JESUS VS PAUL #13: Being abased not to be feared

This apparent discrepancy comes from JESUS VS PAUL #13: Being abased not to be feared

(13) Jesus–”…for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:14) versus Paul–”For I suppose I was not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles” (2 Cor. 11:5) and “I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing” (2 Cor. 12:11) and “that which I speak, I speak it not after the Lord, but as it were foolishly, in this confidence of boasting. Seeing that many glory after the flesh, I will glory also” (2 Cor. 11:17-18). Apparently Paul did not feel being abased was something to be feared either.


To see this is not a discrepancy, we must look at the context of the passages in question.
Luke 18:9-14 (NIV)
9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Notice that Jesus is not saying to have a false humbleness – Jesus was nothing if not authentic. Jesus was speaking about knowing you are a sinner. We see in verses 9-12 that Jesus is giving a story about people who recognize they are sinners as opposed to people who do not think they need God. When we believe that we are able to enter heaven based upon our own merits, when we think we are “good enough” to gain entry into heaven, we fool ourselves. The first man in the parable was sure he was not a sinner, based upon his own actions. The second person was just as sure that he WAS a sinner. It is this man who recognizes he needs the mercy of God. It is THIS man who will be justified before God. By recognizing our need for a savior, we allow God to work in us and through us to bring about change towards God necessary for salvation.

This is what Paul spoke of in Acts 26:20 (NIV),

20First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.

The recognition of the the need to repent is the humbleness Jesus spoke of in Luke 18. This is not the same thing as not being honest. Jesus was not humble when it came to calling Himself the Son of God – it was what He was. It was not arrogance, it was truth. He was not taking pride in it, nor building Himself up. He was simply stating the truth.

John 10:36 (NIV)

what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God‘s Son‘?

As for whether Paul was humble, we must look at 2 Corinthians 11:4 to see that he was dealing with a problem of people who had come in behind him and preached soemthing other than the truth of the need to accept Christ. These people apparently claimed some sort of position that would elevate them over Paul.

2 Corinthians 11:4-30 (NIV)

4For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. 5But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles.” 6I may not be a trained speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way.

7Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge? 8I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. 9And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so. 10As surely as the truth of Christ is in me, nobody in the regions of Achaia will stop this boasting of mine. 11Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do! 12And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. 13For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 14And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 15It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.

16I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then receive me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. 17In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. 18Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. 19You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! 20In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face. 21To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!

What anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. 22Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. 23Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. 27I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?

30If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

Notice in verse 7 that he had lowered himself (most likely socially) to preach the gospel of God for free and thus elevate those who would believe. He was dealing with a problem and felt he had to remind the Corinthian believers of his qualifications. We see in 2 Corinthians 12:11 that again said he was not inferior to those who had come in and preached another gospel – there is only one truth – that Jesus of Nazareth was sent by God to suffer and die for our sins, and was raised again on the third day to show He was the Son of God and that God had power over death. But to address the false teachings of the “super-apostles,” he reminded the Corinthians believers that he had performed the things that mark an apostle – signs, wonders, and miracles. But even so, he realized he was speaking foolishly and said so. To focus on human qualifications is to be foolish, as Paul rightly said. It is the spiritual qualifications that matter most. And as Paul stated, he had those too.

2 Corinthians 12:11-12

11I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. 12The things that mark an apostle—signs, wonders and miracles—were done among you with great perseverance.

Paul was, like Christ, merely stating the truth. He had been a Pharisee, and persecuted the believers in Christ – but one who had been made an apostle to the Gentiles for Christ and had the signs to prove it.

Acts 22:1-22 (NIV)

1“Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.” 2When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.

Then Paul said: 3“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. 4I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, 5as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.

6“About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. 7I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’

8” ‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked.

” ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. 9My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.

10“‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked.
“‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’ 11My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.

12“A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. 13He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him.

14“Then he said: ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. 15You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. 16And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’

17“When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance 18and saw the Lord speaking. ‘Quick!’ he said to me. ‘Leave Jerusalem immediately, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’

19” ‘Lord,’ I replied, ‘these men know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. 20And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’

21“Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’ “

So, when Paul had to establish his human credentials, he was not adverse to stating the truth: that he had been a Pharisee trained under a popular and well-known Pharisee, and that he had persecuted the Church. He also had the spiritual qualifications. But while he was willing to establish his credentials, he did not rely upon them, as we see in Philippians 3:3-11 (NIV).

3For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— 4though I myself have reasons for such confidence.
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.

7But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Yes, Paul gave his qualifications. But he also was QUITE clear that it was not those qualifications which caused him to do what he did. It was not those qualifications which caused him to look forward to the resurrection. It was the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ. This is the humbleness that Christ was speaking of in Luke 18. Paul recognized the need for Christ in his life. If one does not recognize this need, then one is being arrogant. If one does recognize this need, then one is being humble. Paul was not falsely humble – he knew he was on equal footing with the other apostles (see Acts 15).

Peter recognized that Paul was on equal footing with him, as we see 2 Peter 3:14-16 (NIV)

14So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

But while Paul was authentic and recognized the truth of who he was, his training, and his calling, he also was humble when it came to recognizing the need for Christ. We all need to humble ourselves before God. If we fail to do this, then we will not repent and turn to God through faith in Christ.


2 Responses

  1. wb,
    You have covered so much ground here that many so-called Pauline scholars have not covered, don’t know, or have forgotten!
    Fr. R.

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