Strength for the Faithful

Do you have something in your past that you would rather forget? I know I do.

Paul’s letter to Timothy reveals an uncomfortable truth about his past. He reminded Timothy of the time when he was Saul of Tarsus and he violently persecuted Christians for their beliefs. He was present at the stoning of Stephen and was “extremely zealous” and famously violent for persecution “beyond measure” (Galatians 1). He was a Pharisee, a Roman citizen, a tent maker by trade, and yet God used all of his sinful past to convert the world after he first converted Saul on the road to Damascus.

I think it is easy to forget Paul’s violent beginnings as we study his many letters and his theology. Paul brought the Gospel to the modern world in a stunning series of missionary journeys that included imprisonment, shipwrecks, great personal cost, and eventually death.

This passage in 1 Timothy talks about his appointment to ministry in spite of his past:

1 Timothy 1 (Common English Bible)

12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength because he considered me faithful. So he appointed me to ministry 13 even though I used to speak against him, attack his people, and I was proud. But I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and without faith. 14 Our Lord’s favor poured all over me along with the faithfulness and love that are in Christ Jesus. 

15 This saying is reliable and deserves full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I’m the biggest sinner of all.16 But this is why I was shown mercy, so that Christ Jesus could show his endless patience to me first of all. So I’m an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life. 17 Now to the king of the ages, to the immortal, invisible, and only God, may honor and glory be given to him forever and always! Amen.

What a remarkable reversal! The persecutor became the proclaimer. The sinner became the saint. The faithless one became the leader of the faithful. The Lord’s favor was poured out over Saul, and he received the faithfulness and love that are in Christ Jesus.

What do you have in your past that either enables or hinders you from sharing the gospel? Paul’s story is a powerful reminder of the power of forgiveness of sin to wash away all of our transgressions. It is also a good reminder to us that God loves every sinner and shows mercy and patience to all. When we sit in judgment of other people’s sins, we sit outside of God’s great plan to bring Jesus into the world to save sinners. All the doors of redemption must be left open for the Sauls to come in.

If the “biggest sinner of all” can be made new and whole through the mercy and grace of the Lord, so can the rest of us.

Do you have a story of a past that was changed? Go and tell.

The Lord’s Favor by Michelle Robertson

ONE thing

Many of you know that I have a dog named Georgia. She is a big yellow lab, and by big, I mean 110 pounds big. Georgia loves many things….long walks, swimming, any kind of food, and anything that smells. She can be a real challenge to walk.

Often when I am walking her, my arm suddenly gets yanked out of the socket because she has found something good to smell. I keep explaining to her that we came out for a walk, not a sniff! I spend the whole walk telling her to lift her head up…more than once she has walked smack into a mailbox post that she never saw coming. She has amazing focus….just on the wrong thing!

Philippians 3 (New International Version)

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.

But ONE thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

This scripture is a beautiful portrait of Paul, the Jesus-follower. The fact that Paul had such a passion for following Jesus is amazing, considering where he started. Remember that before he became Paul the apostle, he was Saul of Tarsus, persecutor of Jesus-followers. Paul’s credentials were impressive: he was circumcised eight days after his birth, was a member of the tribe of Benjamin, was a Hebrew among Hebrews, a Pharisee, and a zealous advocate of the Jewish faith until he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. 

From that point on, he was a zealous advocate of only one thing: Jesus. Look again at vs. 13 and 14: “But ONE thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Did you notice Paul’s focus? “But ONE thing I do…” Not ten things, not a hundred things, but ONE thing. 

I would bet that if we were to hire a consultant to look at our lives and advise us on how we can be more successful, the first thing that consultant would say is, “You’re trying to do too many things.” Henry Ford once said, “A weakness of all human beings is trying to do too many things at once. That scatters effort and destroys direction. It makes for haste, and haste makes waste.” The key to a successful life is to have one goal, and to pursue that with all your heart, might, and focus.

What ONE thing is Christ calling you to focus on right now? Is it healing your marriage, forgiving someone who has hurt you, releasing a grudge and moving on, starting a deeper, intentional commitment to your discipleship…where should your focus be?

Paul invites us to join him in his ONE thing. Forget the old baggage of what lies behind. Strain forward to what lies ahead. Press on toward your goal. Pursue the upward call of God….and find Jesus.

Focused Fishermen by Michelle Robertson