“Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience. We are not commending ourselves to you again but giving you cause to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast about outward appearance and not about what is in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.” - 2 Corinthians 5:11-13
Have you ever noticed how frequently God’s followers are dismissed as crazy in the Bible? Poor Noah became a laughingstock when he started building the ark. In last week’s Gospel reading (Mark 3:20-35), Jesus’ family traveled from Galilee to Capernaum on foot because they feared he’d lost his mind. The scribes walked eighty miles from Jerusalem to meet them for the same reason. In today’s passage, it is Paul’s sanity that is called into question.
The apostle seemed to experience an understandable period of depression and physical torment after his imprisonment, and likely torture, in Ephesus. Today, we speak openly about the lingering effects of trauma, but Paul did not receive treatment for PTSD or even basic compassion. Instead, the pain and abuse he suffered were used as evidence against him, proof that he was either crazy or a fraud. And what could he offer as a rebuttal? An extensive record as a jailbird, agitator, and punching bag that was unlikely to convince anyone he of sound mind, much less chosen by God.
Prior to his conversion, Paul’s earthly pedigree and resume were impeccable. He wrote to the Philippians, “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless but whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Philippians 3:4-7). The encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus had completely changed Paul’s perspective. Everything he once treasured - status, education, accomplishments – he now deemed worthless. He no longer boasted about his own achievements, but rather of Christ’s work in and through him. Instead of chasing man’s approval, he sought only to please the Lord. What a transformation!
By worldly standards, Paul was a broken mess of a man who had squandered privilege and opportunity. Once a pillar of the community, he had become a pariah. But he no longer cared what people thought about him because God knew his true self. The Lord sees beyond our outward appearances and into our heart of hearts. Paul knew that he had gained far more than he lost, that tending God’s fledgling churches was the most important work he would ever do. He did not care what his earthly resume said; he lived in fear and awe of the Lord.
Reflect and Respond:
Are you more concerned with your earthly resume or your heavenly resume? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
Let's face it, the Christian life is hard. Relationships take work. Christians forget. Sometimes it is tempting to go back to the days when God was not the center of our lives - to backslide. We are all faced with tremendous pressures to drift away from intimacy with Jesus and the community of the Church. However, the Lord invites us to pay attention, to move forward, to draw near, and to live lives of worship. Draw Near: Hebrews on Christian Worship is a Bible study on the Book of Hebrews intended to lead participants into a deeper intimacy with the Living God in the context of New Testament worship. Draw nearer to God in authentic worship today!
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