SmallGroupTrader.com‘s mission is: “Helping people trade in the pursuit of the American-Dream for a world that desperately needs Christ.” Remember the old game Chutes and Ladders? To me, this carries some of the same ideas.
Paul didn’t exactly trade in his pursuit of the “American-Dream,” but he traded in a similar pursuit – one that placed himself at the center of the universe. Paul traded the life of ladder climbing and achievement within the Jewish religious system for a life of self-sacrifice. He even longed to suffer in order to have fellowship with Christ where he knew his true identity could be found. He traded a facade of worth for fullness in Christ. Paul was a trader. He traded the ladder for a ride down the chute.
Acts 8:1-3 describes Paul (Called Saul at that time) as one who made havoc of the church and dragged Christians off to prison. He breathed threats and murder against believers (Acts 9:1-2) and was exceedingly zealous (Gal 1:13-14) in persecuting the church and trying to destroy it. He was a blasphemer, persecutor, an unbelieving insolent man. (1 Tim 1:13)
Why?? Cause Christianity threatened the old Jewish religious system where he had found his whole identity. It struck at the roots of who he was. Paul (Saul) had worked very diligently at climbing the rungs of the religious ladder. He was well educated and well respected within that system and was perfectly happy with the way others perceived him. He was comfortable in that system and Christianity didn’t play by the same rules.
I know. I know. Some of you are saying, “How could you say that Paul’s identity was in the Jewish religious system?” Here’s how: Check out what he wrote himself about those days.
Galatians 1:14 – “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.”
Philippians 3:4b-6 – “If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.”
Galatians 1:10 – “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
There it is. Paul said himself that he had been trying to please men. Why? ‘Cause it esteemed him. He was a people-pleaser. These verses make it clear that Paul had been trying to be better or more worthy than others. He was compensating for his own inner feelings by working for positions and bragging rights – climbing the religious ladder.
Acts 9 describes Paul’s conversion experience. It’s a beautiful trade. I will not ruin it by trying to recount the story – you should read it yourself. Here’s the link: Acts 9
Now, check out how Paul’s thinking was changed. Look at what he wrote afterwards:
Philippians 3:3-11 – “For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence.
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
It’s clear that his identity is now in Christ alone. He even calls his past accomplishments “rubbish.” His position in the Jewish religious system, his reputation, his esteem. . .rubbish compared to Christ. His new values are to gain Christ, to know the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings. It doesn’t sound like his position is important to him anymore.
In 2 Corinthians 12:5-11, Paul goes so far as to say that the greatest position he could find himself in is actually the lowest rung on the ladder. He says he’ll boast only in his weakness, ’cause it’s in those circumstances where he finds Christ’s power resting on him.
Andrew Seidel writes of Paul after his conversion in this way: “He is no longer seeking their approval; he is no longer competing with them. As a result, they have lost their power over him and he is free. He has the confidence to do what he believes God is calling him to do, no matter what the opposition to him might bring. The one Person he cares about pleasing is God himself. ”
In the end, it’s clear that Paul was a trader. He traded a life of facades, positions, people-pleasing, and never-ending ladder climbing for a simple life in Christ. And it is there that He found fullness. He was loved and secure simply in being a child of God and his new identity in Jesus Christ could never be stripped away.
Paul traded the ladder for a chute. Paul was a trader.
PS – These ideas are not original. They are from Andrew Seidel’s book, “Charting a Bold Course.” I’d recommend it highly for anyone interested in the study of leadership.