Shouldn’t you read Paul in light of Jesus, instead of reading Jesus in light of Paul?”

I started out my Spiritual journey as a Catholic because that is what my parents were. I came to find out that they were only tepid Catholic as they really didn’t go to church themselves very often but more often just dropped us off and then went home.  Upon entering high school I went about twenty years moving between an inactive Christian and an agnostic verging on atheist. Then as a result of getting married I joined a Protestant congregation.  When I was going to a Catholic grade school I remember hearing a lot of things about Jesus and not much about the letters of St. Paul or any of the other “epistles”. But when I joined the Lutheran church Paul strangely seemed to be front and center on their theology.

Martin Luther’s epiphany was based on Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians about being saved by grace and not works so I guess I should not have been surprised to see Paul not Jesus to be the center of that congregation’s beliefs. It was not until I started seriously studying the words of Jesus that I came to fully realize that Jesus must be the total focus.

When I started out blogging here more than four years ago I promptly got a comment from someone rather high up in the Lutheran church. He chastised me saying all the words in the Bible are from God so none are more important than any others. This statement amazed me because it said that Jesus’ words were no more important than any others in the Bible. Of course I have come, after years of serious study, to totally renounce that man-made belief.

When I came across the words below in a book entitled “A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith” by Brian McLaren who is a Protestant clergy and author, they verified what I already knew:

Like a lot of Protestants, for many years I “knew” what the gospel was. I “knew” that the gospel was the message of “justification by grace through faith,” distorted or forgotten by those pesky Catholics, but rediscovered by our hero Martin Luther through a reading of our even greater hero Paul, especially his magnum opus, the Letter to the Romans. If Catholics were called “Roman Catholics” because of their headquarters in Rome, we could have been called “Romans Protestants,” because Paul’s Roman letter served as our theological headquarters……

He then asked me how I would define the gospel, and I answered as any good Romans Protestant would, quoting Romans. He followed up with this simple but annoying rhetorical question: “You’re quoting Paul. Shouldn’t you let Jesus define the gospel?” When I gave him a quizzical look, he asked, “What was the gospel according to Jesus?” A little humiliated, I mumbled something akin to “You tell me,” and he replied, “For Jesus, the gospel was very clear: The kingdom of God is at hand. That’s the gospel according to Jesus. Right?” I again mumbled something, maybe “I guess so.” Seeing my lack of conviction, he added, “Shouldn’t you read Paul in light of Jesus, instead of reading Jesus in light of Paul?”

Today I firmly believe that to be a follower of Jesus Christ we most put our almost total focus on his words. At best we should use the other authors as reinforcement of Jesus not a replacement for him as I see in many congregations today.

Jesus and Paul…

I am going to start yet a new category on this blog called “Jesus and Paul”. I will try to pull out words from Jesus and then corresponding words from Paul to see how the words and their corresponding meanings might differ. From my initial look at this topic I was somewhat surprised to find what I have. This will be an interesting place to go in my study of the Bible.

Many Christians today, especially those who call themselves Evangelicals and Lutherans in particular, like to say that “all the words in the Bible are the words of Jesus”. Anyone who has read much from this blog know that I just don’t see it that way. In my mind Jesus’ words must take front and center in my Christian life. He was God incarnate; all the other writers were simply human beings whose words were  inspired by God. All the words in the Bible must be filtered through the red letters. Where there appears to be a conflict Jesus’ words will reign supreme, at least to me.

I want to say in advance that when there is an apparent conflict between the words of Jesus and Paul I am not trying to insinuate that Paul was lying or trying to lead us astray. I know there are many around who love it but I am just not a conspiracy type guy. Instead I tend to believe that some of the words of Paul were just Paul giving his human and personal opinion about something. There are a few places in his many letters where he openly states that fact. I wish he had done that more often so as not to confuse some of us now twenty centuries later.

In studying Paul I have come to the conclusion that he, among other things, was just a ornery old bachelor and that human condition bled through to some of his words in his many letters. Of course the same is true for all of us. Our experiences determine how we view life.  That is what makes us human. How could it have been otherwise for even the Apostles. I am just not one to believe  that when Paul was struck down on the road to Damascus he quit being the person he was and was totally taken over by Jesus in all his thoughts and words. He did not give up his personality or human thoughts in the process. Neither did any of the other epistle writers. The human aspect of the Epistles is what gives them value. I believe their humanity shows through in many of their words. In my mind that is one thing that continues to make the Bible interesting. We can view being disciples of Jesus Christ through many different human foibles. This will be an interesting study indeed.

Doing Good Deeds

I am going to keep this post simple and just put out some verses about doing good deeds. This time I am going to also pull up some words from Peter and Paul.

Matthew 5:14-16.

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. NIV

1 Peter 2:11-12

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.  NIV

1 Tim 6:17-19

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.  NIV

Gal 6:7-11

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!  NIV

There are scores of places in the gospels where Jesus and his disciples gave us this same message so it is very hard for me to understand why some Christian denominations seem to ignore his message and concentrate almost entirely on the forgiveness of sins. Yes Jesus did forgive us our sins but as part of the process he expects us to act like we appreciate it. From the above verses there appears to be consequences for doing otherwise. All of us 24/7 should let the light in our lives reflect Jesus’ teachings so that others can see the Lord through us.