The gospel changes everything. Jesus and the good news of his life, death, and resurrection change everything. One perfect life, one perfect sacrifice, one perfect substitute, one king seated eternally at the right hand of God changes everything. Hostility between sinners and a holy God turns into peace (Ephesians 2:14). Dead people are set free from sin and become slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:18). By grace alone through faith alone, to the glory of God alone changes everything.
Nowhere in the Bible is this more clear than the life of Paul. From Christain killer to quite possibly the greatest missionary who’s ever lived. What a gift we have in God’s word as we can watch the Lord do this miraculous work in Paul’s life. What does, “everything” actually look like?
Radical Lack of Self-centeredness: Paul is willing to lay down his freedom in Christ if it will help others know Christ and accept the gospel (1 Cor 9:19). He gladly forsakes his rights, preferences, and comforts if they put obstacles in the way of the gospel (1 Cor 8:13). He views himself as a servant to all for one purpose: “that I might win more of them” (1 Cor 9:19). He spends time understanding the people he is trying to reach with the gospel, becoming as much like them as he can, even when that is an uncomfortable inconvenience to him personally. He overlooks being misrepresented by jealous brothers aiming to take advantage of their opportunity to shine as Paul sits in a dark prison cell. Why? Because of the joy he has over Christ being preached (Philippians 1:16-18). His name means nothing, but Christ’s name, now that means everything to Paul. When Christ is exalted, Paul rejoices, no matter the cost to his reputation.
Unusual Motivations for Living: How does Paul view life? “To live is Christ” he says in Philippians 1:21. If he is released from prison he will rejoice because this means he can continue to work for the sake of Christ. That is what he clings to in this world. Fruitful labor! And this “fruitful labor” (Philippians 1:22) means that other believers will progress and mature in their faith. What joy this is for Paul. He is willing to deny himself the gain of death for the spiritual wellbeing of others (Philippians 1:25). He says one of his main motivations in evangelizing is so that he can share with believers in the blessings of Christ! Paul labors so he can enjoy the gospel with other believers (1 Cor 9:23). Paul sees that Christ is worth more than everything so he gladly suffers the loss of all things so he can know and be known in Christ (Philippians 3:8-11). This is what is top of mind for Paul. This is what he lives for and aspires to.
Focused Fellowship: Paul’s closest relationships were with other Christians and these relationships centered around their work together to spread the gospel. Paul thanks God for the Philippians because of their partnership with him in defending and spreading the gospel (Philippians 1:3-7). Their relationship has been strengthened and deepened by witnessing God’s grace played out in each others’ lives (Philippians 1:7) and a shared mission to bring much glory to Jesus. He has deep affection for other believers (Philippians 1:8) and this love means he will warn them when they have strayed (Galatians 1:6-9, 1 Cor 3:1-4) and pray unceasingly for them to grow in deep spiritual matters (Ephesians 1:15-22). We see him intentionally, and most likely at a great cost to his personal time, discipling a younger brother, Timothy; training him up in the way he should go (See all of 2 Timothy).
Everyday Influence: In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul addresses a myriad of topics: arrogance, sexual immorality, lawsuits, singleness, married unions, work, diet, relationships within the church, relationships outside the church, and more. He sees all of these things as being under the influence of the gospel. In fact, we see that, for Paul, there is nothing in a Christians life that remains outside the influence of the gospel. He has died and now it is Christ who lives in him (Galatians 2:20).
High Expectations: It is easy to brush Paul off as an uber special dose of Christian. An unattainable sort of Christian. However, it becomes harder to do that when we read his instructions to other believers that go along with his examples. Imitate me (1 Corinthians 4:16), follow my example (Philippians 4:9), learn from me (1 Corinthians 4:6). “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1. Paul’s life is one to be followed because he is imitating the only one worthy of being followed, Jesus!
Have we taken the gospel that changes everything and made it into a gospel that changes very little?
And now we come to the heart of the matter. If we are honest, as we look around our churches, is the way the gospel affected Paul the exception? Have we taken the gospel that changes everything and made it into a gospel that changes very little? We take just enough gospel to feel good but not too much that it inconveniences the comfortable lives we love. We want the gospel and the path that is wide and easy. That gospel doesn’t exist in the Bible. That gospel minimizes Christ and exalts oneself. On the contrary, the gospel we see at work in Paul’s life, exalts Christ alone.
This knowledge of God, his Son, and the work of the Holy Spirit hasn’t yet reached and worked in our hearts and lives the way God intended. Where do we go from here? We repent and turn to the only one who can change us. We pray Paul’s prayers in Ephesians 1 and 3 (Ephesians 1:15-22, Ephesians 3:14-21), pleading with our Father that we understand more so we can be wholly transformed. We strive together side by side for the faith of the gospel (Philippians 1:27). We throw off contentment and continue to press forward with our eyes fixed on Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14). We remember we have no confidence in ourselves to do this work but that our confidence remains solely in Christ (Philippians 3:3). We continue to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12) until the gospel truly does change everything about us, to the praise and glory of God. Amen!