Monday, May 09, 2022

Paul’s Demise

Paul was an amazingly successful apostle. He planted churches all over Asia Minor and Greece. He provided oversight of the churches he had established, looking backward to those who had developed relationships with him. He wrote numerous letters to these churches, which became the core of the New Testament, overshadowed only by the gospels.

Paul seemed to understand the full implications of the gospel better than anyone in the first generation of Christians and was able to communicate it effectively to both Jews and Gentiles. John is the only other who reached the same level of understanding.

Given his role in the early church and his skills in sharing the gospel and advancing the Kingdom of God, it seems odd that God allowed him to be taken out of play so early in his ministry. It appears that he was killed in Rome when he still had other missionary journeys to undertake. Why did God allow his most effective operator to be taken out?

I suspect that there was a real risk that people in the fledging church wanted to make Paul into an archbishop or mini-pope. Given his skills and knowledge of the gospel, many people would want him to become the leader and manager of their church. This is a role that Paul always resisted. He moved on quickly once a church was established and was always looking to move to fresh pastures where the gospel had not been heard. This ensured that there was plenty of space for new elders to rise up in his place in the churches he left behind. Paul's approach ensured the quick development of new leadership.

Paul was not interested in becoming a senior pastor of a megachurch. (Peter seemed to have been interested in being the senior pastor of the Jerusalem church, but he discovered that he had neither the personality nor the appetite for the role).

My guess is that the reason the Holy Spirit allowed Paul to be imprisoned was that his ministry had been so effective that he was in danger of becoming an archbishop or mini-pope. He had planted numerous churches. The believers in those churches look up to him as their leader. He was skilled at resolving theological disputes. If he had continued in his ministry as it was, he was in danger of being raised up to a place that God did not want him to be, and where he did not want to be.

An apostle must keep moving on, or they will be quickly be turned into a bishop, CEO, or Big Man, depending on the culture. Paul understood this well. He was an amazingly talented person, but the kept pressing on to new places, so the churches he established could not make him into the "leader" of a group of churches.

Once Paul was imprisoned, and eventually killed, the young church had to stand on their own feet and rely on the Holy Spirit. The numerous people who had travelled and worked with Paul had to step up and preach the gospel and share the truth. Others would have to take the gospel to Spain. That is how the Holy Spirit prefers to work. He prefers working through a multitude of ordinary people to relying on a few superstars.

This is something we should remember in this season when big-name leaders of megachurches are falling from grace.

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