Here’s the second sermon from a short summer teaching series preached at my home church Belmont Chapel. If you’d like to view the accompanying PPT then you can find it following this link …

SLIDE 1 This morning we’re continuing our short summer teaching series looking together at the life and ministry of the apostle Paul. If you were here last Sunday you’ll know that we started out in our series by taking a look at the nature and extent of the good news of the gospel as well as looking for evidence of change in Paul’s life as the result of God being at work within it. And now, this morning, we’re going to follow on from last week by looking to discover what lay at the heart of Paul’s motivation to serve God. As I commented last week our intention throughout this series is not to focus solely on Paul’s experiences in isolation but rather we’ll be looking to learn how best we can apply some of the lessons Paul learnt in his Christian life in our own Christian lives today.

SLIDE 2 If you’d like to extend your consideration of Paul’s life and ministry through some additional reading then I’d recommend Michael Bird’s recent book on Paul entitled, A Bird’s eye view of Paul – the man, his mission and his message.

SLIDE 3 In March 1923, in an interview with The New York Times, the English mountaineer George Leigh Mallory was asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest. His reply, now famous, not least because Mallory himself was lost on the mountain in the following year, comprised of three short words. He said to the reporter, ‘… because it’s there …’. Whether in fact Mallory went on to become the first man to climb to the summit of Everest, some 29 years before the recognised first ascent by Sir Edmund Hillary is still hotly debated, yet despite the uncertainty of his success Mallory’s motivation was straightforwardly simple. SLIDE 4 Writing in his diary soon after that now almost apocryphal interview Mallory wrote, ‘… if you cannot understand that there is something in a man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it … that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward … then you won’t see why we go … what we get from this adventure is just sheer joy … that is what life means and what life is for …’.

George Leigh Mallory’s motivation for climbing, those simple three words, were enough to drive him relentlessly forward in his determination to become the first person to set foot on top of the highest mountain in the world. It was a goal, of course, in the pursuit of which he eventually lost his life since Mallory disappeared whilst climbing Everest in 1924.

SLIDE 5 The passage we’re going to read and consider together this morning is all about that very same theme, that of motivation; but not the necessary motivation required to climb high mountains however, but rather, the motivation required to serve God effectively. If you have a Bible with you and you’ll like to follow the reading we’re going to read from Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, starting at Ch.5 vs. 11 – if you’ve got a Church Bible with you then you’ll find the reading on Page 1096 or, if you’d prefer, please follow the words on the screen behind me, or just listen.

SLIDE 6,7 & 8

Read :       2 Corinthians Ch.5 vs.11-21

Once more, as last week we have the opportunity to stick fairly closely to the passage since it’s quite brief. By way of context it’s simply worth noting that, in the particular section of Paul’s letter that our reading comes from, Paul has been reminding these 1st century Christians that the ministry of every Christian is to serve Jesus Christ by making Him known in the world. SLIDE 8 Paul writes towards the end of Ch.2, that God uses Christians to, ‘… spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere … for we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing …’ (Ch.2 vs.14a-15)

I don’t know about you, but it’s my contention that when it comes to Christian service and ministry we don’t lack knowledge of what it is we ought to be doing, but what we sometimes do lack is the motivation and the drive to do it. If you’re anything like me there are times when my spiritual sight becomes a little hazy; times when I become myopic regarding God’s bigger picture; I see clearly the here and now, but I fail to glimpse very much regarding the eternal perspective of my Christian life and service.

And so, with those thoughts in mind, we’re going to look at three key motivators that for Paul provided the necessary impetus for him to continue in his serving God. These are, I would suggest, three motivators that I believe are just as relevant for us today as we seek, with His help, to be effective disciples.

