As it was back in his day, so it is now, this ex-terrorist religious zealot and mass murderer of Christians–turned disciple of Christ is greatly misunderstood, even by those in the Church. His character is maligned by many nowadays as a male chauvinist. He is surmised as being somewhat intolerant and slightly harsh by others. He is thought by many to have been prideful and arrogant. But as we study the real Paul of the scriptures we gain quite a different perspective. An entirely different man emerges.
How about this for a completely unbiased and irreligious view of the man:
A Paul filled with joy, beside himself with rejoicing (always), intoxicated with God’s love, a willing bondslave of God, and a masterful wordsmith who, waxing eloquent, wrote arguably the greatest treatise on love ever known (1st Corinthians 13).
Or how about a Paul who put no confidence in his own abilities, but rather was filled with shakiness and weakness in personal appearance, so much so that some said he was contemptible even?!
For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible (2 Corinthians 10:10).
And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling (1st Corinthians 2:3).
Now before you go labeling this helpless romantic as a stereotypical spiritual wimp let me learn you: Paul was no wussy boy! Especially when it came to exercising his apostolic authority and protecting his brothers and sisters from those who would prey upon them as wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Now some are puffed up, as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord wills, and I will know, not the word of those who are puffed up, but the power. For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power. What do you want? Shall I come to you with a rod, or in love and a spirit of gentleness? (1st Corinthians 4:18-21)
Paul says some of the people in the Corinthian church are puffed up (filled with pride) as though he wasn’t going to return (to set things in order) but he assures them he will come soon, if the Lord wills. And at such time, he will call their puffed up bluff. He says, in effect, then we’ll see not just who has words but who really has God’s power on them. He asks them, “Do you want me to come to you as God’s messenger of judgment and discipline, or as a loving father?”
He is dealing here with those who are spreading negative press about him. He is confronting those who are living in open sin and challenging his authority. Paul knows the power of God that is at work in him. He knows God will back him up 100% when he gets there. He would rather come in gentleness and love but he will come otherwise if necessary:
For I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as you would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults: And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed (2nd Corinthians 12:20-21).
Paul is ready to come and throw down. He will make a scene. He will come in the power of the Holy Spirit to oppose the deceivers, the mockers and the unrepentant among them. Can you picture it? God is going to have to humble him as he does whatever it takes to confront these things! What an image this conjures up in our minds. The apostle bewailing the sins of many, tears in his eyes, confronting those who are prideful in the church and leading others astray. He’s ready to let her rip. He’s prepared to jump right in the middle of it all and slug it out with their gossip, their factions, their strifes and their sinful behaviors!
What is this confidence and power that Paul wielded? We catch a glimpse of it in the Book of Acts:
And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Barjesus: Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith. Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him. And said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, you child of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand (Acts 13:6-11).
WOAH Elymas! You did not want to mess with that man!
In context, Paul is saying that his calling as an apostle is with authority from the Lord. And this is for the edification of believers. He says that the same presence and power of the Lord in his writings (Peter acknowledges that Paul’s writings are scripture–inspired of the Holy Spirit–2nd Peter 3:16) will be with him when he comes in person!
He is not boasting here in himself. He is boasting of the power of God that works in him as an apostle.
Bond Slave of God
In presence he is weak and “despicable” they said. In other writings we learn of this weakness that Paul confesses (Galatians 4:13-14).
OK. So wait… What are you saying here? Paul was a very approachable, joy-filled, humble, and yet, Clark Kent-like kind of guy?
Trust me, I understand your skepticism. This is not the Paul we hear about. This is not the image that is passed down to us from most historians, theologians and commentators.
However, it is undeniable that Paul did struggle with, at least, the temptation to be prideful because of all the revelations and visions he’d received (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)
But he is very careful not to boast in his writings and he always gives all the glory to God (Galatians 6:14).
Here are some more scripture reference links to help us become more intimately acquainted with the real Paul of the scriptures (click on any of the links below for the related scriptural passages):
Humble and full of rejoicing at all times
Like a nursing mother toward her children
Acknowledging weakness as a man so God’s strength would prevail in him
A man of unquestionable humility who was not afraid to cry and show affection
Some Common Misconceptions
There are some common misconceptions about Paul’s treatment of women in his epistles but these are largely misunderstood. Paul considered women his equal. He said there was neither male nor female… meaning that we are all one in Christ. When he wrote about women (the literal Greek says: wives) keeping silent in the churches he was addressing a specific situation. Some of the wives were talking aloud, in some cases shouting out to their husbands, in the middle of the message asking questions about what was being preached!
When he talks about the woman having her head covered, it’s obvious in context, he is addressing customs of the times. He stresses that, so as not to upset the natural order of things, there be an observance of what is customary. I highly recommend this link for some excellent in-depth study on the subject of Paul’s writings concerning women:
In conclusion we see that Paul was filled with Holy Spirit sweetness, love, and light, humility, etc. but his authority as an apostle was mighty and motivated by the Father’s heart in everything he did. Paul and others continually referred to themselves as bond servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. For a rich understanding of this concept check out David Wilkerson’s sizzling family-friendly article here: