Paul the Saviour
One of the great mysteries about this apostolic scribe is how the Spirit of the Lord tolerated his apparently unadulterated egotism. Numbers of people today have actually accepted this man from Tarsus as a “Saviour” – a leader on an equal basis, if not a greater leader than Messiah Himself. Many put his word above that of the God of the ‘Old Testament’ by imputing to Paul the ‘authority’ to abolish the Eternal Law of the Creator!
Now the author of this new gospel boldly says, “I beseech you, be ye followers of me” (1 Cor.4:16); and again in Phil. 3:17. and 2 Thess.3:7. “Be ye followers of me even as I am also of Messiah” (1 Cor. 11:1)
Can we really take this man as our perfect example He admitted to “sin that dwelleth in me” and he talked about the evil which he would not do, and “that I do” (Rom. 7:19), He stated that in his flesh “dwelleth no good thing” (Rom. 7:18). For a man of God, he certainly did some extremely outlandish things.
Over the matter of the doctrine of circumcision. he bragged to the Galatians that he had dressed down the apostle Peter: “I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed … I said unto Peter before them all …” (Gal 2:11-21). “Behold I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Messiah shall profit you nothing .. . ye are fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:1-4). Nowhere did Messiah ever indicate that circumcision would be done away with. These are the words and the style of an arrogant self-conceited person. One can almost visualise this ardent supporter of the Gospel standing up against the big Galilean fisherman and openly withstanding him “to his face”. A very impressive show of faithfulness to the letter; but certainly reflecting a lack of that most important thing he wrote about in his first letter to the congregation at Corinth: “Though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profits me nothing” (verse 3).
But the astonishing thing about this whole matter is that a number of years after he publicly withstood Peter to his face over the matter of circumcision, he himself circumcised a man! The father of his friend Timothy, was a Greek – so, before he took this young preacher with him on his missionary journeys, Paul himself, performed the Abramic Covenant rite upon him. “… and Paul, who wanted to have him as a traveling companion, took and circumcised him. This was on account of the Jews in the locality …” (Acts 16;3).
Now it so happened that the circumcising of Timothy was the second step of error that the apostle Paul made towards the termination of his ministry. This disgraceful circumstance probably never would have occurred, had he not already made the most fatal error in his ministry: he had hot-headedly broken his union with Barnabas. The Holy Spirit had called Paul and Barnabas to work together as a team. The Scripture says, “Barnabas . . , was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:22-24). Such a man could have been a big help to Paul: also, Barnabas was God’s gift to him as a team mate of stability and deep character. Paul though, seems to have been a lopsided fanatic in almost everything that he did. He needed a co-worker who was full of the Holy Spirit. But, “after a violent quarrel, they parted company …” (where was the ‘charity’ that ‘thinketh no evil’?) (Acts 15:39).
This was very wicked – why did not these men who were called to work together, seek God for the answer to their problems?
The Bible does not tell us just which of these two apostles was to blame for the willful separation of the team that God had joined together; but of one thing we can be certain: it was a tragic mistake for both of them.
“Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus” (Acts 15:39), and that is the last we hear of Barnabas. “Paul chose Silas” (verse 40): What a difference in the teaming up! When the Holy Spirit did the teaming up, the declaration was: “I want Barnabas and Saul set apart for the work to which I have called them”. (Acts13:2). No longer were these great apostles now separated unto God, neither did they follow the work unto which He had called them. If these two men of God had stayed together as a team, they might have wrought changes among men and nations that would have affected for good many millions of people for generations.
Man’s stubbornness and self-will have marred many an excellent plan of the Spirit of God. In tears, many of the inspired prophets of God have pleaded with foolish man to turn from his inexplicable self-willed stupidity and walk in humble obedience to the good instruction of God. One can visualize the outstretched hands and arms of the prophet Ezekiel as he pleaded with his people: “Why will you die, O house of Israel”; and again, in the words of Messiah, we can almost hear the pathos of His voice as He looked sadly upon the “City of the great King” and cried: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, … how often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and you would not” (Matthew 23:37).
But man’s ways are not God’s ways, and so “Paul, after staying on for some time, took leave of the brothers, and sailed for Syria, …At Cenchrea, he had his hair cut off because of a vow he had made” (Acts18:18).
What is this? It certainly sounds a lot like more Judaism – and we thought he was so bitterly against all of these “carnal ordinances”? Take note also, that toward the close of his ministry he no longer had a team mate; he acted more or less like a lone ranger. From that time on, he operated alone; he consulted with no man; be even refused to accept the counsel of the Spirit of God through other brethren. But let us not get ahead of our story – his third step toward disaster was occasioned by an overzealous self-determination to accomplish for God what the Spirit of God had said could not be done: He still believed that he could convert the Jerusalem Jews to Messianism.
Shortly after Paul’s conversion, the Almighty plainly told him: “Hurry, leave Jerusalem at once; for they will not accept the Testimony concerning Me … Go! I am sending you to the gentiles far away.” (Acts 22:18-21).
However, after many years of preaching about the Messiah, he must have felt that he had acquired persuasive powers sufficient to open the eyes of the most stubborn Jew. At any rate, “Paul purposed in the spirit … to go to Jerusalem” (Acts 19:21). (The word “purposed” in Greek is a derivative of “tethayme”, meaning to determine; resolve; to purpose). The apostle determined in his own spirit – the account of the many warnings which he received from the Holy Spirit on his way to the City are sufficient to show that his determination was not inspired of the Spirit of God: “Behold I go bound in the Spirit unto Jerusalem” (Acts 20:22). Anyone who has a walk with God, should take heed when he “goes bound” into any work.
Only a thoroughly self-willed, headstrong person would brush aside so many warnings, such as Paul was given on his way south: “The Holy Spirit, in town after town, has made it clear enough, that imprisonment and persecution await me”. (verse 23). But blind self-will is a deceitful thing. Poor man! He thought that he was doing God service: “But none of these things move me” (verse 24). He had received sufficient warning from the Spirit of God to cause him to believe that his trip to Jerusalem was to be his last, for alter calling together the elders of the congregation at Ephesus, he said, “I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the Kingdom of God, shall see my face no more” (verse 25). However, this knowledge did not shake his dogged determination the least bit. Sink or swim, live or die, he had purposed in his spirit to go, and that was that!
When a saddle horse takes the bit in his teeth, it is impossible to get him to respond to normal guidance. When the spirit of man is determined to have its own way, heaven will not interfere with the man’s free moral agency unless some other reason justifies such an interference. And so, not “Thy will be done”, but “My will be done”, the apostle determined.
At the city of Tyre, he found certain disciples, and “stayed there a week. Speaking in the Spirit, the disciples kept on telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:4).. Notice that this instruction came through more than one disciple. It is no small matter to be commanded “through the Spirit”. The Living God was speaking through His servants to this headstrong, misguided servant of His. When God commands a thing to be done, it should not be shrugged off, for no man rebels against the Divine Order without suffering great loss. “Every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward” (Heb, 2:2).
The magnitude of the sin of rebellion is told in these words of the prophet Samuel: “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry”. This fearful statement was delivered to king Saul, the absolute monarch of ancient Israel. He answered Samuel: “I have sinned: for I have transgressed the Commandment of YHVH, and Thy words” (1 Sam,15:23, 24). But listen to the awful penalty for disobedience to the Divine Command, given through the lips of a Prophet of God: “Because you have rejected the Word of YHVH, He has also rejected you from being King in Israel”!
And Moses was not permitted to lead Israel into the land of Promise, because he allowed his temper to get the best of him and cause him to smite the rock to bring forth water for the murmuring people. .God had told him to speak to the rook; he struck it, instead. The water gushed forth and the people had plenty of water. But this account is immediately followed by these Words: “YHVH spoke unto Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you believed Me not, to sanctify Me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them” (Numbers 20:12).
Surely Gamaliel’s student of the Scriptures must have been aware of the “Severity of God”, as it is recorded by the “holy men of old”. What perversion of nature must have compelled him to ignore the Commands given “through the Spirit” by the brethren at the city of Tyre?
Remember that, in his younger days, it had been necessary for the fanatical, headstrong Saul of Tarsus – on his way to Damascus with murder in his heart – to be knocked to the ground by the Spirit of YHVH, in order to bring him to his senses.
It is true that on his way to Jerusalem, at this later date, he was impelled by a burning zeal to save men, rather than to destroy them; but his driving mechanism was still very much the same as it had always been. It was apparently impossible for this man to take an unbiased, middle-of-the-road attitude concerning any matter. He seems to have been overzealous to the point of fanaticism in whatever cause or activity he espoused. He needed someone to work with him who would be a steadying influence to check or offset some of his excessive enthusiasm.
When God calls a man to a special work, He supplies every means essential to the accomplishment of that work. God had provided Barnabas, “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit”, to labour with Paul, and to act as the needed counterbalance in his ministry. Barnabas was no yes-man – he had the character to stand up and speak his piece.
It was a tragic thing for these two men to become so estranged in the heat of argument and disagreement over such a trifle as that of determining who should accompany them on a journey, that they actually reached the point of disregarding their divine call and severing their God-ordained relationship.
But there was yet another Gift with which God had presented Paul, to aid him in his ministry: something which, upon first thought, may not actually appear to be a Gift. This was “a messenger of Satan”, which was designed to serve as an instrument of restraint. The apostle himself did not recognize it as a gift, for he said: “I besought God three times that it might depart from me” (2 Cor. 12:8). This man was insistent: he had to be convinced that his “thorn in the flesh” was necessary before he would submit to it. But God, in His great mercy, knew the weakness of Paul to be his excessive egotism.
Paul’s ego shows up in every one of his epistles. He brags quite openly, time after time. Speaking of certain “false apostles”, he said: “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they ministers of Messiah? (I speak as a fool) I am more”.
Then he enumerates the many things which befell him while he was doing missionary work (2 Cor, 11: 22-28). No one can deny that he was an example of extraordinary suffering for the sake of proclaiming the Kingdom of God. But also, there is no denying that the man had an overactive ego. He himself confirmed such a conclusion: “Lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of revelations, there was given me a thorn in the flesh ” (2 Cor, 12: 7).
After the apostle’s third try in prayer to have this “thorn removed, the Spirit had told him: “My Grace is sufficient for thee (God’s Grace is the ability to endure suffering for the sake of Messiah); for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (verse 9). Paul managed to separate himself from God’s Will in the matter of Barnabas; but he was not able to change God’s Will in the matter of the “thorn”.
On his way to Jerusalem, Paul simply ignored all warnings and all Commands “through the Spirit”. He had only one thing in mind: he must convert the Jews to Messianism.
The question may arise, “Why was Paul not stopped in his tracks because of his willful disobedience to the Divine Command?”
Paul was in fact severely punished for his rebellion. From the very day that he turned from the Divine Commandment, given through the servants of God, the apostle was fast sliding downward. Any follower of God who refuses to listen to the pleas of anxious saints “in every city”, and also refuses to obey the Word of God given through His prophets, must surely be in bad standing, spiritually.