14-7-7 Paul And John The Baptist
An analysis of the data presented above reveals that
Paul alluded to some parts of the Gospels much more than others. An
example of this is the way in which he alluded so extensively to the
passages related to John the Baptist. I would suggest that the reason
for this is that he saw John as somehow his hero, one for whom he had a
deep respect. In doing so he was sharing the estimation of his Lord,
who also saw John as one of the greatest believers. There are many
'unconscious' links between Paul's writings and the records of John,
indicating how deeply the example and words of John were in Paul's mind
(e.g. Mt. 3:7 = 1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9; Jn. 3:31 = 1 Cor. 15:47). Or
consider how John said that wicked Jewry would be " hewn down" (Mt.
3:10); Paul uses the very same word to describe how the Jewish branches
had now been " cut off" (Rom. 11:22,24). Paul saw himself as being like
the best man, who had betrothed the believers to Christ (2 Cor.
11:2,3)- just as John had described himself as the friend of the
bridegroom (Jn. 3:28). Or again, reflect how Paul's mention of John in
Acts 13:24,25 apparently adds nothing to his argument; it seems out of
context. But it surely indicates the degree to which John was never far
below the surface in Paul's thinking.
It seems likely that Paul went to hear John the Baptist
preach: " There went out to him all the land of Judea and they of
Jerusalem" (Mk. 1:5), and at this time Paul was living in Jerusalem. I
believe Paul heard John and was convicted by him of Christ. John
preached the need to " bring forth fruits meet unto repentance" (Mt.
3:8); and Paul made those his own watchwords in his world-wide
preaching (Acts 26:20). John's mission was to prepare Israel for
Christ, to figuratively 'bring low' the hills and mountains,
the proud Jews of first century Israel, and raise the valleys, i.e.
inspire the humble with the real possibility of salvation in Christ
(Lk. 3:5). Paul uses the same Greek word for " bring low" no fewer than
three times, concerning how the Gospel has humbled him (Acts 20:19; 2
Cor. 11:7; Phil. 4:12). It's as if he's saying: 'John's preaching did
finally have it's effect upon me; it did finally make me humble enough
for the Lord Jesus'. And as John made straight paths for men's feet
that they might come unto Christ (Mt. 3:3), so did Paul (Heb. 12:13).
We also observe that the only street name recorded in the Bible is
"Straight Street", the location in Damascus where Paul finally accepted
Christ (Acts 9:11); and we are tempted to make the connection with
John's preparing of the "straight" way for Christ, which came to term
finally with Paul's spiritual rebirth.
Paul seems to have admired the humility John the Baptist
manifested in his preaching. He knew he had been chosen from the womb
for his mission, as John had been (Gal. 1:15 = Lk. 1:15). He
describes his preaching in language which is directly alluding to how
John preached (Acts 26:20 = Mt. 3:8). As John said that he was sent
to baptize, but especially to witness of Christ (Jn. 1:33), so Paul
felt that he too was sent to baptize, but his emphasis was
more on the preaching of Christ than physically baptizing (1 Cor.
1:17). As John preached repentance with a deep sense of his own
unworthiness, so did Paul, with exactly that same sense (Acts 13:24,25
= 17:3; 20:21; 26:20). John described himself as a preacher of Christ
who was not " worthy" to do so (Mt. 3:11). The same Greek word is used
by Paul when he says he is " not meet (s.w.) to be called an
apostle" (1 Cor. 15:9); and that it was God's grace alone that had made
him an " able (s.w. " worthy" ) minister of the Gospel" (2
Cor. 13:6). He knew that his " sufficiency" (s.w. " worthy" )
to give knowledge of salvation (John language- Lk. 1:77), to be a
preacher, was from God alone (2 Cor. 2:16; 3:5); and that in fact this
was true of all preachers. But do we really feel like this in
our preaching? John was a burning and shining light to the world (Jn.
