LET ME SHOW YOU A MORE EXCELLENT WAY OF LIVING – this was always Paul’s mission day in and day out as he travelled around the Roman Empire.
To the pagans Paul would say, I want you to put away your gods, and believe in the one and only true God. I want to share with you a life that is far superior to any life you have ever known that will transform your life. To the Jews, I want to tell you how you can enrich your knowledge of God and His extending saving acts to embrace you from sins and give you life that does not end with death. To the Christians I want you to live a life of holiness as “whoever is in Christ is a new creation” (II Cor. 5. 17) and the Holy Spirit will empower you to do this.
Overall what Paul is stating is, what “I received from the Lord” I want to pass on to you. Once you have experienced this new life, you must pass it on to others too.
The shadow of the cross loomed largely in Paul’s life as it is the cross that begins to transform everything. Christ came into this world and nothing has been the same ever since, through His death and then resurrection, even if this secular world tries to deny this truth.
“I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; … (Gal. 2.19 – 20) would always ring in Paul’s ears.
In giving his life to Christ Jesus after years of his pharisaic living Paul discovered a life so rich, so loving, so free and so rewarding. Who would ever want to be a slave to observing every jot and title of the law when Jesus Christ has given us so many gifts that the Law could never give? When we read Paul’s letters reflectively we discover they are almost limitless in their depth of Christian thinking. He wanted everyone who heard his preaching to know this. We are fortunate that so many of his letters have survived because what he wrote is timeless about living the Christian life as I hope we had a glimpse of this morning.
In having to learn a new language through the power of the Spirit Paul was able to articulate what believing in Christ meant. It is a very powerful language that compels a turning upside down to live a life “in Christ”. That more excellent way he wanted others to know led to living “in Christ”. Paul used that expression or an extension of it over and over again in his letters. Paul greeted the Thessalonians with “in the Lord Jesus Christ” and in I Corinthians he greeted those “sanctified in Christ”.
From the moment a person is baptised everything he/she does is “in Christ” as without Him we live darkly. Indeed whenever Paul wrote about putting on “the Lord Jesus Christ” he is mainly referring to being baptised. So when Paul spoke of being crucified with Christ, it meant dying with Him in baptism to sin, and so afterwards the baptised should truly be able to say “I no longer live, but Christ in me,” that is in the power of the Resurrected Lord. From now onwards “my life is Christ.” As it was for Paul, that should also be our comfort too when we face all kinds of misunderstandings, problems and difficulties.
How would Paul ever have endured all those hardships? Have you ever pondered on what Paul’s life was really like? - those beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, trudging in heat and cold, often not having anywhere to sleep and the sheer loneliness of not being understood or acknowledged. His passion was also his burden, and so without His Lord it would have been terrible, terrible indeed.
Why is living “in Christ” so important for Paul? This is because it frees all of us from slavery of sin.
From his own life he knew that to know Christ was a gift, to be redeemed from sin could only be achieved through the death on the cross, that was a free gift too. Theologically this is called being justified by faith. We cannot earn salvation. Christ has offered us the gift of eternal life if we believe in him and have faith.
One of the passages I suggest worth reflecting on in our Quiet Time after this is the early Christian hymn in Philippians that Paul used to illustrate the model that Christ has set for us. “Let this mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2. 5 – 8). That model is to be a servant, a servant of Christ who died on the cross.
Living “in Christ” for Paul also meant embracing that cross with all its scandal and suffering. It is not the aesthetically pleasing crucifixes that artists have painted or what we wear around our neck that is the reality of Calvary. It meant the lifeless body on the cross with blood streaking down His side as Jesus gave up His Spirit in obedience to the will of the Father.
I think it is clear from Paul that if our living “in Christ” does not cost us something in regards to self then perhaps we are hoping to have grace cheaply. Whenever we cross ourselves there should be a fleeting reminder of what this cost Jesus, and for those who follow Him it is the sign of true discipleship, whatever the cost.