Firstly then … SLIDE 10

  • Paul is motivated in his service for Jesus Christ because of …the verdict of a righteous judge (vs.11 & 12)

Let’s read vs. 11 again, ‘… since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade people …’. Often times in the book of Acts Paul’s style of engagement evangelistically, his approach in preaching the gospel, is described as one of persuasion. Paul in no sense sought to manipulate or to coerce people regarding the claims of Jesus Christ but rather he sought to set out the truth plainly and reasonably. And in this verse tells us that one of the motivating factors that fuelled Paul’s desire to persuade people concerning the claims of Jesus Christ was his clear understanding of what it means to fear the Lord. Now in order for us to understand a little more about what Paul is alluding to here we need to go back and read the couple of verses found immediately before the section we have already read. SLIDE 10 If we look back to vs.9 we read these words, ‘… so we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that everyone may receive what is due to them for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad …’ (2 Corinthians Ch.5 vs.9-10).

What Paul is reminding his readers of is that there will be a future day when everyone, without exception, Paul included, will stand in front of Jesus Christ the judge. Now it’s worth noting in passing that the word we have translated here in the TNIV simply as appear is a word than means much more than merely turning up since the sense of the word carries with it the thought of being laid bare, of having our lives open to scrutiny, stripped of all of our pretensions and hypocrisies.

Whilst we may at times seek to deny it the real truth is that all of us, to some degree or another, have a tendency to hide much of the truth about ourselves from each other. But, says Paul, on that day nothing will be hidden from view, all our thoughts, our desires, our motives, in fact all that we are, and have been, will be revealed. It’s a day, says Paul that we ought to fear, not in the sense of a cringing terror but rather through an attitude of awe-filled respect. The Bible tells us plainly that if we know and trust Jesus Christ then the events of that day won’t cast into doubt our final destination since, as Paul writes in the middle of his letter to his friends in Rome, ‘… there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus …’ (Romans Ch.8 vs.1), yet there will, all the same, be an appraisal made of our lives. So Paul’s fear of the Lord is the recognition that it’s God’s opinion and His alone that ultimately matters. It’s the kind of fear that ought to motivate us to serve Him and to please Him.

Of course many people are driven in live simply by a desire to impress others, and there were those, just like that, in the church at Corinth. They took pride in what was seen. They wanted to look impressive, to appear spiritual, and they boasted about ecstatic spirit-fuelled experiences. But Paul stresses in these verses his ministry is one of plainness and clarity of presentation as he seeks to persuasively present the good news of the gospel.

Could it be true that part of the reason we are, at times, half-hearted in our witness for Jesus Christ is that so often we’re concerned about what others might think of us, and because of that, we lose sight of the reality of that coming day when we will stand before Jesus Christ as judge. And what that day will undoubtedly reveal to you and I will be the utter foolishness of caring about any other verdict on our lives other than the verdict of Jesus Christ, the righteous judge.

Let’s move on to look at Paul’s second key motivator for service that we find here in these verses … SLIDE 11

  • Paul is motivated in his service for Jesus Christ because of …the love of a sacrificial Saviour (vs.14-17)

Let’s read together from vs.14, ‘… for Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again …’. Paul’s second motivating force is quite simply the love of God. And whilst many people are compelled by a desire to be loved Paul, in contrast, is compelled by the conviction that he is loved – and not just that, but crucially that all are loved by God. And the love that compels Paul isn’t the kind of sentimental, notionally romantic kind of greeting card love, but this is love as expressed in the sacrificial death of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ. And it’s a love that reveals a particular understanding of what Jesus Christ’s death achieved, since Christ took on Himself the punishment for sin that should rightfully be ours. That’s why, as I said earlier, a Christian never need fear the judgement seat of Christ in respect of eternity since we know that the debt incurred by us, because of our sinfulness, has been cancelled out by Jesus’ vicarious death. But, says Paul, this isn’t something that we should understand only in the future tense, but rather it’s something that ought to make a seismic difference to the way we live our lives now. And that difference should be evidenced by living lives no longer lived for self, but instead, lived for God.

