St. Paul the Apostle was the greatest of the early Christian missionaries. He first appears in the Acts of the Apostles under the name of Saul. Saul was raised in the Jewish faith as a Pharisee trained in the strict observance of God’s Law. He believed the Law should be obeyed by himself and all Jews. Saul was upset by the early Christian Church, believing that the early Christians had broken away from their Jewish traditions. He actively persecuted the Church in Jerusalem. As the first Christian martyr Stephen was being stoned to death, Saul watched the cloaks of the persecutors (Acts 7:58).
Paul then traveled to Damascus to further persecute early Christians. On the road to Damascus Saul had an encounter with the Risen Jesus Christ (Acts of the Apostles 9:1–19, Galatians 1: 13–14). Jesus asked, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Paul replied, “Who are you, sir?” Jesus responded, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9: 4 – 5). Jesus then sent Saul into Damascus to wait for further instructions. Saul was shaken and blinded by the experience. When a Christian named Ananias came and baptized Saul, his blindness went away. As a result of this encounter Saul became a follower of Christ. He was now convinced that fellowship with the risen Jesus Christ, not the observance of the Law, was all that was needed to receive God’s promise of salvation. (Galatians 1:11–12; 3:1–5)
Saul, whose name now became Paul, went to Jerusalem to consult with Peter (Galatians 1: 18). After his first missionary journeys, Paul was called by Jesus to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles. He spent the rest of his life journeying on his missions, establishing local churches, and writing to them when he heard of their accomplishments and failures. Paul’s letters are the earliest records of the life and history of the early Church. As inspired by the Holy Spirit Paul’s letters are part of the Canon of the New Testament. As a record of the happenings in the early Church they are in invaluable record of the expansion of the Christianity.
All together, there are 13 epistles that bear Paul’s name as the author. However, scholars do not believe that he wrote them all. Paul himself was the author of first and second Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians, first and second Corinthians, Romans, and Philemon. The epistles to the Ephesians, Colossians, Titus, and first and second Timothy bear Paul’s name, but it is believed that they were written after his death. The writers of these letters were disciples of Paul who wanted to continue his teaching. Whoever the authors of these epistles were, these writings have been accepted into the New Testament as inspired by the Holy Spirit.
The most profound and moving day in Paul’s life was when he met the risen Jesus Christ. Paul was well respected by the Jewish community and his peers. But he gave it all up for Christ. “More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord.” (Philippians 3:8) Jesus Christ, Paul realized, was sent by the Father to bring salvation for all. Paul taught that we are united with Christ in faith and Baptism; “We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)
On the personal level, individual Christians recognize that when they are united with and justified by Christ, they receive the grace needed to overcome sin and to live moral lives. (Galatians 5:16–26)
Paul teaches that the justice of God was saving justice at its best. God is faithful, fulfilling the promises made in the Old Testament covenant. Through the sin of Adam and Eve the human family was alienated from God. Through Christ the human family is called back into relationship with God. This process of reuniting the human family with God is called justification. (Romans 3:21–31) It is impossible for us to justify ourselves; we are only justified by being united in faith with Jesus Christ and by accepting the gift of grace won by Christ. (Romans 5:1–2) We can only be made right with God and set free from a life of immoral living by accepting the gift of God’s reconciling grace.
Paul teaches that the love of God is being poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. (Romans 5:5) The Holy Spirit is the source of all love. The Holy Spirit creates a bond between us and God like children bound to a father. (Romans 8:14–16) The Holy Spirit not only establishes our relationship with the Father. Even though we are weak, the Holy Spirit helps us to live faithfully within that relationship. (Romans 8:26–27) It is through the Holy Spirit that we can live in love with all people. (1 Corinthians 13:3–7)
What does it mean to live a Christian moral life? Paul thought deeply about this question. He was raised as a faithful Jew. As we have seen Paul, was raised to believe that following the strict moral code of the Jewish faith was the way to salvation. Paul believed “… the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (Romans 7:12.) What Paul realized, however, that because we are weakened by the sin of Adam and Eve, it was impossible to us to reconnect in our relationship with God through our efforts alone (Romans 7:14).
After his experience with Jesus Christ, Paul realized that he was not alone on the road to salvation. Jesus Christ has already accomplished salvation for us. In faith and Baptism, Christians receive the grace of the Holy Spirit, who is our constant guide. The Holy Spirit helps us to live in relationship with God and others.
Michael Lancz von Kitzingen [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons