The True Nobility of Paul

Bryan Vinson Sr.
Longview, Texas

Millions have professed to be followers of Jesus Christ, and thus have been represented to the world as imitators of Him who came to redeem man from sin. Among these have been the greatest of our race, and their true greatness resided in the fact they were Christians. Apart from the principles of Christianity there can be no true greatness attaching to any man; these principles are essential to any correct and elevating conception of the just importance of man as the creature of God, fashioned in His image.

Jesus condescended to become one of our race in order, not only to die for our sins, but to leave us an example of how we should live before God and man. Out of all those of whorn we have any information regarding their lives, I know of none who excell or possibly equals that of the peerless apostle of the Gentiles. He wrote the Corinthian saints to be followers, or imitators, of him as he was of Christ. They were dependent on the teaching of Paul for such knowledge and estimation they had of Christ, and the apostle identifies himself in this statement as one worthy to imitate inasmuch as he himself was following Christ. There was, therefore, embodied within the implications of this language the thought of such an accurate and sufficient correspondence existing between the lives of Christ and Paul as to warrant a safe reposing by the Corinthians in the securitv of a life lived in imitation of Paul's, that would guarantee an acceptance by Christ in the last day.

There are some significant points which are so distinguishing in their virtue in the life, spirit and attitude of Paul which we believe should be emphasized, especially in view of their non-existence or undeveloped state in the lives of many of us today. First, we think it worthy of attention that his personal consecration to Christ and the Truth of which he is the author was paramount in his thoughts, aspirations and interest. In reviewing his former status as a Jew, recounting his attainments therein, he said: "But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all my things, and do count them but dung that I may win Christ and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith; that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death, if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead." (Phil. 3:7-11) This gives expression to as complete a renunciation of all earthly and selfish interests and attainments as language is capable of, and on the other hand displays as great an attachment to, dependence on, and devotion for Christ as it is humanly possible to attain.

There was, however, prior to his conversion a great devotion to the religion of his fathers, and a consecration to its welfare that involved him in a consistent and determined opposition to all that he regarded to be subversive thereto. Essentially, the characters of Saul the Jew and Paul the Christian were the same insofar as real sincerity of purpose and diligence of attachment to the respective intrests of the two systems are concerned. His change, therefore, was definite and pronounced; he became as strong an advocate of the Truth as he had been an active enemy to it before his conversion. One of the finest works on Christian Evidences which I have ever read is Lyttelton's Conversion of Paul. Originally designed as a work of refutation of the claims of Christianity, it emerged as a strong work in its defence, as evidence by the radical change of convictions and consequent consecration of this unusual man.

The attitude of Paul toward the Truth, as reflected in his reaction to error which arose in opposition to it, affords inspiration for all who are devoted as was he. When he confronted a false prophet, a Jew, Elymas by name, who withstood Paul in an effort to turn away Paulus from the truth, he was stern and immovably severe in his denunciation of him. It was not an attack on the person within itself, though he was smitten blind by the apostle. His offence was in obstructing the free course of the truth, and for this he was called the enemy of all righteousness, and a child of the devil. This should have a sobering and salutary effect on all who ponder it in the light of present day opposition to the truth. Among those who oppose the free expression of the truth are some within the church of the Lord. It is well-nigh inconceivable that such would be true, but when those who feign an authority beyond that which is sustained by the scriptures endeavor to enforce their will by fiat to the point of preventing the full free presentation of truth, then we have a resergence of the spirit of Elymas among us. Paul's resistance to such an arbitrary and unwarranted assertion of influence and control affords encouragement to all lovers of truth today.

