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Main Street Community Church, Frodsham

Loving God
Loving Frodsham

Paul, part 2

This talk was given by Paul Wintle on .

The total length of the recording is .

Before the talk, Galatians 1:1–2:3 was read. Prior to the recording Paul reminded us of some of the points raised by the Reverend Andrew Emison last week. We join Paul W as he is mentioning the subject of the talk he gave at St Laurence Parish Church last week.

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… concerning spiritual gifts. How much disunity there is in the church worldwide because people decide that one gift is better than another. I explained that the most important bits of 1 Corinthians 12, actually comes in 1 Corinthians 13, where the greatest gifts are faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love. How it is that the best example of love is Jesus Christ. That’s exactly what Paul, in the New Testament here, has come to find for himself.

The character we have come to know as Paul, he was Saul, now he becomes Paul, had come to a decision that love was the best way. This is what I want to continue our preaching, our teaching series on. If you became a Christian in the 1970s or perhaps 1980s, I’m guessing the first thing somebody would have told you was that you needed to tell somebody else that you’d become a Christian, to solidify that.

The next thing you would have been told was, you need to find a church because church Christian community helps us keep our faith, keeps us in check . Like a hot coal in a fire, w e keep burning more brightly when we are in the company of others like us. We expect Paul to get involved with the local Christian community after he has had that road to Damascus experience. If we read in Acts 9, that’s what Luke tells us. Paul goes to a local synagogue and starts to preach about Jesus being the Messiah.

When we get a bit of his own autobiography in Galatians 1, Paul says that he’s had a bit of a journey, and we’ve all had a bit of a faith journey, I’m sure. [Drinks water] Still getting over a bit of the cold. Theologians seem to agree that Galatians was probably Paul’s first letter to a group of churches in modern-day Turkey, Galatia. It was probably written around AD 48, perhaps 15 years after Paul’s road to Damascus experience.

In that portion of Galatians 1 today, his key priority is that of his background so that the churches of Galatia will trust what he is saying, as he strictly tells them off about what they should believe and why they should listen to his words. This Paul was a very different Paul to the one who was going to Damascus with the very desire to kill followers of Jesus. This Paul, perhaps 15 years on, had spent his time refocusing and refreshing his faith. He had been a zealous keeper of the Jewish faith, but his experience on the road to Damascus wasn’t to change his religion, I think Andrew mentioned that last week. Christianity was not even a fledgling faith at that stage. It was seen by many as a distortion of the true faith, which is why Paul, previously known as Saul, was going great guns to get rid of anyone who was trying to tell others that Jesus was Lord. Paul’s experience led him to re-evaluate whether Jesus was who He said He was in the light of all the Old Testament scriptures that Paul would have known.

These 15 years may well have involved a lot of soul searching and rereading of familiar passages from the Old Testament. As he says in verse 12, “I didn’t receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” Paul knows that he is writing to a group of people, many who will have had a Jewish upbringing and faith and coming around to believe that Jesus was the Messiah, the promised one in the Old Testament, the one who would save the Jews from their tyranny of opposition, wow.

The thing that was brand new was that it wasn’t just for the Jewish people, this Messiah was for the whole world. For Paul, and for the new believers, this was a massive turnaround. What used to be about keeping the religious laws and having advanced understanding of the law and the prophets now became an ever- wider lifestyle change. Here in Galatians, Paul writes in a way that former Jewish followers would understand background information. He also wrote in a way that was inescapably the writing of someone who’d had first-hand experience of Jesus Christ.

Paul on the road to Damascus

Paul, can we have the second of the two slides if they come up, please? Don’t worry if they don’t – and the next one.

Painting by Aelbert Cuyp: The Conversion of St Paul

There’s a picture of Paul and his road to Damascus experience. He writes that he was extremely zealous for the traditions of his fathers. He was acknowledging that he used to keep the traditional faith, but then, along with his newly-found experience of Jesus as Lord, he had to go away and really find out some more about how this would be a life-changing experience.

He still had the same zeal, but it was no longer just for the traditions, it was for the newfound discovery, that was Jesus. In his zealous fashion, Paul had to discover his faith a new and in light of his experience of Jesus. In the same way that young people in Australian soaps have to go away to Brisbane, or Bendigo, or Europe to find themselves, so here in Galatians 1, Paul tells of his experience that he did not just go preaching straight to the synagogues, neither did he go to the leaders in Jerusalem. Instead, he went to Arabia, in verse 17.