SLIDE 12 David Livingstone, the Scottish missionary and explorer, wrote these words in his diary as he considered his response to God’s love, ‘… People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply acknowledging a great debt we owe to our God, which we can never repay ? It is emphatically no sacrifice. Rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, danger, foregoing the common conveniences of this life – these may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. SLIDE 13 All these are nothing compared with the glory which shall later be revealed in and through us. I never made a sacrifice. Of this we ought not to talk, when we remember the great sacrifice which He made, who left His Father’s throne on high to give Himself for us …’

Paul has a deep rooted conviction that God is a personal relational God – a God who has a yearning desire to draw us back into community with Him. And Paul understands that God’s offer of salvation extends to everyone and because of that Paul’s drive to live for Christ is a drive to share Christ with those who as yet don’t know Him as Lord and Saviour. If you and I lack drive and motivation then we need to better understand God’s love and we need to appropriate Paul’s prayer for his friends in Ephesus where he wrote, SLIDE 14 ‘… I pray that you being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge …’ (Ephesians Ch.3 vs.17b-19b)

And then lastly, the third of Paul’s motivating factors for service … SLIDE 15

  • Paul is motivated in his service for Jesus Christ because of …the commission of a gracious King (vs.18-21)

Let’s read again from vs.18, where Paul writes, ‘… all this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us …’. What we discover here in these verses is that Paul’s motivation for service wasn’t obtained solely by looking forward with an eye towards appearing before Jesus the righteous judge and neither was it just looking back and considering the cross, but also, Paul had a clear conviction that God had personally called him. Three times in the verses through to vs.21, we hear Paul saying that it was God who had given him the task – he had been commissioned by the King of Kings. He was, says Paul, Christ’s ambassador, entrusted with the express task of making known the will of the King by speaking out on the King’s behalf.

As an aside it’s probably worth noting that as an apostle Paul spoke with the authority of Christ, on behalf of Christ in a special and unique way; in the same way, in fact, as the OT prophets had been used by God many centuries earlier. Yet in a more general sense the same commission has been entrusted to all those who have been reconciled to God; you and I, if we know and trust Jesus Christ as our Saviour and Lord. God has commissioned each and every one of us to take on the task of making His appeal to the world to be reconciled to Him – we are Christ’s ambassadors.

And this theme of reconciliation has much to offer by way of insight into helping us get to grips with what the heart of the gospel message is all about. The good news of the gospel presupposes that everyone is at enmity with God and is isolated from Him; that we are all, because of our sin, out of relationship with a Holy God. Our sin provokes God’s righteous anger and we remain outside of His family because of our continued rebellion. The dire truth is that this isn’t a relationship we can mend; we cannot make amends for what we have done, but wonderfully as Paul states here, despite being the offended party, God takes the initiative and through the sacrificial death of His Son deals with the root cause of that alienation – your sin and mine.

Look again at vs.21, ‘… God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God …’. The good news of the gospel message speaks of a breathtaking exchange – our sinfulness exchanged for Christ’s righteousness; what amazing grace! Notice too that the work of reconciliation is talked about in the past tense in vs.18. The work was accomplished by Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave. But the work of making it know continues in the present tense and that work has been entrusted to you and I. Our task, as Christ’s ambassadors, is to urge people to be reconciled to God.

Surely we should be both amazed and humbled by the thought that God expressly chose you and I to publicise the greatest piece of news the word could ever get to hear. The challenge is, of course, does the world hear it clearly from me ?

SLIDE 16 In closing let me leave you with a few questions. What factors keep you motivated in your service for God ? Am I moving on with God or have I become a spiritual couch potato ? Does the accountability that comes from knowing that one day I’ll stand before Jesus Christ inspire and motivate me to please Him ? Does Jesus Christ’s death on the cross draw out from me such a debt of gratitude that I can’t help but make Him known ? Am I really signed up to the responsibility that comes with being a commissioned disciple in the service of the King of Kings ?

