"I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service..." (I Timothy 1:12)
When considering whom to call to be a promoter of peace and justice, an example of Christ's compassion and caring and a model of the gospel, we would not necessarily think of Paul. If the personnel department of Christian evangelism was looking for a candidate to spread the message of grace and inclusion that defined Jesus' ministry, Paul's résumé would not make the cut.
And yet -- here he is, preaching the gospel and somehow "judged ... faithful and appointed" to the service of Jesus Christ. When seeking a devoted disciple, God saw more in Paul than simply his past. His past was not his future. God, who can make all things new, opened up the door to new life and invited Paul to enter in. Paul was like the lost sheep that God rejoiced over redeeming.
So what's our excuse? If God can transform a Saul to a Paul, if God can "appoint to his service" a mean-spirited, blaspheming man of violence like Saul -- what are we waiting for? Why do we think that God has not "appointed" us to serve? Paul was a follower of Jesus not because of his upstanding behavior in the past but because of God's mercy and grace. God understands that Paul "acted ignorantly in unbelief" (v. 13) but is now ready to receive God's forgiveness. Ironically, it is Paul's experience with sin and turning away from God that makes him appreciate the gifts of God's mercy and kindness even more. It was precisely Paul's shameful past behavior that made him an ideal candidate for a future in forgiveness and redemption.
God reminds us through the example of Paul that our past does not have the final word. The past is prologue. God will give us the best job ever. The dream job. A job that will lead to the adventure of a lifetime: following Christ in serving the Kingdom of God. When I was young, my father told me, "If you love to serve, you will always have something important to do and you will always be happy." This is our calling as Christians. We are appointed to serve. And if we love to do it, God will give us joy and fulfillment forever.
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Rev. Dr. Shannon Smythe
United Presbyterian Church