5:35), just as we should be (Phil. 2:15). And therefore, if we are to
witness as John did, we need to have the humility of John in our
preaching. He was 'in the Truth' from a baby, he lived a spiritual,
self-controlled life. And yet he had this great sense of personal
sinfulness and unworthiness as a preacher. It's difficult for those
raised Christian to have the sense of sinfulness which Paul had, and
thereby to have his zeal for preaching. But actually his zeal was a
reflection of John's; and John was a 'good boy', brought up in the
Truth. Yet he had a burning sense of his spiritual inadequacy.
Anglo-Saxon Christianity urgently needs to capture his spirit.
Truly Paul 'bore' Christ to the world just as John
'bore' (s.w.) Christ's Gospel (Acts 9:15 = Mt. 3:11). He was to bring
others to the light just as John had (Lk. 1:77,79 = Acts 13:47;
26:18,23). Paul knew from all this that John the baptist was his
example: a man increasingly dwarfed by the utter supremacy of the Lord
Jesus Christ, dogged by a sense of his own unworthiness, but deeply
committed to spreading the knowledge of the glory of the Lord Jesus to
others. We have shown elsewhere (Paul and Christ) that Paul
achieved this; it is possible to trace an increasing awareness within
him of the Lordship of Christ, of his own sinfulness, and of his ever
increasing zeal for the preaching of the word (2 Tim. is classic proof
of this). Sadly many a twentieth century disciple has lost his (or her)
enthusiasm for these things once they hit their 30s. Paul felt he was "
less than the least" of all saints, that he would be the least in the
Kingdom (Eph. 3:8). He uses a closely related word to that used by John
when he spoke of how he must " decrease" (Jn. 3:30). It was as if he
felt like John at his most 'decreased', in prison at Machaerus, fearing
death; and remember that Paul wrote Ephesians from prison too. But John
was weak in prison; he doubted (momentarily) whether Jesus was the
Messiah, " him that should come" (Lk. 7:19). Yet Paul seems to allude
to this when he says that " he that shall come will come" (Heb. 10:37)-
as if to say 'John, my hero, you had your weak moments too, but I've
tried to learn the lesson from them'.
Paul's enthusiasm for John the Baptist was not just a
passing phase; unlike our rather fleeting enthusiasm for Bible
characters, as they come and go in our minds as we 'do our readings' or
hear them spoken about in depth at a Bible School. As he began his
first imprisonment in Rome, Paul's mind was still with John (Acts 28:28
= Lk. 3:6). And in his time of dying (at which he wrote 2 Tim.), John
his hero was still in Paul's mind. Paul speaks of finishing his course
(Acts 20:24; 2 Tim. 4:7), using a word only used elsewhere concerning
John finishing his course (Acts 13:25).
Paul was keen for others to copy John the baptist, to
find in him the inspiration which he too had found. So he encourages
his Ephesians not to drink wine but instead be filled with the Spirit
(Eph. 5:18)- the very language of John (Lk. 1:15). In other words, 'Be
like that Spirit-filled zealot John rather than enjoying the sloppy
pleasures of this life!'. He saw John as an cameo of all the faithful
(Heb. 11:37 = Mk. 1:6 and 1 Cor. 15:47 = Jn. 3:31).
God seems to have recognized with pleasure the degree to
which Paul modelled his life on John, in that Paul's experiences of
life were over-ruled to have connections with those of John. These
connections simply could not have been engineered by Paul; e.g.
the way in which they both died in prison at the behest of a crazy,
woman-influenced despot. The Spirit also seems to make connections
between John and Paul in the manner in which it describes them (e.g.
Lk. 1:14 = Acts 15:13; 13:52; Lk. 1:15 = Acts 9:17; 13:9; Lk. 3:18 =
Acts 13:15-19; Jn. 1:7,8,15 = Acts 23:11; 26:22; Jn. 3:27 = 1 Cor.
2:8-16). And the Spirit in Acts 19:18 seems to portray Paul in the
language of John: " they came (to Paul) and confessed, and shewed their
deeds" - just as men had to John.