Another instance, and this within the church, of his resistance to the forces of error is recorded by himself in the letter to the Galatians. This error was of endeavoring to fasten on the brethren in Christ who were Gentiles the necessity of being circumcised and keeping the law of Moses. They were so addicted to the law and its requirements they sought to impose it on gentile Christians. Paul's reaction to this is stated by himself in these words: "To whom we gave place by way of subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you." (Gal. 2:5) This statement doesn't suggest that he forbade all discussion, for this would be contrary to the facts as set forth in Acts 15. Opposition does not entail strangulation by proscription. Why did Paul thus act in this matter? He expressly avows as the reason that the truth of the gospel might continue with them; hence any compromise with or capitulation to error would destroy the truth of the gospel, by reason of a perversion thereof. Furthermore, he recognized that for him to have acceded to such teaching would have removed the offense of the cross (Gal. 5-11), and, too, the reason assigned by him for so acting by the advocates of circumcision was that thev might make a fair show in tile flesh, and to remove from themselves the suffering of persecution for the cross of Christ (6-12). The church of the Lord is deeply indebted to him for his heroic and stedfast stand for the truth, when every earthly advantage for himself dictated otherwise.

The whole tenor of his life and service to Christ is summed up in the comprehensive analysis of his relation to Christ in saying: "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I but Christ liveth in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me, and gave himself for me." (Gal. 2:20) No wonder then that he reacted as he did to the dire predictions concerning himself as witnessed by the Holy Spirit that bonds and afflictions should abide with him. He says none of these things moved him, and that he did not count his life dear unto himself that he might finish his course with joy, and the ministry received of the Lord to testify the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20:24). He was unalterably set for the defence of the gospel, regardless of the consequences of a temporal nature that befell him. In all the afflictions and sufferings that were his he was enabled to esteem them as light and momentary by way of comparison with the eternal weight of glory that awaited him. This long-ranged view and appraisal is the key to his valorous and victorious conflict for the cause of Christ, and enabled him to pronounce his immortal valedictory in 2 Timothy 4.

While in the midst of all his labors and sufferings he displayed a spirit of magnanimity even toward his enimies out of deference for the interest of the truth. Never have I read anything which surpasses, if equals, the magnanimity of Paul as revealed in the following statement: "Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will. The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds; but the other of love, knowing I am set for the defence of the gospel. What then? Notwithstanding in every way, whether in pretence or in truth Christ is preached, and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice." (Phil. 1: 15-18) In this we can readily see the apostle possessed that rare capacity to distinguish between persons and doctrine. Unhappily most of us endeavor to sanctify error by identifying it with people of good character who espouse it; whereas on the other hand, and of the same sort of fallacious reasoning, many seek to impeach the truth through an attack of the character of some who hold it. Neither of these is worthy and honorable. Paul had his enemies, as numerous and unprincipled as any today are afflicted with. Nevertheless, he had foresight enough, and that appreciation of the truth as it is in Christ, to enable him to arise above petty personality conflicts and rejoice in the preaching of the gospel even though when done by those whose motives were base. He certainly realized, as should we, that the virtue and validity of the truth is independent of any individual, and those hearing, believing and obeying it will be saved irrespective of the personal character or motive of the one through whom they learned it.

We witness today efforts to impeach the truth that is in controversy among us by an attack on those who are defending and proclaiming it. Even among those who believe the truth on these controverted themes some are voluntarily paralyzing their effectiveness by the poisonous feelings they allow themselves to entertain toward some of their brethren. They thus demonstrate an utter lack of the magnanimous spirit evinced by Paul in this statement. They are afraid to, become identified with, and join hands with, those who are contending for the faith on the grounds they question the earnestness of those so doing. While no apology is offered for or defense made of those who hold the truth and teach it sincerely, we, nonetheless, should rejoice that in every instance it is being preached - not that it will save the insincere, but is able to save those who believe it.

Truth is imperishable and supremely vital to the well-being of our souls, and may we therefore be led to so esteem it that no one, however much we may be disposed to feel toward them as touching their motives, shall destroy our faith in it and our adherence to it. Paul, the noble follower of Christ is thus commended to us in the light of the portrayal given of him in the New Testament, and by it we may be able the more safely to "examine ourselves to see whether we be in the faith."

Truth Magazine III:4, pp. 12-13, 20
January 1959