Faith

Paul, Apostle of Christ: Would you follow his example?

by Tan Huey Ying // March 27, 2018, 10:47 am

Paul (left) in an intense exchange with his prison warden, Mauritius (Olivier Martinez) in the movie Paul, Apostle of Christ.

“I have many regrets and have made many mistakes. But everything I have done … I have done for Christ.”

This was no boast – but even if it were, it would be a boast well worth making.

In the movie, Paul, Apostle of Christ, Paul (James Faulkner) states it as a matter of fact in a measured, slightly wistful tone. 

In the movie, he is Paul, a man living in the first century AD. Follower of Christ. Prisoner of the Romans. Leader of a persecuted people who looked to him for direction when they did not know whether or not to flee their city. 

Luke, the Greek physician (Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in The Passion of the Christ) said this to Paul: “I walked with Christ … and the day I heard you preach, I saw Christ in you.”

The Paul of the Bible is believed to be the author of 13 books, whose words make up a quarter of the New Testament. He is Paul the great missionary. Paul the appointed apostle of Christ.

Paul the saint.

So when he says: “Follow my example” (1 Corinthians 11:1) … that is a tall order.

Imitate him?

Not a one-dimensional saint

But Paul was also a man haunted by the ghosts of his past. His sins as Saul of Tarsus, forgiven as they were, could not be forgotten: The face of Stephen as Paul watched him being stoned to death. The face of a little Jewish boy that Paul chased down as he was praying for his murdered family.

Paul the murderer. Paul the chief of sinners. Paul the least amongst the saints.

Imitate him?

These are words that came from a man who knew the love of Christ and who loved Christ.

In one scene, Paul is seen shivering and sweating on his bed, his eyes wide open and glazed over, desperately repeating: “Your grace is sufficient for me.”

And again, “Your grace is sufficient for me.”

Suffering with this thorn in his life, yet constantly hope-filled, full of love for people and deeply faithful to Christ and the Gospel, he is Paul, mentor and spiritual father to many.

The movie fleshes out aspects of Paul that anyone without a highly active imagination and solid understanding of early Jewish culture and society would miss.

Commonly-quoted words written by Paul are peppered throughout the movie, but seen in the context of the show, they become precious food for thought. Irrelevant and clichéd, they are not.

Still relevant today

Times have changed since Paul’s letters were written.

In Singapore, streets are lit by lamps, not fiery Roman torches. Christians are not a persecuted religious group – choosing to follow Christ is a not a matter of life and death in this city. Prisoners are not routinely flogged and beaten, much less eaten alive by animals, for the entertainment of others.

And unless you work in a hospital, or in the police or civil defence force, the grisly images of death and decay are far removed from the daily humdrum. Even fewer people know the burdens carried by those who have taken the life of another human.  

Still, as abstract as the themes of persecution and physical suffering might be, there are important parallels to life that make the teachings of Paul relevant.

The issues that Paul and the first century Christians faced are no less real today.

The human experience of life is independent of the age people live in. 

Paul’s words are weighted truths that were borne out of his life – his sins, his salvation, his redemption.

Like Paul, many live with the guilt of their past. They face different, but equally heavy, pressures and dilemmas. Still others struggle in bondage to debts, societal demands, idolatry.

Paul’s letters in Scripture are not pithy sayings that sound good but do no good:

“Do not be anxious in anything.” Philippians 4:6
“Rejoice always.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16
“Let us not become weary in doing good” Galatians 6:9
“Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice” Romans 12:1
“Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” Ephesians 6:10

Instead, these are words that came from a man who knew the love of Christ amidst trial and suffering; and who loved Christ even though at times, his very sanity seemed to depend on the truths of the gospel.

They might have been over-used and wrongly used by Christians, but they are truths nonetheless. Weighted truths that were borne out of Paul’s life – his sins, his salvation, his redemption:

“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1

It is the very truths of Christ that makes it even possible to follow the example of Paul. These truths strengthened Paul and sustained him. They were a constant source of comfort and edification to believers throughout the centuries. They are the wisdom of God made known to men.

And the Church, God’s people, will make known that “manifold wisdom of God” (Ephesians 3:10) to the world; wisdom applicable through clear discernment for any situation in life.

Paul the man, said: “Follow my example.

Buckle up.

Paul, Apostle of Christ is playing in local cinemas from Thursday, 22 March 2018. Get your tickets here

About the author

Tan Huey Ying

Salt&Light writer Huey Ying is a millennial with a résumé to prove it – she was a plankton-sized part of the finance industry before serving in a Christian organisation. She loves the sea and you will find her somewhere near the water during her holidays.