Humility in the Life of the Apostle Paul
The Scriptures are full of the stories of men and women whom God breakdown from the altar of pride and produced in their lives an exemplary life of humility. Moses was such a man in the Old Testament and in the New Testament we have the apostle Paul. Paul (formerly named Saul) grew up in a privilege background. He was brought up at the feet of the foremost scholars of his time, Gamaliel, and rose to be a Pharisee (considered by secular society of that time to be the top rank in society) and possibly even to be part of the Sanhedrin council (Acts 22:3). He was a brilliant man who excelled beyond his contemporaries (Galatians 1:14).
There is no doubt that Saul, Paul’s name before his conversion, was a very proud and religious man. He was instrumental in obtaining letters from the high priest to persecute and pursue the Christians (Acts 9:1-2). He was the man behind the death of Stephen and all the persecution of the Christians, for when he was converted, the persecution ceased (Acts 7:58; 8:3; 9:31). Paul, himself, admits that he was a persecutor, a blasphemer and an insolent man (1 Timothy 1:13). The root word "hubristes" from which the word "insolence" is translated speaks of one who is violent and who insults others. Paul was like a gangster and a big bully – all symptoms of an over-inflated ego and pride uncontrolled. He wanted to dominate and subjugate others to his thinking and beliefs. God cannot use him until he is broken.
Like a wild horse that is no use to the owner, Paul was no use to God until he was broken. An unbroken wild horse will not do what the master wants nor be willing to go where the master wants it to go; it must be broken first. In analysing the details of the breaking down of a man or horse, it is not the spirit that needs to be broken but rather the stubborn will. Break the will but not the spirit; this principle applies to bringing up a child in the ways of the Lord. The spirit of the horse or man that loves adventure, that is brave, that is courageous, that is persistent, etc.; all these good qualities must be preserved otherwise the horse or man loses the uniqueness that God has gifted the individual.
In the Old Testament, it speaks about the breaking of the spirit – a broken and contrite spirit God will not despise (Psalm 34:8; 51:17). It also speaks of a broken heart. Surely God does not want us to go around with a broken heart but a heart healed and whole. The Old Testament has two great differences from the new: firstly, the concept of the tripartite man (spirit, soul and body) is neither clearly revealed nor expressed and secondly, the concept of the new spirit (which must not be broken) was reserved for the New Testament era possible only in Christ. It is such that in the Old Testament, when it speaks about anger, which is a product of the soul and not the spirit, it uses the word "ruach" or spirit rather than "soul" (nephesh) (Proverbs 16:32; 19:11; 25:28; Ecclesiastes 7:9). Yet at the same time the Old Testament advocates a wholeness of spirit as being an important part of one’s attributes to health and life (Proverbs 15:13; 17:22). Surely, it is not the will of God that one goes around with a sad sorrowful spirit that causes sicknesses or a broken spirit that dries the bones. We need to understand that the Old Testament has a way of using the word "ruach" translated "spirit" in a general sense like that of the English language. For example, when we use the phrase that the "spirit of a place is depressing" or that "the person has a wrong spirit," we do not necessarily mean that there are demons involved or a person is possessed. Rather it could be used in reference to the attitudes of a society or community or a person; which strictly speaking and technically, would be more a soul quality rather than a spirit quality. In Aramaic which was literally translated into Greek, Jesus said to His disciples, who wanted to call down fire on a village that rejected Him, that they do not know what spirit they are of (Luke 9:55-56). The problem was not in their spirits but it was in their judgmental and anger-vengeance type personality of their soul. And remember, that one of them was John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. So we can definitely surmise that the fiery temper of John had been broken and conquered before God used him to be the apostle of love. Thus we can conclude that the Bile usage of the word "spirit" especially in the Old Testament sometimes refers to attitudes and perceptions of people’s souls and technically not their spirit per se.
Having established the understanding that it is not the spirit that needs to be broken but rather the will, we need to establish the technical fact that humility is the brokenness of the soul and not the new spirit or new creation which Christ gave birth within us when we were born again. In general usage, we may use the phrase "broken in spirit" but technically and scientifically, knowing that we have a new spirit born in the image of Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17) and knowing that that "spirit" or "inner man" needs to be strengthened rather than broken (Ephesians 3:16), we should use the phrase "break the will but not the spirit." The spirit within us is from God and has a sense of faith, adventure, intellectual and knowledge curiosity, fun, delight, freedom, buoyancy, lightness, inner pleasure, specific individualized likings and dislikes, etc. Our spirit needs to grow and mature into full Christilikeness. Our soul, on the other hand, needs to be broken before God can use us. Our soul includes our prideful intellect, our emotional self-pleasure and our stubborn will. Humility involves a will that has been broken and captured as a slave of righteousness unto God (Romans 6:19).
