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 levels some valuable lessons. Here are just a few of the lessons that have stood out to me as I read through:
Make the main thing the main thing
The gospel of Jesus was Paul’s absolute center. He lived and breathed it. Every piece of advice he gave, he framed around the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Often in his letters, Paul was 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 with which a group wrestled, he did so in a framework of gospel understanding, using Scripture to make his case and pointing to the work of the Holy Spirit and the example of Jesus. We must do the same, with the gospel at the center of every controversy and challenge we face.
Contextualise your message
In Paul’s letter to Titus, who was based in Crete, he quoted a Cretan poet. In Athens, Paul quoted Greek philosophers and claimed the Unknown God. When arguing with the Judaisers and Pharisees, Paul drew 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 used 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.
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, he looked forward to receiving a visit from the person to whom he was writing (Timothy and Titus). Paul especially looked forward to being with Jesus. He explained 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 which to look forward. That is why the past two years, with uncertainty and canceled plans, have been so mentally draining, as we lost that sense of anticipation. As Adventists, we should be people of hope. We should have optimism and a 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, 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 specially equipped for his unique ministry. He often recounted and reminded those to whom his letters were addressed of his experiences and hardships. He used his testimony with King Agrippa (see 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, yet 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 powerful tools that God has given us to share with Him.
Let’s strive to be gospel-centered, culturally literate, hope-filled, testifying new creations who share the good news we’ve received with those in our spheres of influence.