The apostle Paul is one of Christianity's most well-known persons. He visited many churches in different countries, travelling far and facing many dangers. He tells how he was stoned, beaten, and even shipwrecked. (2 Corinthians 11:25.) He spent years in prison on false charges, and in the end he died as a martyr in Rome.
It’s clear that in our own daily life we can’t follow Paul by going through the exact same things he went through. Because of this, it’s easy to relax and rather see people like Paul as “superheroes” that we can’t actually follow. Therefore, it’s very good to read what Paul wrote in his letters. Were the things that happened to him the most important things in his life? Was his Christianity mostly about his outward situations, and all the things he faced during his travels?
What was the most important for Paul in his life?
When Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1, NCV), what example is it that we must follow? To know the answer to that, we need to know what was most important to him in his life. And that was that he loved Jesus Christ more than everything else. That was the reason why he lived and served. It was not Paul’s intention that there should just be a few “heroes” - a few special people with a special life and a special ministry - while everyone else was just a “regular Christian”.
When he was in prison, he wrote a letter to the Philippians. There he described, among other things, what the most important thing in his life was: “I expect and hope ... to show the greatness of Christ in my life.” Philippians 1:20 (NCV). This is what we can learn from him and here we can follow his example!
“I have given up everything else … all I want is Christ”
“But Christ has shown me that what I once thought was valuable is worthless … I have given up everything else and count it all as garbage. All I want is Christ.” Philippians 3:7-8 (CEV). “I have not yet reached my goal, and I am not perfect. But Christ has taken hold of me. So I keep on running and struggling to take hold of the prize.” Philippians 3:12 (CEV). This is how every Christian should follow Paul.
“Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4,6-7 (NLT). Isn’t this an example worth following?
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Philippians 4:11 (NIV). That was written by a man sitting in prison. Can we not follow Paul in this so that we learn the same thing in our circumstances?
Admire or follow?
In sports we see that it is very easy to sit on the sideline and admire those who have trained hard and have sacrificed everything for their sport. But it is absolutely not the meaning of Christianity that we admire a few saints whom we see as “heroes”. The apostle Paul has made this very clear. Christianity is to love Jesus Christ with your whole heart. Christianity means that we follow Jesus, live according to His Word, and follow the holy men and women of God who have lived before us. It should fill all our thoughts, words, and deeds – every day, wherever we are.
Then we don’t just admire Paul, but we see him as an example whom we can follow.