A little humility, perhaps?

Confession: I’ve never especially liked Paul. Paul the apostle, that is. Respect, even to the point of being in awe of this mighty man of Christ, yes. But he’s not a man I’d especially care to sit down and have a pint or two with.

Paul, by his own admission, was a persecutor of Christians (Acts 26:9-11), even condemning some to death, such was his zeal. After his conversion, perhaps the single most important conversion in the history of the church, he shifted the target of his zeal. No, he did not become a literal persecutor of the Jews. He did become a zealot, and preached the kingdom of God in the person of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead to put paid to our sins.

Paul’s zeal is worthy of emulation. Would that I could measure up. But here’s where I suggest that Paul could have used a little something that Jesus had in great measure: humility. Consider this, from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Chapter 4:8

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Excellent advice, worthy of following. But here’s where Paul needs to dial it down a notch, in 4:9

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

I’m delighted that God chose Paul, knowing that his character would be just the thing to spread knowledge of God’s Son to the gentiles. But let’s take Paul with a large dose of our own humility, and let none of us think we are so blameless as to be self-appointed templates for humanity.

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  1. Mark Hunsaker · · Reply

    Since we are confessing, I will begin by saying that apart from Christ, Paul is my favorite person in the Bible.

    He is the embodiement of that which he preached: saved by grace through faith alone, but created to do God’s work (see Eph 2:8-10).

    So, naturally, when reading your post today I bristled just a bit. “How could anyone not like Paul?!?” I wondered aloud. But, as always, I do see where you are coming from.

    I agree there is but one template for behavior (Christ alone) but I do not think that is what Paul is saying here. Of all the Apostles, we have the most evidence of Paul’s life of submission to Christ’s will. He was truly living his faith because he was doing what he teaches us through his powerful epistles: submitting to Christ. Putting Christ first, to the point of chains, to the point of death.

    Was Paul without sin? Obviously not (see Romans 7). But are we to deny the power of Christ working through people in the name of humility? To borrow a phrase from Paul: By no means! I’m convinvced that Paul was trying to help us get beyond some kind of false humility (none of us can ever really do anything good) to find ourselves in true humility: where the least of us, even those who kill God’s people can be brought to a point where we can become Christ’s greatest servants, if we submit to him.

    Submission to Christ is the true humility. To make this clear, Paul had made this point in the previous chapter (Philipians 3:12-16):

    Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

    All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

    What is humility? Humility to people or humility to God? Perhaps it is both, but not at the expense of displaying Christ’s power…a testimony to the Gospel itself.

  2. John Luke · · Reply

    Mark, thank you for your thoughts.

    As I wrote, I have the greatest respect, bordering on awe, for what Paul did for us. He is one of the very few truly indispensable men in the history of the church. But I just don’t like him…it’s my problem, and I know I’m in a tiny minority on this score.

    As for my favorite person in the Bible, that’s a tough choice; there are so many worthy candidates. My gut reaction: my favorite man is Peter, my favorite woman Mary, Mother of God. Peter, because he emobodies the faults and virtues that lie within us all, and he came through despite it all. Mary, for staying the course in what, at the time, could easily have resulted in death by stoning.

    And you are absolutely correct: our only template must be Christ.

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