Paul, the Preacher
The Bible records and mentions many men and women. These are mentioned in all honesty, often revealing both their strengths and weaknesses. One man whom we shall consider was Saul of Tarsus, later named Paul (Acts 13: 9). Paul was both an apostle and a preacher (I Tim. 2: 7). Paul has been proclaimed the greatest preacher to have ever lived, next to the Master Teacher, Jesus. Paul was able to invite Christians to use his example as a model for themselves (I Cor. 11: 1) and of himself he said:
"10: But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me" (I Cor. 15).
While there were some peculiar matters (belonging to Paul) relative to Paul, his life and preaching in the main should be mimicked by all Christians today, especially preachers (cp. Rom. 15: 20, see addendum 1). Since background, education, and experiences all go to make the preacher what he is, it behooves us to consider some facts about Paul.
First, he was not a likely preacher proclaiming Christ, seeing that Paul or Saul was a staunch persecutor of Christians prior to becoming a Christian (Acts 8:1ff.). The fact that he persecuted Christians would later both haunt and motivate Paul (I Cor. 15: 9, 10). Great preachers often today come from unlikely beginnings; while some men with all the advantages seem to turn out to be professional hirelings (cp. John 10: 1-14).
Paul was of Hebrew ancestry and had been a conscientious Pharisee (Acts 23: 6, 26: 5). He had Roman citizenship and was privileged as a young man to have sat at the feet of the famous teacher Gamaliel (Acts 22: 28; 22: 3). He loved his Jewish brethren and sought every opportunity to teach them God’s power unto salvation, the gospel (Rom. 10: 1-3, 1: 16). While a man of great mental acumen, Paul suffered from various physical ailments, some no doubt caused by his relentlessly proclaiming Christ and the personal attacks such precipitated (2 Cor. 12: 7-10, Gal. 4: 14). One trait regarding Paul was that he appeared to have always been dedicated in what he did, never half-way doing anything (cp. I Tim. 1: 12). One work aptly described Paul thus:
"He was a man of heart, of passion, of imagination, of sensibility, of will, of courage, of sincerity, of vivacity, of subtlety, of humor, of adroitness, of tact, of genius for organization, of power for command, of gift of expression, of leadership-- 'All these qualities and powers went to the making of Jesus Christ's apostle to the nations, the master-builder of the universal church and of Christian theology' (Findlay, HDB; see Lock, Paul the Master Builder, 1905; and M. Jones, Paul the Orator, 1910, quoted in ISBE, "Paul, The Apostle, 4").
It is important that we have before us good and God pleasing examples of preachers. While the value of preachers may be over emphasized, preachers usually determine what the church of a given era is. We become so involved in creating seminaries to produce preachers, often forgetting that such schools usually have a particular slant and interest, that we start looking to such models, loosing sight of examples such as Paul (addendum 2). Let us now turn our attention to Paul as a preacher and see how preachers today measure up to his model.
Paul was set for the defense of the gospel. Based on this writer’s observation during about forty-five years of preaching, a high percentage of preachers in all religions are nothing but paid entertainers and pacifiers, having no real interest in people’s eternal souls. They can preach it either way, depending on the popularity of the moment (cp. 2 Tim. 4: 2-5). To help see more as to Paul’s style, if you will, as a preacher we shall consider two descriptive words, the Greek "apologia" and "dialegomai."
Consider Paul’s statement to the Philippians:
"7: Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace" (Phili. 1, see also verse 17).
The word "defense" is from the Greek apologia. Apologia is defined as, "A speech made in defense" (W.E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). Regarding "…set for the defense of the gospel," the Pulpit Commentary comments:
"…to his work of preaching the gospel, which was both apologetic, meeting the objections of adversaries and aggressive, asserting the truth" (Vol. 20, p. 3).
Involved in "set for the defense" is the basic idea and action of aggression and militancy. Such a style would be what we would commonly call the "debate style." (See addendum 3.)
The defense or apologia style is observed in Paul’s very first recorded sermon (Acts 13: 14-41). Notice that he went into the synagogue (v. 14). He took the initiative to go to an audience that was potentially hostile. He is seen as not shy, but at the same time courteous (v. 16). Paul presented pertinent Jewish history to his Jewish audience, thus laying a foundation for reference (vs. 17-25). Whereupon Paul then introduced Christ the Savior (vs. 23-25). He then made application of the truth thus far delivered (vs. 26, 28, 30, 38-41, see addendum 4). His style as recorded by the historian is what we would call controversial or apologetic (vs. 46, 50). Paul loved these Jewish people and he did not hold back in presenting the truth to them, notwithstanding the fact that they had decidedly rejected and murdered the Christ he presented to them (vs. 28ff.).
The word dialegomai also reveals Paul’s manner as a preacher. Dialegomai is found about seven times in Acts. Consider the first occurrence:
"1: Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: 2: And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures" (Acts 17).
The word "reasoned" in the above quoted translation is the word dialegomai. It would seem that some translators did not want to fully reveal to the English reader what the historian described. I say this because of the weak way dialegomai is commonly translated. Here are some comments on dialegomai:
"To think different things with oneself, to ponder, to dispute with others…" (W. E. Vine). "Mingle thought with thought…argue, discuss…to draw arguments from the scriptures with the idea of disputing…." (Thayer’s Greek/English Lexicon, p. 139). "And Paul entered, as he usually did, and for three Sabbaths he reasoned and argued with them from the scriptures" (The Amplified translation).
The basic action involved in dialegomai, especially in the considered circumstances, involved two ideas being considered, two ideas that are conflicting and different, such treatment and consideration for the purpose of ascertaining which is the truth and which one is wrong (see also Acts 17: 17; 18: 4, 19; 19: 8, 9; Acts 20: 7). Thus we refer to this style as the debate or polemic manner.
