Understanding Paul, part 5

Read 1 Corinthians 4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE “I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.” (Philippians 4:12 NLT)

Probably_Valentin_de_Boulogne_-_Saint_Paul_Writing_His_Epistles_-_Google_Art_ProjectOver the past four devotions we have explored the Apostle Paul, we discussed how he is the most influential person in Christian history, discussed how he was practicing “situational theology” in order to address specific issues that had risen up in his church communities, how he sacrificed his life in order to unify the church in the midst of divisive opposition, and how he more than likely did not write all of the letters in the New Testament that are attributed to him. At this point, one may be still trying to understand what all of this means for us today. What can we actually know about Paul if we are not even sure what he did or didn’t write? Also, how do we know what Paul actually believed if his letters are merely responses to specific and contextual situations as they were arising in his church communities? In the end, I believe the best way to understand Paul and what he believed is to look at the undisputed letters, the ones that are universally accepted as being his, and see what key recurring theological components make themselves known to us.

When we read Paul’s undisputed letters of 1 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Romans, Philemon and Philippians we notice certain things that are central to Pauline theological understanding. Paul believes that his authority as an Apostle comes from a private revelation of the risen Christ (Galatians 1:11-12, 15-17) and not from the approval of any other human being. Paul believes that Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise to bless the world through Abraham. Through faith in Christ, the whole world can now  be included in the Jewish covenant. What this means is that God, through Jesus Christ, brings about the salvation of the whole world (Galatians 3:3-9, 14; Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10-11). What’s more, Paul believed that Christ would return and bring with him the reign and eternal presence of God (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18). While all of this is now taken for granted, or completely overlooked, this is the beginning of the more profound and radical views that Paul held.

Paul is often held up as the conservative icon of the church, as partner in ministry with Peter, the reality is that Paul was pushing the envelope in ways that often set him apart from and in opposition to Peter (Galatians 2:11-16). He believed that God created all people equal. Where the world segregates and divides, Paul believed that in Christ was freedom and equality (Galatians 3:25-29). In an age that accepted slavery, Paul challenged a church leader to release his slave and accept them in an equal (Philemon 1:16). In an age where women were property, Paul viewed women as co-workers, deacons, and leaders in the church. He even acknowledged being personally supported by Phoebe (Romans 16:1). Most important, Paul believed in the unity of believers and he literally died trying to make that a reality (Romans 15:30-32). He believed that the spirit of Christ is the spirit of love, and that we Christians have been filled with that spirit (1 Corinthians 13). He saw all believers as making up the resurrected body of Christ. He also believed that, as the body of Christ, all Christians are called to serve the poor, heal the sick, and carry on the ministry of Christ in the world.

If we as Christians are going to take Paul seriously and take his writings as Scripture, we need to open ourselves to the kind of transformation he advocated. We need to begin to work for hope, healing, and wholeness in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord. We need to start working toward the Kingdom of Heaven as revealed to us by Christ through his servant Paul. As can be seen, there is no doubt that without Paul, Christianity would not be the same. With that said, the truth is (and I believe Paul would agree) that the same is true about you and me. Without us, the body of Christ, there would be no church. Let us realize this, pick up the torch, and carry it forward brining the light of Christ into the darkness.

“Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

Lord, strengthen me in my faith so that I may, like your servant Paul, bring your light into this dark and broken world. Amen.

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