St. Paul: Looking Back, Looking Forward

October 20, 2016

The Pastor's Page

Dissolution Time.  The year was 67 AD.  St. Paul was in his mid-70s, an old man by First Century standards.  He was in Rome, a bad place for Christians.  The Roman Emperor Nero was waging a large scale persecution against Christians.  Paul was in prison.  Many other Christians had already been put to death, and Paul could see the handwriting on the wall.  When he wrote, “The time of my dissolution is at hand” (2 Tm 4:6), “dissolution” means death.  It was Paul’s way of saying that he knew that the time of his martyrdom was drawing ever nearer.

Paul as a Libation.  Today a libation is an alcoholic beverage, but that is not its original meaning.  Initially a libation was a blood sacrifice (e.g., Ex 24:5-8).  Over time there was a shift away from animal sacrifice and the spilling of blood.  Eventually wine was used as a substitute for blood, and the pouring of wine on the ground was an alternative for sprinkling the blood of an animal.  When Paul wrote, “I am already being poured out like a libation,” it was a metaphorical way to describe how he had poured out his life completely in service of Jesus and the gospel.

The Race to the Finish.  Paul compared his life to a long-distance running race (2 Tm 4:7).  He was born and raised in Tarsus, a city in southeastern Turkey.  He had moved to Jerusalem to become better-educated in the Jewish faith.  As a young man he was zealous and persecuted Christians, but then came his dramatic conversion after Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus.  It had been roughly forty years since his baptism.  His “race” was one long-distance event after another, three missionary journeys in all, to Syria, Turkey, Greece, and Rome, widely over the Middle East and the northern Mediterranean.  He was an elite Christian endurance athlete, the Apostle to the Gentiles, the one who took the gospel of Jesus to the world.

Fighting the Good Fight.  As Paul looked back over his life, he enjoyed a sense of inner peace knowing he had given Jesus his best effort.  Yes, he had regrets about the terrible things that he had done in his early years, but with the grace of God he was able to turn his life around.  Great love, heroic service, and long-suffering for the sake of the gospel cover a multitude of sins.  For whatever Paul may have done wrong in the past, in his final years he was in superb spiritual shape.  Paul had grown close to Jesus and knew that they were on the best of terms.

Looking Ahead.  Paul concluded, “The crown of righteousness awaits me” (2 Tm 4:8).  It was his poetic way to say, “After I die, I am confident that God will reward me with a place in heaven.”  Despite the fact that he was in dreadful anticipation of his execution, spiritually he was totally at peace knowing that he had dug down and given his best.  All would be well in the end.

Now it is Our Turn.  Paul’s race is over, but ours continues.  Paul turned his life around.  No matter what sins we may have committed, we still have time to turn away from sin and rededicate our lives completely to Jesus and the gospel.  The goal is to be able to look back knowing that we have done our best and to look forward to our heavenly reward.

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About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

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