Yet the cross could never be separated from the resurrection. Without it nothing really has been achieved as death would still be our enemy. I shall talk more about the resurrection when we have a look at how Paul formulated the Paschal mystery.
Although Paul wrote abundantly about living “in Christ” Paul very much wanted us to be also imitators of Christ. As he was wont to say “be imitators of me who imitate Christ.”
No easy exercise, is it, if we tempt this under own our steam. Humility and obedience are two of the hardest virtues for most Christians to live out. We all want to cling, even a little bit to control of what we do, and feel we don’t always have to submit out wills to another. Yet both are the very heart of Paul’s teaching as indeed the Gospel. We cannot ever achieve either of these virtues by ourselves. Never! It is only in the power of Christ through the Spirit that we can. When we find we are not humble and obedient, then we have to pray harder for the Spirit to possess us even more so. It is He who works through us. And the praying has to go on and on as we are fragile beings without His power. But when He works through us, how extraordinary our lives become! Let us pray that we all can be instruments for Christ in our world through His Spirit living within.
Another excellent way Paul taught us are what we know as THE THREE THEOLOGICAL VIRTUES – Paul spoke of many virtues or gifts of the Spirit but the three that stand out as we also saw this morning are faith, hope and love. These are the foundation for living the Christian life; without one of these we wilt and fade like the flowers of the field.
If we don’t know many passages from our bible, one that most people know is I Cor. 13. Here Paul comments on these three virtues – faith, hope and love, of which the greatest is the last, love.
What did Paul teach us about FAITH?
Foremost it is the basis of our relationship with God and with Jesus Christ and to respond what God in Jesus Christ has done for us. “I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself for me”, wrote Paul to the Galatians (2 - 20). However we must remember it is a gift given to us through the Holy Spirit, but it is a gift to which we must respond. That response is what we usually call trust or faith.
In his most theological letter to the Romans, Paul wrote we are justified by faith. One of the great debates in the past was did Paul really mean we are saved by faith only? Or are we saved by good works as well? Paul tells us quite clearly we are all given different gifts, gifts that we must use and in using those gifts hopefully they will render good works.
Having worked for many years in 16th and 17th centuries ecclesiastical history, one of my favourite quotations from it is, good works alone won’t get us to heaven; but neither will we get to heaven without them. I think this is a good summary of Paul’s teaching on faith and good works.
However for those who do not live in faith Paul warned, “by your stubbornness and impenitent heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself for the day of wrath and revelation of the just judgment of God, who will repay everyone according to his works: eternal life to those who seek glory, honour, and immortality through perseverance in good works, but wrath and fury to those who selfishly disobey the truth and obey wickedness” (Rom. 2. 5 – 7).
“We walk by faith” to that unseen goal as pilgrims, but it is faith that enables us also to witness to the resurrection as Paul exhorted the Corinthians (I Cor. 2 – 9).
Another interesting aside from Paul is that he also believed that “faith comes from what is heard” (Rom. 10. 17), that is listening to the preached Gospel. How can we know if one is not sent to us? Or how can we learn without a preacher? Paul spoke of the weak in faith but he also told the “strong” that they must support the weak. So in a real sense we must also be a preacher, making strong in the faith those who struggle with it. I am sure that would be what Paul would preach from our pulpits today.
Hope is a virtue that helps us to anticipate the promise that we have in Christ Jesus, and so in Paul’s teaching it is linked with the parousia, that is the second coming of Christ. As Paul wrote in Romans, “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with it with patience” (Rom. 8. 26). We must have the eyes of faith that point towards our resurrection – that is hope.
Indeed it is a hope for all creation too as it has been groaning and labouring in pain up to the present time (Rom. 8. 22). Hope is thus the sign that the new life in Christ is a reality.
Paul in Romans also intimated, “For in hope we were saved”. (Rom. 8. 24). What did he mean? It means that the grace of God is working within us, what we call prevenient grace, leading us on to the promised land.
As well as guiding us to our future life hope is also the virtue that enables one to endure suffering and pain for the Lord as Paul knew only too well. So “may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Rom. 15. 13).
