Thanks to the pandemic-related theme of “Food Insecurity,” we recently got stuck with the contention voiced in James 5:17 that Elijah was cut from the common cloth of our own humanity. The prophet raised the dead, called down fire from heaven, was fed by ravens and also cooked for by an angel. James, to be fair, was merely stressing the power of prayer, not the tangling with murderous monarchs or the necessity for miracles.
Still, this is why I am choosing Paul as front runner over Elijah, the Baptist’s forerunner. At life’s end the latter was attended to by the Uppertaker, while the rest of us must settle for the undertaker. That smacks of common humanity and makes me want to look back at the Apostle’s life. Right off the bat, I bet he would object to be widely remembered as St. Paul, the kind of super human venerated by religious entities and their systems of merit. Paul’s own perception of sainthood was rooted in every single believer’s “sanctified” – made holy – position before our holy God. It was entirely founded on and permanently sustained by the regeneration effected by the faith we place personally in Christ’s atoning death and resurrection. We are cut from the common cloth of New Testament sainthood that is completely identical with that of the famous Apostle’s.
To that effect, Paul made a couple of endearing statements in two of his letters. “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst” (1 Tim. 1:15). “To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8). Least and worst? Never mind Einstein’s brain that liked “relativity.” As Christ’s sheep, our brains are wired for this relatively easy to grasp formula: Sin is the precursor to Salvation that leads to the Sovereign Rule of GRACE.
Linguistically speaking, “grace” was not widespread in Old Testament days. The word is mentioned fewer than 40 times, compared to roughly 130 in the New Testament. The Gospel writers used the word 4 times, while Paul used it 89 times. Christ’s death and resurrection clearly brought its reality out in the open, even as the Holy Spirit still drives it home to the grateful hearts of the “least” and the “worst” in every age and generation.
As for my really wanting to be in league with the mature, humble Apostle Paul, may I highlight two more of his sayings that totally vouch for his integrity as “well-rounded” Christian? “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death” (Romans 7:24)? “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2). My wretchedness? In my spirit I aim to pursue my devotional reading. In my flesh I want to beat my competition in computer card games!