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- Jacob Ninan
There are preachers who tell us not to follow them but only Jesus. Some of them are very frank about their personal failures. Surely there is a comfort in knowing that we are not the only ones who are struggling with sin and that even men we would respect greatly otherwise have their challenges to face. At the same time, we would like to have as examples those who are making progress upwards rather than who are stuck in the same rut. Sometimes this pointing to Jesus as an example and away from ourselves can be a cover up or an excuse for failure, especially if we end it by saying, "After all we are only human!" Then we forget that Christ can strengthen us and help us to do things we otherwise can't (Php.4:13).
The apostle Paul was unique. He was bold in proclaiming the highest standards of God for Christians, and at the same time honest about his own struggles (Ro.7:7-25) and imperfection (Php.3:12). He would not water down God's standards just because he himself had failed at times. He was not taken by the argument that we have no right to speak about the things we have not attained to. He knew that he was in a learning process himself and that as a prophet and teacher he had to proclaim the highest standards of God even if he himself had failed, because otherwise his hearers would be prevented from hearing them. At the same time he would not talk in a way that gave an impression that he was on top and had no struggles himself. He was not trying to impress them but to bless them (1Co.9:22 MSG).
Paul was bold in asking people to follow his example (1Co.11:1;Php:3:17;2Th.3:9). What are some of the lessons that we can learn from him?
1. He had his goals set high. His personal goal was on becoming like Jesus (Php.3:14), and his ministry goal was to prepare every person so as to present them before God as mature people (Col.1:28). He would not settle for anything less.
2. When he failed, he got up and continued. Some of Paul's mistakes are mentioned in Acts. He himself tells us in his writings about his struggles with discouragement, despair etc. But he would not allow these to stop him from moving forward (Php.3:13).
3. He would not give up. The kind of opposition Paul faced in his ministry, and the adverse experiences he went through would make us ashamed of the complaints we have. But the challenge we receive from him is that nothing would make him give up his goal (2Co.6:4-9).
4. He lived to bless. He was so convinced of how God had lifted him up from being a blasphemer and persecutor and given him the privilege of serving His people, that he sought to find ways to bless the others in some way or another. He has given us an example of not seeking his own gain but giving himself up for our gain (1Co.9:19).
Paul was not asking us to follow him as a perfect man, but as an imperfect man pressing on with clear focus on the goal, fighting against odds, not giving up, and enduring till the end (1Co.11:1). Aren't these practical and realistic examples for us too?