Apart from perhaps the most loved reading in the bible, I Corinthians Ch. 13, but perhaps also not as readily understood as it should be, there are just so many times that Paul spoke of the importance of love.
At the beginning of the next chapter in I Corinthians 14.1. Paul stressed that you must make love your aim in life. One of Paul’s main teaching was that it is love that should motivate Christians, not the Law. He wrote about it extensively, but not more passionately as he did in his letter to the Galatians, Here Paul emphasised how Christians have been freed from the slavery of the law by the life and love of Christ.
As a modern day example, I am sure if Paul were preaching from our pulpit on Sundays, he would tell us, there is absolutely no sense in coming to Mass on Sundays, if one only goes as a sense of obligation or of not committing a sin if one does not go. He would tell us the only reason we go is because the Lord loves us and we love the Lord. Furthermore he would tell us another reason for going, in his own words to the Corinthians, it is to proclaim the Lord’s death until his coming again.
Paul informed the Romans let your love be genuine (Rom. 12.9) and from 1 Thessalonians “may the Lord make you increase and bound in love (I Thess. 3. 12). The love that Paul speaks of is what the Greek word calls agape, and perhaps the best translation of that is ‘selfless love’. A selfless love must be one that is divine in nature. Therefore it is essentially a gift – a gift of the Holy Spirit. It is that kind of love that Paul spoke of in I Corinthians 13. It is that spontaneous love that flows out of one in meeting others and their needs because it is the Spirit loving through us.
We love because God first loved us. In Romans Paul posed the question, “Who can separate us from the love of God?” in answering his own question, he emphasised that there is absolutely not anything at all – not death, not life, not angels, not any force in all of creation, now or in the future that can come between the baptised and God. In Christ Jesus, nothing at all can separate us from God (Rom. 8. 31-39).
When Paul wrote that to the Romans he was speaking from the depths of his being. As intimated this morning, the most beautiful aspect of Paul’s life and teaching was that he loved the Lord with every ounce of his being. He was truly in love with Christ Jesus, and he knew with the same intensity that the Lord loved him. No wonder he would say at the conclusion of I Cor. 13. that the greatest of virtues is love.
Another more excellent way is to know the transformer of life THE HOLY SPIRIT
Paul knew, really knew, it was not he but the Holy Spirit who is not only the giver of life but also the giver of every gift that enabled him and all to live the Christian life. That he would have experienced in the silence of the sand after his vision of the risen Lord. The Spirit taught him the language he had to learn to preach. That language as we have seen was to tell others this is what the Holy Spirit has done for my life and He can do the same for you. Paul was never shy about telling what the Lord had done for him, and neither should we.
To emphasise what was meant by living in the power of the Spirit Paul constantly juxtaposed the life of the flesh with that of the Spirit. In Romans he would write:
“But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Rom. 8. 9).
Yet let us be clear what Paul meant by the flesh. It did not refer only to sexual sins but that way of life that sets a person on the path of destruction through a multitude of sins such as a love of money, greed, pride, cruelty, drunkenness, selfishness and so on.
Against these fleshly sins Paul outlined the fruits of the Spirit:
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control … If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit (gal. 5. 21).
Living in the Spirit means putting our gifts to good use as well as entrusting our lives to God’s power and being led along that path of righteousness. It is God’s grace at work in our lives day in and day out.
One of the beautiful messages that Paul imparted about living the Christian life is the sharing of gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to His children. These gifts all vary. As Paul informed the Corinthians:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit, and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (I Cor. 12. 4 – 7).
So what is Paul teaching us? Basically it means that we are all cogs in the wheel, and each cog is needed for success. So for example the ladies of the altar guild who clean the altar linen have a work that is important. And although not more important than the priest’s work of celebrating the Eucharist, it is a necessary service that enhances the beauty of holiness.
Paul has also taught us that when we don’t worry about who has the credit for God’s work it is amazing what can be accomplished because he knew and hopefully we do too it is not our work but the Lord’s. I am only doing what I should, should be a common expression on our lips.
