Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 135; 145, Proverbs 10:1-12, 1 Timothy 1:1-17, Matthew 12:22-32
Paul did not start out sympathetic to Christians. He was born to Jewish parents with Roman citizenship, an unusual status. As a devout Jew he considered followers of Jesus a threat both to both the faith and to the relatively secure status of Jews under Roman occupation. For years he persecuted Christians, literally hunting them down and delivering men and women for imprisonment and execution. As he wrote to Timothy: “I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence.”
Yet he was the greatest evangelist in the history of the church.
Can you imagine the resistance Paul faced from other Christians as he began his ministry? He was the embodied scourge of Rome across the backs of those who followed Christ. Why would anyone believe him when he said he was reformed? When people claim to change their minds or begin to behave differently, we suspect insincerity and our suspicions are often confirmed. But Paul persevered despite his critics, who included such important Christian figures as Peter. The zeal which had once driven him as “a man of violence” had been redirected.
If God could reform a villain like Paul, the rest of us should have great hope indeed.
When we try to change for the better, people will inevitably bring up our pasts and question our credibility. We may be embarrassed when that happens, but like Paul we can use that opportunity to testify to God’s grace. Whether we’ve decided to improve in a small way, like declining to indulge in office gossip, or in a more significant way, like seeking reconciliation with an estranged family member, our past does not need to be a source of shame.
Rather, by humbly acknowledging our past sins – not excusing them or getting “holier than thou” – we can speak a powerful truth about how God’s grace has transformed our present. Paul was humble, but not ashamed. Persistent, but not defensive. His faith eventually became undeniably obvious to all. Whatever your sin or past, God can do the same for you.
Comfort: God wants to free you from the prison of your past.
Challenge: Forgiving your own past is an important step in forgiving others.
Prayer: Merciful God, thank you for your gift of grace. May my life be a testimony to the power of your saving love. Amen.
Discussion: What parts of your own past have you not been able to forgive? Do you think you need to forgive yourself before you can believe God forgives you?
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