The apostle Paul’s sense of purpose, great zeal and discipline religiosity that made him excel above all his contemporaries was the good parts within him. All these continue to be great blessings which God used for Paul became a very focus Christian with great zeal and discipline which excel him above many other believers. His pride and stubborn will and all the wrong teachings and wrong theologies of Christ that he had accumulated through a life time of being a Pharisee needed to be broken down and humbled before God could use him. Indeed, Paul was broken. He became a loving and compassionate man, often writing his epistles in great love with many tears (2 Corinthians 2:4; Philippians 3:18). He became a horse whose will had been broken into but whose spirit of adventure, bravery and courage still remained. He was so broken that he knew his life does not belong to him anymore but was willing to live or die for Jesus at any time (Acts 21:13; Philippians 1:21). Paul probably shed no tears when Stephen died but when he was humbled by God, he was a man of love and tears for the softness of occasions (Acts 7:58; 20:19; 21:13). Through God humbling him and breaking his insolent pride, Paul became a man of tears and humility.
God resists the proud but He exalts the humble (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:7). God cannot use any person no matter how talented, gifted or charismatic until God has broken the person’s will and humbled the person. All of us like sheep had gone astray before. All of us like wild horses need our wills to be subjugated to the Will of God. Part of that process requires us to be broken before God can use us. For none of us give up our free wills easily to God. Being born again involves freedom from the bondage of sin. It also is entrance into the enslavement of righteousness (slaves of righteousness). There is no real true freedom without Christ. It is a deceptive freedom that looks like freedom but it is enslavement by the world, the flesh and the devil. Only in Christ can there be true freedom of the spirit and soul and body. The wonderful thing about being a bondslave to Christ is that He actually cares for us and loves us. He has our best interests at heart. For we were made by Him (John 1:1-3). Should it not be logically to all that He who made us (with all our special qualities and uniqueness of likes and dislikes, knows all that we truly love and want in this life and in the life to come? What greater pleasure can we have than to surrender to the hands of our own Creator who made us?
Paul remained a broken and humbled man (or horse to carry Jesus) all of his life. It is because of this great depth of brokenness that God could use him. Unfortunately for many ministers and professionals and business people who had once been broken and saw the blessings of God and His promotion, fame and honour that He gave to us, many who have tasted fame, fortune and power become proud and we forgot where we came from. No matter how many adulations that humans in this life pour on us or how much we have acquired of this world’s wealth or how many degrees that we have educated ourselves with, we all came naked into this world and we will leave with nothing from this world except the lessons and the training that we received in our relationship to God and man on this planet. Both Nebuchadnezzar and David had to be reminded that that all they had was from God and that they were nothing before him though they be mighty kings over men (Daniel 4:16-17, 30-33; 2 Samuel 7:8; 12:1-8). If God graced us with honour, wealth, fame, power or high positions let us not squander the blessings and opportunities God gave us in selfish pride, pomp and self-indulgence but let us use all such blessings as a good steward to responsibly and lovingly help those who are suffering around us. All of life’s blessings are but responsibilities and abilities God gave us to be a blessing to others. The end result of Abraham’s blessings is not that Abraham will be enriched period. But rather that ALL the families of the earth will be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). We have inherited this wonderful Abrahamic blessing in Christ (Galatians 3:13-14), let us understand how to be good stewards of this blessing of being the head and not the tail.
It is important to start well and to maintain our paths correctly in the Lord. However, in the scheme of all things in life, it is how we end that matters. The books of life in our lives are not completed yet (in its fulfilment not in its predestination). No matter how greatly blessed or how "kingly" God has made each of us, let us remember that it is not how you began nor how you are now (much as we can give credit for those who have paid a price or exercised their gifting and talent to be where they are), the real question is how we end that matters in eternity. Many began well, many now seem outwardly well but the big question is how it ends. One thing we know, if any one wants to end well or to maintain what God has blessed you thus far in your lives, the main key is to choose to remain humble the rest of your life. There will be many more tests of humility that will come to each of us in different shapes and forms. Choose to be humble, choose God’s Will rather than our own will. Eternally be like the broken-in horse that lets King Jesus ride on our backs. And for those of us going through great trials and tribulations and tests, the only reason for their existence in our lives is that we learn humility (Deuteronomy 8:2-3). Be the willing horse and pass the tests of humility with flying colours, and God will reward you greatly and promote you in your station in life (Deuteronomy 8:4-18). For it will take the same equivalent humility to maintain and to keep what God blesses you with in this life (Deuteronomy 8:14-20). Learn humility and learn it well. It will establish you for the rest of your life.
May God teach us and sear into our lives the keys to remain humble all the days of our life.
In Christ Jesus
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