Paul was not a boastful person. Not when he was writing his letter to the Churches of Galatia. Not boastful any more, at least.
There had been a time when Paul was very proud and boastful.
- born an Israelite,
- of the family group of Benjamin,
- a Hebrew of Hebrews. A son of Father Abraham.
- trained as a Pharisee by a famous teacher, Gamaliel.
- one of the religious elite.
He believed in an Almighty God who was holy and just.
He believed this God would raise the dead and bring the World to judgment.
He believed that he had kept the law and was legally blameless.
He thought that he would escape the condemnation of hell.
All this Paul once believed and was proud of it all.
Until he was confronted by Jesus Christ.
In this Paul has been very like the rich young ruler who came to Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit everlasting life – the young man probably wasn’t asking for advice, but expecting congratulations. Jesus shook the young man to his core by showing him that he didn’t qualify for everlasting life, and that he couldn’t qualify – he was too much in love with himself and his sin.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul tells us that the 10th commandment – by God’s grace – finally convinced him that he was a law breaker, a sinner, an enemy of the God who made him.
He had thought that because he could not recall murdering anyone, that he was not a murderer, and that if he hadn’t stolen any thing, then he was not a thief.
But yet he discovered that he was a law breaker – because he was covetous – that is, his thoughts and desires were not right – in fact they were utterly twisted. He envied his neighbour. He wanted what they had and was not content with what God had given him.
From that point he understood that the law was spiritual as well as physical, that in his heart and mind he had broken God’s law continually from his youngest days.
If he were ever to have life instead of death, he would need to be rescued by someone other than himself.
To his initial horror, Paul discovered that the only one who could rescue him was the very one against whom he had been fighting so ferociously. It was Jesus Christ, whose followers he had arrested and thrown in prison and testified against so they might be killed.
Yet Paul found that this Jesus, the one whom he had hated and wronged with great passion, had rescued him from a just condemnation and everlasting punishment. Then this same Jesus made him a messenger of grace and mercy to other people who themselves were proud rebels.
This is where the letter to the Galatians starts. Not with a boast about Paul’s greatness, but an assertion of the greatness of the one who sent him to bring Good News to them.
Continued in part 2.