Paul iconHere’s the text of the first of two sermons preached at my home church, Belmont Chapel in Exeter. If you’d like to view the PPT that accompanied my talk then you can view it by clicking the link.

SLIDE 1 This morning we’re starting a short summer teaching series looking together at the life and ministry of the apostle Paul. Over the next four Sunday mornings we’ll be glancing at a few snapshots of Paul’s life, brief glimpses that I trust will help us to get better acquainted with this key NT figure. However, our intention is not to focus solely on Paul’s experiences in isolation but rather we’ll be looking to learn how best we can apply some of the lessons Paul learnt in his Christian life in our own Christian lives today – whether individually or corporately as a faith community here at Belmont Chapel. As we journey together with Paul over these few weeks it is my prayer that all of us may take increasingly positive steps towards Christ-likeness as we ask God to help us apply the lessons we learn from His word.

SLIDE 2 For those of you who like the opportunity to read around some or all of the teaching series here at Belmont I’d recommend Michael Bird’s recent book on Paul entitled, A Bird’s eye view of Paul – the man, his mission and his message.

Our subject for today is entitled, Paul – called by God. And to help us consider that theme we’re going to centre our thoughts on one of the vivid and insightful accounts that Paul himself narrates describing the manner of his conversion by way of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. However just before we read the passage for today its both worthwhile and important to take a few moments to place what we’re about to read into its correct setting – to set the passage within the context of the events pertinent to the time and situation of writing.

Paul is writing to his friends in Galatia, to groups of Christians who when taken together formed a collective of small Christian church communities scattered throughout what is now modern day central Turkey. Paul’s reason for writing is to defend the validity of the good news of the gospel since the churches in Galatia were coming under pressure from individuals who were teaching that faith in Jesus Christ was insufficient of itself and that it was necessary to add to the gospel that Paul had preached to them.

It’s worth noticing that as Paul starts to write you get a sense very quickly that he is in a hurry to get to the real substance of what he has to say. Paul writes with a pace and an urgency that dispenses with his usual polite introductory greetings but rather gets straight to the point as he reminds his readers of the authority He has been given by God to proclaim the good news of the gospel and, more importantly, as he reminds them of the sufficiency of the vicarious death and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ to bring the means of personal salvation to a defeated and sinful humanity.

SLIDE 3 If you have a Bible with you and you’ll like to follow the reading we’re going to read from Paul’s NT letter to the Galatians, starting at Ch.1 vs. 11 – if you’ve got a Church Bible with you then you’ll find the reading on Page 1103 or, if you’d prefer, please follow the words on the screen behind me, or just listen.

SLIDE 4, 5 & 6

We’re going to stick closely to the text this morning and since we don’t have too many verses to consider we’ll unpack them in a straightforward and I trust, a helpful way. The substance of these verses when taken together form a brief, but powerful, description of not only the nature and extent of the good news of the gospel but also they describe the change that is brought about in an individuals life through belief and trust in Jesus Christ both at conversion and forward from that into discipleship. And we’ll consider those things under five simple headings.

Firstly then … SLIDE 7

  • The good news of the gospel message …
  • Planned by a loving God (vs.11 & 12)

It’s evident right from the very first stroke of the pen that Paul wants to leave his readers in no doubt about who commissioned him to do the work he is engaged in on their behalf. His employed status Paul says is as one, ‘… sent not with a human commission, nor by human authority, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead …’ (Galatians Ch.1 vs.1).

But it’s not just the mission that is God inspired but more importantly says Paul in vs.11 it is the message too. The good news of the gospel that Paul preached when he was with them wasn’t something formulated through his own ingenuity neither was it obtained from any human source but uniquely it was God’s message to them as individuals, and by extension a message to the whole of humanity – a message of hope and salvation personally addressed to rebellious and sinful people – people such as you and I.

