St. Paul – III – ‘The Apostle by God’s Choice’

Published by Jacob P Varghese on

Paul is seen as a new being in the Christian Church and an architect who worked hard for building the Church. Paul knew more about the work of Jesus only through relation with the Church and life in the Church. His knowledge of Christ deepened through Church life. He talks about the other apostles with respect (1 Cor. 15: 5). He considers himself the ‘least of all the apostles’ (1 Cor. 15: 9). When his apostleship was questioned he said that he is obliged to no one in this matter (Gal. 1:1, 17-29, 2:6-9). Paul was an apostle who is simultaneously ‘called’ and ‘sent’. His vocation and mission was not his choice, but of the One who called and sent him, called and set apart for the gospel (Rom. 1: 1; Gal. 1:15-16). The most zealous apostle of Christ, took His call to preach the Gospel of Christ, as the only aim of his life “woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” 1 Cor. 9: 16).

He had the same faith of the Apostolic Church. He knew from the apostolic tradition about Christ’s sermon, Passion, Death and Resurrection. It is proved that Paul understood Gospel of Jesus. He gave more position and recognition to the words of Jesus. We can say that Paul got the teachings of Jesus from the apostolic Church. Not only Jesus’ sermons but also life and character were understood by Paul. The chapter on Love (1 Cor. 13) was based on the life of Jesus.  He wanted to imitate Jesus “Imitate me, then just as I imitate Christ’ (1 Cor. 11: 1).  Paul knew Jesus through the ancient church. He accepted the beliefs and traditions formed in Church. This also proves his relation to the church. The tradition prevailed in ancient church was given to him (1 Cor. 15:3 onwards). He says “I passed on to you what I have received” (1 Cor. 15:3).  This tradition includes five points concerning the death and resurrection of Christ. This tradition originated at Church in Jerusalem. He received it from there. From 1 Cor. 11:23 onwards he says about the tradition which “I received from the Lord the teaching that I passed on to you”. The words ‘from the Lord’ mean the teaching he received from the Church life.

The scholars are of the opinion that the idea given in Rom. 1: 2-3, 10:8-9 are the beliefs prevailed in the church. They inferred it examining the style and structure. Paul quotes certain rhymes and songs prevailed in the Church. Eph. 5:14 “Wake up sleeper, and rise from death and Christ will shine on you”.  The scholars consider this song used at the time of baptism. The believers might have sung this when the individual comes out after baptism. Philipp. 2: 6 -11 is also a song composed about Christ and used in ancient Church. But Paul presented it with more beauty and meaning.

Paul got the tradition and belief concerning the Sacraments from the ancient Church.  A very clear idea about baptism is seen in Romans 6: 3. He presents this by saying “For surely you know”. He had not gone to Rome.  They were not taught about Baptism. But he thinks that the same teaching concerning Baptism, which prevailed everywhere, was there in Rome also. Paul sees baptism as a means by which the Christian shares in the death and resurrection of Christ (Rom. 6: 4). The Christian relives the Christ event in his / her personal life. He /she dies in baptism and a new person is born (Eph. 2: 15). It is the beginning of a new ‘heavenly’ existence with Christ. They are made one with Christ and cannot exist apart from him.  In the ancient Church there was a clear faith and performance of Eucharist. He accepted it and rejected false notion concerning it (1 Cor. 10, 11).  Hence it is evident that Paul was in good relation with the ancient Church. He cannot be thought of separated from it. He developed faith from the ancient church. Ancient Church had its own impact on Paul. For Paul, the Eucharistic meal is above all theLord’s Supper’ (1 Cor. 11: 20) a repast at which the new people of God eat their spiritual food and drink their spiritual drink (1 Cor. 10: 3-4). He writes about the teaching of Christ, concerning the indissolubility of Christian marriage (1 Cor. 7: 10); concerning the fate of the Christians both living and dead, at the coming of the LORD (1 Thess. 4: 15-17); an admirable summary of the Sermon of the Mount in Rom. 12: 21; ‘do not be overcome by evil; but overcome evil with good’; ‘those who preach the gospel should live the gospel’ (1 Cor. 9:14).

