A friend of mine in Houston, Texas, a lawyer named Ron, as we were talking about the Apostle Paul, asked me one day: “Have you ever really thought about how much weight is given to the letters of a guy who has fits with blindness and was constantly tormented by his flesh?”
Yes, I have, some of which I have attempted to explain below. Additionally, I recognize that Paul, as being human and not Christ, is very much like you and I and every other human on the earth……….he is flesh…and shared that with us. I believe that we are all, in way or the other, tormented by the flesh and would not expect any other person in the Bible to be any less….Abraham, David, Moses, the apostles, and yes, even Paul. Throughout Scriptures, I have never seen where the people called by God were anything less than real. To me, it serves to constantly remind me of my humanity and dependance on God.
I understand where you are coming from with your question, as there are many things about Paul that must be reconciled within the framework of his background as well as the time in which he lived. Paul poses a problem for some. I come from the view that all Scripture is God breathed and therefore seek diligently to reconcile Paul with Christ rather than easily write him off. I would note that very few truths in life are absolute. Therefore, as God is sharing with us His wisdom, as great as it is…..I can see why it took a number of characters and situations to bring to bear the full meaning of God’s will.
Jesus taught equality among the sexes, races, and indeed of all people. Paul did also. Look at his letter to the Galatians (Galatians 3:28) in which Paul states, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” What, I believe, should be understood about Paul is that Paul clearly understood Jesus teachings about social justice, however, Paul also clearly believed that at any moment Jesus would return (apocalyptic thought). This led Paul to preach that believer’s shouldn’t so much worry about their present circumstances, because any moment there would be a radical change. Believer’s need do nothing but wait on the Lord. Paul believed that social change would indeed occur, but in the context of and what he believed would be very soon, a direct intervention from God.
I reconcile this in this way…..Jesus taught social and political change……..the seed was planted…once again. However, Jesus taught that this should happen through God’s mercy and grace, love and care…..not by armed revolution and violence. Indeed the seeds of social change have taken root, slavery is looked upon as being wrong in all western nations and most of the world, women and children are given the higher status that they deserve. So, then, what about Paul’s advice concerning these issues in his letters to various churches and pastors? Great advice in the day considering the social climate of the day. In Ephesia, women were pagan high priest and there was a problem of them introducing this heresy in the newly formed church…..and men in particular, accepted the Greek/Roman practice of pedophilia as normal and therefore, it was addressed also very strongly….it was good advice in it’s context…which we often do not look at closely, we only see it in the light of our present circumstances.
Ultimately, I believe that what God is telling us is to look and act upon the strength of His wisdom to love one another as ourselves, but that also we should do it within the framework of society. I believe that all Scripture from beginning to end should be read and reconciled in light of the teachings of Jesus, indeed God, come to earth in the flesh to explain and show us the reality of His message to us. I also recognize that change does not come overnight and that God does not desire armed revolution to achieve that change.
My friend Ron replied: “Jan – if you really look at Jesus, he was quite a radical for his time. For a first century Jew his conduct was practically scandalous. The phrase I like to use with the youth at church is “radical acceptance.” In many ways Jesus taught that Gods acceptance of us was more than we could imagine. I’ve grown to appreciate the dialectics of life. It is very paradoxical to say that God accepts you just as you are, while also saying that God desires to change you. Yet that is the real situation. We’re OK as we are, but yet it’s OK to change. This is the message I try to convey to the youth. God accepts you as you are, but it’s OK to start to want to change your life.
I really do admire Paul. His writings are so beautiful. He has such a way with words. For me, what we believe is not as important as being like Jacob. What is important to me is that we wrestle with God.”