It’s clear that the Galatian church had been coming under attack from those who doubted the validity of the message Paul preached and doubted that it was inspired by God so Paul chooses to counter those attacks by reminding his readers of the seismic shift that had occurred in his own life through the direct intervention of God – Paul’s testimony is a remarkable story and it reveals God’s power to bring about change and renewal.

Paul came to recognise through God’s spectacular intervention in his life – the story we read about in Acts Ch.9 – that it is only God who can change sinful humanity. But it’s not that Paul was lacking in information about God, his knowledge of the law and the Halakha, that ever growing list of legalistic laws for living that was fast obscuring the real essence of God’s law, was probably second to none. And not only that but he had seen evidence of the power of God to change lives as he heard the testimony of those who professed faith in Jesus Christ, those who he had a hand in so cruelly brutalising such as Stephen, and yet he failed to see the significance of what God was doing all around him because he hadn’t yet encountered the personal reality of the God who’s laws he so fanatically followed.

I’m sure for many of us here this morning we’re able to share Paul’s enthusiasm for the good news of the gospel since we know by our own experience what a difference faith and trust in God brings. But that may not be true for everyone here and so I, like Paul, would want to stress again the fact of the divine authorship of the gospel message since it is the only way through which God is truly found.

Secondly I’d like you to notice this … SLIDE 8

  • The good news of the gospel message …
  • Resisted by a blinded humanity (vs.13 & 14)

The thrust of Paul’s evidence to support his belief that God can bring change to individual lives bubbles up from his own experience. There are many passages that attest to the character and actions of Saul, the man Paul was before encountering Christ. And many of those verses make for uncomfortable reading. SLIDE 9 In Acts Ch.26, when in conversation with King Agrippa, Paul says this of his past life, ‘… I was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison and when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them …’ (Acts Ch.26 vs.9-11).

And surely we would, from a human perspective, consider Saul of Tarsus to be a very unlikely candidate to ever come to faith and trust in Jesus Christ. We would also, I’m sure, wish to distance ourselves from the kind of violent man that Saul was and would wish to see ourselves as intrinsically better people. And yet the Bible tells us that God sees us all condemned and under the same judgement because we have, like Saul, an inherited sinful nature, a nature that reveals its true colours in so much of what we do and say and think.

SLIDE 10 But, as we know from reading the story, God doesn’t give up on Saul of Tarsus and thankfully he doesn’t give up on any of us either.  In fact God had been working in Saul’s life prior to that dramatic event on the road to Damascus. Again, in verses from Paul’s conversation with King Agrippa, we find him recalling the actual words spoken to him by Jesus. Paul repeats Jesus’ words, ‘… Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me … is it hard for you to kick against the goads ? …’ (Acts Ch.26 vs.14)

Apparently to kick against the goads was a common expression of the time. It was a rural expression arising from the practice of farmers goading their oxen in the fields. Goads were typically made from slender pieces of wood, blunt on one end and pointed on the other. Farmers would use the pointed end to urge a stubborn rebellious ox into motion. Of course, sometimes the ox would kick back in resistance, but such an action would only result in pain as the point stabbed deep into the flesh.

In the story of Saul we’re tempted to see the event on the Damascus road as a sudden dramatic encounter with Christ, but in the light of Jesus’ words to him regarding his repeated resistance, surely it’s true that God had been at work in Paul’s life for possibly many years previous.

How do you and I react when God calls ? For many of us here this morning we can look back to a moment when we placed our faith and trust in Jesus Christ and experienced like Paul an encounter with God, albeit I’m sure not such a dramatic one. And yet maybe for others here this morning God is still prompting and prodding regarding the need to take seriously the claims of the good news of the gospel. It’s also true that despite salvation we still resist God and we still refuse His prompting; we choose self-rule over God’s Kingship and we kick back against His leading in our lives. I know it’s true for me and I’m aware of the need to regularly ask for God’s forgiveness – sometimes we just need to stop fighting and allow God to break through.

