Saul of Tarsus was born around 5 AD in Tarsus in Cilicia, in what is modern day Turkey. His parents were Jewish who possessed Roman citizenship. After moving to Jerusalem, Saul studied Hebrew Scriptures under Rabbi Gamaliel sometime between 15-20 AD. He was from the strictest sect of the Pharisees and simply better than his contemporaries. By all measures of our time, he was an up and coming citizen who was reaching the pinnacle of existence. Then…Jesus messed his life up.
There are so many different stories we could focus on in this week’s reading but I want to draw your attention to what drove Paul at the core of his being. Jesus messed up his life and then Paul went through the worst of sufferings (2 Cor. 11:23-28) before finally being beheaded by Nero sometime between 64 and 68 AD. When Paul lists his sufferings in 2 Cor. 11, we must ask where his faith came from that brought about that kind of perseverance.
Before Jesus goes to the cross, he is in the Garden of Gethsemane and desires that the Father would take this cup away from him. What faith did Jesus have that gave him the courage to go to the cross? He believed that death would have no hold on him. He believed that he would be resurrected.
Jesus’ resurrection changed everything. We receive the Holy Spirit as a guarantee that we will join Christ in his resurrection. The Holy Spirit transformed Peter into one of the pillars of the early Church till his martyrdom around the same time of Paul. I received a note from Cindy Leone last week saying, “There is such a HUGE difference in Peter once he has the Holy Spirit and that reminds me how strong the Holy Spirit can be in me also.” We need that kind of reminder daily!
When we look at the crazy life of Paul, we see a man convicted by the Holy Spirit that everything he had gained in life is considered rubbish for the sake of Christ (Phil 3:8). Paul’s greatest desire for his life was 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” (Phil 3:10-11).
Paul was willing to stand tall in the face of death because he knew what was ahead of him. Death did not have the last word. Death had no victory over him (1 Cor. 15:31, 54-57)! What drive you each day? What motivates you in the decisions you make? As you read through this section of Acts, allow Paul to become a model for what it looks like to believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ with every ounce of your being.
I love how The Story weaves Paul’s letters into the narrative of Acts to give a glimpse of what all was going on when Paul wrote to these Churches. What are some of the major themes you see in these letters? What do we need to hear today? One of the major writings that is highlighted in this chapter that I’d like to point to for a moment is found on page 425. Paul spends a lot of time focusing on sexual ethics in his writings. Christianity stood out in the Greco-Roman world in regards to sexual ethics because they ethics were same for the men as they were for the women. There is a major issue of sexual ethics taking place in the church in Corinth and Paul writes to address it. The reason I want to focus on this particular writing is because there is a message we need to be reminded of today.
Paul called them to not associate with the sexually immoral. He clarifies that he meant the sexually immoral people in the church. Paul says that we are to let God worry about those outside the church. This passage is very freeing but also comes with a heavy weight. We as Christians have spent a lot of time sorting out sexual immorality in the world while often ignoring the immorality in our own churches. This is freeing because God doesn’t need my help sorting out who are sinners outside of the church. This adds a heavy weight because we are called to address sexual immorality in those who are in the church. When we leave sin unaddressed it plagues the church and hurts our Family. The purpose of addressing these sins is to restore the person back to God and to the Family of believers. Otherwise the Image of God, the church, is tarnished. We’ve often showed a lot of grace to those in the church while casting judgement on those outside, who incidentally don’t adhere to the same ethics we do. Paul calls the church to change this around.
Paul spends a lot of time in his writings calling for unity. Where are some areas where we need to address unity and equality amongst believers? How does the lack of equality displayed in the church tarnish our witness to the world around us? What other principles do you see Paul calling for as he addresses issues in the church?