Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
What is your number one focus in life? Since this is a Bible blog, you already know that the correct answer is “God” or “Jesus” or something to that effect. But putting our church faces aside, let’s be honest: your main focus is probably you – I know mine is. Sure, you may care about others; but in the grand scheme of things almost everyone is looking out for number one. But not Paul. As I listened to the Bible on my mp3 player, the Holy Spirit reminded me just how messed up (by human standards) Paul’s priorities were.
Paul once wrote, “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9). If Paul is the lowest of the apostles, the bottom of the barrel of Christ-followers, then we’re all screwed; because he also wrote in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” and actually lived like it! He dedicated his life to spreading the gospel and to saving as many people as he possible could. Actually, he even wrote, “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible” (1 Corinthians 9:19).
Consider Paul’s work after he was arrested. During his trial before King Agrippa, Paul kept trying to work Christ’s resurrection and salvation into his defense. It got to the point where Festus, the Governor, couldn’t take it anymore. Scripture records his response, “At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. ‘You are out of your mind, Paul!’ he shouted. ‘Your great learning is driving you insane’” (Acts 26:24). And Paul’s response was even more fun, “’I am not insane, most excellent Festus,’ Paul replied. ‘What I am saying is true and reasonable’” (Acts 26:25). Rather than try to get back on track, Paul just kept talking about Jesus as much as he could, even if he sounded crazy. Here he was, chained as a prisoner, and he cared more about getting the officials to Christ than escaping from his situation. During the trial he continued on preaching and history has marked it down as Paul kept going:
“King Agrippa, do you believe in the prophets? I know you do.”
Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”
Paul replied, “Short time or long – I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains” (Acts 26:27-29).
Paul knew he sounded crazy; but he didn’t care. He just kept trying to plant the seeds of salvation, even in the direst of circumstances. But how could he care about his image? Paul knew that the gospel was hard for non-Christians to accept. He wrote,
Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 22-24).
Paul never stopped talking about Jesus. He would even talk all night if he felt the need was there. Actually, the Bible records one such instance. We read,
On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. Seated in a widow was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!” Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left (Acts 20:7-11).
What always gets me is that even after some dude almost died Paul just kept right on preaching. He had such a one-tracked mind.
Even later, while seriously in prison, Paul focused on Jesus. Philippians 1:12-13 records,
Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.
Paul was chained to Roman guards probably 24/7, and what did he do? He used the chains to hold a captive audience with his ramblings about Christ. Even when unscrupulous preachers started popping up everywhere, Paul didn’t complain. He wrote,
It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice (Philippians 1:15-18).
You know, these days we get so bent out of shape from greedy or problematic pastors. Heck, there are websites devoted to basically knocking down every well-known Christian preacher for being “false prophets.” But Paul’s stance was, “If people are getting saved, then why are we complaining?” I recently heard another pastor make the same comment; he noted that yeah, some pastors are greedy, but their congregations trust Christ. We fight amongst the various sects of the church but Paul only focused on one thing, “Is Jesus being preached as the savior?” We modern Christians need to wake up and stop splitting hairs on doctrine. Now, should corruption be cut out? Absolutely, but don’t turn church into a witch hunt either
Towards the end of his life, during his trial in Rome, Paul didn’t so much care about his defense as he did about preaching to the Roman officials. We read from Paul’s hand,
At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth (2 Timothy 4:16-17).
Paul’s mind only had one focus: bringing the rest of the world to salvation. To this extent he even once wrote,
For I wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs is the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises (Romans 9:3-4).
That’s hardcore. If it came down to a choice between you or me; screw you I’m going to heaven. But that’s not how Paul operated – and thank the Lord for that.
Alright, now I’ve talked a whole lot about how awesome Paul was in Christ. I’ve heard plenty of seminars where the lecturer says “Don’t tell people they should be like folks in the Bible.” And that’s true; I’m not telling you to be Paul. In fact, I’m not even telling you to tell you to lay down your life for God; because Jesus tells you that much in Matthew 16:24, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’” God expects you to go full Paul in life. But I know that it’s almost impossible to do so. What I am suggesting to you is that you focus a little less on yourself and a bit more on Christ and let him slowly take over in your life. As John the Baptist said of him vs. Jesus, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). I think that’s just about as good of a mantra as any of us could follow.