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Poured Out on You

September 15, 2019
By Rev. David French

As I read the words of our epistle lesson earlier this week, it’s obvious that Paul is sharing with us a very heartfelt confession of his and our relationship with Christ. A relationship born of God’s grace and seen by the faith Paul received and the love he now has for Christ: who came into the world to save sinners. And to do that, Paul points to or looks at what he knows to be true about himself.

The apostle begins by thanking Jesus, as he says, for appointing me to His service, and he speaks with words that show true reflection and great humility. But, understand that humility is not the result of knowing all the things God has done through him as a church leader and planter.

No, Paul is reflecting on his life in Christ. What humbles Paul is not how Jesus has used him - he clearly understands Jesus is God and can do all things, what humbles Paul is that Jesus uses him. That he should be called faithful when he knows what once filled his heart.

“Look at me,” he says. “I was a blasphemer (someone who slanders the name of God).” He was a persecutor, or literally, a hunter carrying the idea of one who seeks out his prey. And, he says he was a violent man, using a word in the Greek that’s defined this way: “One who in pride and insolence deliberately and contemptuously mistreats and wrongs and hurts another person just for hurting’s sake (and sets out) to deliberately humiliate the person.”

So, Paul may have been advancing in Judaism beyond those his own age. That is, while he was a really religious guy, he was also, to put it mildly, not a very nice guy. He persecuted the church of Christ with a hatred that was unmatched by anyone at that time, and he did it all in the name of God.

We read for example these words of Paul in the book of Acts: Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as also the high priest and all the Council can testify.

But in our lesson today, Paul’s not so proud of what he once held up as proof of his zeal for God. In fact, in our lesson today, Paul admits that what was in his heart was not zealousness for God, but pride and ignorance. 

Just five verses before our lesson, we read these words about some of the teachers who were causing trouble for the church where Timothy was the pastor (1 Timothy 1:7-8), Paul writes: They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm. In other words, they are just like he was, that is, full of pride and ignorant of the proper use of God’s word in both law and gospel. Before his conversion, Paul saw the law as the way to heaven. After his conversion, he knew it was showing him how useless his efforts to save himself had been, finally acknowledging: I would not have known what sin was if not for the law.

And that is the Law’s purpose today as well. The Law is meant to cut through all the false pretense, all the false ideas of holiness, all the pride that fills our hearts, all the fig leaves, if you will, with which we have covered our shame. It’s true. The law was not given as a challenge, but to show us just how sinful we truly are. To force us to see how deeply sin has infected us and all of our relationships.

The Law shows us what is pleasing to God, to be sure. But, at the same time, it shows us how our hearts have become a breeding ground for sin. As Jesus says in Matthew 15, out of the heart comes … evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. And, while it’s true we can hide what fills our hearts with just a smile, it’s also true that we cannot hide what fills our hearts from the One who searches our hearts.

It’s neither fun nor easy to admit the things that, in the light of God’s Word, we can see fill our hearts, but God already knows what you’re hiding. And still, He sent His son for you. Still, He calls out: … come unto me and I will give you rest.

You see, what Paul is teaching today is why the Law of God is good, even when it hurts. That is why we need to look honestly into the mirror of God’s Word. And so, he begins by looking at himself, and he speaks honestly about what he sees. While we may or may not be able to run a list like Paul’s, we can all understand the idea of confessing who and what we are on the inside, knowing that God would have every right to simply leave us to die in the mess of sin we ourselves created. But that’s not the God who comes to us in Scriptures, the God we worship. That is, in fact, a false god; a god created in man’s image; a god who was created of ignorance and unbelief.

And that, Paul writes, is the reason he was shown mercy. Paul had not rejected the truth; he had never been taught the truth. But when he received the truth, there was an out pouring of grace in Paul’s life that brought with it the gift of faith and love for Christ.

And so, as he suffers from the guilt that he has earned, Paul takes comfort and finds peace as he reflects on God’s love for him. Again today, he offers that comfort to you with these words: Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the worst.

Now, Paul’s not saying that there never was nor ever would be anyone in the world more blasphemous or more driven to persecute others or more hateful then he was. But, like you and me, Paul can only look into his own heart. He knows his sinful desires and the secret things he works so hard to hide from others. Paul looked at himself as we also should look at ourselves, that is, in the light of God’s mercy, and asked, “Has there ever been a greater sinner than me?”

The Law, when used as God intended, always leads us to that question. Our lives, when looked at honestly through the Law, always lead us to answer with a heavy heart. But, my brothers and sisters in Christ, there is good news. Christ our Lord came into the world to save sinners, sinners just like you and me.

By God’s grace and the working of His Holy Spirit, you have received the gift of faith, and you do believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And while satan, the world, and your own sinful flesh will never stop sowing seeds of doubt; still, you know that you are forgiven in Christ. You know that God has called you out of the darkness and has set your feet upon a rock. That rock, His Son, stretched out His arms on the cross so that you and all who call on Him in faith might be forgiven and strengthened, as day after day He continues to pour out on you the fullness of His grace.

In His Name, Amen.