We’ve already seen how Paul valued the notion of our lives being a continual outpouring of thanksgiving, despite the trials and sufferings that to some degree accompany everyone’s journey. Yesterday we looked at what fueled his gratitude to the Lord, the chief motivator being the “gift” God had given him, a personal relationship with his Savior, Jesus Christ. Paul referenced this gift as the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us… (Eph. 1:7-8).
But I believe there was another Thanksgiving motivator for Paul: his calling to share in the ministry of the Gospel to the Gentiles. His specific calling to this ministry followed right on the heels of his encounter with the Living Lord:
As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around
him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you
persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are
persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”…Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard
him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem
among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners
to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews
living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 9:3-6, 19-22)
It wasn’t as if Paul hadn’t been doing “religious work” previously. Prior to his call to the Gospel ministry, the former “Saul” had been a zealous Pharisee. But the call on his life experienced on the Damascus Road fundamentally shifted everything about the way the new “Paul” saw his work for God. Here are a few comparisons:
PAUL THE APOSTLE referred to himself as a “servant of Christ”, an “ambassador in chains” (Eph. 6:20) while SAUL THE PHARISEE “served God” as a member of the religious elite.
PAUL THE APOSTLE received his ministry calling by revelation from Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:12) while SAUL THE PHARISEE saw his calling as upholding the “traditions of my fathers” (Gal. 1:14), which Jesus called “traditions of men” (Mark 7:8)
PAUL THE APOSTLE took part in a ministry of the “Good News” (by grace are you saved through faith – Eph. 2:8) in contrast to SAUL THE PHARISEE’s ministry, which turned out to be the “Not-so-Good-News,” rebuked by Jesus as: you load people down with burdens…you will not lift one finger to help them (Lk. 11:46).
PAUL THE APOSTLE participated in sharing about the grace of God (not of works, lest any man should boast (Eph.2:9) while SAUL THE PHARISEE advocated favor with God through religious ritual.
PAUL THE APOSTLE, like Jesus Himself, ministered the Gospel as a “suffering servant” (Acts 9:15; I am crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20), while SAUL THE PHARISEE belonged to a group which Jesus indicted as self-serving and self-exalting (Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces– Luke 11:43).
PAUL THE APOSTLE focused on building up the Body of Christ in sharp contrast to SAUL THE PHARISEE’s goal of destroying the Church (Gal. 1:13).
PAUL THE APOSTLE’s brand of “Thanksgiving” was centered on Christ while SAUL THE PHARISEE’s thanksgiving prayer might have sounded like this: God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tithe of all I get. (Luke 18:11)
I believe Paul was grateful to God, not only for saving him, but for replacing his mis-guided service to God with the ministry of “Good News.” He expressed this idea in his letters to Timothy as well as to the Church at Corinth:
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me
faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a
persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and
unbelief. (1 Tim. 1:12-13)
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and
through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. (2 Cor. 2:14)
For personal reflection: The work of Kingdom-expansion through the Gospel belongs to all who follow Christ. Think about the opportunities Christ has given you personally to be a bearer of “Good News” to the people in your relational networks. Does the invitation to join God in His redemptive mission fuel a grateful spirit of Thanksgiving in your life?