Paul describes himself as “someone untimely born” (1 Corinthians 15:8). He recounts Jesus’ various resurrection appearances and notes that Paul was rightly last and least to be visited because, “I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9).
As we recalled yesterday, the first time Paul met Jesus Paul’s name was Saul and Jesus wasn’t happy (Acts 9:1-20). Imagine if Jesus’ first words to you were: I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Those words must have frightened Saul and haunted Paul. Paul never forgot them and was motivated by them: But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them—though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me (1 Corinthians 15:10-11).
The grace Paul was shown, despite having persecuted Jesus, motivated him to work hard for Jesus. For someone who loudly proclaimed, “Faith, not works” (Galatians 2:16), he also recognized that grace deserves a response from us.
I’m glad Paul received the faith, changed his life, went from seeking to perfect the law to living in response to faith and grace. I’m also glad he owned that he persecuted Jesus. Many of us would be tempted to say, “When Jesus? When did I persecute you? We didn’t even meet until you appeared with your blinding light accusing me of such. It wasn’t me.” We’re loathe to admit guilt and we’re short-sighted when it comes to seeing how our mistreatment of others affects our Lord.
As Paul knows (since he wrote it) Jesus’ followers are the “Body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12). To mistreat another Christian is to wound Jesus’ body. Persecuting another is persecuting Jesus.
By the grace of God, we are what we are. Don’t let that be an excuse for persecuting Jesus, but an opportunity to let his grace work within you.