The Apostle Paul—Zealous for Righteousness
AMONG the striking characteristics manifested by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, while he was on earth was his love of that which is right and his hatred of that which is wrong. For example, he minced no words when exposing the religious hypocrites of his day. Even as it had been foretold of him, he ‘loved righteousness and hated wickedness.’—Ps. 45:7; Matt. 23:2-32; John 8:44.
An outstanding example of one who clearly imitated Jesus in this regard was the apostle Paul. In fact, even before he became Christ’s follower he was extremely zealous for what he believed to be right. Thus Paul tells us: “To the point of excess I kept on persecuting the congregation of God and devastating it, and I was . . . zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” He also says: “If any other man thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I the more so: . . . as respects zeal, persecuting the congregation; as respects righteousness that is by means of law, one who proved himself blameless.”—Gal. 1:13, 14; Phil. 3:4-6.
When he became a Christian, he continued to be zealous, but his zeal was now properly directed. “Immediately in the synagogues he began to preach Jesus, that this One is the Son of God. . . . Saul [Paul] kept on acquiring power all the more and was confounding the Jews that dwelt in Damascus as he proved logically that this is the Christ.” (Acts 9:20, 22) He spoke “boldly in the name of the Lord; and he was talking and disputing with the Greek-speaking Jews. But these made attempts to do away with him.” Paul said that others should be imitators of him even as he was of Christ. Do you do this?—Acts 9:28, 29.
The apostle Paul showed his love for righteousness and his hatred for what is bad by putting up a strong struggle against the sinful desires of his flesh. He did not weakly give in to sin. In fact, as he tells it: “I pummel my body and lead it as a slave, that, after I have preached to others, I myself should not become disapproved somehow.”—1 Cor. 9:27; Rom. 7:15-25.
Paul also manifested zeal for righteousness in dealing with his brothers. Thus when Paul came to Antioch he resisted Peter “face to face, because he stood condemned. For before the arrival of certain men from James, he used to eat with people of the nations; but when they arrived, he went withdrawing and separating himself, in fear of those of the circumcised class.” Paul’s love of righteousness could not put up with such putting on of a false appearance on the part of the apostle Peter.—Gal. 2:11-14.
Paul showed this same zeal for righteousness in dealing with those outside the congregation who opposed him. He could have bribed Governor Felix and so gained his release, but he refused to do so because of his love for righteousness. (Acts 24:25-27) And when appearing before Governor Festus, he refused to accept a compromise to please his Jewish opposers but made an appeal to Caesar.—Acts 25:9-12.
SEEN ALSO IN HIS LETTERS
Paul’s zeal for righteousness also stands out in his letters. Thus he wrote the Corinthian congregation, which had tolerated the presence of an immoral man in their midst: “EXPEL THAT WICKED PERSON FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.” (1 Cor. 5:13, Spencer) Note also how charged with righteous indignation are his further words to those Christians: “What! Do you not know that unrighteous persons will not inherit God’s kingdom?” “What! Do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body?” “What! Do you not know that the body of you people is the temple of the holy spirit within you?” (1 Cor. 6:9, 16, 19) Elders, overseers, shepherds of God’s people today, do you manifest a like zeal for keeping the organization clean?
For those who did not practice what they preached, Paul had similarly strong words of condemnation: “You are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are, if you judge; for in the thing in which you judge another, you condemn yourself, inasmuch as you that judge practice the same things. . . . You, the one preaching ‘Do not steal,’ do you steal? You, the one saying ‘Do not commit adultery,’ do you commit adultery?” (Rom. 2:1, 21, 22) Repeatedly he warned his brothers, “Do not be misled,” and, again, “A little leaven ferments the whole lump.”—1 Cor. 6:9; 15:33; Gal. 6:7; 1 Cor. 5:6; Gal. 5:9.
His zeal for righteousness showed itself also in his concern for the truth: “Even if we or an angel out of heaven were to declare to you as good news something beyond what we declared to you as good news, let him be accursed.” Not content with making that imprecation once, he repeated it. (Gal. 1:6-9) And concerning those who tried to bring his brothers back into the bondage of Judaism, he said: “I wish the men who are trying to overturn you would even get themselves emasculated.” Why could he speak so strongly? Because of his confidence: “I am telling the truth in Christ; I am not lying.”—Gal. 5:12; Rom. 9:1.
And what proof we have of Paul’s zeal for righteousness in what he endured! “Are they ministers of Christ? I reply like a madman, I am more outstandingly one: in labors more plentifully, . . . in blows to an excess, in near-deaths often. By Jews I five times received forty strokes less one, three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I experienced shipwreck, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.” After relating many more of the things he endured he tells of his concern for the spiritual welfare of others: “Who is stumbled, and I am not incensed?” Yes, incensed because of his righteous indignation at wrongs.—2 Cor. 11:23-33.
What a fine example the apostle Paul set for all Christians, and especially for all elders, overseers in the Christian congregation! How seriously he took his ministry! He kept spending himself on behalf of others. (2 Cor. 12:15) No question about his imitating Jesus in his zeal for righteousness and his hatred for lawlessness.
If we have a like zeal we will be doing all we can to further the good news. We will not hold back from having a full share in the field ministry, devoting just as much time to this as our circumstances permit. We will also spend ourselves for our brothers. Thus we show that we put God’s service first in our lives and consider everything else that might tempt us away from it as just “a lot of refuse” (“garbage,” Byington), even as Paul did. (Phil. 3:8) And then, like Paul, we can hope to be rewarded now with many joyful privileges of service, and in the future with everlasting life in God’s new order.—2 Tim. 4:8.