Perhaps you may ask how can we know the Holy Spirit? After all in our imagination we can see the face of Christ and have a mental picture of God the Father/Mother. When Paul refers to the Holy Spirit, he uses the Hebrew word ruach which is translated from the Hebrew Scriptures as wind or breath. Of course as a devout Jew he would have known this and its use in the Hebraic scriptures. Ponder for a moment the properties of wind. We cannot see it, but we know of its existence in all kinds of forms, don’t we? We know how refreshing it is on a hot day as a gentle, soothing breeze; we also know how mighty it can be, even being destructive in the form of a tornado.
Breath too may seem elusive – but that is what gives you life – as a babe when hit on the back you took that first breath that gave you life, and then when dying that breath gradually ebbs away until it is no more. So it is the giver of all life. Read the Genesis story of creation, and for we humans, God breathing into Adam the breath of life. God also gave Adam the opportunity of everlasting life, but he chose to know not only good but also evil.
For Paul that Spirit not only came from the Father but also from Christ as through Him the risen Christ continues to work in this cosmos and in the lives of all believers. So it is the Spirit that enables the faithful to cry out “Jesus is Lord” (I Cor. 12. 3) and profess the bottom line of being a Christian.
If we believe that the Spirit dwells within us as Paul taught then we know that our bodies are indeed the temple of the Holy Spirit. That should make a big difference to how we live.
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (I Cor. 3. 16). Do you realise that means that the Holy Spirit makes a home in you? He is your ever-present guest! To be greeted and given hospitality. True hospitality means making one feel at home and comfortable and equally as important listening and entering into dialogue. When we give this kind of hospitality we shall discover that the Spirit will always be our spokesman.
Furthermore it is the Holy Spirit which enables us to live a life of holiness. “One thing I ask of the Lord, to dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” as we pray with the psalmist (27. ) Paul encouraged us often to live a life of holiness.
It is also the Spirit who prays within us. Have no doubt about that. As Paul reminds us in Romans, The Spirit enables us to pray as we ought and intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words (Rom. 8. 26 – 7). How powerful are those words. Perhaps we have all been in a situation when we know absolutely I can’t, and as we reach deep, deep down inside a voice penetrates and speaks for us. That is what Paul, I think, is saying here.
Paul would also say to us, don’t ever try to do anything yourself. Every time we battle with loving someone, coping with a crisis, or any other problem that surfaces, dig deep, and pray for that Spirit to respond to all these needs.
Moreover “It is the Spirit that intercedes for the saints (that is the baptized) according to the will of God (Rom. 8. 27).
Amongst that excellent way for Paul is KOINONIA
This Greek word is hard to define in English – various words have been attempted such as fellowship, community, but it means keeping the oneness, despite diversity and difference. This was very dear to Paul’s heart and it has always been the heart of true catholicism, that is, unity within diversity and so from Paul we have so many references to it. “For in one Spirit we were all baptised into one body” and “we all share in the one body.” “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? There is one loaf, and though we are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” ( I Cor. 10. 16 – 7).
The Christian community is like one body that has “many parts” but all these parts “do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ” (Rom. 12. 4). Paul thus teachers that members of this community should function in mutual dependence and harmony like the various parts of the body. Paul in his own life showed us that this koinonia is the most precious thing within a Christian community. Paul differed very strongly with Peter but yet he would not break koinonia with him. Paul is teaching us that we may disagree with many in our midst over various matters but the bottom line is that we all have the same Lord and saved by Him. We all share the breaking of the bread as given to us by the Lord. Jesus Himself prayed that we all be one in Him. If the prime virtue is love in our lives we shall do as required and live in koinonia. It is probably Paul’s most challenging teaching to us. In today’s situation Paul is instructing us that within our parishes there will be many diversities and disagreements but we stay together for we believe that this is Christ’s way to promote His kingdom rather than our own individual agendas. Foremost in our minds must be advancing that kingdom so that many more will want to come and live within it.
