Friday, March 9, 2007


was probably one of the most critical men of the church.  He really knew how to lay down the gauntlet and call a spade a spade.  He was despised by false teachers for his straight shooting ways to peel back their deception and error.  Paul could also be called the most significant encourager of the church evidenced by his attention and time given to the writing and sending of letters throughout the growing body carrying the Holy Spirit inspired words of Christian instruction.  For those reasons, he was adored, admired and respected by true believers for his continual willingness to lay his life on the line for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ and His gospel alone.

What in the world caused Paul to be both hated and loved?  Romans 1:16 is a good first clue, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes:  first for the Jew, then for the Gentile."  Simply put, Paul was not ashamed of the gospel, either to declare it or to defend it when error threw its darts, either from within or without the church walls.  Paul knew that adherence to a false gospel killed eternally but being killed for the true gospel was life eternal. (2 Cor 4:14) 

Quick review, Paul seemed destined from the beginning to be a criticizer.  His first job was persecuting unto death the Christians (Acts 8:1,3), and he was extremely good at it.  As an upright Pharisee, Paul took great pride in his efforts to rid his Jewish church of this threat called Christianity. (Acts 9:1-2)  If not for the intervention of God, Paul, then known as Saul, would probably have gone down in history only as one of the greatest persecutors of Christians.  The fact that his persecution of believers is part of his testimony is evidence enough.

So in light of his past and in view of his conversion (read all about it in Acts 9:3-31), I find it significant that when it came to his new job of ministry to the Gentiles, God granted him a particular gift for encouraging the young church. Giving glory to God, Paul's focus completely changed from that of the gospel of men to the gospel of Christ.  That paradigm shift alone took its shape and form under the transforming Spirit of God.  My sincere desire is that my own paradigm shift would have the same signature of the transforming Spirit of God.

That being said, writing about how Paul used both methods to teach the visible church is probably the most daunting because of the sheer volume of his letters containing both encouragement and criticism of error.  For those reasons alone, I've confined my examples to 1 and 2 Corinthians, without any view to this discussion being exhaustive in scope.

One of the hallmarks of every letter Paul penned is the edifying way that he begins, "I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus." (1 Cor 1:4)  Paul then lists the specific things for which he is thankful regarding the Corinthians.  He lists their attributes of enrichment in speaking and knowledge, in their testimony of Christ, their spiritual gifts, their eagerness for the Lord's return, and their union with Christ that will keep them blameless, strong and faithful to the end. (vs 5-9) 

Paul is encouraging when he reminds them of how God has chosen them, (1:27-31) and how God has given His Spirit to reveal His wisdom to them (2:12).  Even when Paul admonishes the Corinthians regarding a divisive issue within the church, he encourages them by directing them to a proper focus of Christ in 3:21-23.  Chapters 4-6 contain even sterner words in regard to the error that the Corinthian church has allowed to creep in, and in each case Paul points the church to a focus on Christ. (4:20, 5:7, 6:11, 20)

This practice of encouragement juxtaposed to critique is honestly what takes my breath away for Paul neither encourages nor critiques for the sake of the exercise alone.  He doesn't feed them with fluff or empty words, but neither does he negatively vent to hear himself speak.  Paul only encourages the believers for their adherence to the gospel, and in like manner, he criticizes their error in regards to having left behind the gospel of Christ and its commands.  I do see this standard misused in the visible church today.  I do think that the only way for clarity to return on either side is to realign all of our words to the gospel of Christ.

Let me make it my issue:  If I want to encourage a fellow believer for anything of Christ in her life, then am I speaking biblically to her about the saving faith she shows, the perseverance she exhibits, her willingness to suffer for doing good, or for the godly fruits of self-discipline and gentleness I see her exemplify towards her children?  In like manner, if my sister in Christ is laying a poor foundation, indulging appetites of sin, associating with immoral influences or demonstrating an attitude of anger and deceit, do I love her enough, do I love Christ enough, to call her back to His Word?

Honestly, I'd rather only do the first because it's easier and my Mimi always said, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."  Mimi was wise and she loved God, and so she'd also be the first to tell me what Proverbs says, "Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses." (27:6)

The signature of Paul's writings is his intense focus on the gospel and person of Christ giving huge credibility to his practice of encouragement and critique.  He communicates that for any believer to take his eyes off of Christ is to invite distraction of a believer's purpose--to glorify God in body and spirit. (6:20)  My thesis remains that any encouragement or critique apart from a focus on Christ is void of power and persuasion.  Submission to the instruction of 1 Corinthians 1:25, "For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength."

In sum, Paul's words in 2 Corinthians follow a similar pattern of juxtaposing encouragement for a Christlike mind and standard of behavior (1:11, 2:7, 3:3, 4:15, 5:17, 8:7), and evaluation for any disregard of Christian instruction, as well as admonition to remain faithful (5:12, 6:14, 7:9, 11:3-4, 12:20-21, 13:5).  Paul quite obviously cared for this body of sheep as he tenderly states in 2 Cor 11:2, "I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy.  I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him."  Would that each member of the body cared for one another in the same manner--then perhaps, neither the strength of encouragement would falter nor the value of proper critique fail.

I'm thankful for having spent the time reading through the Scripture.  Personal circumstances have required finding a solace in Scripture and a turning away from the world's poor examples.  Knowing myself to be far from sanctified in both encouragement and criticism of error causes repentance and a hunger to more closely model the Savior.  Spiritual fruit is borne when the principle of 2 Corinthians 10:5 is lived, "We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."

By the Holy Spirit, may it be true of me.  Will it also be true of you?


  1. "He doesn't feed them with fluff or empty words, but neither does he negatively vent to hear himself speak."

    Yes! I've read your post 3 times now :)

    I think it can be a matter of what we naturally tend to - for some criticism comes easy - maybe too easy, and encouragement is something to develop. For others encouragement comes easy, but offering corrective advice is difficult. I think it takes some maturit to get to where paul was - and even he had a disgreement with Barnabas.

    Your thoughts on Paul's past are interesting - I've lloked at that too. Initially as a Christian hew was over the top - they had to get him out of the city and then we are told the church had peace and multiplied. So he was on a learning curve, just like you and I are. Later he was the author of those marvellous letters in which he has the maturity and oversight to encourage and correct with wisdom and accuracy.

    Very well written post I thought - it made me think of the progressive way God teaches us these things. Thanks.

  2. Hi.

    I came by via everyday mommy's design portfolio . . . when I saw this post I couldn't help but extend an invitation to be a part of the Carnival of Beauty. Our topic last week was The Beauty of Saul/Paul. This would have been a great addition!!

    We'd love to have you be a part of future Carnivals of Beauty!