Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Reading Paul with Michael Gorman 3
To Spread the Gospel
As an apostle it was Paul’s mission to spread the good news of Jesus and to establish communities which were obedient to God through conformity to Jesus in the power of the Spirit; through his visits and letters these communities were strengthened. Paul greatly cared for these communities in a variety of ways during and after the time he founded them.
Paul was a traveling preacher and he did this with companions. He also worked as a tent-maker which helped to support his traveling and preaching ministry. Paul allowed a community to participate in the work of God through financial support, but only after the community was established.
Paul was a strategic evangelist; he brought the gospel to large urban centers and to the Jewish community in different cities. After his work in the Jewish community he moved on to gentiles which made up the majority of his converts.
The communities that Paul established were called “assemblies”. Those who gathered together constituted God’s new family. Paul saw himself as their spiritual father and exercised his parental authority over them. “Today we would call a person like Paul a ‘pastor’ (meaning ‘shepherd’), and his or her letters ‘pastoral letters’.
Paul’s ministry, however, wasn’t all success. He often suffered persecution in various forms; Paul, however, wore this as a badge of honor as it associated him with the crucified Messiah. He didn’t suffer because he enjoyed it; rather, he suffered because he was radically faithful to Jesus, the crucified Lord. Ironically, cross-shaped suffering could lead to the spread of the gospel. “…What confirmed an apostolic call for Paul was not merely the claim of a divine encounter and commission…but above all conformity to Christ in his faithfulness, love, and (consequently) suffering…It authenticated him and authorized him to speak with the authority of God, whether in person or by letter.”
Paul wrote letters that are directed to his original hearers and to us. They need to be read by us as “documents of spiritual formation.” We also need to keep in mind that these are first-century letters and we must read them as such. Paul writes in a fairly standard format: Salutation, thanksgiving, body, closing exhortations, and greetings/benedictions. Paul, however, “Christianizes” this standard way of writing.
Gorman goes on to give a concise summary and a helpful chart of the themes of each of Paul's letters. I will not summarize them here as the are already quite short. My suggestion would be to buy this book. It is a great tool to have on the bookshelf.
It's amazing to see the work that God did in Paul's life. He went from a persecutor to one who's life work was to travel and establish communities who were faithful to Lord Jesus; he suffered for the sake of Christ. Today we often think of great leaders as those who preach amazing sermons and have huge churches. Paul, however, didn't measure his greatest by his accomplishments but by his suffering with the Messiah. I love how Gorman says it, "he wore it as a badge of honor." I fear suffering for the sake of Christ yet I need to change my thinking to be like Paul. To suffer like Christ is to suffer with Christ.