Category Archives: Paul

Paul Review

Having looked at how Paul was a competent scholar, modeled lifelong learning, led by teaching and was one of the few leaders recorded in the Bible who finished well, I ask the question: “What was the impact of the life of Paul of Tarsus? “

Not only was he largely responsible for turning the world of his time upside down (Acts 17:6) and establishing many churches (2 Corinthians 11:28), his writings have been a primary source for multitudes to experience spiritual freedom.  Saint Augustine and Martin Luther were but two men who attributed their radical change of mind and life to Paul’s teaching on justification by faith alone.  In Second Corinthians 3:17 Paul writes, “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”  Freedom in Christ by means of the Spirit is still the greatest message anyone can hear and believe!

Many a person has set his or her heart to study the life of Paul.  Of the many scholars we can read, none do a better job that F. F. Bruce.  In his introduction to Paul: Apostle of the heart set free, (p. 15) he provides this perspective:

For half a century and more I have been a student and teacher of ancient literature, and to no other writer of antiquity have I devoted so much time and attention as to Paul.  Nor can I think of a writer, ancient or modern, whose study is so richly rewarding as his.  This is due to several aspects of his many-faceted character: the attractive warmth of his personality, his intellectual stature, the exhilarating release effected by his gospel of redeeming grace, the dynamism with which he propagated that gospel throughout the world, devoting himself single mindedly to fulfilling the commission entrusted to him on the Damascus road (“this one thing I do”) and laboring more abundantly than all his fellow-apostles – “yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me”.

In his final sentences (p. 474) Bruce states:

Campaigner for spiritual liberty that he was, he gave one thing precedence even over liberty, and that one thing was love.  But spiritual liberty is not really diminished by love; both together are imparted by the Spirit, and to serve in love is perfect freedom.  In this, as in so many other respects, Paul has remained unsurpassed in his insight into the mind of Christ.

After Paul’s heart was set free, he set the world ablaze.  He sought to increasingly know Christ and to make Him known.  Although few, if any, of us followers of Jesus will have the impact of Paul, we all have the same transforming and empowering Spirit within us.  What will we do with this precious gift?  How will we steward the message entrusted to us?  Who or what will stop us?  When and how will we finish our race?  And, whose face will we be looking for as we run and when we cross our finish line?

We all have the opportunity to make an impact on our generation.  We do so as parents with children (and grandchildren), as neighbors, as work associates and as friends.  Living a life set free by the Spirit will enable us to model and share this transforming message to others.

Grace and peace to us all through Jesus Christ our Lord!

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Paul Finished Well

How could Paul so confidently say what he did in 2 Timothy 4:7-8?

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.

Let me suggest three factors from Paul’s life that allowed him (and anyone) to finish the spiritual journey here on earth well.

1. Paul clearly understood (and lived) his calling.

“So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance. (Acts 26:19-20)

For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. (1 Timothy 2:7)

2. Paul endured difficulty for the sake of his calling.

But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24)

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)

3. Paul’s calling directed but did not define him. His calling was always in mind but at the heart level was his relationship with Jesus and the crucifixion.

But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. (Philippians 1:21-24)

The clearer we understand our calling, the better able we will be to endure life’s challenges.  Our ability to endure to the end will depend on what motivates us at the deepest level.  Anything less than knowing Jesus and valuing the cross will produce a hindrance to finishing well.  So, let us apply what the writer to Hebrews concisely stated,

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

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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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