If Paul Were Your Pastor

Caricatures are hard to shake. Once people have an image of someone indelibly printed in their minds, not even the facts can dislodge it.

  • If I showed you a picture of Jenna Fischer, you’d probably call her "Pam Beasley" because of your familiarity with one of the greatest sitcoms ever, "The Office"
  • Will Smith will always be "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" (though "Enemy of the State" was pretty convincing)
  • Harrison Ford will always be Han Solo or Indiana Jones (a rare double typecast)
  • Christopher Reeve will always be Superman
  • Jennifer Anniston will always be Rachel on "Friends"
  • Emma Watson will always be Hermione from Harry Potter (to say nothing of Daniel Radcliffe).

Much the same is true when it comes to the Apostle Paul. His sharp theological mind, together with his unflinching and uncompromising stand for truth, have contributed to an image of him as a relationally stunted pinhead who had little time and even less compassion for people and their problems.

This caricature is misguided. A reading of Paul’s letters and experiences reveal someone who embodied what it means to be "pastor."

For example, consider 2 Corinthians 11::21b -29.

But in whatever anyone dares to boast — I am talking foolishly — I also dare: 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the descendants of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? I’m talking like a madman — I’m a better one: with far more labors, many more imprisonments, far worse beatings, many times near death.

24 Five times I received the forty lashes minus one from the Jews. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked. I have spent a night and a day in the open sea. 26 On frequent journeys, I faced dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, and dangers among false brothers; 27 toil and hardship, many sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often without food, cold, and without clothing. 28 Not to mention other things, there is the daily pressure on me: my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?

In what sense does Paul exemplify the pastoral life? This text shows us three things.

  1. First, Pastor Paul is relentless in his drive to find his identity in Christ. The context of our passage is one in which Paul felt forced to define himself according to his accomplishments and credentials in part because the Corinthians church put a value on such things and in part because those whom Paul was refuting had really great resumes (trained in public speaking and great letters of reference, etc.). Therefore, Paul enters into a clever explanation of his own stellar resumé but does so in such a way that shows just how absurd he thinks it is that someone saying gospel things and living a gospel life would have to say non-gospel things in order to be accepted by a gospel-centered church. This shows that Paul was so relentless in maintaining his identity in Christ and not his performance that even when it was presumably safe to highlight his education and experience, he did so in such a way as to illustrate all that meant absolutely nothing to him, and that it shouldn’t matter to a gospel-loving church either. This was not a false humility, nor was it self-deprecating humor. Paul genuinely let go of everything else and found his identity in Jesus. As he wrote in Philippians 3:7-9, "But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them as dung, so that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ — the righteousness from God based on faith."

  2. The second way in which Paul is Pastor is that he finds his life purpose in Christ’s bride, the church. In verse 28 he writes, “Not to mention other things, there is the daily pressure on me: my concern for all the churches.” Paul found his identity in Christ alone and found his life purpose in Christ’s church alone. On top of all the suffering that he experienced (as listed in vv. 23-27), Paul quickly states "not to mention other things." And so in that flabbergasting list, he alludes to the fact that he experienced more and perhaps even worse.Nevertheless, what truly weighed on Paul was the success and health of the local church. Not even the most intense amount of suffering and persecution for the cause of Christ could thwart Paul’s passion for the church and her mission. For this reason, we have letters from Paul to the churches. And if you’ve read these letters, you know that Paul had every reason to take a Lexapro. If you ever want to feel better (or have a more realistic view of) your church, read 1 or 2 Corinthians. Read Galatians. The church was (and is) under constant threat to false teaching, division and the like, but fortunately, God called a man who was dogged in finding his identity in Jesus and his life’s purpose in Jesus’ church.
  3. The third way in Paul was a pastor was that he was deeply concerned about the faith of the individual. Take a look at v. 29—”Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?” "Weakness" refers to a lack of strength in any respect. Paul is talking about Christians who have been brought to a spiritual low point, and who seem to have no reserves of strength to overcome temptation, doubt, seduction, and opposition, or to get on with the business of discipleship. And if your identity is found in your accomplishments, and if your mission is found in piling up and protecting your accomplishments, when you come across such weak people, you don’t care for them … you despise them. But finding your identity and purpose in Jesus and his church leads you to have pastoral empathy for others.Paul also mentions those who are "made to fall" (v. 29) or are led into sin. When Paul hears of such things happening to Christians, his response is "burning indignation." This deeply felt and undeniably emotional rage in the Apostle's heart probably had a two-fold focus. On the one hand was his personal sadness and distress that a fellow believer had tripped up. He undoubtedly thought of the individual's welfare as well as the dishonor that such sin would bring to the name of Christ. But his rage was no less directed at whoever was responsible for leading one of the Lord's "little ones" (Mt. 18:6) astray. He had previously issued stern warnings to those who might "put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother" (Rom. 14:13).

    Yes, Paul was an apostle, called and commissioned of Christ. Yes, he was a theologian of the highest possible caliber. But he was first and foremost a pastor, a lover of souls, a man consumed with care for the flock of God. Carson pegs him:

"Here is no mere professional, running a superb organization from the comfort of a well-appointed, air-conditioned office, but a pastor attuned to the needs of even the least brother for whom Christ died. Organization and competent administration there are, as a close study of the comings and goings of Paul's numerous assistants reveals; nevertheless, this apostolic ministry is not discharged with aloof detachment, but with flaming zeal, profound compassion, evangelistic fervor, and a father's heart. Paul engages all his considerable intellectual and emotional power in his ministry to the whole church. Such an approach bears fruit; but it takes its toll in energy consumed and in deep involvement with people.”