Saul of Tarsus watched the executions of early Christians and was looking to imprison any he found in Damascus, there is no immediate indication of why though he was so vehemently against these Christians. Paul was taught by the Rabbi Gamaliel who was relatively peaceful and in the book of acts actually helps some of the early Christians through clever argument. Paul is extremely zealous though for the law. The Law tells us what we should and should not do, which is a good thing and not a problem in itself. Something inside Paul reacted so strongly to this though that it resulted in him hunting down and persecuting the early believers. Why would Paul experience the law differently to another person? The answer to this is so important because it helps us understand our own difficulties trying to find peace within community.
The law tells us what we should or shouldn’t do. We can take this many ways depending on how it is presented and who it is presented by. Our perception of the law can make the difference between taking the law on as an obligation, and to receiving the law as a way of acting out love.
To illustrate this I want to take a verse that we also don’t address often in Christianity:
“Be Perfect, Like Your Heavenly Father Is Perfect”
There are so many different ideas on this. Wesley believed perfection came to us as a sort of second blessing after salvation, it was equivalent to holiness. Other preachers and theologians like N.T. Wright look at the greek and show us that the greek word ‘telos’ meant something closer to completion and maturity: rather than modern views of perfection that are closer to flawlessness. In fact Paul talks about perfection in Philippians and states that he most definitely is not perfect; but he presses on towards the goal. So how do we resolve this, we should be perfect right? Jesus commands it; but even the best among us are not. This is the ultimate statement where our perception divides between obligation and inspiration. Does this verse oblige you to feel you have to become perfect; or does it inspire you to believe that you can become perfect through God?
Jesus tells us though that he is the “Alpha and Omega”, the beginning and the end, so if perfection: telos: completion is anything then it is Christ Jesus. If that is the case then we can go through the new testament and replace the word perfect with the words ‘like Jesus’. After doing that, and with a little extra understanding around Hebrews: I found it worked, take our earlier command to be perfect, this becomes:
“Be like Jesus, Like Your Heavenly Father is Like Jesus”
We know from 2 Corinthians 3:18 that Jesus is the image of the invisible God, so we know that our heavenly Father is like Jesus. I want to ask you though, how many of Jesus’s attributes do you ascribe to the father? Do you perceive God the father as a master creator figure that breathed life into you; whilst you perceive Jesus as a suffering and humble servant? Do you perceive God as the judge, evaluating your every move; whilst Jesus is the sacrificial lamb that saves you from his wrath? Do you see God’s will as working out what his every command for your life is? What is God’s will for you?
The problem is that you cannot come to the Father except through Jesus [John 14:6], although Jesus had all right to: Jesus didn’t come to us as the master of the universe demonstrating his power and judgement. Jesus came to us as a servant, and since Jesus and the Father are in each other’s likeness then we must ascribe those same traits of Jesus to the Father. We must therefore believe that in God’s heart there has always been the desire to serve us and take care of us, that although God is has every right to dominate, he has come to serve, and now that his anger has been spent at the cross: we are fully free to see that heart of God. Even when God was casting us out of Eden, he looked to provide for us and clothe us, over and over again he tries to get us to trust that he wants to be our provider, our deliverer, he wants to fulfil our every need, like the most eager servant you have ever come across. This is God, the creator of the universe, desperate to serve and provide for your every need.
Understanding that God’s anger is spent on the cross allows us to trust that he will not act against us if we do not do as we should do; but what about when it comes to doing what we should do? Looking at God’s approach to us in this way does not change what we should do; but completely changes our perception when we hear what we should do.
* When a dominating and angry master tells us what we should do, we respond out of obligation
* When a servant hearted Father tells us what we should do then it so much easier to respond in love
If we hear the instruction to be perfect from a master then we will anxiously strive to do it to the letter; but if we hear it from a servant who teaches us, clothes us, provides everything for us then we can accept it with gladness and at ease because he will not leave us unequipped for any good work [Hebrews 13:21].
So that was the first part of the puzzle, but there is another twist:
In eden we were lied to, we accepted the lie of the enemy:
Eve was tempted by the snake into taking the apple by using two techniques:
1. First the serpent lured her into believing that God was keeping something from her
2. Second the serpent lured he into believing she would be like God when she ate the fruit
Inside there are two basic human character traits that lead to us being deceived:
* Eve didn’t believe God had her best interests at heart, she did not see God as wanting to serve her
* Eve wanted to be like God
Eve is no different to us without Christ, Christ is the key to show us that even though God is creator of the universe, deserving of all praise and majesty; he has chosen to act towards us in the way of a servant hearted Father.
See in John 4 we see this:
“9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.[a])
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.””
Notice that Jesus says, that if you knew who asks you for a drink then you would have asked him. If you had know who it is then you would have asked him. These are not the words of someone acting as a master; but the words of God telling you that you only need ask and he would grant you things beyond your wildest expectation.
But we don’t see God that way, we see Jesus that way and God as a master. They are not two different things, they are in each other’s likeness.
Saul of Tarsus saw God approaching us as a master, he had tremendous zeal for the law and set out to do the will of the master, enforcing the law. Saul was doing what he thought he should do by reading the letter of the law. Saul actually did this because he wanted to please God and be obedient to him. However much you try to serve and be humble, if you believe the God that you want to be like is a master then underneath you will always try to dominate, because it is in your very nature to want to be like the Father, your God, and if you see God one way then you cannot help but try to be like him. We were made in the image of God, it is in our very nature to act out this way and is possibly one of the only definite things that does not change about us. This is how we can do some quite terrifying things in the name of God, because we are doing these things based on our image of God, and if our image is broken then our perception of God’s will is broken: and our actions are not in line with God even though we are trying our best to obey.
You see when we see God approaching us as a master, we do as we think we should do. We either reject his demands or strive to be flawless. When we see requests from a master for us to worship, to praise to be struck in awe: then we either turn our backs, strive to impress or begrudgingly obey. Yet if the creator of the universe who deserves all praise turned up at your door step and wanted to help you in every detail of your life, serving you and providing for you, then how else could you respond but in shock and awe? That is what has happening.
I want to close on some words from the late Brennan Manning:
“ I dare you to trust that God loves you as you are, and not as you should be. Because you are never going to be as you should be”