I seriously doubt anyone influenced [and influences] the thinking and direction of the American restoration movement as much as did [and does] Paul, the evangelist and apostle. Because the modern tap root of the American Church of Christ is in the American restoration movement, our single most significant spiritual influence is Paul's thinking, insights, and writings.

That is understandable. We regard New Testament writings to be God-inspired scripture. Paul is the understood author of thirteen of the twenty-seven writings that comprise the New Testament.

How influential are Paul's thoughts, insights, and writings? Though we call Jesus our Lord and Christ, though we call ourselves Christians [Christ-like ones], we are more likely to quote Paul than we are to quote Jesus. When we research a spiritual question, we are more likely to begin our research in Paul's writings than in Jesus' teachings.

Among the many invaluable lessons Paul taught, one lesson is fundamental to understanding Paul the Christian. If we read and examine Paul's perspective in context before we decide Paul's emphases, we see that Paul clearly, firmly anchored everything to an understanding of Jesus' person, cross, and resurrection. The foundation for all of Paul's emphases is Jesus, God's crucified, resurrected Son.

So what is the lesson? What information about scripture did Paul gain after conversion that he did not possess before conversion? Paul acknowledged he was an advanced student of scripture before conversion (Galatians 1:14; Philippians 3:5,6). There was little difference in his information [his knowledge] of scripture before and after conversion.

Yet, there was an astounding difference between Paul the enemy of Jesus and Paul the servant of Jesus. If his information did not change, what changed? When he understood Jesus was the Christ, his understanding of God's purposes changed. Before conversion, Paul was certain Jesus was not the Christ. Paul regarded Jesus to be destructive to God's purposes. After conversion, he understood Jesus was the Christ. As the Christ, Jesus was the centerpiece of God's purposes.

Paul's information did not change. Paul's understanding of the information changed.

As with Paul, information without understanding creates many crises in our lives and the church. As with Paul, a lack of understanding leads us to resist God's purposes. What can help us? The same thing that helped Paul. We must constantly grow in our understanding of God's purposes in Jesus Christ. God's purposes must (without fail!) be bound to God's work in Jesus Christ. When Paul understood that Jesus was the center and the foundation of God's purposes, he was transformed. The same understanding can and will transform us as powerfully as it transformed Paul.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Bulletin Article, 29 October 2000

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