Paul sought out those with whom he doctrinally disagreed and debated them, this is what dialegomai is saying (when the teaching style of Jesus is closely examined, He also possessed the debating style, Matt. 22: 23ff.).
This same manner is apparent when Paul’s writings are examined. Paul was to the point and cogent in what he wrote. He knew of the situation of the church at Corinth, their doctrinal errors and immoral practices and he addressed, treated, and showed such to be sinful (I Cor. 5, 7, 15, etc.). Paul believed in dealing with current issues and relentlessly did so (cp. Gal. 4: 16-31, addendum 5). Paul overwhelmed the reader with facts and presented irrefutable logic in such volume that his disputants were helpless (see the Book of Hebrews).
Paul and false teachers. As you would gather, Paul had absolutely no tolerance for those who disseminated false teaching, either by actual teaching or conduct. We have insight into Paul’s response to men who did not present the pure gospel in the following:
"1: And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. 2: When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question" (Acts 15).
First, Paul did not effect unity-in-diversity with these men as many do today and he did not simply have a confrontation with them and then drop the matter, he pursued the matter all the way to Jerusalem, the church from where these men came (Acts 15: 4ff.). Pertaining to similar false teachers among the Galatian churches, Paul said, "I would they were even cut off which trouble you" (Gal. 4: 12). Paul knew no let up relative to those who brought another gospel, on occasion fully exposing them by naming them and identifying their particular doctrinal error (2 Tim. 2: 15-21, Gal. 1: 6-10, Gal. 2: 4, 5).
Not long after Paul became a Christian, the apostle Peter publicly sinned and negatively influenced others and Paul did not hesitate to even publicly rebuke Peter (Gal. 2: 11-14). Paul did not play politics and avoided preacher cliques (cp. Gal. 2: 4-6).
Paul practiced what he preached. First, Paul lived the life of a Christian and was willing to sacrifice anything that came between him and Jesus (Phili. 1: 21; 3: 7-10). Paul did not advocate preacher schools or seminaries, but personally taught and presented the protocol for preachers teaching aspiring preachers (2 Tim. 2: 2). He instructed preachers with solemnity and reality, charging them to be faithful to their responsibility (2 Tim. 2: 3-8). He told Timothy to:
"2: Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. 3: For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4: And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (2 Tim. 4).
Paul and preachers of his day. One might wonder what rapport Paul had with fellow-preachers. Regarding faithful men, Paul could not do enough to encourage and assist them (Acts 20: 34, Col. 4: 7, 9-17). The hirelings and political preachers of Paul’s day hated him and sought to malign and hinder him at every opportunity (Phili. 1: 12-18). Paul knew relatively few preachers who were really dedicated and unselfish (cp. Phili. 2: 19-21).
Paul and religious unity. Paul is never observed practicing ecumenical unity, but rather, he emphatically taught the unity that is based on sameness of belief and practice (Eph. 4: 3-6, I Cor. 1: 10). Paul in no uncertain terms condemned every vestige that even resembled our modern day denominationalism as well as the too often pseudo unity that is advocated in some churches of Christ that involves rallying around certain men (preachers) and schools (I Cor. 1: 10-13).
Notwithstanding the greatness of Paul, he was persecuted, considered an enemy by some brethren, and shamefully treated by other brethren (2 Cor. 6: 4-10, Gal. 4: 16). Among some, Paul was viewed "…as an evildoer, even unto bonds" (2 Tim. 2: 9, Paul spent several years incarcerated because he uncompromisingly preached Christ and he appeared to have been finally murdered by the Roman officials, Acts 21-28, 2 Tim. 4: 6, 16, 2: 9).
I would encourage all to look to the examples of Jesus and Paul when seeking preacher models and not to some frail and unreliable man. Churches need preachers like Paul and they need to use his model in seeking preachers today to work with them. At the end of Paul’s life, he could with resolve and confidence say to a young preacher: "6: For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7: I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: 8: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing" (2 Tim. 4). (Be sure to read, "A Pestilent Fellow.")
Addendum 1: Some object to using Paul as a model for preachers today due to his apostleship. It is a fact that he had the miraculous gifts of the Spirit (I Cor. 12: 8-10, Paul had been immersed in the Spirit, cp. Acts 1: 8; I Cor. 15:ff.). He also was provided words by the Spirit (I Cor. 2: 13, cp. Matt. 10: 19, 20). However, he was in control of his conduct and what he miraculously taught, we are to teach today (Phili. 3: 17, 4: 9). As a side note, it is interesting to consider that while Paul did not promote himself as an orator, Paul had a rich and learned vocabulary and employed great dialectics or logic. Paul’s writing is certainly above what brethren would consider a "sixth grade education." I say this to show how some have bound where they have no right, often condemning and excluding "educated" preachers and actually promoting ignorance.
Addendum 2: The history of seminaries and schools to produce preachers is not good. "They" have all been responsible for disseminating false doctrines at some time in their history, including Florida College among non-institutional churches of Christ.
Addendum 3: "Debate" as used in the King James is often rendered from the Greek eris and is used in the sense of contention and strife, always in a bad sense, cp. 2 Cor. 12: 20. However, as we are using "debate" in this article, the action is that of polemic exchange and honorable controversy, as seen in some of the alluded to scriptures mentioned in this material.
Addendum 4. Spirit led preachers of the First Century always made application of the truths they delivered (cp. Acts 2: 14-40). They did not preach disjointed and nebulous (float) sermons that had no relevancy.
Addendum 5: Not a few preachers today will do what is necessary to avoid having to deal with a current issue!