God's Word is a treasure trove of unlikely heroes. Throughout the Bible's extensive roster of characters, some of the fiercest titans of faith and most compassionate proclaimers of truth were also, upon closer examination, the most obstinate, reluctant and egotistical people you could ever dream of meeting. God has always chosen surprisingly unexpected vessels to carry out his will; he turns even their biggest shortcomings and failures into beautiful depictions of what it means to be a flawed human serving a flawless God.
The apostle Paul was no exception to this idea. In fact, to this day, he remains one of the best examples of it. Initially one of the most ruthless and impassioned persecutors of the early Christians and their burgeoning church, God transformed his heart and life and ended up using his passionate perseverance and outspoken boldness to His advantage. Now, the church remembers Paul as one of the most quintessential teachers and missionaries in its history and the sole penner of an entire half of the New Testament.
Paul's letters to early congregations and fellow missionaries — known widely as the epistles — ripple with gems of wisdom and a heartfelt desire to grow closer to Christ every day, both in terms of behavior and intimacy. At Collinwood, that's exactly what we want our residents to be able to do as well. Here's a closer look at some of his writings and what you can take away from them.
"We do, however, speak a wisdom among the mature, but not a wisdom of this age, or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. On the contrary — we speak God's hidden wisdom in a mystery, a wisdom God predestined before the ages for our glory ... What no eye has seen, no ear has heard and no human heart has conceived — God has prepared these things for those who love Him." (1 Corinthians 2:6-7 & 9)
What Paul is trying to convey to the Corinthian congregation is not very different from what Solomon expressed in the first chapter of Ecclesiastes: "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity" (verse 2). While social trends and authority figures may claim to possess a certain modicum of intelligence and insight, the letter to the Romans (also written by Paul) begins with the reminder that many who "profess themselves to be wise have become fools" (Romans 1:22).
You can take peace and assurance in your source of wisdom and inspiration as a believer: the Holy Spirit. "The person without the Spirit does not receive what comes from God, because it is foolishness to him," Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 2:14 & 16. "He is not able to understand something evaluated spiritually ... for who has known the Lord's mind, that he may instruct Him?"
"Let no one deceive you with empty arguments... for you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light ... Get up, sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." (Ephesians 5:6, 8, & 14)
No one could ever come close to matching the standard of long-suffering perfection that Jesus established in the Gospel; however, as a follower of Christ, you are called to "adopt his same attitude... do not consider equality with God as something to be exploited" (Philippians 2:5 & 6). Throughout the epistles, Paul warns against taking advantage of the redemption made possible through Jesus's sacrifice. Instead, he urges you to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12).
Salvation in Christ is more than a mere cleansing of your past sins; it's a call to allow the Holy Spirit to work in (and through) you according to God's will. Much like Paul, the scales have fallen from your eyes (Acts 9:18), and as a child of light, you have the miraculous opportunity to shine for the Lord wherever he may lead you in this life. So, in Paul's words, "do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may be found blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world" (Philippians 2:14-15).
"Now, about brotherly love: You don't need me to write you because you yourselves are taught by God to love one another." (1 Thessalonians 4:9)
In almost every single epistle he wrote to blossoming congregations throughout the Mediterranean region, Paul emphasized the vital importance of remaining humble, compassionate and hard-working even in the midst of blessings and the rapturous joy of redemption. He seemed to have a deep, resonating understanding of the idea of remaining human; it's as if he was trying to tell believers of all ages, "Don't go getting a big head! Remember that redemption doesn't come of your own merit!"
He continues to elaborate on how to live a simple life of thankfulness, labor and patience toward the end of 1 Thessalonians. "Be at peace with yourselves," he tells the believers. "Give recognition to those who labor among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you ... rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything ... Don't stifle the Spirit." (5:12-13 & 16-19)