‘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, and to make all people see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him. Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory (Ephesians 3:8-13).’
Christ, the Example
Paul wrote: ‘Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).’
Christ was Paul’s example, and he wanted the Corinthians to be like him by following Christ.
As with Paul, Jesus is the One we follow (John 12:26; Matthew 10:38). He is our Redeemer who lives forevermore (Job 19:25) – the One who gives us life in Him by His Spirit (John 3:3-8).
When He walked on the face of the earth, the Son of God was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). He was sent by His Father (John 12:49), and He lived a life of perfection in obedience to Him. Voluntarily He subjected Himself to the Law of Moses (Matthew 5:17), and not once did He sin.
After his conversion Paul regarded himself as ‘the least of the apostles (1 Corinthians 15:9),’ yet he had the enormous privilege of being personally commissioned for service by the risen Lord (Acts 9:1-9). He understood he had been ‘born out of due time (1 Corinthians 15:8).’ God used him to reveal the mystery (Ephesians 3:9) that had been prophesied beforehand by His prophets, i.e., Jesus was the Messiah who would redeem a people (Revelation 5:9) to God. They would be a people of ‘faith’ in the likeness of Abraham, who metaphorically was their father in faith, just as he is ours today (Romans 4:16, 17)!
Paul was uniquely chosen by God for performing the role he was predestined to carry out (Ephesians 1:1-12). Originally he was a Pharisee of Pharisees (Philippians 3:5) devoted to destroying people of the Way (Acts 22:4; Philippians 3:6). He was scrupulous regarding the keeping of the Jewish laws and traditions (Acts 22:.3). It’s fair to say, he hated Christians, and believed he had been called by God to eliminate them.
Paul’s Conversion and Calling
He was shocked and blinded (Acts 9:9) through an unexpected encounter with the risen Lord. While on the way to Damascus, with the purpose of arresting and binding people of the Way for them to be taken to Jerusalem, suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. A voice spoke to Him saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to knock against the goads. Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what to do (Acts 9:4, 5).”
In obedience to the command of Jesus, Paul arose from the ground where he had fallen (V. 4), and he and those with him went to Damascus. From thereon his life was utterly transformed. He became an ardent follower of Jesus, and he did more than any other disciple (Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:10) in establishing the church by planting (1 Corinthians 3:6) local assemblies in towns and cities throughout the Roman Empire.
Paul wrote letters to these assemblies in response to their different needs. They required guidance and encouragement (Colossians 2:1, 2; Acts 20:2) in their walk with God, and by the power of the Spirit (Romans 1:4) they took onboard what Paul had to say to them (1 Corinthians 2:4-16).
Paul’s words are preserved in the Bible, and Christians are taught and encouraged by them (Romans 15:4).
Common themes in his writings are the overcoming of sin (Romans 6:1, 2; 8:10) and the exercise of faith by grace (Ephesians 2:8, 9). Of the words ‘faith’, ‘grace’ and ‘sin’, the most mentioned is ‘faith’ ; the next is ‘grace’ , and the least is ‘sin’ .
Surprisingly, although the resurrection of Christ is fundamental to the Christian faith, Paul only mentions the word ‘resurrection’ nine times – four of them in 1 Corinthians 15. Just once he wrote the word ‘ascend’, and that was in Romans 10:6. He quoted it from Deuteronomy 30:12. He wrote the word ‘ascended’ three times (Ephesians 4:8, 9, 10). Again, this was within the context of a quote from the Old Testament – specifically Psalm 68:18. Incidentally, the word ’ascension’ is not found in the entire Bible!
The Importance of Faith
Paul clearly states that ‘faith’ is ‘the gift of God’ (Ephesians 2:8), and no amount of work can earn a person a place in heaven (V. 9). It is by ‘grace’ , i.e., God’s unmerited favour, that people are saved ‘through faith’ (V. 8).
Paul states: ‘for whatever is not from faith is sin (Romans 14:23b).’ Therefore faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is required in all our living. We need to exercise our God-given faith (James 2:18) at all times.
Paul wrote of himself, ‘“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 (Galatians 2:20).”’’