Thirdly I’d like you to notice from the passage … SLIDE 11

  • The good news of the gospel message …
  • Revealed by a willing Saviour (vs.15 & 16)

The reason why God persisted in his pursuit of Saul and why He persists with you and I reveals the measure of God’s grace and love. Saul of Tarsus like each and every one of us deserved God’s judgement and punishment, but God doesn’t hate us despite our sinfulness, He loves us – or why else would God send His one and only Son into the world to reveal God’s plan of salvation and carry it through to its vital and amazing conclusion.

In writing to his friends in Philippi Paul talks of all the things that he boasted about when he was an unconverted man. He had religion and self-righteousness, as well as a growing reputation and recognition amongst his peers but all of those things had combined to blind him to the very thing he needed, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It was that very need that Paul recognised on the road to Damascus. The religion of the Jews had been an experience of ritual and practice but faith and belief in Jesus Christ brought an inward experience and a reality to life. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ brings change from the inside out as the Spirit starts the work of regeneration within a repentant life. How then, says Paul, could this good news be anything other than the work of God, since only God can bring about such a miracle.

Jesus Christ reveals God’s rescues plan, He is God at work in the world. He came and died in order to remove the curse of sin and death and to remove the scales of blindness that serve only to keep a sinful humanity in darkness and isolation.

It seems like I’ve already asked this question a couple of times this morning but the question of where we stand in relation to God’s offer of salvation is the most important question in the world so it’s worth repeating. Do you and I know Jesus Christ as our own personal Saviour ? SLIDE 12 Have we come to that point in our lives where we are able to say with Paul that, ‘… whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord …’ (Philippians Ch.3 vs.7-8a)

If that is where we are then the last two points bear relevance to our day to day walk with God, fourthly then … SLIDE 13

  • The good news of the gospel message
  • Matures through a deepening relationship (vs.17-20)

Paul goes on in the next verses to tell of his experiences after the story that we read about in Acts Ch.9 and its here that we come upon something of a surprise. What we discover here is that Paul’s dramatic encounter with Christ on the road out from Jerusalem is an important stepping stone in God’s plans for Paul’s life and it’s certainly not an end point in itself.

Think for a moment about those things that Paul says he didn’t do in these verses. He didn’t rush around looking to consult with others in Damascus seeking to shape his theology by consensus, and neither did he hurry back to Jerusalem to seek an audience with the remaining apostles; those who had been with Jesus during his time of ministry. But rather he deliberately chooses to spend time alone with God in a self-imposed period of exile in Arabia – a time of solitude, of thought, of study and of close relationship with God. As is always the case when scripture leaves a gap and remains silent on a subject commentators love to try and fill in the hole that’s left – many theories abound about what happened to Paul during the three years he spends in obscurity, but we don’t have any answers, other than to say that Paul surely spent a long time with God.

Richard Foster in his book Celebration of Discipline, a book which I’m sure many of you here have read says this about the need to go deeper with God and to build upon the reality of salvation by being willing to engage in the work of maturing as a disciple. SLIDE 14 He says, ‘… superficiality is the curse of our age … the doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem … the desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people …’ (Page 1)

How much time to I regularly spend in prayer and study ? How much priority do I give to being still and asking God to reveal Himself to me ? Have I ever carved out a significant amount of time out of my busy schedule in order to give it over solely to God ? Is my life speeding up or slowing down ? Am I too busy to pray ?

In closing I’d like us to consider one last and very short thought from the final few verses we read together and it relates back again to the words we read in Philippians. Here’s my last point for this morning … SLIDE 15

  • The good news of the gospel message …
  • Confirmed by a contagious lifestyle (vs.23-24)

I’m struck by these verses because they reflect so clearly the words we read earlier that Paul penned to his friends in Philippi, ‘… whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord …’ and the net result of that change of emphasis in Paul’s life was blindingly evident to those he came in contact with. Paul’s changed life spoke only of God and Paul reflected the praise of those who he met with back to its source. Paul wasn’t recognised in Syria and Cilicia – he says that in vs.22. His face was unknown but his faith was unmistakable. Here was a man so changed by the work of God that nothing could mask that change from those he came into contact with.

