I fell in love with him

Published 1:47 am Sunday, March 10, 2024

By R.A. Mathews

I fell in love with him—this man who had stoked nothing but anger in me. Here’s what happened.

When I was called to the ministry, I nearly had to break into a Baptist Seminary to attend class. They didn’t want me. And that was solely because of this man’s words, so my contempt toward him was real. 

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The man? The Apostle Paul.

His harsh words about women have followed me every day of my ministry, and that seemed unfair. Paul had studied Deborah, who led the Israelites both as commander-in-chief and spiritual leader. (Judges 4-5) 

Paul knew of the prophetess Huldah, whom the king implored to guide the Israelites. He knew God had said “your daughters will prophesy.” (2 Kings 22:14-20, 2 Chronicles 34:22-28) (Joel 2:28)

To top it off, Paul had said “…(Jesus) was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and … He appeared to (Peter), then to the twelve.” (I Corinthians 15:4-5)

But Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene, and Paul very well knew it. 

So, I didn’t like Paul. 

That changed when I learned about Lystra. Scripture doesn’t specifically say Paul was resurrected, but the people of Lystra thought he was dead after stoning him. Paul must have stopped breathing, and stoning did severe internal damage. 

Yet Paul got up and continued preaching in the next town the following day. Here’s the passage:

“Jews … stoned Paul and dragged him out of (Lystra), thinking that he was dead. But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city. The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe.” (Acts 14:19-20) 

That event changed me. Who wouldn’t take at least a day to recover? Not Paul—such was his wholehearted devotion to Jesus.

Moreover, when Paul finished preaching in Derbe, he went back to Lystra!

“And after they had preached the gospel to that city … they returned to Lystra … saying, ‘It is through many tribulations that we must enter the kingdom of God.’” (Acts 14:21-22) 

How can you not love Paul?

I chose First Corinthians this week, since I rarely write about Paul’s letters. At the same time, I said, “What good can possibly come of this?” The Corinth church was a mess.

In the first four chapters, Paul scolds the Corinth Christians for boasting about following Peter or Paul or Apollos. He said, “Was Paul crucified for you?” (1 Corinthians 1:13)

In chapter 5, Paul then chastises them for having an apparently prominent man in the congregation. The man had slept with his father’s wife, and Paul wants him out.

The next chapters don’t get any better. Paul deals with more immorality, continuing into chapter 10 with the evil of the Jews in the wilderness. And, by chapter 11, he is angry at the disturbing way they celebrate the Lord’s Supper. 

I hadn’t read this letter in a long time, and I kept saying, “It’s never going to get better. What is uplifting?” But I completely forgot about Corinthians 13. Here it is:

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal… 

“Love is patient, love is kind … love does not brag and is not arrogant … bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-7)

So beautiful.

I fell in love with Paul, as I said, because of his devotion to Jesus after the Lystra stoning. And I started to look closely at Acts and his letters. Here’s an example of what I found. 

Paul had circumcised Timothy early on, but many moons later he wrote: “Look! I, Paul, tell you that if you have yourselves circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you … You have been severed from Christ…” (Galatians 5:2-4)

See how dramatically Paul’s views changed? 

He said, “For by grace you have been saved through faith…” (Ephesians 2:9)

We think nothing of this, but the church in Judea began with Jews, who believed you were saved by circumcision and the Law. You had to earn it. Paul turned the church upside down when he said, “…it’s a free gift.” (Ephesians 2:8)

Paul changed his thoughts on idols and slavery and went on to recant his disparagement of women: “…there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:29)

Give thanks to God every day. Read all of Paul, from Acts through his letters, or you will never understand Scripture. Worse yet, you will speak what isn’t so. 


The Rev. Mathews (BA, MDiv, JD) is a faith columnist and the author of Emerald Coast: The Vendetta. Contact her at Hello@RAMathews.com

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