Seven Minutes with The International Director Apr/May 1979
For this issue of ISRAEL MY GLORY, I asked our artist, my good friend Bill Ressler, to paint the Apostle Paul.
I suppose most of us have our own idea of what Paul looked like. Presumptuous perhaps, but I think I’ll recognize him in heaven – even before being introduced. “Bill,” I said, “here are some suggestions. Paint Paul small of stature – but not frail – sinewy, with compressed power ready to uncoil. His face should be firm, resolute, unbending and uncompromising, but let the thoughtful viewer see the qualities of compassion and tenderness. His beard – and I think he had one – should be short and well trimmed. His clothing should be simple and unencumbered. His eyes – these were his only weakness. Lest he become exalted above measure, his loving heavenly Father gave him poor vision – probably glaucoma. This would be his ‘thorn in the flesh’ and give occasion for him to experience his Father’s grace.
Paul’s life and ministry rested on and revolved around his encounter with his Messiah. Central and subservient to all else therefore should be his conversion experience on the Damascus Road. In the midst of that hallowed moment, Saul of Tarsus would become Paul the Apostle. He saw clearly that Jesus of Nazareth was the One of whom Moses and the prophets had written. Henceforth, Paul’s life would never be the same, and humanity itself would be nudged toward a proper orbit around the Son through his life more than by any other man.
“Paul was a theologian. But his theology had hands, feet and a heart – for Paul an ivory tower would never do.
“Bill, Paul was a man of action – so paint him that way. Paint him in prison – paint him stoned and left for dead – paint him shipwrecked – paint him being let over a wall in a basket to escape hostile hands lest he be put to death. Paint him like the faithful servant and soldier that he was. Paint him so that believers will never forget that Paul endured what he endured, that in 1979 we would possess the pure, undiluted Gospel. Paint him so that we’re convicted over our lack of commitment, courage and personal cost in the service of the King. Bill, paint him bloodied but never beaten, hindered but never halted, dismayed but never downcast so that some of us never again feel sorry for ourselves.
“Bill, the Christianity that Paul proclaimed differs from all other religious systems at one crucial point. In every man-made religion or cult there is always something that the adherent must do to gain acceptability – a code that must be kept – prayers that must be said – money that must be given – work that must be done – an experience that must be felt – a deity who must be appeased – a life that must be lived. Biblical Christianity alone declares man can neither earn nor buy his salvation. To mankind is given the responsibility and privilege of appropriating what God, in Christ, has already accomplished. Grace is God’s mercy bestowed when His judgment is deserved. Paul, above all others, knew that truth.
“Throughout his ministry there were always legalistic teachers who dogged the apostle’s steps trying to destroy the Gospel by advocating an admixture of works and grace. It is to those legalistic teachers that Paul reserves some of the strongest language in the New Testament. He wrote to the problem-ridden church at Galatia,
. . . If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed (Gal. 1:9).
“In his closing words to the same church he reminds the assembly that ‘. . . I bear in my body the marks . . . ‘ (Gal. 6:17). The Greek word translated ‘marks’ is ‘stigmata’ from which we get our word stigma. When Paul spoke of the marks (stigmata) in his body, he was speaking of literal marks. His body actually and visibly bore marks as a result of his commitment to Christ. Above all else, they were the result of his unswerving and uncompromising defense of the truth that man can only be declared acceptable before God by grace through faith apart from human effort.
“The term ‘marks’ (stigmata), while strange sounding to us, would have been at once understood by Paul’s contemporaries. The runaway slave when recaptured was ‘branded’ or ‘marked’ – his were stigmata for identification. The religious heathen temple prostitute was branded – hers were stigmata of consecration to her deity. The soldier was often branded after demonstrating courage in battle. Many of Alexander the Great’s soldiers had his initial tattooed on their bodies – theirs were stigmata of dedication. Marks of identification, consecration and dedication to Christ – Paul bore them all in his body. And if inquiry be made as to where they came from, allow the apostle to answer for himself:
. . . in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths often. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen (Gentiles), in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches (2 Cor. 11:23-28).
“All of these ‘stigmata’ and more he gladly bore for his Lord to protect the early church from error and to leave us a legacy of divine truth, priceless beyond all the riches of this world.
“But the battle for which Paul courageously fought continues to rage on. And on every hand there are those who in the name of religion would pervert the simplicity and purity of the glorious Gospel. If we, like Paul, would seek to please our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ we must be willing to bear in our bodies the ‘stigmata’ that will surely come. In the day of compromise in which we live, are we willing to stand true to the Gospel and its foundational principle of justification by grace through faith apart from the law?
“Bill, I know it’s a tall order, but for this issue of ISRAEL MY GLORY I want you to capture the essence of the life and ministry of this man who under God penned more than one-half of the New Testament, and who through his life showed us how to live for God.