Because of Love

Was Paul a man-pleaser?  In reading 1 Corinthians 8 through 10, Paul’s continued references to becoming like whomever he was with almost made me think so, except that his response towards those in opposition to the gospel quickly dispels that notion.  How was it, though, that he was willing to live in bondage again around different people, though he was absolutely free in Christ?  Finally, it began to sink into my heart that Paul did it all because of love.  He had such a revelation of God and His love that his life was a reflection of that amazing love – not only for him, but for everyone else.  In fact, in his next letter, a short phrase sums up the guiding heartbeat behind his every action and word:

2 Corinthians 5:14 For Christ’s love compels us, . . . NIV

You see, Paul understood the freedom he had received in Christ, far beyond what most of us have grasped; yet, he knew others could easily be led astray if he stayed focused only on his freedom.  For others who didn’t yet know that same freedom in Christ, the gospel would be hindered.  Nothing in Paul’s life was more important to him than being an effective witness for the gospel of Jesus Christ to all people everywhere.

1 Corinthians 8:9 Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. NIV

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 19 For although I am free in every way from anyone’s control, I have made myself a bond servant to everyone, so that I might gain the more [for Christ].  20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to men under the Law, [I became] as one under the Law, though not myself being under the Law, that I might win those under the Law.  21 To those without (outside) law I became as one without law, not that I am without the law of God and lawless toward Him, but that I am [especially keeping] within and committed to the law of Christ, that I might win those who are without law.  22 To the weak (wanting in discernment) I have become weak (wanting in discernment) that I might win the weak and overscrupulous. I have [in short] become all things to all men, that I might by all means (at all costs and in any and every way) save some [by winning them to faith in Jesus Christ].  23 And I do this for the sake of the good news (the Gospel), in order that I may become a participator in it and share in its [blessings along with you]. AMP

This isn’t so hard for me to grasp when I remember that Paul followed Jesus Christ, and Jesus willingly suffered the pain, humiliation, and separation of crucifixion – because of love.  Beyond that, Jesus humbled Himself by leaving His true home in heaven to come to earth as a man to live among us, imperfect man – because of love.

Will I follow Paul, as he followed Christ?  In that love, will I yield my God-granted freedoms, when necessary, so I don’t hinder anyone’s journey to or in Jesus – the One I claim to represent?  Will I become as one who is lost, that I might win them to Christ?  Without increasing in the experience of God and His love in Christ, my answers will be “no.”  If I will but purpose to know my Lord more, just to know Him, I will know His love more.  I will be changed because of His love.  In turn, I will help others see and know Christ – because His love compels me.

Follow Me As I Follow Christ

1 Corinthians 11:1 AMP  Pattern yourselves after me [follow my example], as I imitate and follow Christ (the Messiah).

Paul spoke this sentence to the believers in Corinth.  Paul – the one who has been portrayed by many teachers and preachers through the years as proud and arrogant.  Paul – the one who has been made out to be a chauvinist.  Paul – who went after Christians in every way he could, even going so far as having them killed, attempting to stop the spread of the gospel prior to his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus.  This same Paul has the audacity to say to believers to pattern themselves after him as he imitates and follows Christ.  How dare he say that?!  Would a humble Christian say that?!

Paul’s confidence appears to many to be self-confidence.  His boldness to declare in Acts 20:26, “I am innocent of the blood of all men,” looks like an outright lie to those who know his past.  That’s what stops most of us from telling others that we are innocent, or to follow us and imitate our example as we follow Christ.  We know the wrongs of our past, and we know others know them, too.  We would never consider ourselves good enough, pure enough, or righteous enough, so the last thing we’d want is for others to imitate us.  But is that what we are to consider?

Paul was not deceived, in denial, or suffering amnesia.  He practiced what he taught, and he taught what the Lord taught him – that we are to leave the past behind (even the positive) and press on toward the mark (Phil. 3:13-14).  He understood that when Jesus forgave His sins, they were no longer to be his focus, as they were truly washed away by His blood.  He needed but to go forward in the Lord, seeking to know Him more and to make Him known (Phil. 3:10) – not continually re-examining past sins, or receiving the judgments of others who wanted to do so.

When Paul called others to imitate him, there was no pride or self-confidence at all.  There was complete confidence in Who Jesus Christ is, knowing the power of the Holy Spirit alive in him, enabling him to follow Christ and lead others in the same way.  He knew the authority and the righteousness of Christ in him, and that God called him righteous because of Christ.  His focus was not on his sin, but on the completeness of Christ in him, Who is so much greater than all sin.  Jesus called Paul to follow Him and become His disciple, so he chose to do likewise.

As believers, we can have this same confidence in Christ – this same boldness to call others to follow our example.  It comes from focusing on our risen Savior, not on our old, fallen nature.  It also comes from believing the Word.  We have a new nature.  We are God’s righteousness, risen with Christ, seated with Him in heavenly realms.  It is not based on our feelings, but on His Word and what He has done.  He did it for Paul.  He’s done it for us.  Making disciples means giving them an example to follow.  So, like Paul, we can choose to say, “Follow me, as I follow Christ.”