
this wonderful man of God!
The author of the study went back to the Code of Jewish Law
to give us an idea of how Paul (known as Saul in his pre-conversion days) was
brought up by Jewish tradition. This is possible because the process of keeping
of the law has stayed much the same from generation to generation.
"We cannot begin to comprehend what Saul's life was
like as he sought to live by the letter of the law, because most of us are
Gentile Christians. Daily rituals determined the first words out of Saul's
mouth in the morning, the way he took off his night clothes and put on his day
clothes, and how he sprinkled his hands before breakfast. He carefully avoided
eating or drinking quickly and never ate while standing.
Saul pronounced numerous benedictions throughout the day. His
entire day was filled with ritual, and at night he took off his shoes and
garments in prescribed order. He avoided certain sleeping positions and chose
others.....tossing and turning through the night is misery to us; but to Saul it
could have been sin!
These daily rituals paled in comparison to all the laws
regarding the Sabbath. Restrictions existed for the almost unimaginable. For
instance, prior to the Sabbath a Pharisee cut his fingernails and toenails not
in consecutive order but alternately. He then burned the nails. He avoided
spitting in a place where the wind could scatter the saliva so he would not
break laws concerning sowing on the Sabbath....." End quote.
Paul later states in his own defense that regarding the
keeping of the law, he was 'faultless'. Without the Spirit of God in his
life however, the law literally strangled him and he became a model for Isaiah 29:13
where it says, "These people come near to Me with their mouth and
honour Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me
is....rules taught by men."
(My friend and mentor, although he doesn't know it, is A.W.
Tozer. He writes about the difference between the Bible taught or the Spirit
taught believer. "It is altogether possible to be instructed in the
rudiments of the faith and still have no real understanding of the whole thing.
And it is possible to go on to become expert in Bible doctrine and not have
spiritual illumination, with the result that a veil remains over the mind,
preventing it from apprehending the truth in its spiritual essence." End
Some people would question this and say, "Well, does it
really matter?" Yes, it does and this is indicated in Exodus 20:19 when the
children of Israel said to Moses, "...speak to us yourself and we will
listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die." What a tragedy!
They had an opportunity to speak with God directly and they didn't want it. )
By contrast, later in Saul's life we meet Stephen,
described in Acts 6:5 as "a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost".
Stephen's is a life that is led by the Spirit of God and it shows!
Here are two men who have both studied God's Word
extensively and whose lives, apparently, are being lived for the same God and
yet the results are vastly different. Stephen did great wonders and miracles
through his faith and power from God while Paul used his skills to stir up
trouble and eventually gave approval to Stephen's death by his contemporaries.
Just before Stephen died however, he looked up into Heaven
and called out saying that he could see Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
This added fuel to the flame that already enraged the crowd and they stoned him.
Looking at it from the Lord's perspective now - "Can
you imagine the alloy of emotions He (Jesus) must have experienced as He
looked on the two key players in the Kingdom that day? One for Him. One against
Him. One covered in blood. The other covered by prayer shawls. One who
could not save himself from men. The other who could not save himself from sin.
One dead in body but alive in spirit. The other alive in body but dead in spirit.
One loved by God. And the other loved by God....
Just a day in the life of a man named Stephen. A shooting
star. He had one brief performance. One chance on stage. But it was absolutely
unforgettable. As the curtain fell on his life, he received a standing
ovation from the only One who really mattered. I have a feeling that seconds
later the two of them hadn't changed positions much. Christ was still on His
feet. Stephen was still crumpled to his knees. How sweet to imagine the first
heavenly words he heard that day: "Welcome, Stephanos, My joy and My crown."
(Next month: What happened to Saul?)