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14.  Paul

14-1 The Conversion Of Paul / Saul || 14-2-1 Paul And His Brethren || 14-2-2 The Weakness Of Paul || 14-2-3 Paul: A Character Study || 14-3 The Preaching Of Paul || 14-4 Saul Changed To Paul || 14-5 Paul's Relationship With Jesus || 14-6 Paul And Christ  (1) || 14-6-1 Paul's Use Of The Gospels  || 14-6-2 Paul's Quotations From The Gospels: Statistics || 14-6-3-1 Paul's Quotations From The Gospels: Analysis And Implications || 14-6-3-2 Inspiration: The Human Factor || 14-6-3-3 The Enigma Of John's Gospel || 14-6-3-4 The Nature Of The Gospel Records || 14-6-3-5 Memorizing Scripture || 14-6-4 The Supremacy Of Christ || 14-7 Paul And Christ (2) || 14-7-1 Paul's Use Of The Gospels: Further Observations || 14-7-2 Paul And The Parables || 14-7-3 Paul's Use Of The Sermon On The Mount (Mt. 5 - 7) || 14-7-4 Paul's Exposition Of Gethsemane || 14-7-5 Paul And The Characters In The Gospels || 14-7-6 Paul In The Gospels || 14-7-7 Paul And John The Baptist || 14-7-8 Saul, Paul And Stephen || 14-7-9 Following Elders || 14-7-10 Connections Between The Gospels And Epistles: Observations || 14-8 Paul's Heroes || 14-8-1 Paul And Moses || 14-8-2 Paul And King Saul || 14-9   Paul and Corinth || 14-10 Paul And His Weak Brethren || 14-11 Paul's Thorn In The Flesh || 14-12 Paul's Shipwreck  || 14-13 Paul’s Self-Perception || 14-14 Paul, Philemon and Onesimus || 14-15 Chronology of Paul’s Life

14-2-1 Paul And His Brethren

Paul's attitude to his brethren seems to have changed markedly over the years. He begins as being somewhat detached from them; perhaps as all new converts are initially. We see the Truth for what it is, we realize we had to make the commitment we did, and we are happy to do our own bit in preaching the Truth. But often a real concern and care for our brethren takes years to develop. Paul seems to tell the Galatians that the Gospel he preached had not been given to him by men, because in the early days after his conversion he was rather indifferent towards other Christian believers; " (Paul) conferred not with flesh and blood" after his conversion, neither did he go to see the apostles in Jerusalem to discuss how to preach to Israel; instead, Paul says, he pushed off to Arabia for three years in isolation. He was unknown by face to the Judaean ecclesias, and even after his return from Arabia, he made no special effort to meet up with the Apostles (Gal. 1). The early Paul comes over as self-motivated, a maverick, all too ready to fall out with Barnabas, all too critical of Mark for failing to rise up to Paul's level of fearless devotion (Acts 15:39). It may even be that Paul's dislike of Mark was for deeper reasons than just surface irritation. The Spirit in Acts 15:38 says that Paul considered that Mark had not gone with them to the work. This is quoting the Septuagint of 1 Sam. 30:22, where " all the wicked men and men of Belial, of those that went with David, said, Because they went not with us, we will not give them ought of the spoil" . Why does the Spirit make this connection? Is it not suggesting that Paul, zealous soldier of David / Jesus as he was, was in those early days in some sense a man of Belial, bent on achieving his own glory in preaching, and unwilling to share it with anyone who wasn't spiritually or physically strong enough to do it as he was (cp. the weaker followers of David)? If this is the case, then this is a far, far cry from the Paul who wrote his letters some years later, begging Timothy to come to encourage him, and letters in which the care of all the churches weighs down his soul daily, coming upon him as he woke up each morning (2 Cor. 11:28); the Paul who repeatedly encourages the weak, treating weak and strong as all the same in many ways, until he eventually attains a level of selfless devotion to his weak brethren that is only surpassed by the Lord Himself. Paul endured one of the most traumatic lives ever lived- beaten with rods, shipwrecked, sleepless, cold, naked, betrayed, robbed, beaten, and so much of this isn’t recorded (e.g. the three shipwrecks and two of the beatings with rods he speaks of in 2 Cor. 11 aren’t mentioned in Acts). And yet he implies that even more than all that, he felt the pressure of care for his brethren in the churches. His heart so bled for them… 

The " contention" between Paul and Barnabas is described in a word which occurs only thrice elsewhere. In Heb. 10:24, a more mature Paul speaks of how we should consider one another to " provoke unto love and good works" . Surely he wrote this with a sideways glance back at his earlier example of provoking unto bitterness and division. Likewise he told the Corinthians that he personally had stopped using the miraculous Spirit gifts so much, but instead concentrated on developing a character dominated by love, which was not easily provoked (1 Cor. 13:5). The Spirit seems to have recognized Paul's change, when Acts 17:16  records how Paul's spirit was " stirred" at the spiritual need of the masses, and thereby he was provoked to preach to them; rather, by implication, than being provoked by the irritations of weaker brethren. In Gal. 2:20, Paul wrote of “the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me”; and yet some years later he wrote in conscious allusion to this statement: “Christ loved the church and gave himself for it” (Eph. 5:25). He looed out from beyond his personal salvation to rejoice in the salvation of others. He learnt that it was God manifestation in a multitude, not individual human salvation, that was and is of the essence. And we follow a like path, from that day when we were asked ‘why do you want to be baptized’, and we replied something to the effect ‘because I want to be in the Kingdom’.  

