It’s tempting to present to the world an embellished version of ourselves. We add filters to our Instagram photos; tweet out our best, most polished material; and share good news on our Facebook walls. We delete the photos that are unflattering and edit the stories that make us look weak. These actions often come from a fear that we’re not good enough and that our messy, broken lives need to be cleaned up before we can share them.
The apostle Paul did not feel a similar compulsion. He was a straightforward man who did not alter his story for his audience. Rather, he shared it boldly and left the results up to God. In Acts 22, an angry Jewish mob called him to answer for his perceived anti-Jewish teaching and behavior. They seized him in the temple and were seeking to kill him when a Roman tribune intervened and arrested Paul. Unsure of what was going on, the tribune allowed Paul to have an audience and make his defense to the people. So Paul stood up and addressed them in Hebrew, repeating the story of his conversion on the road to Damascus. They listened intently and patiently until Paul brought to light one of the key aspects of his conversion—his call to take the gospel to the Gentiles, those who were ethnically not Jewish (v. 21).
With Paul’s confession, the angry crowd felt certain of its judgment against him. Surely they had been right; he was a man “teaching everyone everywhere against the people [of Israel] and the law” (Acts 21:28)! He was a blasphemer who promoted beliefs against Israel and even reached out to the Gentiles! Though Paul’s story was upsetting to those Jews who had not yet trusted in Jesus, he nevertheless shared the story. It was not his to change, alter, or polish. It was his to proclaim.
At times in his ministry, Paul actively shared the dark, broken, negative elements of his story. He saw them as part of his journey to Jesus and a powerful example of God’s grace in his life. He regularly reminded his readers that he was the “worst of sinners” who struggled with giving into his fleshly desires to sin (1 Timothy 1:16 niv, Romans 7:18–25). He was a human who had suffered many things because of his obedience to Christ, including physical beatings, imprisonments, natural calamities, violence, hunger, thirst, weakness, and even Satanic opposition (2 Corinthians 11:23-28, 1 Thessalonians 2:18). And yet he persevered despite these difficulties because of the worthiness of Jesus.
As we tell our stories, we’ll be tempted to polish them up, to remove the parts that might be unpopular or unpretty. We’ll be tempted to make them Instagram-worthy. And yet, as we look to the example of Paul, we realize that even the ugly and disgraceful parts of our story are important in pointing to God’s grace in our lives. Sometimes the most broken and shameful parts of our lives are the most powerful parts of our story because they allow Jesus to shine.