Monday, December 23, 2013

A Chosen Instrument

When the Lord Jesus appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus, he was blinded and spent three days fasting and praying until the Lord healed him through the hands of Ananias.

Speaking about his conversion to the Jews in Jerusalem much later, he said:
 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, 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” (Acts 22:3)
A Jew: Was being a Jew useful to Paul in the Lord’s service? No kidding. Had he been only a Gentile, it would have been extremely difficult for Paul to convince anyone, especially Jews, of the critical truth that salvation was now offered freely outside of the legal prescriptions of Judaism. Instead, he could endorse Gentile membership in the body of Christ (and for that matter, salvation by faith rather than works) without any apparent personal agenda.

Born in Tarsus: Useful? Check that one off too. Being born in what is now Turkey gave Paul a foot in both worlds, bridging the ancient divide between Jew and Gentile.

Brought up in this city [Jerusalem]; educated under Gamaliel: Useful? Absolutely. Paul had as vigorous and thorough an induction into first century Judaism as was possible anywhere in the world of his day. That background in the Scriptures gave him an instant grasp of the incalculable value and singular place in God’s plan of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Then during those three days of blindness, God shone his light on the entire Old Testament for Paul. All of a sudden Paul had the key to the entire revelation of God to man. No wonder he “immediately” proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues.

I don’t imagine Paul’s teaching in those days had anything like the depth or breadth it would acquire with years of study, prayer, meditation and walking with the Lord. But it was good enough that he “confounded the Jews that lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ” only a few days after his conversion.

Being zealous for God: Useful? Even though his zeal was entirely misplaced and he persecuted the very one he purported to serve, it was that zeal that caught the attention of those who heard Paul in those days. It says they were “amazed”, knowing of his earlier convictions.

And I don’t want to get all psychological on you here, but do you think maybe the deep regret that Paul felt for his former behavior just might have been a motivating factor in the intensity of his service for Christ after his conversion?

Useful? No doubt about it.

Paul writes to the churches in Galatia and says:
“But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles …” (Galatians 1:15,16)
God’s plan for Paul began before he was born and was worked out in his life in both the choices Paul made and those that were made for him. Paul didn’t choose to be born in Tarsus. The circumstances of his birth were entirely out of his control. Neither, I’m sure, did he choose to be brought up in Jerusalem any more than any child has a say in where his or her parents reside. He may have chosen to study under Gamaliel (though I suspect that was a privilege rather than his personal choice) and he certainly chose to be zealous for God.

But the point is, in all things — whether Paul knew or didn’t know what was going on — the Lord was working to accomplish his ultimate purpose in Paul’s life.

Think this might have an application for you and me? The Lord Jesus told Ananias that Paul was a “chosen instrument”. But it is true of all believers that, “he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4).

You and I may not be chosen to spread Christianity all the way across ancient Asia, but we were chosen — not just before birth but before the foundation of the world.

Why was I born into this particular family? Why does a parent drink too much? Why didn’t I get into the university I wanted to? Why wasn’t I promoted like I deserved?

If the Lord could order the circumstances of Saul’s upbringing to prepare him for service, how difficult can it be for him to order your circumstances and mine to produce in us the qualities that will ultimately make us useful to him and useful to others?

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