One of the greatest questions I have is the ever-annoying 'What is my purpose?' or 'What makes me special?' or 'How do I want to be valued?'. At my core, I want to find the ultimate metric by which to evaluate myself and see if I am doing a good job.
In those moments of solitude when I become introspective, I want to know which mirror to look myself in. The one of past mistakes ? past accomplishments ? present assets ? future dreams ? through the gentle eyes of friends ? through the condemning eyes of foes ?
Which one ?
Through a harrowing personal experience, I got to taste God's Grace. But I need an example to emulate. I need someone who had it all, but decided to give it up for the cause of Christ because of Grace. What did he give up ? How did he do it ? How did he verbalise it ? How did he evaluate himself ?
Enter the apostle Paul.
THE SETUP (the résumé)
In 2 Corinthians chapter 11, Paul is defending his calling and uses foolish absurdity (vv 16-21) as an argument to validate his credence. He is showing the church that if they evaluated people by the ridiculous 'past accomplishments' mirror, he would shine brighter than all.
'22 Are they Hebrews? So am I.
Are they Israelites? So am I.
Are they the seed of Abraham? So am I.
23 Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labours more abundant,
in stripes above measure,
in prisons more frequently,
in deaths often.
24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one.
25 Three times I was beaten with rods;
once I was stoned;
three times I was shipwrecked;
a night and a day I have been in the deep;
26 in journeys often,
in perils of waters,
in perils of robbers,
in perils of my own countrymen,
in perils of the Gentiles,
in perils in the city,
in perils in the wilderness,
in perils in the sea,
in perils among false brethren;
27 in weariness and toil,
in sleeplessness often,
in hunger and thirst,
in fastings often,
in cold and nakedness—
28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches.'
He repeats some of his credentials to the church of Phillipi :
'If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so:
circumcised the eighth day,
of the stock of Israel,
of the tribe of Benjamin,
a Hebrew of the Hebrews;
concerning the law, a Pharisee;
concerning zeal, persecuting the church;
concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.' (Phil 3:4-6)
Now that is quite a résumé. He could have left that as is. No more explanation needed. He shut them up. No contest. He had seen Christ on the road to Damascus, and then again later on. He had suffered more than all of them combined. He had done more for the cause than all those who criticised him.
But he didn't.
To the world the apostle Paul might have some self-esteem issues. Paul referred to himself as:
the least of all the apostles (I Corinthians 15:9-10),
the least of all the saints (Ephesians 3:8),
and the foremost of sinners (I Timothy 1:15).
THE REAL MIRROR
The apostle Paul has repeatedly though his writings discounted everything that could glorify him personally. None of his credentials or past experiences had any sort of value to him. This is how he talked about his past:
- But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ (Phil 3:7-8)
- I have been crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20)
- For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. (Gal 6:15)
There was nothing of value left when he looked back. His past was awash in Christ.
But beyond that, he did not rely on his own source of strength to keep going. Every day, he reminded himself of what sustains him. This is how he saw his state, this is the mirror he looked into:
- it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Gal 2:20) Faith is what carries me every day
- For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Phil 1:21) Christ is my all, and death is nothing but gain
- But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Gal 6:14) My sole reason to be proud is in the Gospel of Christ
- For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you. (2 Cor 12:9) I have a clear conscience because I do it all through grace only
- For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age (Titus 2:11-12) Grace is the only means I have to fight sin and stay strong in Him.
- Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ (Eph 3:8) Grace is what has empowered me to accomplish my mission
- That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings (Phil 3:10) My life purpose
- That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thess 1:12) My purpose in my relationship with others
His present was based only on Christ and His Grace.
Paul, formerly known as Saul, murdered believers. When his life was changed by the grace of God, what was not deserved, was given to him. Paul led his days living and preaching under that grace. What a testimony; lives can be changed and grace can overtake even the chief of sinners.
So, what makes me special ? Nothing I did, but everything He did.
What is the only mirror by which I am allowed to look at myself through ? Christ's blood.
What is the basis of my value ? Grace.
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:9-10)