In our Bible passage we can see how passionate Paul was, and how strongly he expressed himself – he was a man who made loyal friends but also a lot of enemies! The passage tells us about his high status as a Pharisee in his faith community of origin. Once meticulously observant of the Jewish Law, he came to believe that it had no power to save his soul at all, that salvation was freely given by God, grace received by faith.
The passage refers to Paul’s valiant struggle to keep the faith from becoming just another Jewish sect. He became known as “the apostle of the Gentiles”. If he had not argued and insisted that Gentiles did not have to embrace Jewish ways to be accepted by God, Christianity might never have come to those of us not of Jewish descent. We have a lot to thank him for.
Much of the New Testament is by or about Paul. Here are two more quotations from his letters:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9);
… “he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Are you an all-or-nothing person, like Paul, impetuous and passionate, or are you a more cautious person, inclined to think things through and express yourself mildly? Did you come to faith suddenly and dramatically, as Paul did (Acts 9:1–7), or has your faith grown more gradually and quietly?
Our passage says, “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” Can you think of anything in our modern life that is something to be proud of in the eyes of the world, but comes to seem pointless and cumbersome when seen with the eyes of faith? For example, might faith change our attitude to awards or status or money or success in exams?
Paul says it is in our areas of weakness that we can really discover God’s power. Have you found this to be true in your own experience, or can you think of someone’s life that is an example of God’s power shining through their weakness?
O God, your grace to us is wonderful. Your strength lifts us up and carries us in our weakness; your love finds and saves us when we are broken and lost. We thank you for the great apostle Paul, for his passionate spirit and his faith in Jesus that came to him with such overwhelming power. Please help us to find, as Paul did, so real a vision of Jesus that our lives are transformed until we too can say – and really mean it – “for me to live is Christ, to die is gain”. For we ask it in Jesus’ holy name; Amen.