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By: Callie Mitchell, SAVED News International Correspondent, Jerusalem, Israel
“Look at all the Pharisees!” I both chuckled and offered correction to my son’s description of the Ultra Orthodox on the Jerusalem bus recently. His innocent thought came from illustrations of Pharisees in a children’s bible, drawn to look like the Ultra Orthodox today. It’s a fairly accurate portrayal because they are the decedents in tradition of the Pharisee party that existed during the time Yeshua. My own discomfort was from the Christian use of “Pharisee” as in insult, implying a legalist and hypocrite, though it seems we are missing something in our criticism.
Paul was a Pharisee.
His supernatural encounter with Yeshua on the Damascus road gives me hope for my Ultra Orthodox neighbors who are opposed to any presentation of the Gospel. The most extreme are part of an “Anti-missionary” organization that has not been beyond violent acts against those of us who know Yeshua.They are a tough crowd, but the bible promises they will look upon the one whom they have pierced and repent!
Paul’s own zeal for the law transformed into a radical passion for His Messiah. Through the Holy Spirit, he brought a strong teaching on being under grace, and no longer under the law, yet a life lived for Yeshua – the word made flesh — reconciled these two positions more so than the some pervasive teachings on freedom and grace presently promote.
Primarily, even after the cross, Paul confidently upholds the full counsel of scripture as authoritative. He admonishes Timothy, “all scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching…” (2 Tim 3:16-17). Likewise, to the Romans, he explains, “through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4). Written before the New Testament was canonized, in context he is affirming the Law and Prophets; the power of the Holy Spirit to elevate the law for the believer, in the manner of Yeshua’s teaching equating lust to adultery.
Even so, on occasions Paul still upheld the letter of the law for the sake of the gospel. While he taught against the necessity of circumcision, Paul circumcised Timothy before they joined in ministry together (Act 16:1-5). Similarly, Paul again follows the letter of the law taking on a Nazarite Vow (Acts 18:18). Later he submits to the elders who instruct him to enter into purification rituals, for the testimony of living in “observance of the law.” (Acts 21:17-26)
Today many teachings focus on freedom in terms of personal liberties, and even downplay God’s word to justify lifestyle choices. The life of freedom Paul demonstrated, however, is one of dying to self, and standing firmly on the word of God. Paradoxically, his freedom led to a life of chains. In Yeshua’s blood, he became free from sin, from the world, but a bondservant to the Lord. He was beaten and imprisoned for the sake of the gospel. Ultimately, this freedom brought him to the point of spilling out his life-blood in martyrdom for Yeshua’s namesake. Are we willing to lose our lives to find life? If not, we don’t know freedom.