Anyone who has spent time studying the New Testament usually come to the conclusion that the Apostle Paul was a very humble servant of Jesus Christ. ;-)
Actually the Apostle Paul makes huge claims in his letters. He, of all that are called Apostles, was actually the only one who never personally met or listened to the flesh and blood person, Jesus of Nazareth.
Still, what Paul wrote has influenced the development of our theology, our understanding of who Jesus was as part of the Godhead as well as what it means for all the people who gathered together as followers in the new way.
Paul's letters, which now form the largest body of writings in the New Testament, establish the theology of what it means to be ekklesia, a word which literally means "called out". That Greek word has gained common usage as "Church". He also makes it abundantly clear that he understood that he was engaged in work that was under the direct guidance of God with a very special purpose. His vocation was proclaiming the Gospel which brought life to all who accepted the message. He wasn't engaged in the enterprise for the purpose of garnering human approval. In his own words he wasn't prone to people pleasing activities.
Here is the section assigned for this week:
"Paul an apostle-- sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead-- and all the members of God's family who are with me,
To the churches of Galatia:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-- not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!
Am I now seeking human approval, or God's approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ." Galatians 1:1-12
What a rich text, full of description about who Jesus is, what the relationship is between Jesus and God, as well as some beautiful language to build an identity on for anyone that follows the path instruction that Paul claims Jesus has handed down to him for all other followers.
I find that the most intriguing aspects of Paul as a leader of the early church, is that he represents a continuation of the tradition found in the Hebrew Scriptures. Paul might be as much a mystic as a prophet if we take him at his word. Paul shot to the top of the missionary endeavors on the basis of his mystical engagement with the Christ Consciousness.-(of course he wouldn't have called it that.) He also went out to specific locations to do the work of proclaiming the gospel acting entirely out of his own agency and the call that he perceived having been charged with. I can clearly imagine that Paul listened to "still small voices" in order to perceive and receive instruction from the resurrected and ascended Jesus.Experience with the holy is what marked and changed Paul from being and enemy of the disciples to the first missionary and apostle to all nations. Experience, the fourth leg of the stool in the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, was what changed Paul and turned his world upside down and thrust him onto the roads of the Roman Empire to proclaim the gospel.
Over the centuries there haven't been many people who claimed direct revelation from Jesus. On the whole, the church is highly doubtful of anyone that makes a claim of such a thing. The reluctance is grounded in genuine concern and perhaps some fear that such claims will have actually been deceptions that will cost many their entry into eternal rest.
I can imagine that the reaction of people to what Paul had to say went something like this:
MEN: Who are you?
PAUL: Paul, Apostle of Jesus
MEN: What? Who are you to say you're and Apostle of Jesus?
PAUL: I'm Paul, student of the Law and Prophets. I studied with the best of the best teachers. And I saw Jesus. Jesus sent me to tell you about his sacrifice and the gift he offers to all.
MEN: Oh man, you're crazy, out of your mind!
ONE MAN: Wait... say that again..what are you here for?
PAUL: To tell you about Jesus, the resurrected Christ.
MEN: Go away, you're crazy! We heard about Jesus. He was a criminal, crucified by the Imperial Guard.
PAUL: Sure, your right he was crucified but he was also raised from the dead. Resurrected! And reigning in heaven with God.
MEN: Wait a minute. You have no authority to speak here. Are you a teacher? Who sent you?
PAUL: Who sent me? I Told YOU! Jesus and God the Father sent me to tell you the Good News.
I wonder how many people just walked away incredulous.
I wonder what it's like to have such a sure and direct connection with God...How long did it last? How often?
What a joy it must have been to be able to write with such absolute confidence.
No wonder Paul comes off as arrogant, lacking in humility.
My own experiences of absolute certain connection have been just brief glimpses interspersed with prolonged periods of deafening silence...(Hello.. God speak up, I know you're there but I can't hear you! Will you be just a little more explicit PLEASE!?!) But, the times that were DC direct connect with the Holy there was such a powerful certainty it still remains as a source of encouragement. But I want more. I need more and I think it comes from time spent in community that desires to grow in the same relationship.
Are you in the same boat with me? Do you want to have that confident relationship with God?
I think there is a world full of thirsting people, yearning for that same confidence.
What about you?
Speaking only for myself, I desire the deepest most confident relationship imaginable.
I don't expect to be like Paul, but I'm on a journey to grow in Christ connection. To bring myself closer to that goal I'll be exploring a course in Ignatian Spirituality for the next twelve weeks. If you're still sitting in this same boat named Yearning, what will you do?