This’ll be a short and sweet observation from a though that isn’t thematically central to this passage but struck me nonetheless.
Paul establishes the divinity of his message highlighting that he is only focusing on winning the favour of God. He argues this by answering his own rhetorical question:
Am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave to Christ.
He further tries to reinforce the divinely inspired nature of his message by recounting his past life as a persecutor of Christians. It is here that I came to a curious realisation. Paul recounts:
Afterwards, I went to regions of Syria and Cicilia. I remained personally unknown to the Judean churches in Christ; they simply kept hearing: ‘He who formerly persecuted us no preaches the faith he once tried to destroy’. And they glorified God because of me.
This last sentence, “and they glorified God because of me” seems so counterintuitive to my experience of the world thus far. The closest parallel that I could think of is when you hear of a murderer or a pedophile turning to God and renouncing their former ways. In these circumstances though, the main response is one of anger or dislike “How could God accept someone like this?” “What kind of indiscriminate forgiveness is this?” are comments that’d often abound.
Reading of the Judean churches’ reaction has provided me with a bit of a smackdown. After all, we have two ways we can respond to the conversion of a sinner.
We can believe in the power of our sin. Thus argue that they don’t deserve forgiveness for what they’ve done is too terrible.
Or, we can rejoice in the power of our God. Enjoy the liberty that he gives both us and others of even the most burdensome shackles.
Why is it that I err on the side of the former. Why do I make sin bigger than God in my mind? Why don’t I rejoice and praise God when I hear of the conversion of terrible people like me?
I don’t think there is a clearcut answer although I have a suspicion that it is because I see my sins as lighter than my brother’s. That’s a problematic viewpoint.