By Annang Asumang
This year, 2019, SATS has made Pauline theology the special focus of its Internet presence. This blogpost being the year’s first, it is worth briefly reflecting on the apostle’s self-understanding as evident in his enduring legacy, its impact on his ministry, and consequently, its implications for today’s Christian workers.
Paul, of course, was himself a ubiquitous Christian worker. He was first and foremost an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ and as such was conscious of his calling as prophetic vehicle of the divine mysteries that God the Father entrusted through the Spirit, to all the foundational apostles. But, as part of fulfilling this calling, Paul also functioned in several assorted but inter-connected ministries. He, for example, was an itinerant missionary tasked with the “priestly duty”, as he called it (Rom 15:16), of bringing the Gentiles to the obedience of faith in the Gospel (Acts 13:1-3; 2 Cor 5:17- 20). He was also a thoughtful theologian with unique Spirit-inspired gifts for exegeting the Scriptures in the light of the new covenant dispensation, in such a way that is fully compatible with the traditions received from Jesus, and apply them in his rigorous preaching and apologetic defence of the Gospel (Acts 17:16ff; Rom 1-4).
Paul was at the same time also pastor of multiple congregations that were scattered all over the Mediterranean world, a ministry in which he invested his utmost energies in the lives of the people through prayer, counsel, teaching, visiting, and discipline (Acts 20:25-27; Col 1:28-29). He was a prolific Christian writer whose permanent product, in the forms of the thirteen “weighty and forceful” letters, as some of his contemporaries observed (2 Cor 10:10), has transformed millions of men, women and children, and shaped the history of nations and entire continents. He was an energetic charity worker whose untiring fund-raising efforts for the starving believers in Judea has served as template for Christian relief work over the millennia (Rom 15:23ff; 2 Cor 8-9). And finally Paul was a fruitful mentor who, while rigorous in his demands from members of his team, was nevertheless also self-consciously intentional in his disciple-making (2 Tim 3:10-17; 4:9-13).
All these ministries varied in their complexion depending on the contexts as well as on the personal situations of the Apostle. Even so, one consistent feature which shines in each one of them and so binds all of them together was his Christ- centredness, that is, Christian existence that is radically refracted through, being renewed in and ruled by Christ. Christ-centredness was indeed Paul’s overriding self-concept, one which he projected that his readers might emulate. As he epitomized this to the Philippians: “For to me to live is Christ” (Phil 1:21). He was saved, he told Timothy, so that “Christ might display His perfect patience as an example” (1 Tim 1:16). And to the Galatians, he forcefully asserted that God was “pleased to reveal His Son in me, in order that I might preach Him” (Gal 1:16).
There are many more of such confessions. Paul’s basic self-understanding was that he was in effect a Christological project in progress, a project in which Christ, having captured and overpowered him, permeated his whole being in order to display His grace as model to all.
It is no wonder then that, on at least seven occasions, Paul explicitly urges his readers to imitate him (1 Cor 4:15-17, 11:1; Phil 3:17, 4:9; 1 Thess 1:6-7; 2 Thess 3:7-9; 2 Tim 3:10-11). “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1; ESV) is quite a straight-forward but powerful statement of Paul’s ministerial philosophy. That is why he judged his mission to the Thessalonians to have been a success, because they “became imitators of us and of the Lord” (1 Thess 1:6). To put it simply, the Apostle Paul consistently projected himself as a model Christocentric Christian worker worthy of the emulation of other believers and churches. All Christian workers may find reflections of their own work in Paul’s ministry. The challenge is whether we also seek to be as Christ-centred as he was.
As the banner of the Seminary indicates, Christ-centredness constitutes one of our institution’s three foundational pillars. It behoves us, then, that in focusing on Paul’s theology in 2019, we also whole-heartedly recommit ourselves to the Christocentricity that drove the Apostle, and which also inspired the seminary’s founder. This recommitment means many things, but above all, it means rekindling our love for the Lord Jesus, with all our hearts, mind and souls. It means inspiring our students to do the same, to be fired up by love for Jesus and so continue to be obedient captives of His. It means challenging the contemporary Church to seek at all cost to know Christ, to love Him in its worship, and through passionate witness, to make Him known to all. And it means each one of us being brought by the Spirit of God to the place where we can say with the Paul, “For me to live is Christ”!