It has been pointed out by F.F. Bruce (1) that Paul's later letters reveal a marked and progressive fondness for Greek words compounded from syn-, i.e. together / with (e.g. synergos, co-worker;  synaichmalatos, co-prisoner). Priscilla, Aquilla, Timothy, Titus, Marcus, Archippus, Luke, Aristarchus, Tychicus, Epaphras, Demas, Epaphroditus, Clement, Philemon, Euodias, Syntyche (the last two being weak in terms of spiritual behaviour)...all of these are described by Paul with a syn- compound word. It seems  that as he matured, Paul needed his brethren, he realized he wasn't so alone and strong-willed as he had once been, he saw the Christ in his brethren. Often he speaks of his urgent desire to see the face of his brethren (Rom. 1:11; 15:24; Phil. 1:27; 1 Thess. 2:17; 3:6,10; Heb. 13:23). This is a far cry from the Paul who ran away from his brethren soon after his baptism. He progressed from this to the maturity of being willing to give his life for his beloved brethren: " So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us" (1 Thess. 2:8). Even for aggressive, critical Corinth, he felt the same: " I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls" (2 Cor. 12:15 AVmg.). Nearly all references to Paul's " joy" are in the context of his joy at the prospect of others' spiritual development and salvation (Acts 13:52; Rom. 5:11; 15:32; 2 Cor. 2:3; 7:4,6,13; Phil. 1:14,18; 2:2,17; 4:1; 1 Thess. 2:19,20; 3:9; 2 Tim. 1:4; Philemon 7,20). He even told Corinth that he had abased himself so that they might be exalted (2 Cor. 11:7). This is one of Paul's many allusions to the Gospels; this time to Lk. 14:11; 18:14, which teach that he who abases himself will himself be exalted. But Paul was abasing himself so that Corinth could be exalted, so that they could share the exaltation he would receive on account of his humility. In all this, of course, he reflected to his brethren the very essence of the attitude of the Lord Jesus for toward us.  

One of the (many) agonies of Paul's soul was that he felt that his brethren did not appreciate the depth of love which he had for them. Israel certainly didn't; and he loved them to the same extent as Moses did, willing, at least in theory, to give his eternal salvation so that they might be saved (Rom. 9:3). The more (Gk. 'the more-and-more-abundantly') he loved Corinth, the less they realized his love, and the more they turned away from him (2 Cor. 2:4; 12:15); and he so earnestly wished (Gk.) that the believers in Colosse and Laodicea appreciated how much he spiritually cared for them (Col. 2:1). Paul had enough self-knowledge to say that his love for Corinth was growing more and more (although this was expressed in an ever-increasing concern for their doctrinal soundness); he told the Thessalonians that his love for them was increasing and abounding (2 Cor. 12:15; 1 Thess. 3:12). And Paul could therefore exhort the Philippians and Thessalonians to also increase and abound in their love for each other, after Paul's example (Phil. 1:9; 1 Thess. 3:12). Paul's love for his brethren grew and grew, even though they didn't notice this. The 'you don't know just how much I love you' syndrome is surely one of the cruellest in human experience. A growth in true love, true concern, isn't always apparent to our brethren. But if our growth is after Paul's pattern (and surely it can be on no other pattern); then this will be our experience too. Consider how and why Christ offered him the choice of death; Paul declined it because he saw it was more needful to remain with the new converts (Phil. 1:21-23). This accounts for his emphasis in Philippians on how much he desired their growth; because he had chosen to stay alive in this mortal flesh solely because he wanted to achieve this. The tragedy was that all in Asia turned away- when he had ‘risked’ remaining alive, with the full knowledge he could himself fall away, having been offered certain salvation- all for their sakes.

In Phil. 2:17, Paul says that he saw his brethren as an altar, upon which he was being offered up as a sacrifice. He saw his brethren as the means by which he could serve God. And for us too, the community of believers, the ecclesia, be they strong or weak, a pain in the neck or wonderful encouragement, are simply the method God has chosen for us to offer ourselves to Him. Running around for others, caring of others, patient sensitivity with our brethren… these are but the altar provided by God, upon which we can serve Him and give ourselves to Him.


(1) See F.F. Bruce, The Pauline Circle (Exeter: Paternoster, 1985).