I believe that if I stood next to the Apostle Paul today that I would be inspired, spurred on in my faith, and also awestruck at his commitment to the Lord and His bride, the church. The Apostle Paul was a man who exhibited an ideal of Christian leadership that is far beyond what most Christian leaders today would see as normative.
Paul was “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:5-6). It was in this state that Jesus met Paul on the Damascus road, asked Paul why he was persecuting Him, Paul was blinded, and Jesus later said that Paul would suffer many things for the sake of “my name” (Acts 9:16). Paul began as a zealous man, but became “holy” zealous for Christ's sake on the Damascus road, and that zeal would see him through many sufferings, or as he called them “weaknesses.” Paul states in 2 Corinthians 11:21-33:
To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!
But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak [suffering], and I am not weak [suffering]? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness [sufferings]. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.
Paul described his weakness with two words astheneō (v.29) meaning “to be without strength, powerless” and astheneia (v.30) “feebleness of health or sickness…to bear trials and troubles.” In the context of how Paul describes his weakness, he’s equating his suffering to weakness.
With Paul as a prototype, the questions for Christian leaders are: 1) are we willing to suffer for the sake of Christ's name, and 2) do we lay down our lives, as Paul did, for the sake of God’s people?
The application of these questions will vary depending on, like Paul, God’s specific calling and context; however, the principle remains - are we living out our call from God? What is striking about Paul’s example is how he illustrates the two greatest commandments to love God and love people (Matthew 22:36-40). Paul suffered for the sake of Christ's name (not for the glorification of himself, his agenda, or his ministry label), and his churches were the benefactors of his suffering. As Christian leaders, are we allowing anything to impede us from living as Paul and fulfilling the two greatest commandments? Do we shrink back at suffering and use it as an excuse to not bring further glory to God’s name and to not give up ourselves for the benefit of others?
Christian leaders, does your heart echo Paul’s statement? “That with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21).
The impediments of obedience are the detriments of our joy in Christ. Christian leaders, let us cast off anything that hinders full obedience that Paul’s life exemplifies, so that we may have the joy of our master, and see the bride of Christ flourish in our day and for generations to come. Pray with me:
Father, I ask for the same zeal as Paul, to live fully in Your calling for me, and bear suffering for Your name as necessary. Forgive me for choosing comfort instead of Your calling on my life--for this I repent now. Empower me by Your grace so that my life will be a pleasing offering to You (Romans 12:1).
Ministry Director, Christian Union Martus
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