Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Paul an egoist?

Some have been struck with the thought that Paul was, perhaps, a bit prideful, because of his seemingly self-indulgent language in his letter to the Philippians. For instance, I recently read on someone's blog:

This book is more about Paul than anything else. In reading it today, I was struck with the thought that Paul was, perhaps, a bit prideful. I don’t know that for sure, and I feel like I shouldn’t be saying that about the man who wrote the majority of the new testament, but that’s what came across in this book. Statements like,

Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.

it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.

Join with others in following my example, brothers…

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice.

I
have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

My comment on this post:

Though Paul often speaks of himself in this letter, it is possible that Paul had good reason for these statements. This was a church that Paul founded (Acts 16). Paul was these believers’ spiritual father. Through him, the gospel had come to them. The Philippian believers had heard that Paul was in prison (in chains) and they were worried about him (see Phil 4:10).

Part of the reason that Paul writes this letter is because he wants them to know that what has happened to him, rather than thwart the purposes of the gospel, have actually caused it to spread (Phil 1:12-14). He tells his readers, Yes, I am in chains, but these chains have not bound the gospel! It could appear that if Paul, the one who first brought them the gospel, were being persecuted, then maybe the truth of the gospel is not genuine. Paul puts this to rest by showing that in all circumstances he can be content through Christ who strengthens him (4:12-13).

As their spiritual father, it only makes sense that he would encourage them to be like himself because he is seeking to be like Christ (he is in chains for the sake of the gospel). He asks them to put into practice what he has preached to them, but he himself is putting these same things into practice! He is practicing what he himself has preached. The one Paul is longing to know and be conformed to is the one who has made himself nothing (2:5-11).

Even to dispel the notion that he thinks that he has achieved all the things he is asking his readers to do, he reminds them that he has not obtained it already “or have already become perfect” (3:12). He himself is pressing on to lay hold of Christ (3:12-16).

Rather than pridefully holding on to his achievements and demanding that others conform to him, Paul has rather considered all his own achievements as “loss for the sake of Christ” (3:7).

I think Paul’s statements in Philippians should be interpreted in light of his circumstances and position as his readers’ spiritual leader. He suffers things so that his readers may know the savior that he has come to cherish and suffer for. Imitating Paul, entails imitating Christ. As he says, on the one hand he has worked more than any of them, but on the other, it was “yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

I wish I could be as humble as Paul was.

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