They say that for some people, if you get them talking about themselves, you’re likely to end up doing all the listening. I think that is true of all of us to some extent. It seems that whatever thing we love the most will be always in our thoughts, and will inevitably find its way into our conversation.
That was certainly true of Paul (the Apostle, formerly known as S of T). He is famous for his rabbit trails, talking about one thing one minute and suddenly off on another thing the next. His conversational digressions however, didn’t really divert so much as converge – on to his favorite topic: the marvelous person of his Lord and Savior.
Take some examples we see in two of Paul’s letters we have been studying lately, 1 Timothy and Philippians.
In 1 Timothy Paul comes out swinging, urging the young pastor Timothy to ‘order’ (παραγγείλῃς) some in the church (who were teaching) not to teach different doctrine. Apparently proffered by those who pretentiously considered themselves ‘teachers of the law’, Paul reacted swiftly against their vapid assertions, embarking on an explanation of the law’s real purpose: to reveal man’s sinfulness and God’s holiness.
And here we go. Paul can no more mention the law (his one-time profession) when he is struck by the contrast between the law’s capacity only to condemn, and Christ’s overflowing grace and mercy that gives eternal life. Go ahead; try to stop him (no one could).
“I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. “ 1 Ti 1:12–17 (ESV)
In Philippians, Paul is speaking to a church also encountering some internal strife. He empathizes with their recent struggles, encouraging them to remain strong in their faith, as he remains, even while imprisoned. It’s all about what you love, he insists; what’s in your heart and in your head.
“The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice”. Php 1:17–18 (ESV)
Paul’s goal is to get them all on the same page, not coincidentally, the same one he is reading from as well. The unity he desires for them cannot come from self-mindedness but only from Christ-mindedness, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (2:5)
True to his nature, he then breaks out in song, or at least he quotes from one that was familiar to the early church (so the scholars and commentators tell us). Philippians 2:6-11 is one long diversion from the subject, leading us instead, directly to the main point.
“Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”. Php 2:6–11 (ESV)