Humble Heroes: Paul

Paul’s story can be found in Acts 9-28.

Paul plays a major role in the beginning of Christianity. Besides writing most of the New Testament, he was also on the front lines in spreading the faith and establishing churches. You can’t deny his importance. But though such a legendary figure is remembered for all these great achievements, Paul nevertheless demonstrates remarkable humility.

Before Paul became a champion of the Christian cause, he vehemently hated Christians and all that they stood for. Paul was a Pharisee, meaning he strictly followed the law, even more than most Jews. It would be unfair to say that all Pharisees were self-righteous, but the Gospels don’t necessarily paint a positive picture of them.

Needless to say, in the eyes of the Jewish law, Paul had a lot going on for him. He writes in Philippians 3:4-6 he writes, “If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.” That’s quite the resume for that time! In the following verses, Paul explains that he counts all of that as a loss. Compared to Christ, that’s all garbage!

Paul is doing exactly what Jesus did. In the chapter before, Paul described the attributes of Jesus: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8). In the all-powerful Jesus coming to the earth as a poor carpenter and willingly dying for others, he demonstrates the greatest act of humility.

While most people wouldn’t boast about the bad parts of their life, Paul realizes that life with Jesus changes how we view things. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul describes that a “thorn in his flesh” was given to him to keep him from becoming conceited. We don’t know what this refers to, but the apostle prayed for God to take it away from him. Then Paul writes, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

While Paul had reason to boast, he didn’t. His credentials and accolades don’t matter in light of Jesus’ presence in his life. He instead recognizes that God works through his weakness—God’s power shines through even the parts of Paul’s life that the world would typical hide. Humility, for Paul, isn’t just about not boasting about his personal achievements but is about seeing the bad as opportunities for God to work.

Discussion Questions

  • What do you admire most about Paul’s character?
  • How did Paul curb the temptation toward pride and boasting?
  • What does it look like to “boast” in our “weaknesses?”
  • Which of Paul’s best traits do you need to work on in yourself?
  • How is your character and spiritual life challenged by Paul’s life?

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