To conclude I want to outline just how much we owe to Paul for the most important celebration of the Liturgical Year – THE TRIDUUM
This celebration begins on Holy Thursday with the Last Supper and events of that night. The first account we have of doing what the Lord commanded His followers to do is from Paul in I Cor. 11. 34.
Paul makes it clear that he learnt of this from those who were present that night, and so therefore from the Lord himself, that on the night He was betrayed Jesus “took bread”, gave thanks and broke it, saying “this is my body, which is for you, do this in memory of me.” Likewise after supper “he took the cup and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant sealed by my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this in memory of me. For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes again.” So we must remember that Paul’s understanding of celebrating Christ’s death is not a repeat of Calvary. That has happened once and only once. When we receive the Lord in the Sacrament today it is the risen Lord we receive, because that it is his nature now.
We also see with Paul there is an eschatological sense of celebrating the Eucharist. In a real sense every time we receive the Sacrament it is a foretaste of heaven. Indeed in the Orthodox teaching this is what they are taught. It is a pity that the Western Church has not emphasised this aspect.
Furthermore Paul informs us at worship, presumably at the Eucharist “offer your bodies as a lively sacrifice, holy and pleasing unto God, your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12. 1).
Following the institutional words in I Corinthians there is the admonishment by Paul that if one eats the bread and drinks the cup unworthily sins against the Lord. We are never worthy to receive this wonderful gift of the Lord but if we come in penitence and thankfulness then we are indeed worthy enough. I am sure if Paul were our presider at Mass he would make us search our souls at the beginning, so we could approach the altar in a worthier state.
As we know the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ were before Paul every day after his confrontation with the risen Lord near Damascus. As a result he taught on them constantly and so these events became the earliest to be celebrated amongst Christians. Let us listen to these Pauline words and what do they remind you of?
Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast;
Not with the old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness: but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth ( 1 Cor. 5.7-9}.
Christ being raised from the dead dies no more: death has no more dominion over him.
For in that he lives he died, he died unto sin once; but in that he lives, he lives unto God.
Likewise reckon you also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin: but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 6.9-11}.
Christ is risen from the dead: and became the first fruits of all those who slept.
For since by man came death: by Man came also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die: even so in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Cor. 15. 20-22).
These passages remind us of the Paschal Vigil.
There is no doubt that Paul saw the exodus from Egypt as a prototype for the life of a Christian, that is, from the old to the new. The Hebrews were brought into the promised land leaving behind the bondage of slavery, but they were merely “baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea”, but we are baptised into Christ (I Cor. 10. 2). What did this baptism mean? In Romans Paul taught us:
Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus, were baptised into his death?
Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the death by the glory of the Father even so we also should walk in newness of life.
For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.
For he that is dead is freed from sin.
Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we should also live with him:
It is only in being conformed to his death that that we “may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3.11).
It is the resurrection that is the key to salvation, and so very early on Sunday the very first Christians celebrated Christ’s triumph over death after the Sabbath had ended.
Can you imagine what it must have been like for Paul to talk about Jesus who had risen from the dead after His own experience? The resurrection is the core of our belief and because Christ has risen from the dead then we too will be raised from the dead
How are the dead raised? Paul explained this to the Corinthians The mortal body “is sown corruptible” but is “raised incorruptible” to immortality. “It is sown dishonourable but raised gloriously; it is sown weak but raised powerfully; it is sown a natural body, but is raised a spiritual body” (I Cor. 15, 42-4).
What is the surety of this? “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you.” (Rom. 8. 11).
Paul as the first theologian laid the foundation for our Christian belief, and when we say the Creed each Sunday or Solemnity give a thought to Paul. Actually we cannot forget Paul at all for every Mass celebrated, Paul’s words are used. “The grace of our father, and the lord Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit be with you” 11 Cor, 13.13). I don’t think we can ever say thank you enough for Paul as the great giant of the apostolic church. He certainly taught us that our citizenship is truly in heaven, especially if we have lived “in Christ” during our earthly sojourn.