As we mark the feast day of the conversion of St. Paul on January 25, we take a look at the life of this great apostle of God. Although he was not among the ten originally called by Jesus Christ, the influence of St. Paul on the early church and the present-day church cannot be overemphasized. Going from someone who persecuted the church to a very passionate preacher of the gospel, St. Paul was largely responsible for the spread of the gospel of Christ to the gentiles (non-Jews). Here are some noteworthy lessons from his life and ministry.
- No One is Un-Savable
Paul, formerly known as Saul, was a very devout Jew and a zealous Pharisee. He participated in the persecution(and death) of the early Christians. Despite all of these, Jesus Christ still deemed him fit to be saved and used him in an extraordinary way for the propagation of his gospel.
Never write off anyone. Not even the person you think is the worst sinner. Look at everyone with the eyes of love. Rather than be judgemental or write people off, pray for them that the saving power of God may come upon them just like it came upon St. Paul who we now celebrate today. If Saul, a persecutor of Christians can be converted to Paul, now known as one of the greatest apostles of God, anyone can be saved.
2. God is More Important than Anything Else
Paul talks about the priceless value of knowing Christ, Philippians 3:4-9. Even though he had enormous human achievements, Paul considered them worthless compared to the “infinite knowledge of knowing Christ”.
Separate yourself from every form of attachment to material things. Like St Paul, get rid of everything that stands in the way of your knowing God and encountering him. Examine your life, search out everything that stands as a barrier to your knowing God, and regard them as garbage. Let your righteousness come from your faith in Christ Jesus and not your good “works”, for the Bible says that our righteousness is like a filthy rag before God (Isaiah 64:6).
- Christianity Involves Crosses
The missionary journeys of St. Paul to various cities were not exactly beds of roses. He had to endure hardships, trials, and persecutions on account of the gospel of Christ. However, he did not relent. He continued to preach the gospel of Christ. He went through a series of tribulations while spreading the good news of Christ, yet he said “woe unto me if I do not preach the gospel”, 1 Corinthians 9:16.
Be ready to suffer hardships and trials on account of your faith. Be ready to lose certain “benefits” because you don’t want to compromise your faith. Be ready to be ridiculed because you follow Christ. Draw courage from the words of Christ in the beatitudes about suffering persecution for His sake and from His words of encouragement for you in Matthew 16:25. And like St Paul, let the joy of knowing Christ fuel and strength to endure all hardships for His name’s sake.
Get rid of the mindset that your journey with Christ will always be a smooth one. Like St Paul, you too might have to go through certain trials and tribulations. Be ready to face these trials with joy, not just because of the reward that awaits you, but because you are propagating the kingdom of God on earth.
4. God Can Use Anybody
From the human perspective, no one would imagine that Saul, who once persecuted Christians for their faith would later become Paul, a very important tool in the hands of God. St Paul was very radical and zealous in his anti-Christian beliefs. God saw this zeal and converted it to be used for the spread of the gospel.
Don’t look down on anyone. God does not see the way we see, neither does He think the way we do (Isaiah 55:8-10). See everyone as a potential tool in God’s hands. Think of yourself as a tool in God’s hands no matter how bad you think you are. God does not see you the way you see yourself. Be open-minded and do not harden your heart when He comes calling. Like St Paul, be obedient to His voice and let Him transform you.
- True faith comes with conviction
Paul could have gone back to his old ways after the incident on his way to Damascus, but he didn’t. He was convinced of the power he felt from the Light that he encountered on the road. He had an experience, one that made him become convinced of the person and truth of Jesus Christ. He would later go on with that conviction to become one of the founding fathers of the Church.
Seek to have an experience with God. Attend mass daily with the expectation to encounter Christ in the Holy Eucharist. An experience with Christ will change you completely just like it did to St Paul. Visit the Blessed Sacrament where Christ is physically present daily to have an encounter with Him. Be convinced about your faith. Don’t just believe for the sake of believing. Rather seek to deepen your knowledge of God and grow in Him, that you may experience Him and be transformed by His light.
Paul tells the people of Philippi that he knows what it means to be in lack and to be in plenty. And that he has learnt to be content in all situations Philippians 4:11-13. He goes further to say that the secret to living in contentment is by the power of Jesus Christ.
Be content with whatever you have. The Bible teaches that greed and discontentment lead to every form of evil. Be ambitious, but don’t be obsessed with the things that you don’t have, such that you are prepared to partake in evil to achieve them. Trust in the power and love of God for you, that He is in control of your life. And let that trust build a feeling of peace in you, that eventually yields contentment.
Paul had so many reasons to be boastful. His preaching and missionary work was accomplished by lots of signs and wonders. In addition, he was a Roman citizen brought up in the Jewish tradition. He accomplished so many things for the kingdom of Christ. Yet he maintained humility and lowliness before the people and even admitted to not being perfect, despite the many works he did before the eyes of the people.
Don’t be carried away with the blessings of God in your life. Do not allow His goodness and spiritual gifts in your life to become a source of pride and arrogance. Paul realized that all he was doing, he was not doing with his power and might. In the same way, you need to realize that every one of your achievements comes from God.
Have the understanding that we are dust and will all return to dust. Avoid having a holier than thou attitude. Like St Paul, always admit your wrongs and be open to correction. This is the secret to growth and becoming a better version of yourself.
There are indeed many lessons to be learnt from the life and teachings of the apostle Paul. As we celebrate him today, take time out to reflect on these lessons and many more that can be gotten from the exemplary life He lived, and apply them to your own life. May God grant you the grace to achieve this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
St Paul…Pray for us.