January 15, 2018
(All Scripture is from the New King James Version unless otherwise indicated)
The pastor of my home church, Pastor Ken is a dedicated Christian man and a good leader. He delves deeply into the Bible and builds his sermons on the truths of Scripture. When I can, I attend Sunday morning service – I rarely do because of my own preaching schedule – and I always listen closely to my pastor’s sermons, taking notes. I have told him that I get ten or a dozen ideas for blogs out of every sermon he preaches! This is one idea from a sermon he preached a year and a half ago – “The Importance of Holiness.” I call it this blog, “Character Or Comfort?” And the featured Scripture I have chosen is part of Paul’s great personal declaration in Philippians 3:7 through 14. Here are verses 7 and 8:
…what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. But
indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of
Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and
count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.
I think you can see what I see in this Scripture: Paul is striving for Character, not Comfort! But he certainly could have had a comfortable existence! Here are some of the highlights of Saul’s life before he was confronted by Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road, recorded in Acts 9:1 through 6 (he was known as Saul before he became Paul the apostle – see Acts 13:9):
• Acts 23:6 – Saul was the son of a Pharisee, and a Pharisee himself! While Pharisees were not often rich, they were influential along with the more elite Sadducees in the Sanhedrin (the ruling body of the Jews composed of 71 people – the High Priest and 70 others). They were the scribes – the ultra-studious teachers of the Jewish law!
• Acts 22:3 – He was educated and trained in the school of Gamaliel. According to Acts 5:34, “…Gamaliel [was]…one in the council [Sanhedrin], a Pharisee…a teacher [doctor – KJV] of the law held in respect by all the people….” He held “…the title ‘Rabban’ which…was borne only by presidents of the highest religious council [and] was first prefixed to the name of Gamaliel.” (JewishEncyclopedia.com). His grandfather was the famous Hillel, who was head of the School of Hillel which flourished during the first century AD, and of which Gamaliel was later headmaster.
• Galatians 1:14 – “…I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation….” Saul was the ‘fair-haired, up-and-coming’ young man among the Jewish leaders!
• Acts 26:10 – “…many of the saints…when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them.” Such a death penalty decision was reserved to the members of the Sanhedrin. So this is a probable reference to the fact that Saul was a member of that distinguished group of Jewish leaders!
• Matthew 19:16 through 22; Mark 10:17 through 22; Luke 18:18 through 23 – For years I have studied Saul of Tarsus and the rich, young ruler – their lives, personalities, and their historical settings. I have come to the conclusion that the rich, young ruler is none other than Saul of Tarsus! If this is true, then Saul was already quite wealthy even at a young age, and so was enjoying a very comfortable life!
“But what things were gain to me, these I have counted…all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord…” (Philippians 3:7 and 8). Saul encountered Jesus, and he was never the same after that! Lot’s of people encounter Jesus, but in too many there is not a whole lot of change evident thereafter in their lives. What made the difference with Saul ?
• He was dramatically called! As stated above, the record of Saul‘s salvation experience is in Acts 9:1 through 6. Few are call by a vision of Christ knocking them to the ground and blinding them! However, if we would desire drama in our calling to become a Christian, just look to the One who made it possible – Jesus Christ!
✞ He left heaven – with all its perfection and glory – to humbly come to earth where He didn’t even have a place to lay His head ! (See Matthew 8:20; Philippians 2:5-8).
✞ He lived the perfect life that God demanded (see Matthew 5:48), never sinning once (see I Peter 2:22) – a life no other human being could ever live! (See Romans 3:10, 23).
✞ Then He voluntarily laid down His life (see John 10:17, 18) on the cross, taking our sins and our punishment upon Himself (see Isaiah 53:5, 6; I Peter 2:24) so we could go free from God’s condemnation (see Romans 8:1) and live righteously before the Father! (See Romans 6:20-22).
✞ He rose again from the dead, and lives forever to apply that purchased salvation to all who come unto Him in faith believing! (See Ephesians 2:8, 9; Hebrews 7:25).
By the way, a study of what Jesus went through when He was crucified is very profitable for us to understand the extent of the sacrifice and suffering He made for us! It is an older book, but The Shroud Of Turin by Ian Wilson (first published in 1978, but still available on Amazon) is an excellent study of the crucifixion! This book, more than any other, has helped me to understand the extent of our Lord’s suffering.
• Saul, having met Christ on the Damascus Road, then pursued Him “…with all [his]… heart…soul…mind, and…strength…” (Mark 12:30). As he said in Philippians 3:10, “…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death….” But isn’t this the way all of us who are saved should respond? Paul wrote in Romans 12:1 that we should “…present…our bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is…our reasonable service.” It is reasonable service because considering all that Jesus has done for us, we should be completely dedicated to Him!
Such is our call to develop Christian Character! More on this in the next blog.