The Example of Paul

The Apostle Paul is an illustration of God’s compassion and forgiveness. Once Paul had been a violent persecutor of Christians, but in an amazing display of God’s love, Jesus appeared to Paul in a blinding light on the Damascus Road and told him to obey the Gospel. Saul, the Persecutor, became Paul, the Apostle.

What does the life of Paul illustrate about God? God’s love is demonstrated by his treatment of Paul. Before he became the apostle we love, Paul was Saul, the Persecutor. His pride made him unlovable (Philippians 3:4 – 6). Worse, his actions: throwing Christians into prison and voting to put them to death, made him unlovable (Acts 8:1 – 3), but God’s love isn’t merited. God loves us despite ourselves (Romans 5:6 – 8).

God’s love is illustrated by his treatment of Paul. If anyone deserved God’s punishment, it was Paul (1 Timothy 1:12 – 14), but what would cause the Lord to be merciful to someone like Paul? The answer is found in two New Testament words.

Splanchnesthai means “to have compassion.” The word isn’t found outside of the gospels, and, with three exceptions, it is always used of Jesus. Jesus used it in three of his parables to describe the compassion of the king for the unmerciful servant, the compassion of the father for the prodigal son, and the compassion of the Good Samaritan for the wounded traveler. What moved Jesus to have compassion? He recognizes spiritual lostness. The people who gathered around him “were like sheep without a shepherd.” He knew they were hungry, and he felt their pain. Likewise, Jesus understood sorrow and wept real tears. All of this moved him to compassion.

When we are sympathetic, we feel for other people, but compassion is different. Compassion causes us to feel with other people. You might feel sympathetic with the characters in a movie, but you would never feel compassion for them. On the other hand, God feels with us. Our pain, our struggles move him. God is compassionate! He feels with us.

The second word is found in Acts 3:19, where Peter tells the crowd, “Repent then and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.” We might forgive someone, but we rarely forget – not so God. In NT times, people wrote on papyrus. Since the ink contained no acid, when it was still fresh, it could be “wiped out.” However, in those days, when people fulfilled an obligation, it was “crossed out,” but when God forgives us, it is “wiped out.” Completely removed! There is no need to keep bringing up our failures over and over again. Our sins have been washed away: wiped out.

You’ve got a friend! Spend some time today, saying, “Thank you!” The attitude of gratitude is the heart of worship.

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