Excerpts from Ask the Apostle: Faith-Building Conversations with Paul
I imagined meeting Paul at his rented house in Rome where the Bible says he spent two years teaching about Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God. By this time Paul had completed several mission trips, had written letters to the new Christians, and was approaching the end of his life.
. . . .
“So this is what I’m hearing,” I said. “You were jailing and killing the Jews who followed Jesus. You were going to Damascus to seize more of them when Jesus appeared to you and appointed you as his own personal witness.” I spread my arms out. “What’s that tell us?”
“God is abounding in mercy,” Paul said. Ephesians 2:4
“Abounding indeed,” I said. “It tells me anybody can be saved.”
I noted a few people around us nodding solemnly.
“And much more than mercy for you, Paul,” I said. “Jesus appeared to his own disciples after he rose from the dead, and he appointed them as his witnesses.” I touched Paul’s shoulder. “He gave you that same honor.” Acts 1:8
“Though I saw him last of all.” Paul looked away. “I am the least of them and not even worthy to be called an apostle, for I persecuted the church of God.” Paul looked back to me. “But by the grace of God I am what I am.” 1 Corinthians 15:8–10
“An apostle of Christ appointed to proclaim the gospel!” I said. Romans 1:1
“And his grace toward me was not in vain,” Paul said. “I worked harder than any of them. Journeys and perils in the wilderness, in the city, at sea. In hunger and thirst, in cold and nakedness.” Paul sat motionless. “Jailed. Whipped. Beaten. Stoned . . . and left for dead.”
2 Corinthians 11:23–27
“Definitely not your typical speaking tour.”
“And always we labor,” Paul said, “toiling with our own hands. I have never coveted anyone’s gold or silver or clothing.” Paul turned his palms up and looked at them. “These hands provided for my own needs and for my companions also.” 1 Corinthians 4:12; Acts 20:33–34
I looked down at Paul’s hands. Scarred. Strong. The hands of a tentmaker. Acts 18:3
“Yet it was not I.” Paul’s eyes met mine. “It was the grace of God with me.”
I looked down again. They were an apostle’s hands.
“Paul, you began to proclaim the gospel right after your baptism—there in Damascus.”
“But I have nothing to boast about, spreading the good news, for I am compelled to do it.” Paul pursed his lips. “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel.” 1 Corinthians 9:16
“Even at the risk of death, it would seem. You spoke openly about Jesus Christ, insisting he is the Son of God.” I pointed a cautionary finger at Paul. “That was pretty gutsy. The Jews had Jesus crucified for saying that.” Matthew 27:20-263
“But I was called for that very purpose! To tell God’s good news about his Son, Jesus Christ.” Paul’s face lit up. “Descended from King David, yes, but revealed as the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead!” Romans 1:1, 3–4
“And how did the Jews take that little announcement?”
“They tried to kill me.”
I couldn’t help but smile. How the tables had turned.
“I stumped the Jews in the synagogues in Damascus,” Paul said, “proving from Scripture that Jesus is the Messiah. So they plotted against me to kill me—watching at the city gates night and day.” Acts 9:22–24
“Tough spot to be in,” I said. “You know the truth, but if you say it, they’ll kill you.”
“But I learned of their plot,” Paul said, “and during the night the disciples let me down through the city wall in a basket.” Acts 9:25
“And off you went to proclaim the gospel—trying to keep ahead of those who wanted you dead or in jail.” I caught Paul’s eye. “Hounding and harassing you, just as you once did to the followers of Jesus.”
“Yes. Though I was still unknown by sight to the churches. They were only hearing that the same man who persecuted them was now preaching the very faith he tried to destroy.” Galatians 1:22–23
“Sounds like you ended your old way of life in a bloodbath of persecution,” I said. “And you began your new life in a bloodbath of another kind.”
Paul thought for a moment, and as his eyes teared up, he said, “Brought near by the blood of Christ.” Ephesians 2:13
“Jesus loved you,” I said, “and washed away your terrible sins with his own blood.”
“And it is now the love of Christ that compels me,” Paul said.
“His love for you or your love for him?”
“Both,” Paul said. “But his love for me. For us.” He waved his hand across the room. “For all of us.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because I am convinced he died for all.” Paul waved his hand again. “Therefore all died.”
2 Corinthians 5:14
I made a mental note to unpack that one later.
“And he died for all,” Paul said, “so the living should no longer live for themselves, but for him who died and rose for them.” 2 Corinthians 5:15
“So now, for you, it’s all about Jesus,” I said.
“My whole life is for Jesus,” Paul said. “For it is not me I proclaim, but the Lord Jesus Christ, and me a servant for his sake.” 2 Corinthians 4:5, 11
“May we all be transformed like that.”
“Like that and more.” Paul beamed. “For one day Christ will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” Philippians 3:21
“As I said, it sounds like someone has a plan. So I’ll get right to it.” I looked Paul square in the eyes. “We need your kind of faith—”
“That is my one desire,” Paul said. “That we all come to the unity of the faith.”
I looked around the room. “—and your power.”
“The power is of God, not of us. We hold this treasure in frail human bodies.” Paul ran his hand down his chest. “Clay pots.” 2 Corinthians 4:7
“And that’s why people need—oh, how to say this?” I fanned the pages of my Bible. “Faith, power—a godly life . . . for many it remains a mystery.”
“Great indeed is the mystery of godliness,” Paul said. “But there is a truth that produces a godly life.” 1 Timothy 3: 16; Titus 1:1
“Will you teach us that? How to live a life that pleases God?”
Paul looked down, then shifted his gaze to the people around us. “I was appointed a preacher and an apostle.” He slowly turned back to look at me.
“Preaching is good,” I said, “but we need to be taught.” I steeled myself for a “No.”
“And I was also appointed”—I caught the hint of a smile—“a teacher.” 2 Timothy 1:11
“I’ll take that as a yes! Thank you, Paul—thank you!”
“Just as I try to please everybody in everything,” Paul said, “not seeking my own gain, but for others, that they may be saved.” 1 Corinthians 10:33
“Then let’s get started!”
Paul looked eager, but he also looked tired. “In the morning,” I added. “In the morning.”