As so many of us find ourselves inspired by the competition of the Summer Games, my thoughts have also gone to one of the most amazing performances the world has ever seen.
His name was Saul, and his deadly game had echoes of his namesake, the first king of Israel. As King Saul raged through the Judean Wilderness in an all out effort to eliminate his competition in a shepherd soldier by the name of David, Saul of Tarsus waged his own war against followers of the Way.
The New Testament record of Acts shows us how much Saul hated Jesus and the Jewish countrymen who believed the teacher from Nazareth was the long awaited Messiah of Israel (Acts 8:1-3; Acts 9:1-3). Saul feared their influence on his nation and religion, and they were afraid of him (Acts 9:10-16).
Then Paul’s threats suddenly stopped. A few years later he resurfaced to defend and support the people he had once hated. To understandably suspicious readers, he began writing friendly letters and signed them with his Roman name of Paul.
What amazed his generation still inspires those who read his story and letters today. Paul’s change of name reflected a world class change of heart. He went from being the most fearsome persecutor to one of the most persecuted (2Cor 4:8-11; 2Cor 6:4-10).
He wrote one of the most inspiring descriptions of love the world has ever read (1Cor 13:1-13).
He prayed one of the most important prayers the world has ever heard (Eph 3:14-21).
By the pain he suffered, the letters he wrote, and the example he left us, Paul did more than win credibility. He reminds us that Jesus not only died in our place, but rose three days later to live his life through us.
While admitting that he was no Jesus (Rom 7:14-21), Paul shows us what it means to be in Christ, and for Christ to be in us. He knew that his super human ability to endure everything that his enemies threw at him did not reflect his own strength but rather the grace and spirit of Christ working in him (1Cor 15:10).
Seems to me that the point is not for us to compare our performance with Paul’s. We haven’t been asked to compete with him, or with anyone else (2Cor 10:12). We haven’t been asked to do, in kind, what he did. Yet in principle, he’s showing us the way. Who can deny the significance of one who shows us the extent to which the Spirit of Christ can replace our fear and anger–over things out there, with the love and trust we need– right now…so close to home?