“But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:16)
Most of the essential things I have learned in life I have learned from copying others. My mum and dad taught me how to eat, comb my hair, tie my shoes and clean my teeth. “Do it this way”, they said. “See, look at me!” My first class teacher, Miss Braisin, taught me how to hold my pen and writer. “Just copy the letters that I write on the board,” she would say, and I did. I leaned how to writer every letter in the alphabet from her.
Come to think of it, there’s not much that I do for myself that I didn’t first learn from others. Just about everything we do is based on something that somebody older and wiser has shown us. This principle certainly holds true for our experience of God. In this regard we discover how we receive God’s grace from one special model that God gives us – the apostle Paul. Paul says that God made him an ‘example’ to show us how we are meant to receive the Lord’s grace and serve Him.
The word translated, ‘example’, is a Greek word, ‘hypotuposis’, which means a model or an example. In this sense, Paul is a prototype for how every Christian should be saved and be strengthened by grace for his/her particular ministry. We are meant to see our individual experiences of God through the model of Paul. He is the archetypal example of how God deals with us in grace, both in terms of our salvation and the ministry God gives us.
Of course, while there are certain unique aspects of Paul’s conversion – for example, it’s unlikely that any of us were blinded by a bright light or heard the voice of God when we were first saved – nevertheless God’s principles of dealing with us in grace are the same. God still shows each one of us great mercy; He reveals to us the depths of our sin through His law; He brings about a new-found spirit of thanksgiving and humility in our hearts and He makes us aware of the fact that, unless it had been for His help, we would have neither the ability nor the opportunity to serve Him. The early church believed that the reason God chose to save the apostles, especially Paul, was that they were perfect examples of how God could transform great sinners into saints (Letter to Barnabas). They figured that if God could show grace to Paul and empower him for server, then Paul is the perfect model of what God can do for us.