14-3 The Preaching Of Paul
There can be no doubt that Saul of Tarsus was the rising star of the
Jewish world. There can be no doubt of his intellectual ability, of his
personal charisma. The way Paul in Galatians could cite Old Testament
passages which combine the words ‘right’ and ‘faith’ is not only due to
inspiration- he would have memorized the Old Testament as many Jews did,
and yet like a computer search program, was able to pull out passages
combining certain words- e.g. the only one combining ‘curse’ and ‘law’
The Roman Governor Felix trembled at Paul's incisive logic- even
in his prison uniform (Acts 24:25). Hardened Agrippa was almost persuaded
by Paul, on his own public admission, to become a Christian (Acts 26:28).
The Galatian converts would have pulled out their eyes from their sockets
and given them to partially sighted Paul (Gal. 4:15). The aggressive crowd,
baying for Paul's blood, were held in one of history's most uncanny silences
by the sheer personality of that preacher. He beckoned with his hand,
and " there was made a great silence...and when they heard how (Gk.)
he spake...they kept the more silence" (Acts 21:39-22:2). Pagans
at Lystra were so overcome by his oratory that they were convinced he
was the god Mercury come down to earth; it took Paul quite some effort
to persuade them that he was an ordinary man (Acts 14:12). This was the
man Paul. He had undoubted ability as a preacher. In passing, the Corinthians
mocked his weak physical presence; and yet Paul had undoubted charisma
and power of personality, right up to the end. Was it not that he consciously
suppressed the power of his personality when he visited Corinth? This
was humility and self-knowledge indeed. Indeed, his reasoning in 2 Cor.
10,11 is that he could present himself to Corinth as quite a different
brother Paul than what he did.
After his conversion, we sense from the record that the preaching Paul
was in his element. The record of his early preaching in Damascus and
Jerusalem is recorded with the same rubric: he preached " boldly"
, and on each occasion it seems he would have gone on, utterly oblivious
of the fact he was heading for certain death, had not the other brethren
" taken" him and quietly slipped him out of those cities (Acts
9:27). The same word translated " boldly" occurs later, years
later, when Paul asks his converts to pray for him, that he would speak
" boldly, as I ought to speak" (Eph. 6:20). He has already asked
them this in v.19; he asks for the same thing twice. And he confessed
his same problem to the Colossians (Col. 4:4). As he got older, he found
it harder to be bold. First of all, in those heady days in Jerusalem and
Damascus, it was the most natural thing in the world for him. But as time
went by, it became harder for him to do this. Acts 18:4,5 implies that
when Paul first came to Corinth, he concentrated on his tent making business,
and confined his preaching to arguing with the Jews at synagogue on the
Sabbath. But when Silas and Timothy came, their presence made him "
pressed in the spirit" to launch an all-out campaign. No longer was
he the self-motivated maverick. He needed the presence of others to stir
up his mind and prod him onwards. He admitted to those he converted in
Corinth as a result of this campaign that such preaching was against his
will, he had had to consciously make himself do it (1 Cor. 9:17). Indeed,
the Lord Jesus Himself had had to appear to Paul in a vision and encourage
him not to suppress his preaching on account of his fear of persecution
(Acts 18:9). Therefore he later told the Corinthians that he feared condemnation
if he gave in to his temptation not to preach (1 Cor. 9:16). On the voyage
to Rome, it was only after much " abstinence" that Paul openly
preached to the crew and other prisoners (Acts 27:21)- as if he struggled
against a shyness in public testifying.
Yet we have seen that initially, Paul was a bold, fearless preacher.
By the end of his life, he had to fervently pray to have that boldness
he once had. He asked at least two ecclesias to pray for him to continue
to have it. He says in 2 Cor. 10:1 that now he tends to be more bold in
written words, rather than in personal presence. And he tells Philemon
(v.8) that although he could be bold in his writing to him, he isn't going
to be; he's going to beseech him, " for love's sake...being
such an one as Paul the aged" (Philemon 9). Yet Paul knew himself
well enough to be able to say that he was always bold (Phil.
1:20; as confirmed in Acts 26:26 Gk.; 28:31 RV; 19:8; 1 Thess. 2:2; Rom.
15:15). He was practising what he preached in Heb. 3:6; 10:35: the need
to hold fast our initial boldness (Gk.) steadfast unto the end.
Paul could only do what he once did so effortlessly through a great spiritual
effort. Moses likewise was " mighty in words" for 40 years in
the court of Pharaoh. But at age 80, he complained that he was not mighty
in words to go and speak to Pharaoh. Yet, eventually, he did. He did what
was now against the grain for him. On a surface level, it's clear that
the unbridled enthusiasm for preaching of our early months after baptism
is difficult to maintain; yet maintain it we must. But there is a deeper
principle here. We are being asked to pick up the cross, to do what is
difficult for us, as an act of the will. If we find one aspect of service
easy, it often becomes harder. If Moses had to speak to Pharaoh at age
40, it would have been easier than at age 80, after 40 lonely years in
the wilderness. If Paul had to preach boldly just for his first few years,
it would have been easy. And so with each of us. Entertaining brethren
and sisters, going to meetings...what was once easy and natural becomes
more difficult, it requires more will power and conscious motivation,
as time goes by. We are being taught, by the changes in our own personality
and situation, to pick up the cross, to walk out against the wind, to
cut against the grain . I think we'll each perceive some element of this
as we look back over the years. And as a community, we are being made,
yes made, to face up to issues which once seemed so easy, but
are now altogether more painful to cope with.
As A Nazarited Preacher
Paul was called to be a
preacher of the Gospel, and yet he speaks of his work as a preacher as if it
were a Nazarite vow- which was a totally voluntary commitment. Consider not
only the reference to him shaving his head because of his vow (Acts 18:18;
21:24 cp. Num. 6:9-18), but also the many descriptions of his preaching work
in terms of Nazariteship:
unto the Gospel’s work (Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:15; Acts 13:2)
“I am not
yet consecrated / perfected” (Phil. 3:12)- he’d not yet finished his
‘course’, i.e. his preaching commission. He speaks of it here as if it were
a Nazarite vow not yet ended. Note the reference to his ‘consecration’ in
undertaking not to drink wine lest he offend others (Rom. 14:21) is framed
in the very words of Num. 6:3 LXX about the Nazarite.
his being ‘joined unto the Lord’ (1 Cor. 6:17; Rom. 14:6,8) is the language
of Num. 6:6 about the Nazarite being separated unto the Lord.
reference to having power / authority on the head (1 Cor. 11:10) is
definitely some reference back to the LXX of Num. 6:7 about the Nazarite.
What are we to make of
all this? The point is perhaps that commitment to active missionary work is
indeed a voluntary matter, as was the Nazarite vow. And that even although
Paul was called to this, yet he responded to it by voluntarily binding
himself to ‘get the job done’. And the same is in essence true for us today
in our various callings in the Lord’s service.