Tuesday, May 08, 2012
Life of St. Paul Course through ULC
Final Essay – Master of the Life of St Paul
I have found this course to be both interesting and challenging and I feel that Rev Walter Moline has provided a very clear and concise rendering of St Paul's life and journeyings. All the happenings have been placed in the right order with very keen comments on the various aspects of his story with all the relevant Biblical course references. A very useful aspect of the course were the question and answer sessions provided at the end of some of the lessons which enabled one to test the knowledge that had been gained.
Right from the beginning, Paul was to discover that the way of Christianity was not going to be easy, and, in fact, Jesus had already indicated that Paul was going to have to suffer many things for the faith. After the shock of meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus and the three days of blindness that he had to suffer before he was free to mix with, and learn from the saints in Damascus, Paul underwent a period in the desert outside Damascus learning the lessons that the disciples of Jesus had learned before. He learned direct from God on a one-to-one basis and in the quiet of the desert situation rather than in the way the original disciples had received their lessons in the day to day teaching with Jesus. I feel that Paul was given in the course of his desert time a more open and direct teaching to enable him to use his talents to take the Gospel to the Gentiles although he did not neglect to preach the same Gospel firstly to the Jews who would accept his word.
A further lesson that Paul had to learn was that the Jews were not going to let him preach the new faith without trying to stop him and this extended even to stoning him in Lystra in an attempt to kill him. Fortunately, he survived to continue his work but even so had to continually fight against Jewish Christian opinion in his attempts to bring the Gospel of 'free salvation' to the Gentiles. Some of his opponents were Pharisee converts to the faith who insisted that the force of Jewish Law should be imposed upon Gentile Christians. One can imagine how these Pharisees would behave when one thinks about the problems with them that Jesus had to contend with during his ministry. The fact that they had become converts to the Christian faith did not relieve them from sticking to the Jewish Law in its entirety. One wonders whether in fact it could be possible for any of the Pharisees mentioned to have been instrumental in the death of Christ. Fortunately, Paul's eloquence before the Jerusalem Council won the day, but this was not the end of his struggles to bring the faith to as many people as possible. Time and time again his teaching brought him into conflict with those who felt that only through adherence to the Law of Moses could Gentiles be accepted into the faith. However, the full support he gained from the Church in Jerusalem allowed him to admit Gentiles by faith, repentance and baptism in the name of Christ.
We have become used to dissensions and differences over the centuries of the Christian faith and note that these differences started within a few years of Christ's ascension and have continued on and off ever since. Even Paul had his disagreements with Barnabas resulting in the pair splitting up and going their separate ways. While in some ways this was regrettable, one could possibly see the hand of God in it in that there were now two teams going to different areas and proclaiming the Gospel. This indeed would enable the Gospel to be spread further and faster than would have been possible if Paul and Barnabas had stayed together. So, in some ways, good had come out of this disagreement.
It was obvious that God was with Paul and protected his chosen Apostle, giving him support and strength to carry on with the work, as well as faithful support from his companions, ensuring that the faith was brought eventually to Rome. It was not without various problems, fears and hardships throughout his journeyings, but Paul, in turn, had a profound trust in God which enabled him to carry on his work despite all the difficulties and dangers he encountered.
St Paul sets a good example to all Christians in his faith and works being fully dependent on the Lord who showed him the way that he should go and, more importantly, that God was always with him to direct his footsteps and give him the words to say when challenged about his message. He was not afraid to go to Jerusalem even though he might be killed there or to go to Rome, the then centre of the known world, to preach his message. He fully trusted in God to guide and protect him until he had done the work for which he had been called. He would then be happy and content to die for Christ.
The last five lessons deal with aspects of Christianity that are essential to a true believer. They provide basic information on the main aspects of the faith and provide the seeker with biblical references to support the points raised. We need to have some direction in our aspects of worship and both Old and New Testaments provide this background. Much of the supporting information comes from St Paul's letters and these are directly relevant to our daily life in Christ. We are all sinners to one degree or another in that all require at some points in our lives both to forgive and to be forgiven. To the Christian this is most important as to be unforgiving separates us from God and Christ, as Jesus pointed out to Peter that we should forgive our brothers not just seven times but seventy times seven ie always!!
The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most complicated of the Christian doctrines, in that it is made difficult to understand by theologians who seek to find hidden depths of meaning which may or may not exist, but confuse the ordinary person who seeks a simple but close association and understanding with God. My view, as a Christian, is that God is the Father (as Jesus said) of all of us but Jesus is the human part of God who was sent from God to live a mortal life and by His teaching to bring God's truth to humanity, and to provide through His death and resurrection a way to conquer sin and death and Satan for ever. After His resurrection, Jesus was taken up into heaven after appearing to His disciples to prove that he was alive again, to become part of God again and to enable Him to send down the Holy Spirit, the third part of the Trinity, to provide support for the apostles and others continually in teaching the faith. The Trinity is all one Person comprising three parts forming the whole. This may be very simplistic but provides a way of understanding this doctrine without delving too deeply into matters which are beyond many of us. It may also be as well to remember that perhaps we are not meant to fully understand this doctrine in this earthly life as this may be a truth that will be revealed in the life hereafter.
Lesson 20 deals with Spiritual Gifts, a subject which is important to the Christian because God has given us all gifts of one sort or another, some small and some large, to use to help all with whom we come into contact in our daily lives. If we do not use these gifts that we have been given, then no doubt we shall lose them and we will be the poorer for it. These gifts are to be used with love, without any distinction between individuals and without thought of receiving anything in return.
As I said at the beginning, I have found this course very interesting and informative and can highly recommend it to anyone seeking to understand the life of one of the greatest of Christian saints who went from being a violent opponent of Christianity to being one of the most enthusiastic of its supporters.
Rev Derek Kemp