I wonder how true that is of me, or how true it is for you ? How much of God’s work of salvation is evident in the way I live my life day by day, in the choices I make, in the way I interact with my family, in the way I handle my relationships and friendships ? If it’s true that I’m the only Jesus people see then what kind of impression do they get of the God I profess to love and serve ?

SLIDE 16 May God help us to today and through this coming week to take hold of the truths we’ve reminded ourselves of this morning and seek with God’s help to apply them in every situation of our lives.

Let’s pray

Paul (book cover)Pope Benedict XVI declared 2008 to be the year of the apostle Paul in celebration of the apostle’s 2000th birthday. Coming to terms with the theology expressed in the letters of Paul has kept theologians and writers busy for nearly two millennia now. Michael Bird’s new book, A Bird’s eye view of Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message, is a clear introduction to the Apostle Paul that manages to be both brief and substantive.

Some books on Paul focus on the theology of the apostle expressed in his letters. Others provide a biographical look at the apostle’s life and missionary journeys. But this book combines the best of these approaches. Bird delves into Pauline theology, the specific letters, the story of Paul’s life. And he accomplishes these tasks in less than 200 pages. Bird is careful to read Paul in his own historical context. Many times in the book, he insists that we first realize that Paul’s letters are not written to us, even if God intends that the letters be for us. If we are to understand Paul rightly, we must read him in his own context. If the Paul we claim to know looks and sounds a lot like us, then that is probably a good indication that we do not know him as well as we think we do. There is always a temptation to recruit him to our cause, to make our enemies his enemies, our beliefs his beliefs. But if we can be mature enough to let Paul be himself and treat his letters as windows into his world rather than as deposits of theological dogma, then we stand a chance of meeting him anew, letting him speak for himself in his language, on his terms and for his purposes.

Bird starts off by talking about Paul the man. He focuses on five important aspects of the story of Paul’s life: the persecutor of the church, the greatest missionary who ever lived, a world-class theologian, a pastor with a heart for the church, and the martyr who died for his faith. Bird describes Paul as a maverick and spends a good deal of time recounting Paul’s conversion experience. He argues for continuity in Paul’s thought after coming to faith in Christ against some scholars who argue for late-life shifts in Paul’s theology. Bird believes that his theology remained generally stable from conversion until his martyrdom. The conversion experience is central for understanding Paul: that encounter with the risen Jesus had an enormous impact on his continuing religious experience of God, on his missionary drive and upon his theological reflection about God, Israel, Torah and salvation. That grace-event killed Saul the Pharisee and birthed Paul the apostle. From there, Bird spends considerable time familiarizing his readers with the stories behind the story. In order to properly understand Paul, we must know the stories about God and creation, Adam and Christ, Abraham and Israel, Jesus and the church. These meta-narratives provide frameworks into which we can fit the letters of Paul.

After he sets up the historical framework, he then launches into a chapter that gives a brief overview of the historical circumstances, original audience, and basic theology of each of Paul’s letters. In a single chapter, Bird successfully surveys all of the letters. What makes Bird’s contribution especially timely is the way in which he weaves together old and new perspectives on Paul. He has great appreciation for N. T. Wright and for other new perspective authors; yet he affirms the traditional view of imputation of Christ’s righteousness, although Bird doesn’t see any text as explicitly saying that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to believers, nonetheless, without some kind of theology of imputation a lot of what Paul says about justification does not make sense. Imputation is the integrating point for a variety of ideas in Paul’s letters. Bird attempts to do what many believe is impossible: incorporate the best aspects of the new perspective within a largely traditional Reformed framework.

I would positively recommend this book as it serves as a wonderful introduction to Paul’s theology. It covers the relevant material in a way that is easy for the reader to understand, and it provides a good overview of the main issues in Pauline studies.