Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.
Over the next few weeks, we will consider prayers from the apostle Paul. But first, a confession: I find Paul’s personilty and his writings difficult. He seems a driven man, first when he persecuted the church, then when he travelled the world as a missionary and wrote hard-hitting theological letters. I might enjoy interviewing him for a news story, but I wouldn’t want to travel with him. And I would not be enthusiastic about sharing his arguments and imprisonments and beatings and shipwrecks.
Even today, his harsh judgments and confrontational style intimidate me and make me feel guilty.
Here’s an example. In Galatians, Paul says, “When Peter came to Antioch I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned. . . . I said to Peter in front of them all, ‘You are a Jew yet you live like a Gentile. So why do you force the Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” Sounds like a Type-A personality–tightly wound, intense, impatient, verging on hostility. “I opposed him to his face,” he says.
And there’s Paul’s lovely little suggestion to those advocating circumcision for Christians. He says, “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and castrate themselves” (Galatians 5:12). Was circumcision really that big a deal?
At one point, Paul parted company with his friend and colleague, Barnabus, rather than give Mark, who had deserted him, a second chance (Acts 15:36-29). I would not have fared well under Paul’s supervision.
And yet, from this hard nosed Type-A personality comes some of the most compassionate and fatherly statements in scripture. He calls Timothy “My dear son” (2 Tim. 1:2). He writes to the Thessalonians, “We were gentle among you like a nursing mother caring for her children” (1 Thess. 2:7). And he writes to the Corinthians, “We have spoken freely to you . . . our heart is wide open.” (2 Cor 6:11).
Perhaps I shouldn’t fear Paul’s volatile emotions and extreme statements. Maybe I should see him as a fellow human and fellow servant of God. If he’s too confrontational, I am too reticent. If Paul is too hard-nosed, I am too soft. If Paul is too driven, maybe I am way too comfortable.
I agree with Peter who said, “[Paul’s] letters contain . . . things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort. . . to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). God guided Paul’s writings and heard his prayers. Maybe I should listen instead of distorting.
Our father, there is much in scripture we stumble over. The fifth commandment says, “Do not murder”, but the Old Testament makes a grand exception for the wars that Israel perpetrated and endured.
The first two commands are “Love God” and “Love your neighbor.” But Jesus engaged in scathing word battles and endless conflict with the religious leaders of his time. Paul did the same, turning a scorching pen on those he felt were enemies of himself and God and the gospel.
But he was your servant, and you heard his prayers, and guided his mission. And like Christ his Lord, you led him to execution by the Roman Empire. And brought him to everlasting life in Jesus’ name.
May it be so for us.
I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”.