So why should we study the life of the Apostle Paul and give an entire quarter of our year – 13 weeks over the whole summer – to one theme and person? Quick answer: because God told me to! True story – I knew there would be a total of 60 dates to cover with devotionals in the 12 weeks between the total of 13 Sundays. So I went to work on a chronological study of Paul’s life and began to write down a list of topics and titles. Completing this first draft after a number of hours, it looked to me like the list was just about the desired length; and when I counted the titles it came out to exactly 60! So … it’s a God thing! Obviously!
Look, I know what you’re thinking. You see the first sermon series in the post-Chris Wiles era as Randy gravitating toward his life passion of sports and running. Hey, it’s not my fault that Paul liked the same things I do and that he used athletic competition and running in particular as a metaphor for the Christian life!
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 … Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Galatians 2:1-2 … Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain.
Galatians 5:7 … You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?
Philippians 2:14-17 … Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.
2 Timothy 2:6-7 … For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
And even though Paul did not write this, he would have shouted a hearty “amen” to the writer to the Hebrews who said (12:1) … Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…
Again, why study Paul? His amazing life is beyond our reach as mere Christians of the 21st century. Yet again, here is a man like us in so many ways … a person with a broken past that was redeemed by God’s grace. It can be argued that if God could turn around and use a person like Saul/Paul, surely we can be effective servants for the Lord in our day.
Over the years there have been a variety of writings about Paul that poke fun at the notion of finding the perfect pastor for an open position. Many have put together a humorous resume of the Apostle Paul that presents a person no pulpit committee would ever consider. Like this …
“Gentlemen: Understanding your pulpit is vacant, I should like to apply for the position. I have many qualifications. I’ve been a preacher with much success and also have had some successes as a writer. Some say I’m a good organizer. I’ve been a leader most places I’ve been. I’m over 50 years of age and have never preached in one place for more than three years. In some places, I have had to depart town quickly after my work caused riots and disturbances. I must confess to having been in jail three or four times, but not because of any real wrongdoing. My health is not strong, though I still accomplish a great deal. The churches I have preached in have been small, though located in several large cities. I’ve not gotten along well with religious leaders in the towns where I have preached. In fact, some have threatened me and even attacked me physically. I do not excel at keeping records – forgetting whom I have baptized. However, if you can use me, I promise to do my best for you.”
As we go through this series and our total of 60 associated writings, we are going to see again many of the details referenced in this humorous piece. Along with Paul’s considerable list of attributes and assets, we will be struck over and over about a startling number of liabilities, both internally and externally.
The reason that a study of Paul has value for us today is that we recognize from our own experience the reality of a Life Race that has its share of ups and downs. In our salvation in Christ, we are incredibly blessed with the greatest gift known to man – a relationship with the creator God of the universe, His living presence in us, and a life manual for how to run our individual races successfully. We become part of a team of fellow life runners.
But these tremendous assets do not promise for us that we will have a life filled with only victory after victory. Quite the opposite. Our inevitable liabilities and weaknesses will arise. But as we learn like Paul to rejoice in them as opportunities for God’s strength to shine even more greatly through them, we can learn to run our lives in a way that yields personal success and blessing to others and for the cause of the Kingdom.