I don’t think anyone would call the apostle Paul a milquetoast. In fact, we are a little surprised by his own words in II Corinthians 10 where he suggested that when in person, he appeared to be timid and weak. According to Paul, the Corinthians feared his letters, but they were not impressed by his appearance or his speech. Not having the opportunity to have met him personally, we share the Corinthians’ conviction that he wrote powerful letters. In fact, we use words such as bold, dynamic, and courageous to describe Paul. In his letters he did not shy away from difficult issues when he felt it prudent to address them. For example, in his epistle to the Galatian church, he recounts a difficult conversation with Peter where he confronts his fellow apostle over his behavior. We couple these letters with the image of him that emerges in the Book of Acts. Remember how he handled the crisis of a sinking ship in Acts 27? He appeared to be large and in charge.
And yet there is a humbleness about him. Perhaps because he could never forget how wrong he was—and how right he thought he was—about Jesus in the beginning. He was, by his own confession, “a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:5-6, ESV). But he recognized he had erred greatly, “Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: . . . Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (I Timothy 1:13–15 KJV). I don’t think he was using hyperbole here; he felt the full weight of his wrongful actions and ideas.
But maybe part of his humbleness came from his growing realization about the “breadth, and length, and depth, and height” of God Himself. When the scales of blindness fell from his physical eyes in Acts 9, his spiritual sight also improved. His confidence in his own learning faded. He began to understand why the English poet Alexander Pope would later write, “A little learning is a dangerous thing.” Although Paul was caught up to the “third heaven,” or at least he knew a man who had been, he never claimed to have all the answers. As he closed out his magnificent chapter of the supremacy of love, he recognized that he saw “through a glass darkly.” Or, in the words found in a newer translation, “in a mirror dimly (ESV).” He seemed to be okay with not appearing to know everything.In a world that has seen a staggering growth in knowledge and a seeming corresponding loss in wisdom, we can benefit greatly from Paul’s humble posture. Click To Tweet
Three Ways to Benefit from Humble Posture
In a world that has seen a staggering growth in knowledge and a seeming corresponding loss in wisdom, we can benefit greatly from Paul’s humble posture.
1. We must forcefully reject arrogance.
Arrogance has a way of sneaking up on the unsuspecting. It is much too easy to begin to believe our own press clippings. People are kind and they want to say nice things about us, and we begin to put too much stock in their words. Because we have been diligent in study, we begin to understand a few things that have evaded most others. And suddenly we are tempted to think we have it all figured out. Then we become dismissive of others’ opinions. Disdain for those not as bright as us begins to take root in the corners of our heart. If we don’t push back against arrogance, we will do significant damage to our witness. Instead of seeing the beauty of holiness, people will see ugly pride.
2. We need to remember of whom we are attempting to gain knowledge—of God Himself.
A god we can easily figure out is not much of a god. Usually, it is a god made in our image, not the God who is the source of life.
If we commit ourselves to the pursuit of God, we must learn to be comfortable with mystery.
If we commit ourselves to the pursuit of God, we must learn to be comfortable with mystery. He is beyond our understanding—we see through a glass darkly. And that should produce humility.
3. We should push on with learning.
There comes a point in the pursuit of knowledge when you first grasp how little you know. I have spent much of my adult years studying Oneness Pentecostal history. And every so often I will run across a significant event or person that I have no knowledge of. I may have constructed a theory about how some doctrine developed, and then I discover that I missed an important part of the story. I have to stop and rebuild my understanding. If this is true for Oneness history, think how true it is for our understanding of God. He has depths that remain unexplored. Isaiah reminded us that His ways are beyond our ways. And that should keep us humble and remind us that we see through a glass darkly.
Dr. Robin Johnston serves as the editor in chief and publisher for the United Pentecostal Church International. In addition he is the director for the Center for the Study of Oneness Pentecostalism and an adjunct professor at Urshan Graduate School of Theology.
Resources and Links by Dr. Johnston
Handbook on the Book of Acts (Also available in Spanish)
Howard A. Goss: A Pentecostal Life
Spiritual Disciplines: Essential Practices of the Christian Life