We see in Paul, the greatest Gospeller of the Christian Church.  About one fourth of the New Testament is filled with Paul’s letters. Paul had a clear idea of his calling and mission. He says, “God’s will I became an apostle of Christ”. In Gal. 1:14, 15; he gives clear idea of his apostleship. He believed that God had given him the privilege of being a servant of Christ Jesus to work for the gentiles. (Rom. 15:15). He traveled throughout Rome to carry out his work. We get this idea from Acts of Apostles. He made three journeys for mission. Thus he lived for Christ till the end, in relation with the Church, by the guidance of Holy Spirit (Acts 16: 6-7). He combined work with our Disciples of Christ, Mark and Barnabas, Silas (Acts 15:40), Luke (Acts 16:10) and worked with Aquila and Priscilla. He concentrated his work in important cities of Rome and Europe. He visited again and maintained connection. He preached and healed people. He lived on hard work. He worked by his hands to earn a living. He selected tent making as his occupation (Acts 18:3). His epistles are full of theological thoughts of the church, which are still growing. 

We can see a good model and preaching which motivate Christian life in Paul’s thoughts and life. His first letter is the epistle to Galatians. This was written after the first missionary journey. Two letters were written in the second journey, 1 Thessalonians and 2 Thessalonians. Three letters are connected with the third journey. They are 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians & Romans.  The next four letters are written from the prison. They are known as the prison letters. They are letters to the Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon and Philippians. Three Pastoral Epistles are Paul’s last letters. They are 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus. Another letter is to Hebrews, though the authorship is doubtful. His letters’ show how much he is madly in love with the person of the Risen JESUS. A man with single minded devotion to CHRIST, bearing all kinds of hardships, persecutions, sufferings, tortures for the sake of the Gospel of Christ.

St. John Chrysostom says “Every Time I read a passage of Paul’s letters and recognize his friendly voice, I feel him in front of me and hear him talking to me”.

We come to know his mind, feel the vibrations of his heart, which has experienced deeply and personally the love and grace of the Risen LORD.   

Paul who became a martyr for Christ still lives as a builder of the church. He suffered much for the development of the church. We see a perfect missionary in Paul.  He travelled through many countries to spread the Christian church.  He was imprisoned many a time.  He tried hard to strengthen the church even from the prisons by writing letters.  In this lesson the end of his life is explained. It is believed that he was at the time of Nero’s persecution in A.D. 64-68. It would have been in A. D. 66 to A. D. 67.  He spent two years in Rome in a rented house (Acts 28-30). He continued his work there.  He welcomed all who came to see him.  Timothy, Titus and Mark stayed with him.  Many people from the Churches visited him and helped him.  The letters named ‘Prison Epistles’ were written during this time.  The Acts of Apostles ends with a description of Paul’s imprisonment. But he was released in A.D. 62. He was sentenced to death just before that.

‘For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain’. Philippians 1: 21

There is no clear history. But some evidences are there in Pastoral Epistles like 1 Timothy, Titus and 2 Timothy. He might have done the fourth journey after release. He visited Ephesus, Troas, to Spain. Then the persecution of Nero started in A.D. 64. When the persecution started, he left for Rome to strength and encourage the believers there. When he reached there the government would have put an eye on this Christian leader.  They arrested him and imprisoned him.  He was brought before the council of the emperor. They did not care for his answers. The crowd cried aloud to kill the Christians. There might have been sentences to death for accepting Christ and Messiah. He was not sentenced to terrible death because of his Roman citizenship. There is a Church with no front door at ‘Three fountains’ by the side of the road to Austria outside Roman city built to suit a Roman citizen. This is a historical place. In 2 Timothy 2:1-7, Paul asks Timothy to take part in suffering.  This is a declaration of the good model he himself has exhibited in his life. The service of a gospeller will be meaningful only when he places Christ as his aim neglecting the simple incidents in his life.

I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4: 13

By this Paul ends his service.  He made dear the relation between life and death, about hope and about the dispute against Jews. Paul was a good warrior. He arranged Christianity through his words.  He freed Christianity from Jewish beliefs. He truly taught against the Jews. His dedication to run the full distance is seen next. He ran the full distance without any discouragement. He kept faith.  This shows responsibility. This faith may be Christian truths or his duties as a Christian worker or the promise to keep the rule. Paul believed that he will be awarded the crown of victory by the Lord on the Day of Judgment.  He calls us to this same experience. St. Paul the Apostle is one of the most outstanding religious leaders who have influenced the lives of men and women throughout the centuries. Every Christian must feel the urgency to proclaim the Gospel of Christ.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15: 13

..neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8: 39


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