Paul in Arabia

It’s that that I’d like to explore today, it’s Paul getting his message right before he started on his preaching tour. This exploration of his new faith meant getting close to Jesus, but he had to go away to do that. This exploration of faith meant that Paul was no longer Jewish -facing, but he needed to discover what it meant for him to share Jesus with non-Jews, with the Gentiles. It was important to him that Paul went away. This is part of the transformation message that Andrew was talking about last week.

A pause for a challenge for us today, putting to one side your experience of how you met Jesus. How do you monitor what’s important about your faith today? How do you know that what you believe in, what you live in your life , is right? Many will say, “I follow the teachings of Jesus.” Others will say, “I try to live by what the Bible says.” Some others might think, “I know what the Bible says. I know what the Bible says and I do what feels right in the light of that.”

Your faith today should be different to what it was when Jesus found you. We should continually want to be changed and challenged about the ways in which we serve Jesus. Although our calling to follow Him remains, the ways in which we do that might be different because we’re becoming closer followers of Jesus. I know that I’m a different person to how I was two years ago when I came to Main Street. Part of that is because of the care and the love that I receive here, so thank you.

Part of it is because I’ve had to make choices about who we are and where we are going as a church and what God is saying. It’s my prayer that as we gather as a church here, in this place, in so many different ways during the week, and here on a Sunday, that we prayerfully monitor what God is doing, and that we move in step with the Spirit of God, and that’s what Paul goes on to say in Galatians 4. What did Paul do, then, to monitor his spiritual development in a whole different way?

How did Paul respond to such a disruptive turn of events that now directed him to follow Jesus? What was he going to do about it? Next slide, please, Paul. I think it’s just the last one. He did what all the prophets of old did. He went to Arabia. Well, more Egypt, actually, but specifically, Tom Wright, in his book, Paul: A Biography, a nice, big fat book, but it’s really, really useful and really helpful. Tom Wright says that part of Paul’s journey would have taken him to the mountain of God.

The place where Moses received the Torah and the 10 commandments, that holy place where Moses and God spoke face to face in Exodus 33, that’s where Paul would have had to have gone. That holy place, that place that was so full of the presence of God, Mount Sinai. It would only seem natural that a leading light in Judaism who’d had such an experience of Jesus, the Messiah, would need to go back to where God met with the giants of faith from the Old Testament.

It would seem the most natural thing for a Jew of such standing like Paul to run away to the mountain of God, and of course, it wasn’t only Moses who met God at Sinai. The other massive, great prophet of the Old Testament, Elijah, ran away after his magnificent experience of God, having had a showdown with the prophets of Bail, in 1 Kings 18, and if you’ve not read 1 Kings 18 and 19, is the most amazing story.

Elijah, known as the troublemaker, is challenged by the followers of the gods, particularly Baal. Sacrifices are put up, and the followers of Baal dance and scream and pray to their god, but nothing happens. Elijah taunts them, “Maybe he’s asleep, shout louder,” and so they do, and it continues in this vein until Elijah has enough, and so he prays quietly that God would show himself. God appears in peals of lightning, to burn up, not just the sacrifice, but the whole thing: the wood and the stones and the water in the troughs around, and the Baal followers immediately turn to follow Elijah’s God.

All of this, followed by a death threat from Queen Jezebel, takes it out of Elijah, and he becomes really depressed. At length, he makes his way to Mount Sinai. He goes back to his fallback position. He returns to where he knows he will meet God. Mount Sinai seems to be the prophet’s default fallback position, it’s the place he goes to run away.

I wonder if you have a place where you run. Perhaps it’s home. Perhaps your default position is a person, where you just know that you can get some really fantastic guidance and support, your spouse, your best friend. The place that you need to be. The person you just need to be with, that default position. Where is it? Who is it?

For Elijah, after he makes a gargantuan effort to get to Mount Sinai, after almost giving up, he meets with God. He, exhausted from what he has just experienced, comes to that default place, but it’s not just in the earthquake, it’s not just in the wind or the fire that he meets with God. When he hears that still small voice in the cave on that mountain, that’s the main consequence. When that still small voice from God says, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah knows that it’s God speaking, twice he hears this question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Twice Elijah gives the same response, which begins, “I have been very zealous for the Lord Almighty.” Tom Wright, in his book on Paul, notes, Mount Sinai was where God had come down in fire and given Moses the Torah. It was the place of revelation, Sinai, the great mountain in Arabia was, in that sense, the place of beginnings.

