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Paul the churchman

Faith & Inspiration

I have tended to think of the Apostle Paul as bossy---or at least independent (with a touch of abrasiveness) and not inclined to take orders or advice from others. This impression has been fostered by such details as the whole first and second chapters of Galatians. Excerpts:

"For I did not received [the gospel] from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ" (1:12). "And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)---those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me" (2:6). "But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned" (2:11).

So I was surprised today in my reading of Acts to see another side of Paul---Paul the submissive church member. Paul and Timothy were making the rounds of the new churches, and "as they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem" (16:4). They did as they were told (Galatians 2:10).

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This refers back to the big Council episode of Acts 15, in which Paul and Barnabas submitted to the Antioch church's decision that they go back to Jerusalem headquarters to get advice about a certain doctrinal controversy that had flared up. Paul did not run roughshod over that convocation of brothers. Peter took his turn to speak. Then Paul and Barnabas. Then James put in his opinion. The decisions reached there were the product of a lot of humble listening and mutual submission.

Later, we read that "The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea" (17:10). But when the mob from Thessalonica caught up with Paul there, "the brothers immediately sent Paul off on his way to the sea" (17:14). During the riot at Ephesus, "when Paul wished to go in among the crowd, the disciples would not let him" (19:30). Paul, it seems, did a lot of denying of his own will.

Admittedly, the prophets and people did not prevail against Paul's wishes later on when he insisted on going to Jerusalem (21:13). The Holy Spirit had indicated to them that Paul would get beat up there, but the Holy Spirit in Paul told him to go even if he gets beat up.

And so "the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets" (1 Corinthians 14:32). This is part of the dance we all must learn---to submit to one another in humility while being obedient to the Holy Spirit's voice in us when it sometimes pulls the other way. This is how you do church.

To hear commentaries by Andrée Seu, click here.

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again. Follow Andrée on Twitter @Andreespeterson.

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