Letters from Paul

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I’ve been reading through the letters of Paul as I make my way through the Bible this year. Paul is a fascinating character who lived a life that can still teach church leaders and Christians of all maturity some valuable lessons. Here are just a few of the lessons that have stood out to me as I read through.

[Paul] understood how his experiences had led him to be especially equipped for his unique ministry.

Make the main thing, the main thing: 

The gospel of Jesus was Paul’s absolute centre. He lived and breathed it. Every piece of advice that he gave, he framed around the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Often in his letters, Paul is addressing some controversy or challenge in the local church (or group of churches that make up a city). While he did address the specific issues a group wrestled with, he did so in a framework of gospel understanding, using Scripture to make his point and pointing to the work of the Holy Spirit and the example of Jesus. We must do the same, with the gospel at the centre of every controversy and challenge we face. 

Contextualise your message: 

In Paul’s letter to Titus, who was based in Crete, Paul quotes a Cretan poet. In Athens, Paul quotes Greek philosophers and claims the Unknown God. When arguing with the Judaisers and Pharisees, Paul draws on his Pharisaic pedigree and training (he uses this to good effect when he sets the Pharisees and Sadducees to arguing with each other, diverting attention from himself). And to the church, he uses his shared experiences with them, the people they know in common and their shared stories of Jesus and Hebrew Scripture to explain, teach and equip. Paul knew how to modify his message to be appropriate to the audience and their needs. We must always do the same with our Advent message. As a communication professional, one of the first things I tell people in training is to know their audience so they can craft a message that speaks to their needs. 

Be hopeful:

Paul was always signing off his letters with his hope to see the people again and that he would worship with them in person. While he was in prison, looked forward to receiving a visit from the person he was writing to (Timothy and Titus). Paul especially looked forward to being with Jesus. He explains to the Thessalonians that they should not be without hope—that they should understand that death is not the end. He frequently looked forward to the coming of Jesus and encouraged others to hold on for that day. As humans we need events to look forward to. That is why the past two years, with uncertainty and cancelled plans, have been so mentally draining, as we lost that sense of anticipation. As Adventists, we should be people of hope. We should have an optimism and sense of wonder about the world, not borne from certainty or smooth and painless lives but because we know Jesus will be true to His Word. We know, especially in the middle of suffering and challenge, that the God we love and who loves us, is bigger than all the challenges and has already overcome death and sin. 

Don’t shy away from what makes you unique: 

Paul understood the power of testimony. He understood how his experiences had led him to be especially equipped for his unique ministry. He often recounted and reminded those his letters were addressed to, of his experiences and his hardships. He used his testimony with King Agrippa (Acts 26) and always acknowledged God’s call in his life, pointing to God as the model and himself as the follower. Paul called out his church members, challenging them to become a new humanity that respected each other and the culture around them, but placed allegiance to God above everything else. We must also be in tune with what God has done and is doing in our lives and how He is working in the lives of those around us. Our testimonies are a powerful tool that God has given us to share Him. 

Let’s strive to be gospel-centred, culturally literate, hope-filled, testifying new creations who share the good news that we’ve received with those in our spheres of influence.