Uncommon Encounters Updated June 12th
When we accept Christ into our lives as Savior and Lord, he gives us certain attributes that reflect
his character. He lives within us and we should reflect him to the world around us. These attributes are often called the “fruits of the Spirit”. We cannot exhibit these fruits in their truest sense without the help of the Holy Spirit. Our love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control comes only through God so that people recognize Him when we exhibit these characteristics. When people around us experience these fruits, they experience Him. And it is no ordinary occurrence. It is an uncommon encounter with God Himself.
An Uncommon Joy
Philippians 1:20-26- Paul in Prison
Often when I think of Paul, I think of the missionary. The man so driven to spreading the gospel across the globe. The great orator and author of many profound messages to both Jew and Gentile, saint and sinner. He was a man who would stop at nothing to get the good news of Christ to every person on the globe. Paul was so determined to spread this message, it cost him his freedom at times, being imprisoned on more than one occasion for his boldness. It is in prison that we find Paul in this passage of scripture, but you couldn’t tell from the way he writes. He expresses such joy and eagerness in his words that you would think he is right in the middle of a great revival service in a lavish, growing church with every member working like bees in a hive. This is not the case and, in fact, it is far from it.
Before we understand why Paul is so full of eager expectation and joy in the faith, we have to first understand where he came from. He was born Saul of Tarsus. His father was a Pharisee, who strictly adhered to the Law of Moses. He also inherited his Roman citizenship from his father. He was very educated, probably speaking several different languages, learned under rabbis in Israel, and mastered Jewish history. Being a Roman citizen, he was respected and regarded by both Romans and Jews. His zeal for upholding the law and uncompromising legality was leading him down the path of religious extremism. You could say that he was a religious terrorist. In Acts 8:3, it says “He began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.” He became ruthless in his pursuit of Christians. He took joy in this because he was upholding the Jewish law and therefore thought he was pleasing God.
I thank God that Paul’s story does not end there. In Acts 9:1-22, we are told of Paul’s encounter with Jesus himself. Jesus is the very man whose name he wishes to erase from existence by eradicating anyone who claims to believe in him. The reason for his journey to Damascus is to try and find more Christians that he can bring back to imprison or put to death. Somewhere there on his road to destiny, he is blinded by a great light. Jesus asks him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” I think it is at this very moment that Paul is changed forever by the voice of the God he thought he was pleasing. Saul’s encounter with Jesus that day on the road to Damascus is what has made all the difference. That day, his chains of religious legality and trying to live up to an impossible standard were broken. In my mind’s eye, I can see all the prejudice, hatred, pressured obligation, and pent up anger releasing like air in a balloon. His change wasn’t gradual, it was immediate. God’s word tells us that he immediately goes to the synagogues proclaiming that Jesus is the son of God. I can see the looks on the faces of the people who had regarded and respected him as a Christ-hater. I am sure they were skeptical and shocked, to say the least, the he had now become a Christ-follower. But Paul did not have to convince them with his words. His actions from that day forward displayed to everyone that he was more determined and dedicated to sharing the truth and good news about Jesus Christ as he ever was to eradicating it. No wonder the bible says that he turned the world “upside-down”!
Only God can give us the uncommon joy and eager expectation that Paul had. That is why, on this day in a tiny jail cell with dirt floors and mice running in and out, he is able to write these words… “My eager expectation and hope is that I will not be ashamed about anything, but that now as always, with all boldness, Christ will be highly honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For me, living is Christ and dying is gain. Now if I live on in the flesh, this means fruitful work for me; and I don’t know which one I should choose. I am pressured by both. I have the desire to depart and be with Christ—which is far better— but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am persuaded of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that, because of me, your confidence may grow in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.” Paul must have been hungry, thirsty, dirty, and uncomfortable. He may have even been wondering what method of execution they may be conjuring up. But I imagine Paul, with Christ in his heart and pen in his hand, and he is smiling.