PAUL: The Leading Choleric
Paul has been referred to as the Leading Choleric. I know, I know, once again (as I’ve done throughout this series) I’m throwing out a couple of words that you may or may not immediately understand. Let’s unpack the meaning of this character profile.
Both before and after his conversion, scholars believe that Paul was one of those guys who was born to be a leader. In our day and age, we may throw out the term Type A; which may be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your personality or leadership style.
If you work in the military or law enforcement, you may enjoy a good Type A leadership style. However, in your office setting, that Type A leader keep tabs on paper-clip usage may drive you nuts!
Paul Was Leading
Paul was known to be driven and determined. He was willing to accept a challenge, in order to get the job done or to get people headed in the right direction.
He was also courageous. He didn’t mind taking risks and strived to see results.
Lastly, Paul was a man of integrity, continually practicing what he preached and preaching what he practiced; expecting others to do the same.
Paul Was Choleric
But even Paul with his driven leadership ability, was not a perfect leader. At times, pastors slip into a habit of talking more about Paul than about Jesus. I want to make sure I firmly note: Jesus was and is the only perfect leader.
In Paul’s early years as an Apostle, we see some choleric tendencies that are often connected with this naturally leading personality.
Throughout the last half of Acts, there are hints of Paul’s inflexibility, stubbornness and perhaps, leftover struggles with legalism. This can perhaps be best seen in a conversation between Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15.
Paul & Barnabas
Beginning in verse 36, we read the following:
“Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’ Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord.” (Acts 15:36-40)
Barnabas was willing to show some grace and compassion. Moreover, Barnabas was willing to give John Mark the freedom to make a mistake and to try again. And this would be a wise move on Barnabas part, considering John Mark’s subsequent missionary work.
However, because of John Mark’s previous mistake, Paul was willing to cut him off entirely. “Sorry Barnabas, he left us high and dry last time; no second chances.”
We don’t get all the details here, but this was a substantial disagreement, where Paul showed these choleric tendencies of inflexibility, stubbornness and perhaps some of that leftover legalism.
The Recovering Legalist
Some have referred to Paul as “The Recovery Legalist”. This is mainly because Paul wrote more extensively about legalism than any other apostle.
This is in part why at the Reformation, Martin Luther streamlined his fight against legalism in the sixteenth century by proclaiming the “Pauline Gospel”. A gospel message built on grace and righteousness, and not works (or rules).
In Romans 3, we see some of Paul’s fight against legalism.
“Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” (Rom. 3:19-20)
Now look what God leads Paul to write further down, starting at verse 27.
“Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” (Rom. 3:27-28)
Paul Fought Against Legalism
The books of Romans and Galatians carry significant amounts in case you’d like to study anti-legalism more extensively.
As Christians, we believe that God inspire Paul to write about this topic of legalism.And yet, we can not forget that throughout Scripture, God also choses to use the individual experiences and personality of each and every writer.
Maybe this was to prevent Paul from slipping back into legalistic ways? Maybe it was because Paul was so moved by the gift of salvation that he received, being saved from the bondage of legalism?
Who knows exactly why, but I’m sure glad God chose Paul.
Can I get your feedback?
The Apostle Paul was a “Recovering Legalist”. What role has legalism played in your life and walk with Christ? How has it been a struggle?