2021 – The Others
Paul’s Last Letter 1
Paul an Ambassador of Reconciliation
This year, in my sermons, we are working on the Others; the Other people; how we interrelate with others. But we are also exploring the Other books in the New Testament which I have not preached. We finished Philemon. Check! Only 9 more books to achieve my life goal. Next, we are going to 2 Timothy.
But before we make that jump, I want to dig a bit deeper into being ambassadors of reconciliation! That was our Seventh Principle of Interrelating to the Others… I am an ambassador of reconciliation.
Here is the fun thing we are going to do this morning. We are going to track Paul’s understanding of reconciliation through his life. Paul begins his life with one understanding of what reconciliation of the world looks like and ends up opposite. We are going to do a brief biography of Paul’s life focusing on his changing understanding of reconciliation. Sound like fun? At least preacher fun?
Put on your scholar’s caps! Join me in looking at Paul’s life in a summary…
Saul was born in or around the year 5 AD. That would make him 10ish years younger than our LORD. Paul was born in Tarsus of Cilicia. ( see-LIHSH-ee-uh) His parents were Jews but also, most likely, his dad had earned a Roman citizenship. His family were wealthy tent-makers. Maybe, Saul’s dad had crafted quality tents for the Roman army, earning him a citizenship in the Roman Empire. Whatever… Saul was born a Roman Citizen. Tarsus was known for two things; wealth and schools. Saul would have been raised as a rich kid with a good education. Hey, just like us…
He had a good enough education to get into grad school in Jerusalem under Gamaliel.
Acts 22:3 "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city (Jerusalem), educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.”
Saul received his PHD in Pharisaic theology from the school of Gamaliel. Which meant he was a Pharisee. In fact, he claims he was a fanatic Pharisee.
Philippians 3:4-6 Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law blameless.
As a fanatic Pharisee, he endorsed the death of Stephen; the first Christian martyr.
Acts 7:58-8:1 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul… And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
Let’s pause in our biography for a moment. Let’s ask, at this point in Paul’s life, what was his understanding of the reconciliation? As a Pharisee, he believed that if the Jewish nation would observe all the laws of the Torah, God would bring the rest of the world in line under their control. If the Pharisees could get it right… the rest of the world would fall into line. Reconciliation by law with some violence thrown in.
You know the next part of the story… Let’s just read it… It’s the year 34 AD.
Acts 9:1-9 But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" And he said, "Who are you, Lord?" And he said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting… 8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So, they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
Literally bind, as well as metaphorically blind, Paul’s entire understanding of reconciliation was about to change. A Christian named, Ananias goes to Paul, heals his sight, baptizes him and gives him a startling commission… “You are to be my chosen vessel to carry my name to the Gentiles; the Others…
Acts 26:17-18“…the Gentiles- to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”
Paul’s life is reversed. From being a Pharisee, whose understanding of the Law would keep him out of a Gentile house… to being the one who would deliver the Others from the darkness into the light; who would preach forgiveness of the Others!
Paul’s understanding of reconciliation changed… Reconciliation is also offered to the Others. At this moment Paul’s view of reconciliation was… the Others could also be saved.
After his conversion Saul spends time with the Lord in Arabia where he receives his apostleship… as one who had been with the LORD. He, then, goes back home to Tarsus. I think converts his family… perhaps. Then, Barnabas gathers him up from Tarsus to take him as a missionary to the Gentiles. We have this touching scene…
Acts 13:2-3 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
Saul, whose name is change to Paul, at this time, goes on three missionary journeys in and around what we would call Turkey, Syria, and Greece. Paul starts churches; spends time in jail, writes letters, baptizes Others, directs a team of missionaries. He takes the Gospel throughout his world! Paul is fulfilling his commission as apostle to the Gentiles!
What is Paul’s understanding of reconciliation… at this point?
Acts 17:24-28 “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us!”
God is close to all. Reconciliation is being one – Jew and Other - with God by faith!
The next big movement in Paul’s life is created by a problem. Some of the Jews said, “OK, the Gentiles can be in Christ, but they must first become Jews; be circumcised and follow the Jews laws.”
Paul writes the angry letter of Galatians in response…
Galatians 1:6-7 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.
No this is wrong. It is no Gospel, if the Other’s must become Jews!
Galatians 3:27-28 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
We are one in Christ. Reconciliation is reconciliation of race, social status and gender… all one in Christ. This is a huge leap! The world’s labels are irradiated in Christ! That is reconciliation!
Paul’s understanding is honing in as he writes Romans, Ephesians, Colossians…
Ephesians 2:11-16 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called "the uncircumcision" by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands- remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility… that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
There is no wall. There are no second-class citizens of the kingdom. There is only one people of God!
There is one more step in Paul’s theology of reconciliation. Another step we need to take with Paul! There was a famine. Many in Judea were starving. Paul collects money from his Gentile churches for disaster relief for the Christians in Jerusalem.
Romans 15:26-27 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings.
Even though he is warned not to go to Jerusalem by several prophets, Paul knows that the symbolism of the Jewish Christians accepting help from the Gentiles in Christ is what reconciliation means! He takes his Gentile gift to the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem…
Acts 21:17-19 When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
They welcomed… Paul and his money from the Others.
Reconciliation is sharing and receiving help as one in Christ!
Let’s quickly finish the story…
Paul is arrested after giving the contribution to the Jerusalem church. He spends four years incarcerated. He appeals to Caesar; endures a storm and shipwreck. Finally, makes it to Rome. He is released. Goes to Spain on one last mission. Is arrested again in Rome this time by Nero after the fire. After a trial…Paul is beheaded in 66 AD.
While awaiting the results of this trial he writes 2 Timothy. Which is where we will be next time.
Let’s discover the Eighth Principle… from Paul’s biography.
Our world is in need of reconciliation. I said that last week. The only hope of our world is the reconciliation that is in Christ. Here are the steps of reconciliation we observed from Paul…
--Reconciliation does not come by force. Political, military, economic force is not going to reconcile the world.
--Reconciliation begins first, with the God... who is near. By faith we are made right with God. That is our message. We are ambassadors of reconciliation… Be reconciled to God!
--Because we are in Christ… we become, by definition, one in Christ.
--This oneness with the LORD breaks down of all the walls of hostility. Prejudice disappears in Christ!
Here is the Eighth Principle of Interrelated with the Others… Reconciliation requires action!
--Paul knew that reconciliation was not going to be complete until help was humbly offered and graciously received. Reconciliation requires that we do something. It requires that we offer help. It demands we give. It must be received. Reconciliation requires action!
In Paul’s last words…
2 Timothy 4:17 But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.
January 31, 2021
Los Alamos Church of Christ
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