Paul said, forcefully and well, "what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake" (2 Corinthians 4:5). Insofar as we — preachers or "lay" witnesses — are faithful ambassadors, we want to hold out Jesus Christ. Not ourselves. We want to point people to Jesus, want them to believe and love and cling to Him. Not us.
Having said that, do you identify with Paul in any way? Does he read like a writing mannequin to you? Or does what Paul says resonate with you, does it have credibility to you? Is his call to "press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14) compelling to you? If so, why is that?
Of course it is compelling because he is an apostle, a plenipotentiary of Christ, speaking in His name and with His authority (1 Corinthians 14:37). That is true objectively, and regardless of how we feel about Paul.
But God could have solely entrusted the Gospel to be proclaimed flawlessly by bloodless angels. He could have dropped heavenly newspapers out of the sky. He did neither. Rather, He gave the surpassing treasure to be borne in clay pots (2 Corinthians 4:7).
I take it that He had, and has, a reason.
UPDATE: after posting this I came across a passage in Spurgeon's Lectures to My Students where he makes this point, but with far greater eloquence:
Disembodied spirits might have been sent to proclaim the word, but they could not have entered into the feelings of those who, being in this body, do groan, being burdened; angels might have been ordained evangelists, but their celestial attributes would have disqualified them from having compassion on the ignorant; men of marble might have been fashioned, but their impassive natures would have been a sarcasm upon our feebleness, and a mockery of our wants. Men, and men subject to human passions, the all-wise God has chosen to be his vessels of grace; hence these tears, hence these perplexities and castings down.Part of why Paul's writings resonate with me no doubt is because of his transparency. Nowhere does Paul hold himself out as a plaster saint, free from the weakness and failings we lesser mortals know.
He's bluntly candid about his past, mincing no words: "formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent" (1 Timothy 1:13), who "persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it" (Galatians 1:13), and was "once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another" (Titus 3:3).
But he was no less candid about his post-conversion life, in all its chiaroscuro. Though good men have labored long and hard to undo his consistent use of 1spai (first-person singular, present active indicative), Paul boldly paints himself as struggling with the weakness and waywardness of his flesh (Romans 7:14-25). In the same way he says "I myself am" — not "I was" — the first among sinners (εἰμι ἐγώ; 1 Timothy 1:15). The great apostle admits to "fighting without and fear within" (2 Corinthians 7:5), to being depressed (v. 6) and in need of encouragement (2 Corinthians 1:4), to being occasionally "pressured in every way... perplexed... persecuted ... [and] struck down" (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 CSB).
I identify with this. I read Paul as a real person, a man not unfamiliar — at least, categorically, if not specifically — with the weaknesses and temptations and fears and misgivings with which I myself wrestle.
And so, when Paul calls me to think the way he does (Philippians 3:15) in stretching out with all his might in the pursuit of God's high call in Christ, I hear him: not as a mere theoretician (2 Corinthians 2:11), nor as a sheer authoritarian (2 Corinthians 1:24), but as a real human being who himself had been transformed, and was being transformed, by Christ. Someone who (like me) is most insistently not "arrived" (Philippians 3:13), but who nonetheless is dogged and undeterrable in pressing on towards that goal, for all he's worth (Philippians 3:7-16).
In this, Paul is like many inspired writers, who are equally transparent in how they write. We think immediately of David (Pss. 3, 5, 6, 13 etc.), Isaiah (6:5), and Jeremiah (20:7-18).
We know that these are actual, real men, and not superhuman Louis L'Amour heroes. We see that God truly can be known and served meaningfully even by the imperfect; and that bitter failure or times of darkness are no sure signs that we have no hope before and with God.
But there are dangers as well as uses to transparency, aren't there? It can be used, surely; but can it be abused?
Indeed it can be, and has been.
In the next post, I intend to continue to develop positively the uses of transparency, and the consequences of its lack. (That post will display how this is a "T4G 2008 reflection.") The third post is to note dangers and abuses.
Updates: Part Two; and Part Three.