|The Apostle Paul|
Based on some of these characteristics, we could form a conclusion about him that may not be an accurate picture of what he was actually like. In fact, it may be quite different from his true personality and appearance. Have you ever listened for years to a certain radio personality and never seen what they look like, but then one day you finally see a picture of the person and are surprised, because they didn't look anything like the way you pictured them to be? Similarly, we might be surprised to know what Paul was really like.
Maybe you pictured him as a tall, handsome, sharp-dressed man. Such men are popular in the pulpit today. Or perhaps you thought of him as an eloquent speaker, who impressed people with his preaching. Or perhaps you think of him as a mean person, as I once heard someone speculate. So let's see what kind of person Paul was according to the Bible.
Unskilled in Speaking
He was not a trained or polished speaker. Some people described him as unskilled in speech, unskilled in speaking, not good with words, an amateur in speaking, saying his speech was of no account, his speaking amounted to nothing, his speech was contemptible, or that he was a terrible speaker. (2 Cor 10:10, 11:6). John Wesley took these verses to mean that Paul spoke "in a plain, unadorned way, like an unlearned person."
In fact, although he had been thoroughly trained in the Law under a prominent and highly esteemed rabbi named Gamaliel (Ac 22:3), he admitted he was not a great orator. “And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God.” (1Co 2:1, NASB). “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.” (1Co 2:1, NASB). Perhaps he could relate well with Moses who said, "I have never been eloquent...I am slow of speech and tongue.” (Ex 4:10, NIV).
“My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power.” (1 Cor 2:4, NIV). He simply relied on the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let preachers today remember this and speak to bless rather than to impress.
His personal presence was weak. Some people said his bodily presence was weak, in person he was unimpressive. In other words, his personal presence was unimpressive. (2 Cor 10:10). This shows us the weak side of Paul, and he was aware of the fact that he was unimpressive, naturally speaking.
He himself said, “I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling.” (1Co 2:3, NASB). In another version it says, “I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.” (1Co 2:3, NIV).
Like the Lord Jesus, there was nothing about him physically that would draw people to him. The Scripture says of Jesus, "He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him." (Is 53:2b, NIV).
Vulnerable to Sickness
He was not completely immune to illnesses common to all men, even though the Lord used him mightily to heal the sick. He wrote to the Galatians, “But you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time; and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself.” (Gal 4:13-14, NASB). In the NIV, it says, “As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself.” (Gal 4:13-14, NIV).
In some circles today, if a person is sick, it means they have sin in their life. But let's remember that even Paul suffered from an illness at least at one time in his life as a Christian.
A Caring Person
He cared deeply about people. “Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.” (Act 20:31). Day and night for three years, he admonished the Ephesians with tears. You can't fake that. In fact, he daily faced the pressure of his concern for all the churches, not just the Ephesians (2 Cor 11:28). Someone has said, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."
A Loving Person
He loved people. He wrote to the Corinthians, “I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?” (2Co 12:15). "For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you." (2Co 2:4). He also wrote to the Thessalonians, "And may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you." (1Th 3:12). He told the Philippians that he had them in his heart and longed for them with the affection of Christ (Php 1:7-8).
A Christ Centered Person
He put Christ’s interests above his own. “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.” (Act 20:24). He wrote to the Galatians, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me." (Gal 2:20)
A Gentle Person
He was a gentleman. He wrote to the Thessalonians, “But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children.” (1Th 2:7). And he wrote to the Corinthians, "Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ--I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent!" (2Co 10:1). Although he was bold in his letters, he was meek when face to face, which may have made him seem to some people as if he was timid.
A Humble Person
He was humble. In his letter to the Philippians, he wrote, "Although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ...Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” (Php 3:4-7,12).
He wrote to the Corinthians, "I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say..." (2 Cor 12:5b-6). He summed it up by saying, "I am nothing." (2 Cor 12:11). And in his epistle to the Romans, he said, "For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh." (Rom 7:18)
Paul's name had originally been Saul, perhaps after King Saul, whom we remember from the Bible was a head and shoulders taller than all the others. Yet when he came to Christ, he changed his name to Paul, which means little. This shows how the Lord humbled him completely.
