Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Paul's Passion for People

You know me. I'm always trying to push myself. After all, if I expect my students to give their Greek studies 100 percent, can I do anything less? This morning's workout took me an hour and a half to complete. It was a bear but very productive. It took me longer than normal because I just added a new exercise to my routine, the deadlift. At the end of my workout, I finished up with some easy upper body exercises. 

This week is also the time I've set aside for house cleaning. (Remember my new year's resolution to clean the house at the beginning of every month?) Maybe it's the time of the year or it's just me, but I have been in a severe cleaning rut. I mean, my spiritual gift is eating, not cleaning up after myself. It's as if my brain can't think beyond the usual unkempt state of affairs that the house can easily fall into if I'm not careful. 

Anyway, what I really wanted to talk about was something I read in my morning devotionals over at everyone's favorite upscale restaurant, Bojangles. I was in 1 Thessalonians chapter 2. 

This chapter is one of the most personal and intimate in all of Paul's writings. As I read it, I was reminded of why Paul was so good at making friends. Have you ever noticed Paul's passion for people? Two things stood out to me today:

1) Paul dared to share. Just read verse 2. Paul fearlessly proclaimed the gospel. He took unpopular stands. He taught the truth. He never compromised his beliefs. That takes daring and courage. Last night a student asked me what other scholars thought about me and my views on the authorship of Hebrews. I told them that it didn't matter to me what they or anyone else thought. For years I believed just like they they did, but when I did a deep dive and compared Hebrews with the Paulines I couldn't help but see massive similarities in terms of style, diction, and even theology. Besides, by the 4th century we have 14 epistles of Paul, not 13. I could go on and on but I won't because my views are out in the public arena for you to read if you're so inclined. But none of us should be afraid to express our opinions. Elsewhere Paul said we are to be convinced in our minds and have our own convictions about things that are disputed. If Paul was anything, he was a man of deep convictions.

2) Paul dared to care. See verse 8. Paul says that he loved the Thessalonians so much that he was delighted to share with them not only the gospel but his own life. For teachers like me, this is one of the most powerful and disturbing sentences in all of Paul's writings. Paul stitches together what we so often hold apart. Teaching can never be reduced to the mere dissemination of information. I can't just show up at 12:30 on Monday afternoon, unload my theological dump truck, and then pull a wheelie out of the parking lot. Where's the heart? The love? The passion for people? Paul shared the truth, yes. But he also shared himself. Paul exercised his authority, not like a lord but like a parent. Paul -- the Alpha Male, the AAA type personality -- was gentle among them, like a mother caring for her children. Christians, including the students we teach week in and week out, are like children. They don't grow up instantaneously. Are we patient with them? Are we willing to go out of our way for them, even inconveniencing ourselves to help them? Think of what mothers give up for their babies -- their time, their sleep, their social life, their ambition, their achievement, their energy, their money. Teachers who prioritize their students may well have to give up many of the same things. Do you see Paul loving, and serving, and giving, and urging his readers to live their lives in a manner worthy of the kingdom? Do you see a perfect blend of steel and tenderness? 

This was all very convicting to me this morning. Becoming a good teacher takes work, risk, dedication, sacrifice ... and especially time. Nor can our students be expected to arrive at maturity overnight. Christian Barnard didn't just pick up a scalpel one day and suddenly decide to start transplanting hearts. Maturity, like a crop, doesn't spring up overnight. If it's healthy, it has to be fertilized, nurtured, weeded, and watered. 

Each week of school has become an experiment in which I, like Paul, dare to share the truth with my students --  and also dare to share my life with them. It can be a very radical way of living.