St Paul: The Definition of an Apostle
One of the first names that comes to mind when reflecting on the role of an Apostle is St Paul. This is not a mere coincidence, but rather recognition of St Paul’s amazing accomplishments in establishing the Church through his Apostleship. So how is it that such a persecutor of the Church and enemy of the first Christians, transformed from Saul of Tarsus into the great Apostle Paul?
His conversion is well documented multiple times in the Acts of the Apostles. It records that just like the twelve disciples, St Paul was commissioned to be an Apostle by Jesus Himself, as he was on the road to Damascus to arrest Christians. But the just Lord met him on the way and made him His own chosen vessel. Up until that time, St Paul applied his zeal for God to divide and separate: thereafter, his only purpose was to build up and strengthen.
However, “whom the Lord loves He chastens” (Heb 12:6), and the Lord certainly chastened St Paul. In his letter to the Corinthians, St Paul writes that Apostles are last of all, a spectacle to the world, fools for Christ’s sake, weak, dishonoured, reviled, persecuted and slandered (1 Cor 4:9-10). The irony is that after his conversion, his new name, Paul, literally meaning small in Latin, would also become synonymous with this definition of an Apostle. But St Paul was very precious in the sight of the Lord, ready to be refined and polished like a diamond in the rough with every beating, lashing, stoning, imprisonment, shipwreck, danger from Jew and Gentile, land and sea, and also from hunger, thirst, cold and lack of sleep (2 Cor 11:23-27).
And yet with all these misfortunes, he still managed to plant over a dozen churches in various cities and lands, making his influence on the early Church second to none. This is so evidently captured in the New Testament where 14 of its 27 books ascribe their authorship to St Paul. Even non-believers consider him to be one of the most influential people of all time, precisely because he made Christianity accessible to non-Jews. In so doing, he shed its light into every crack and crevice of the Roman Empire, which eventually embraced it and propagated it to all of the western world to be followed by billions of people throughout the ages.
With the coming feast of the Apostle Paul (29th June), we are reminded how difficult it is to be a Christian in a world that does not know Christ. St Paul teaches us that the best way to overcome our trials and tribulations is by following the pattern of his life – through Christ. He carried Christ’s name into the world as a witness, he carried the marks of Christ in his body (Galatians 6:17), and to the Lord’s word: “I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:16), St Paul simply answered: “for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21).
Source: Lychnos June/July 2018 edition