A Hard Worker
He was hardworking. He said to the Ephesians, “You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me.” (Act 20:34). He said to the Corinthians that he worked much harder than others who claimed to be apostles (2 Cor 11:23). He wrote to the Thessalonians, “Nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you;” (2Th 3:8)
Deeply Held Convictions
He was a man of strong convictions. “After some days Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us return and visit the brethren in every city in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are." Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.” (Act 15:36-39)
A Praying Man
He was a praying man, who prayed for others. Although some preachers today spend their time preparing messages, and are quite impressive behind the pulpit, what are they like in the secret place of prayer? Are they devoted to prayer? Paul was. He said, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers.” (1Th 1:2) “For God, whom I serve in my spirit in the preaching of the gospel of His Son, is my witness as to how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers making request, if perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you.”(Rom 1:9-10). “Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.” (Rom 10:1). “We are glad whenever we are weak and you are strong; and our prayer is for your perfection.” (2Co 13:9, NIV 1978). “For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.” (Eph 1:15-17). “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always offering prayer with joy in my every prayer for you all.” (Php 1:3-4). “We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you.” (Col 1:3). “To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power.” (2Th 1:11).
He was constantly praying for people, thanking God for them with joy. That's how he chose to spend his time. He could have spent it doing many other things, including sleeping, preaching, preparing messages, working, or making money. But he chose to spend much of his time praying for people. I believe it was E.M. Bounds in his book, Power Through Prayer, who said the average preacher prays only five minutes a day. What a pity! What we need are praying men who will spend that time before God in the secret place each day.
A Suffering Servant
He considered himself a servant, who suffered greatly for the Lord, referring to himself as a doulos, or slave of Christ (Rom 1:1; Gal 1:10; Phil 1:1; Tit 1:1).
In Paul's own words, he described himself like this: "To my shame I must say that we have been weak by comparison. But in whatever respect anyone else is bold--I speak in foolishness--I am just as bold myself. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ?--I speak as if insane--I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern? If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness." (2Co 11:21-30).
He also wrote, "For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more." (1Co 9:19). In the end, he ultimately gave his life for Christ. According to tradition, Paul was beheaded in Rome during the reign of Nero.
Putting it All Together
I have read someplace that perhaps Paul was short, bald, and had a big nose. Who can say for sure? We don't really know what he looked like, since they did not have any photos in those days, and there were no portraits painted of him during his lifetime that we can look at to know how he looked. But as he once wrote, "Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer." (2Co 5:16). We do not seek to know Paul from a worldly point of view. Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
Paul may have been the type of person, whom you could walk by and not even know was a mighty man of God. If you had lived during his day and he came walking into your town with his ministry team, you might ask who it is, and if someone told you that was the apostle Paul, you might be very surprised that he looked so unassuming. If you listened to him speak during his earthly lifetime, you may not be very impressed.
According to Scripture, we do know he was unskilled in speaking by the world's standards, physically unimpressive, a man like we are, vulnerable to sickness, yet a very caring, loving, affectionate, gentle, humble, praying, hard-working person with deeply held convictions, who was Christ-centered and living his life for Jesus. May we remember and apply to ourselves his admonition to the Corinthians when he said, "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ." (1Co 11:1). Let's follow his example, as he followed the example of Christ.
Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Most other Scriptures taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®, unless otherwise noted. The painting of Saint Paul Writing His Epistles is probably by Valentin de Boulogne (1591 - 1632) (French). This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published (or registered with the U.S. Copyright Office) before January 1, 1923.
Author's note: If you enjoyed this post, you may also like the other posts in this blog available through the links in the side bar, such as Success in God's Eyes and Persecuted or Popular?. I also recommend Having a Servant's Heart, The Glory of Martyrdom for Christ, Why Paul Lived Like a Jew Among the Jews, Holding Fast the Faithful Word, The Top Ten Things Jesus Taught, Loving Deeply, Sins That Will Keep You From Heaven, Popularity of the Gospel, Ask for the Ancient Paths, The Knowledge of the Holy, Separation from the World, Ultimate Accountability, Avoid Becoming a Corrupted Christian, The Cost of Discipleship, The Judgment Seat of Christ. You may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master."
Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International. He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org