The Calling of Saul of Tarsus
‘…Rise and go to Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do…’ (Acts 22, 10)
It is often said that by living the Christian life a person discovers the meaning of life. I would say ‘amen’ to that; but there is more to it than that – in living the Christian life one discovers one’s purpose in life. Meaning and purpose go ‘hand in hand’ as it were as far as the Christian life is concerned. Moreover, The Christian faith teaches that the ‘meaning of [one’s] life’ is derived from one’s purpose in life. And so, for Saul of Tarsus, it was only towards the end of his life, his life of service for God, that he was able to declare that, “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed to Him against that day” – yet whilst he was living out his life of service for God all he was able to conclude was that, “For now I look through a glass darkly, then I shall see face to face, and know even as I am known.” The Christian faith will not necessarily provide an explanation for all that is happening to us but it will give us the impetus to get on with living the life God requires us to live. Saul/Paul’s dramatic conversion experience caused him to realise the purpose for which God, in the person of the crucified, risen and exalted Lord Jesus Christ had confronted him in the way He did – to take the Gospel to the Gentiles: A ‘Hebrew of the Hebrews’, called by God to share Jesus with the Gentiles.
“Without God, life has no purpose, and without purpose, life has no meaning. Without meaning, life has no significance or hope.” (Rick Warren: ‘The Purpose Driven Life).
And so, what is our purpose? Well, we begin by realising that each and every one of us shares a common purpose, just by being human; our common humanity demands that each of us reach the same conclusion…’The chief end of [man] is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever’…In this beautiful simplicity of this one sentence is summed up the mystery that is at the heart of God’s determining to create the likes of you and me. ‘We were born by His purpose and for His purpose’ (RW). For Saul, what his experience on the Damascus Road and his subsequent encounter with Ananias taught him is that he had to de centre himself as far as his life was concerned; he had persuaded himself that what he had purposed for himself was of God. A proud man he found it well-nigh impossible to admit that what he imagined God required of him was in fact totally at odds with the purpose for which God had called in the way He had. It was necessary, painfully so, that Saul’s pride be dethroned so that in humility he might submit to God’s purpose for his life…
” You cannot arrive at your life’s purpose by starting with a focus on yourself. You must begin with God, your Creator. You exist only because God wills that you exist. You were made by God and for God – and until you understand that, life will never make sense. It is only in God that we discover our origin, our identity, our meaning, our purpose, our significance, and our destiny. Every other path leads to a dead end.” (RW).
But within the general purpose, the purpose of God with regard to each and all of us, without exception, there is for each of us a particular purpose for which God has brought us into being; each one of us is a vital piece in the jigsaw that, as it comes together, is slowly but surely revealing the ‘big picture’ as far as God is concerned. But that is not to be accomplished in isolation: the purposes of God are not to be realised according to the words and actions of isolated individuals, for that would in its own way be contrary to God’s essential purpose for His people, ‘That they might be one even as we are one’. It is within the church, and most especially within individual congregations, people sharing a common purpose acting as one for God in the world, that each of us will discern God’s purpose for our individual lives. Not for nothing was Saul, or Paul, intent on establishing congregations of believers during his travels as a missionary. He was not content that individuals be converted, rather for him what was crucial was that the believers came together as one. This is because whilst every congregation comprises individuals each of whom have the privilege of relating to God personally, nevertheless for each of those individuals that personal relationship with God necessarily demands that they establish relationships with those around them who share that same personal relationship with God…And so we have this ecclesiological conundrum, a theological version of what came first, ‘the chicken or the egg’…