Monthly Archives: May 2015

Paul Modeled Life-long Learning

One of the marks of a person who continues well on his or her spiritual journey is the commitment to life-long learning.  A disciple by definition is a learner—one who chooses to follow wiser people.  A core attitude of one who finishes well is the person’s conviction to never stop learning.  To stop learning is to stop living (at least experientially).  The Apostle Paul is one of a choice few biblical characters that maintained an aggressive learning posture to the end of his life—we should all hope to finish as well!

In the last blog we noted that Paul started well as a disciple of Gamaliel—the foremost Hebrew thinker and teacher of his day.  Surely Paul’s early days of understanding foundational truth built the disciplines and the boundaries for further learning.  After Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus his categories of understanding were shaken.  Nothing learned was wasted but all he had learned needed to be seen through a corrected lens.

When I turned 40 I needed corrective eyeglasses to see clearly.  For the ability to see accurately one of these conditions may need correction:

  • Myopia (nearsighted or ability to see things up close but not at a distance); could correspond to lack of imagination or foresight.
  • Hyperopia (farsighted or the ability to see things at a distance but not up close); could correspond to lack of perception of interpersonal clues or attention to details.
  • Astigmatism (blurring or distortion); could correspond to understanding partially but missing key insights.
  • Presbyopia (old eye or loss of elasticity); could correspond to becoming too set in certain ways and unable or unwilling to stretch one’s learning in new ways.

To Paul’s credit and our benefit he took the needed time to correct his early learning with the new reality of Jesus.  We learn in Galatians 1:11-18 that Paul went away to Arabia for three years to wrestle with what he had been taught and align it with his new found faith.  This concentrated time of reflection resulted in correcting his astigmatism.

Over the next roughly 30 years Paul followed the leading of the Holy Spirit as a light to the Gentiles, pioneering new communities of believers where local laborers and leaders were nurtured.  He served as a mobile alongsider to these communities through visits, writing letters, and sending resource people.  Throughout this time he would disengage for reflection, dialogue, and certainly for learning, to bring any needed correction to myopia and hyperopia that could naturally have developed.

Space will not allow for a more detailed look at Paul’s learning posture throughout life.  But, in 2 Timothy 4:13 we learn that when he was in jail near the end of his earthly life what he wanted most were the parchments along with his books.  These documents were what fed his soul and guided his teaching.  He also wanted to connect with key people so to encourage and influence them to continue well.  He was so concerned about fulfilling his calling and serving the churches he helped to start and grow that he actively sought to learn and teach to the end of his life.  This posture enabled him to correct any presbyopia that sought to hinder him from finishing well.

How about you?  How active are you in your learning posture?  Are you continuing well?  What convictions and habits have you developed so to finish your spiritual journey well?  Give attention to the kinds of diseases that will hinder your perspective.  Take corrective action now so you can continue to learn tomorrow.

Next Blog: Paul led by teaching

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Paul — a Competent Scholar

I am indebted to my first Navigator mentor who valued scholarship.  He invested summers at Dallas Seminary back in the mid-70s; and when he saw my strong interest in studying the Bible, he encouraged me to apply.  Although I was accepted to begin in 1976, I delayed two years to get more practical ministry experience by helping to begin a new ministry at a different campus.  In August 1978 when I arrived at Dallas Seminary, I remember walking through the parking lot which then had names of the professors written on “their” parking spots: Hendricks, Ryrie, Walvoord, etc.  What a privilege this lifetime investment would turn out to be.

This article begins a short series on the life of Paul, who I call a competent scholar.  If you are a grassroots/practical person you might have a negative connotation of the word scholar.  Paul was the best of both worlds: intellectually astute and interpersonally effective.

Paul studied under and was mentored by the best Hebrew thinker of his day, Gamaliel.  In Acts 22:3-4 we read: I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city (referring to Jerusalem), educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.  We know from Acts 5:34 that Gamaliel was a Pharisee and a teacher of the law in the Jerusalem council and held in honor by all the people.  Probably, he was the senior scholar of his day.

The time Paul spent learning during his early years was foundational for his lifetime of ministry.  Certainly he had large portions of the Law and the Prophets memorized.  His thinking was deeply challenged in the process-oriented and life-application focus of the Hebrew schools (in contrast to the more academic and philosophical Greek schools), by other students and teachers.  He emerged as a man approved of God, rightly handling the Word of Truth. (2 Tim 2:15)

How much do we value the serious study of the Word of God today?  Few Christians seem to have time for in-depth Bible study or challenging one another’s thinking with rigorous dialogue.  I fear that many churchgoers and even Christian workers have succumbed to the quick intake of shallow or predigested teaching.  Investing time to wrestle through the message of the entire Bible and all theological categories is left for only a few “professional” students.  We would not have the Epistles today with their deep transforming truths if the Apostle Paul had not engaged in a serious and life-long study of God’s Word.

How long has it been since you got preoccupied with Bible study?  When you lost track of time and invested far more than was expected?  Oh for the days when we were like Job (23:12) and Jeremiah (15:16), when the study of Scripture was likened to that of the essential nourishment of food.  Oh for the days when we searched the Scriptures to find answers and confirm what we are told like the Bereans (Acts 17:11). Due to the internet, it has never been easier to engage in scholarly pursuit.

Thankfully, some people have more of a natural bent toward scholarship.  Those of us without such tendency should be grateful and learn from the gifting and hard work of others.  However, unless we personally give attention to the deeper study of Bible passages and topics, we will become susceptible to drifting into unhealthy patterns of thinking and living.

Next Blog: Paul modeled life-long learning

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Filed under Leader's Foundation, Paul, Study of Word