"We have sent along with him the brother whose fame in the things of the gospel has spread through all the churches; and not only this, but he has also been appointed by the churches to travel with us in this gracious work, which is being administered by us for the glory of the Lord Himself, and to show our readiness, taking precaution so that no one will discredit us in our administration of this generous gift; for we have regard for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men" (2 Corinthians 8:18-21).

Paul knew what it was like to live in the “fish bowl.” When you live in the “fish bowl,” you exist for others to observe. If they want to make it their life’s objective, they can spend a lot of hours discovering your flaws and calling your flaws to others’ attention. There were those who seemingly defined their life’s mission to be discovering Paul’s flaws and announcing those flaws to anyone who would listen.

Paul had a huge problem. Prior to conversion, he was the “poster child” of first century Jews who hated what we call Christianity. (They often called it "the Way.") He said in Acts 26:9, “So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth,” and in verse 11, “And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.” He so violently opposed Christianity prior to his conversion that Jerusalem Christians feared him even after his conversion (see Acts 9:26).

Paul, the Jews’ Jew, understood the Christ (the Messiah) came to save gentiles as well as Jews (see Genesis 12:3; note “all families of the earth;” and Galatians 3:16). Paul’s understanding was NOT popular among most first century Jews—Christian and non-Christian! The result: the violent man became the target. One of the first century’s great ironies: the Jews’ Jew became the Christian apostle to gentiles! Even the Christian Peter, after his Acts 10 experience, lacked the courage to admit God’s interest expressed in Paul’s mission to the gentiles (see Galatians 2:11-14).

Paul had a dream! He wanted to eliminate the gap between Jewish Christians and gentile Christians. To him, the best way to bring healing was for gentile Christians to send a gift to Jewish Christians to aid with physical necessities. Though Paul promoted the gift, collected the gift, and delivered the gift, he could not heal the breach!

Paul’s passion to heal an unnecessary problem significantly contributed to the events that resulted in his death. He wanted to end a problem that God ended in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection (read Galatians 2:11-21). He wanted to “fix” a condition that God “fixed” in Jesus Christ, and he could not! His great efforts to do things honorably in everyone’s sight failed. People continued to be people! Jewish Christians held so tightly to their views that they could not see through God’s eyes! They were so “sure” they saw correctly that they did not comprehend their blindness!

To me, there are several lessons to note. (1) Conflict always will exist among Christians. (2) Some conflicts cannot be “fixed.” (3) The challenge is not always the “fixing,” but being Christians when things need “fixing.” We can act like God’s people even when other Christians do not.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Bulletin Article, 28 February 2008

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