Thursday, August 16, 2007

Seven Reasons Why I Like the Apostle Paul

Here are seven reasons why I like Paul of Tarsus.

1. He is a fanatic. Fanaticism has a bad reputation. It brings to mind suicide bombers strapping explosives to their bodies, and going to crowded places to blow up innocent men, women and children. However, the meaning of a fanatic is a person who is totally devoted to a cause. Paul is a fanatic. He is totally committed to the God of his religion. He was so incensed when he heard about The Way which taught that the Messiah has come (and he was not consulted), that he packed his bags and sailed from Tarsus to Jerusalem to persecute the followers of The Way. In Jerusalem, he became the model for the later day Inquisitors by going from house to house and arresting the followers of Jesus.

Paul is so effective that he received a personal audience from the ascended Christ Himself! Paul still remained fanatic. However he is now a 180-degrees fanatic. He just turns the other direction and remain as fanatic as before. He now champions The Way and persecutes rabbinic Judaism! The scripture did not say it but I suspect the Jerusalem Christians gave a sigh of relief when they shipped Paul back to Tarsus.

I like Paul’s fanaticism. At least you know where he stands and his commitment. Instead of wallowing in self-pity and doubt when he discovered that he was actually persecuting the followers of the Messiah, he continued in His service. For Paul, there is no either/or/maybe. It is yes or no. I remembered what my mentor once told me. He was accused by an exasperated non-Christian that he is a fanatic. “Yes, I am a fanatic,” he answered, “now, what about you?” Resounding echoes of Paul in his rebuttal.

2. He is a systems thinker. A systems thinker is one who sees the whole picture without being bogged downed by details. That is what I like about Paul. He sees God’s plan of redemption of mankind and recreation. Paul is able to fit the jigsaw pieces of the Hebrew Bible and the gospel narratives of Jesus’ life and sees the big picture. And what was more amazing is that he is able to communicate it to others in ways that they understand. Many systems thinkers are lousy teachers. Paul’s earlier writings, in form of letters to the churches of Galatia, Thessalonica and Corinth were to address specific problems faced by these churches. Yet we see glimmers of his thinking in them. It is in the book of Romans that he blossoms and reveals God’s mighty plan for mankind and all of creation.

3. He is missional. Missional is a new word, coined by the emerging churches. When we use the word ‘mission’, we normally think of missionary going to do their work ‘over there.’ The emerging churches use the word missional to describe each of us becoming a missionary ‘over here’ or where we are now. This is another reason why I like Paul. He is not too worried about terms and set about doing what he is supposed to do and we stumble after him inventing words to describe what he did. He is missional before the word is invented. Another way to describe missional is: seeing where God is going and going with Him. That is exactly what Paul did. He sees that God’s plans involve all of mankind, not just the Jews. By default, he became the apostle to the Gentiles and I am eternally grateful to him.

4. He is courageous. How many people do you meet that can actually admit that they are wrong. “Oops. Sorry for persecuting you and leaving you in prison!” Paul was able to see his mistake and became a follower of Christ. Then he went and confront his old religion, rabbinic Judaism. Next he went and confronted the pillar of the church, Peter in Antioch. And he quarrelled with Barnabas because of John Mark. I love that guy. He is always confronting someone. Sometimes I wonder if his sufferings will be less if he is not so confrontational! Confrontation takes courage and Paul has courage. How many of us have the courage to confront the wrongs that we see? It is so much safer and easier to keep quiet and ignore it.

5. He is focussed. He knew what he has to do and he did it. He observes that a marathon runner has to lose excessive weight if he is to finish well. So Paul left all he had behind and set forth to fulfil his destiny and to suffer. He could have stayed at home in Tarsus. He would become the rabbi of a mega-synagogue, married a nice Jewish girl and have lots of little Pauls and Paulines running around. No, he detached himself from worldly attachments. In the end, he was executed by beheading at the side of a road outside a gate of Rome and buried in an unmarked grave. Regrets? He may have some but to echo Jim Elliot, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

6. He invests in people. Paul may be the foremost theologian of the Christ faith but what endear him to me are his relationships with people. His letters are full of greetings to people he had met, written to or referred to. In modern day terms, he is a foremost networker. But unlike the most networker who networks for the contacts she can use in her business, Paul’s networking is because he sees Christ in each of them. Paul is not into organisation or structures but into human resources. Paul believes that one person can make a difference. I wonder how many of us agree with Paul and believe that what each of us do here and now can make a difference. I believe if we see people as Paul sees them, we will spend more time with, and invest our resources in people.

7. He leaves an enduring legacy of hope. Paul is a reformed Pharisee, Hebrew scholar, inquisitor, theologian, missionary, pastor, teacher, church planter, mentor, and networker. He left behind a large body of writings that was never rivalled. However, the legacy he left with me is his humanity. He is honest about his struggles, his pride and his suffering. Paul suffered physical, mental, emotional and spiritual attacks. Yet, what shone though was his humanity; a man in the process of becoming a ‘new man in Christ.’ And that gives me hope. Paul’s legacy is his blessed hope; that one day, all pain and sufferings will end and we shall be with Jesus forever.

Paul is a fanatic/ systems thinker/ missional/courageous/ focussed/people orientated/eschatological hope-giving follower of the Way. Hey, he is a neat guy and I like him. I wonder if he plays golf.

more of my comments about Paul here

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