“ Yea, doubtless and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.” Philippians 3:8
At what point in his life did Saul begin to question the basis of this zeal for which he was so renowned? Was this unquenchable desire to exterminate all challenges to the established order a function of an experiential faithfulness to God? Or was it rather a matter of perpetuating and protecting an exclusionary status quo under which the privileged few prospered and the many would never be able to share in?
For the contemporary practitioner, as was true for our forbearers, there is the ever-present danger of applying an exclusionary label to the practice of Christianity. We are prone to view our status, not as a beneficiary and of necessity, a witness to the efficacy of an incredible grace, but rather as that of the favored scion of royalty. We interpret, as did the religious folk of Jesus’ day that the connection to a historical Abraham would forever guarantee rights and privileges, not granted to any others—and would remain forever so.
It was from these genetic and historical battlements, that these diehard religious folk would launch their most bitter and personal assaults on Christ. It was when confronted with the startling reality that each individual must for himself experience personal, redemptive relationship with the Divine, through Jesus Christ, that these pious folk took their stand. They reminded Jesus and not too subtly either, that they could trace their lineage all the way back to the “Father of the faithful”, and wondered aloud if he Christ would be able to do the same.
In my day, the disciple often finds himself as part of a peer group that stridently and with numbing regularity proclaim to all the others out in the “world”, that we are a carefully selected bunch—the remnant of the remnant. The historical and genetic connection to the aforementioned Abraham is a little harder to pass muster hence less frequently cited. We still however do a rousing little jingle celebrating the linkage.
Father Abraham had many sons…!
It is without doubt a fraudulent elitism as most such claims usually are. But it is all the more heinous since the very basis on which this sense of entitlement and superiority rests, has as its’ avowed purpose, the utter destruction and erasure of such divisions.
“For He is our peace, who… hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us.” Ephesians 2:14
“… There is neither Jew nor Greek there is neither, bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28
How can the honest disciple who has answered the call of God, escape such deadly missteps that has slowly and imperceptibly trapped so many like himself in that foul swamp of complacency and self-righteousness? To the casual observer, and most tragically, to the disciple himself, these swamplands appear as lush, vibrant blossoming gardens of evangelistic bustle and color. Perhaps this man from Tarsus, having himself made a dramatic and perilous escape from that very place can show us a way out. That this harrowing journey out of the swamps of deceit would become the stuff of joyful reminiscing was as unlikely a circumstance, as was the act of escape itself. It was as improbable as the high priest Caiaphas (Matt. 26:3, 4) declaring as forcefully to his fellow “defenders of the faith”, as did that remarkably enlightened Roman Centurion: “…Truly, Jesus is the Son of God” Matthew 27:54
For the apostle Paul, despite having come down the long hard road of imprisonment, torture, betrayal, disavowal, shipwreck, and forcible exile, his gaze remained undeterred, his resolve unshakable. Living under the ever-present threat of death, Paul would be able to say confidently and defiantly—I would not hesitate to do it all again! I have kept the faith. I have run with patience and perseverance, the course laid out for me, and have finished it. 2 Timothy 4:7 (Paraphrased)
For the casual observer, it was an unlikely journey, a road that should not have been taken if religious logic held permanent sway. But conventional wisdom and religious logic could not hold permanent sway against the persuasiveness of an unchanging Divine grace. For this man whose life change was so radical and comprehensive, even a change in his given name was deemed as not too extreme, but rather a necessary expedient to hammer home the finality of the parting with everything that was before. For this man, Saul of Tarsus, this was the life of faith seen through eyes that were fixed on God. And the joyous, unabashed obedience that ensued was the guarantee that this faith would not be in vain. His uninhibited, declaration of the scope, purpose and ultimate meaning of his life is recorded in his letters to the hard-pressed folk in Philippi is brief but telling. It also leaves no question unanswered.
“For to me, to live is Christ…”