Sinai was where Elijah had gone when it went terribly wrong, and Sinai was where Saul of Tarsus went for the same reason. Both Elijah and Paul have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty, and the mission given by God on that very mountain was very similar too. Elijah, in 1 Kings 19:15, was instructed to go back, and Paul returned to Damascus. In that same way that his hero of faith, Elijah, who had trodden that well-worn path to Sinai, Paul returned to Damascus to announce Jesus as the new King.

The thing we missed, of course, when Paul says that he went to Arabia, it’s just not a short trip. If this is the right Damascus, of course, is 437 miles, which is quite a long trip, really. When Paul says that he went to Arabia, it just wasn’t a short trip. It’s not as if we could just pop to Gill’s for a quiet day.

Mount Sinai is not really on the beaten track. It’s a place you have to plan to go to. It’s in the desert, so you’re going to have to plan what you’re going to eat, what you’re going to drink, and how you’re going to get there in the first place, and when you get there, there’s probably not a lot there anyway. Dust, silence, sand, nature, and God. Tom Wright suggests that Paul might have been in Arabia for three years, not necessarily on the mountain there. Paul’s road to Damascus experience was no flash in the pan.

This new experience, this new mission to the Gentiles was a whole different ballpark to what he was doing before, and so it needed some working out. Imagine asking questions, researching, praying, recalibrating one’s whole understanding of what it was to be a follower of Jesus. This would be, for Paul, a massive cultural, community, and religious shift. One which not everybody would take kindly to, but that’s what God does. In our journey of faith and life, God still asks questions of us, and those questions He asks demand a response.

There is no retirement in this Kingdom

Many of us, perhaps, have been Christians for years. Maybe we think we’re done and dusted with our ministry. There’s no retirement in this Kingdom. There’s no retirement from this King, but allow God to bless you with His rich blessings. Allow Him to remind you of the ways in which He has kept and guided you, perhaps things have become a bit “samey”. The excitement of your, perhaps, newfound faith has waned a bit. Have you read something that’s challenged your way of thinking?

Have you heard something that sparked your interest, and made you want to research it afresh? Go ahead, place yourself in a position where you can receive from God and you can hear from Him. I’ve been blessed and encouraged by the ministry of Martyn Payne. Many of you know Martyn. He comes here every Christmas. He’s a quiet, considerate Christian man who turns up in Frodsham every Christmas time and sits on the floor, just there in his socks, to tell small children about how wonderful this world is, and about how God’s beauty has been harmed because of humanity.

Then a little while later, after hearing and experiencing the Christmas journey, he explains to the children that Jesus is God’s rescue plan. He has worked with children in the UK for the whole of his life, and last year he retired. Well, now, Martyn has decided to do something different with his retirement. Right now, today, he is in Bangladesh, leading a group of Christians with Tearfund, to work in a village in the centre of Bangladesh, a village called [unclear]. There’s no retirement in the Kingdom of God.

Give the best of who we are

Two years ago here, we began a new life and a new journey together, and I can honestly say that there’s no place I would rather be right now. I daily pray that I will be a servant to the community here. On the notice board in my office upstairs, I have a square of paper, little square of paper, and it says, “To do …” On my first day here I wrote after that “To do. ..” To do, I wrote, “Give my best.” That’s what each one of us is here to do. Give the best of who we are. Some days we’ll be giving more. Others we’ll have it taken out of us.

Our calling, just like Moses, just like Elijah and just like Paul, we are called to give our best of our humanity. We don’t need to climb mountains. We don’t need to change the world. Only we need to be able to continue in our service to our God who loves us and gave himself for us. Let’s pray.

Closing Prayer

Father God, I’m reminded again what a mammoth turnaround it would have been for when Paul met with Jesus on that road to Damascus. What it meant for him to reassess and re-evaluate where he was in his faith. What it was that You wanted him to do.

Father God, would You please help us to serve Your purposes in our generation? Would You help us to know that whatever we do in life here echoes in eternity? Would You help us to deepen those good, faithful relationships with other believers here and in other places? Would You help us to be true to the calling that You offered to us when You first found us? Would You help us to give of our best each and every day? In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Gill M: Thank you, Paul.

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