The apostle Paul is one of Christianity’s most prominent persons. He visited many churches in several countries. These visits involved extensive and arduous journeys during which he faced many dangers.
He reports that he was stoned, beaten with rods three times, and was shipwrecked. (2 Corinthians 11:25) For years he was imprisoned on false charges, and finally he was martyred in Rome.
Clearly, it is not possible for us, in our daily circumstances, to follow Paul in all the specific things he did and experienced. Because of this, it is easy to settle down and be “just” a regular Christian while idolizing people like Paul, as though they were super heroes of some sort. Therefore, it is instructive and very encouraging to read a little bit of what Paul wrote. Were these external circumstances the most significant and important things in his life? Did his Christianity mostly revolve around his external ministry and the outward situations he faced?
The core of Paul’s life
When he writes to the church in Corinth, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ,” 1 Corinthians 11:1, what is it that we are exhorted to imitate? To know that, we need to identify what was at the core of his life. It was first and foremost that he loved Jesus Christ above all else. From that premise, he lived and served. It was absolutely not Paul’s intention that there should be a just few “heroes” – a few special people with a special life and a special ministry – while everyone else was just a “regular Christian.” When he was in prison he wrote a letter to the church in Philippi. There he described, among other things, the core of his life, “my earnest expectation and hope that … Christ will be magnified in my body.” Philippians 1:20. Here we can learn from him and follow him!
“For whom I have suffered the loss of all things … that I may gain Christ”
“But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ … for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” Philippians 3:7-8. “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” Philippians 3:12. This is the way every Christian should follow him. “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4,6-7. Isn’t this an inviting example to follow? “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content.” Philippians 4:11. That was written by a man sitting in prison. Can we not follow Paul so that we learn the same thing in our circumstances?
Admire or follow?
In sports we see that it is very easy to sit on the sidelines and idolize those who through daily training and sacrifice give everything for their sport. It is absolutely not the intention of Christianity that we idolize a few saints whom we regard as “heroes.” The apostle Paul has made this abundantly clear in his teachings. Christianity is to love Jesus Christ with your whole heart. Christianity means that we follow Jesus, live according to His Word, and follow the holy men and women of God who have lived before us. Christianity permeates all of our thoughts, words, and actions – every day, wherever we are. Then we do not merely admire Paul, but we see him as an example whom we can follow.