“12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; 13 Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14 And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. 15 This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. 16 Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.” 1 Tim. 1:12-16
Smack, Bang, Ka-boom! That was what happened to Saul of Tarsus when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. He says that when he met Jesus, the Lord’s grace towards him was “exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus”. Exceeding abundant! You wouldn’t notice it at first glance, but the power of the grace, faith and love that was revealed to Paul is something that can never be truly described in human words. It was incredibly powerful.
There are many things that are in very short supply in this world but none comes close, in terms of shortage, to grace, faith and love. These three things taken together are the single one thing that is lacking in the greatest degree in the world.
Something else, unfortunately, is in abundant supply. From the beheadings in Syria to the cruel violence that we witness in nearly every major city in the world today, to the tiniest bit of misunderstanding between husband and wife in the house – all these talk of the deep hatred, anger, and bitterness that are in the human heart.
They are a summary of the spiritual defeat that is in the human heart.
The paradox of it all is that the things that are “in Christ Jesus” rather than those in our human hearts, are the most needful things in this world. Now, people are all over declaring their love all over the place, but the majority do not know what they are talking about. The love of Christ is not the selfish love that we lavish on ourselves, our children and our dogs. On the contrary, it is an inexpressibly unselfish love, a love that can only be found at the cross of Christ.
I believe with all my heart that on the road to Damascus, Paul met with a love which we still have not fully comprehended yet. This love “from heaven” (v.3) impacted him so powerfully that it killed the violence, hatred and anger that were in his heart. And that in one single split-second encounter.
In that moment God allowed Saul, in his spirit, to experience in the crucifixion of Christ a Love that could never be expressed in human words. That Love smothered Saul completely, softly, tenderly healing his sin-scarred heart; and in that instant all the hatred in him took flight. The Bible says that this hard man wilted (or, rather, melted) and “fell to the earth” (Acts 9:4) – a fall he would never rise up from again. From that time onwards, Saul (later called Paul) would himself become a vessel of that love – a love that he had experienced.
We have to understand that Saul was no different than all the violent murderers that we see or hear about. Saul was a violent, cold-blooded killer. If in practical terms we were allowed to know the specifics of what Saul actually did against the believers of Jesus Christ, we would be horribly shocked.
And we all know that murder is the climax of the hatred, anger and bitterness in a man’s heart. Saul’s religion – the law in his heart – had simply reinforced the evil in him.
That is why after he met Christ, wherever Paul went, he would only preach the cross of Christ. In finding the cross, Paul had discovered indescribable love.
That is why also this revelation of the crucified Christ, the revelation that Paul received from Jesus, and which he preached and lived, is so important to the church in every generation. It is the ultimate – but also singular – gospel. It is the full revelation of the love of God, revealed in the crucifixion of His Son Jesus Christ.
And by the grace of God, Paul, this faithful man of God, stuck to his guns – the guns of the gospel of the cross – and died there. That is where you simply have to respect Paul. Paul gave his life fully. And his sacrifice, itself a fruit of the sacrifice of Christ, is still bearing fruit today.
The crucified life will affect and change the world. Preaching is good, but in the long run, it is the crucified life which will impact people and truly change them. May the Lord help us, that we may truly deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Christ.
People need to not just hear about the love of Christ, but they need to experience it. The experiential part can only come from a people who are taking up their cross daily, denying themselves and following Christ.
That is the challenge for the church today.
[Below: The fish market in Dar es Salaam]