What Made Paul So Great
A friend of mine from the UK recently pointed out how people in the American church are so quick to put their stamp of approval upon a man or women regardless of their belief system. You've probably heard this come in the form of the following statements: "He's such a great guy," or "She's a really great person," or "I just love so-and-so." And, if you listen carefully, what usually gets attached to such statements is a commendation about how kind, or smart, or fun, or gifted that person is.Â I have heard this time and time again, am guilty of doing myself, and am starting to have serious concerns about it. I am not saying that we should not like people for their personalities, gifts or style. The Lord gives certain people a naturally moreÂ pleasant demeanor than others. He gives some people more eloquence. He shapes each uniquely. And, I am certainly not saying that we should be dismissive of harshness, insensitivity and unfriendliness, but surely the standard of why we like someone, especially within the sphere of ecclesiastical leadership, ought to be more objective than that.
Maybe it is the subtle allurement of rhetorical prowess and eloquence; maybe its the success syndrome; or perhaps it is the postmodern meltdown of theological certainty and truth in favor of sincerity. Whatever it is, it strikes me as being a peculiarly dangerous error in the church. The apostle Paul noted that the "super-apostles" in Corinth were smart, likable and eloquent. If they were here today they would probably be writing books for the Reformed community. They were attractional and influential, but they were leading people away from Paul's Gospel.Â The truth of the Gospel,Â and the godly living that is the fruit of the Gospel, were the chief concerns for the apostle Paul. If the church rejected him, he understood them to be rejecting the doctrines he proclaimed. The identity and ministry of Paul was bound up with his doctrine and practice. Paul even put himself on trial when he said, "Even if we or an Angel from heaven preach any other Gospel to you let him be anathema."Paul was not, in one sense, a popular and beloved theologian in the early church. The people in Corinth and Galatia, who once looked up to him, quickly turned against him because of the influence of false teachers in the church. They were affirming the Deity of Christ, but they were led astray with regard to the work of Christ. We sometime forget that his doctrine of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone was the grounds of Paul's being rejected so often.
So what are you admiring in the pastors and theologians that you respect? Is there a sense of vulnerability in those men with regard to their own need for Christ? Do they preach and write with a passion that shows that their singular desire is for people to know the truth of the Gospel? Are they ever giving the warnings the apostle Paul gave in Galatians about false teachers and false Gospels?Â Do they exalt the free grace of God in the Gospel and the glorious truths of justification by faith alone? If they are not, it ought to make you wonder whether their ministry is built on intellect, amiability, eloquence and prolific writing ability, rather than on Christ. In the words of Sinclair Ferguson, one day all the scaffolding will be removed and then only what was built with the gold, silver and precious stones of the Gospel will last. Until then men may praise other men for many things, but all that is not gold, silver and precious stones will melt away in the presence of Him who judges righteously.