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The inner workings of God’s Spirit in tandem with love for Christ and surrender to God’s will influences a person’s spiritual approach. This essay examines the personality traits and spiritual pathways of two New Testament leaders, Apostles Paul and Thomas. The goal is to learn from each apostle’s journey.

Jan Paron/February 10, 2013

God influences the mind, heart and will of the believer filled with His Spirit (Rom 8:26).  When the Holy Spirit takes up residence within, He then separates one’s earthly vessel from worldly influences and conforms it into the Temple of the living God (1 Cor 6:19; Eph 1:13-14). From this place of habitation, He brings restoration (2 Cor 5:17). Although filled with the Holy Ghost, Christians throughout the ages still struggled with the flesh. Why, then, does the conflict between world and flesh exist?  To better understand this schism between flesh and Spirit, let’s compare and contrast the distinctive character and spiritual pathways of Apostles Paul and Thomas. Though inherently different in their personality and pathway approach to God, they each reflect humankind’s battles emblematic between natural and spiritual. What can we learn from Paul’s unwaivered faith, as opposed to Thomas’ breached belief?

Disbelief.Faith

Apostle Paul, the Servant of Christ

Apostle Paul’s singular focus to serve the Gospel provides a model in spiritual greatness. His personal constitution suited his call.  One might classify the apostle’s MBTI® personality[1] type as an ESTJ[2]: a bold extrovert, addressing large and often opposing crowds with ease (Acts 13:15-41; 17:1-4; 16-34, 19:1-9); concrete sensor who lived in the here and now, describing spiritual realities in tangible terms and reasoning (Phil 1:21); decisive thinker, acting strategically in spreading the Gospel (Acts 19:20) and an organized judger, holding goals and deriving satisfaction from accomplishing them (Acts 15:37-41).

Paul burst upon the church at the inception of its persecution. Scripture first mentions Paul, then Saul, in Acts 7:58 as part of his involvement in Stephen’s stoning. After his conversion (still Saul), though purposed in Jesus, people remembered his former commitment to imprisoning Christians (8:3). His initial presence spread fear among Christians and confusion with Jews (9:22), arousing community uproar wherever he went. Confrontation often typified his missionary journeys. Paul likewise faced many challenges: whipping, beatings, stoning, imprisonment, shipwrecking, snake bit, hunger, non acceptance and dangerous travels before his life ended in martyrdom. The persecutor became the persecuted. Yet, he stood persuaded, separated to the Gospel and undivided to Christ (Rom 8:38-39).

His reliance on Christ ran contrary to strict social codes that governed the New Testament community, because Paul embraced spiritual honor based on the least in Christ and authority derived from the power of Jesus’ indwelt Spirit. To compound this lowly status, Paul’s allegiance to Jesus aligned him to what Jews considered a person of low stature. The Ancients craved honor. Bruce Malina, in The New Testament Word: Insights from Cultural Anthropology, says that honor “is basically a claim to worth that is socially acknowledged. It surfaces where the three defining features of authority, gender status, and respect come together.”[3] In effect, Paul buried his old self in baptism to take on the new honor code from the Christ community.

What spiritual pathways supported his endurance in Christ? Paul held to the new covenant veil made rent (Matt 27:51); thus, he did not bind himself to old covenant practices found in the temple or synagogue. Christ’s indwelling was Paul’s temple and pathway to God. When Paul listed the things that cannot separate the believer from the love of God (Rom 8:38-39), he did not include the self. Witherington points out in his work, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, that only the believer’s heart or mind barriers the love of God.[4]  Paul, lived out being joined “in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:39b KJV), and drew strength from the inner workings of the Spirit as his pathway approach to God. It’s the same inner faith shown in the Moravians that drew John Wesley towards inward transformation.[5]  What is more, Paul rejoiced in the Lord, even in weaknesses (2 Cor 12:10). He exhorted the saints “not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (Phil. 4: 6-7). Further, he trained himself in godliness (1 Tim 4:7).[6]  In one such spiritual experience, Paul “went into Arabia” for three years where Jesus Christ might have revealed the Gospel to him (Gal 1:12, 16-17). That was a long period not to confer with other believers (1:16). Last, pathways to God come from serving Him. Paul was a missionary beyond description in the early church. Since the apostle embodied multiple personality dimensions emotionally and accommodated environmental changes physically, I suspect Paul favored wide-ranging spiritual temperaments such as traditionalist, ascetic, activist, caregiver, enthusiast and intellectual.[7] In sum, he inspires me in my own spiritual formation because he abided in Christ, stood persuaded in the love of God and remained steadfast in knowing God through spiritual pathway.

Thomas, the Doubting Disciple

Though Thomas does not play as an important a role in New Testament writings as Paul; nevertheless, he serves as a reminder to commit faith to the One of true honor. What do we know about Thomas? Tim Catchim, in MBTI and Apostolic Ministry, theorizes that many apostles had an NT temperament.[8] What might be surmised is that Thomas was prone to skepticism based on reason, disbelief about Jesus’ resurrection (John 20:25); perhaps curious, inspected Jesus wounds (20:27); encouraged others, buoyed fellow disciples to go with Jesus regardless (11:16); risk taker, discipled with Jesus and had limited loyalty (Matt 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15) and fearful, deserted Jesus during His crucifixion, as did the other disciples with the exception of John. What strikes a note with me is after spending three years with Jesus, Thomas intimately “knew” Him. Yet, Thomas still wanted physical proof that Jesus rose from the dead:”Except I shall see in his hands the print of his nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).

The apostle only could believe based on the fleshly domains of sight and touch. Faith requires supernatural belief. Perhaps, you view this contrast in what Glenn W. Most terms as a “simple and powerful antithesis between seeing and believing.”[9] Paul on the other hand, accepted Christ’s invitation on the Damascus roadway after fiercely persecuting Him. He did not know Jesus like Thomas. As Jesus’ disciple, Thomas participated in the disciplines and had open and ready access to Him. Thomas sat at Jesus’ feet, prayed and fasted with Him, fellowshipped with other believers; ministered to the lost; argued in the Temple, etc. The spiritual disciplines become motions in operation if not accompanied by faith in action; thereby, blocking one’s pathway to God. Gary Thomas, author of Sacred Pathways, says that four elements are essentials to true expression of faith, “It is essential that we love God with all our heart (adoration), soul (will), mind (belief), and strength (body)”[10] (Mark 12:30).

When one possesses anything less than a spiritual pathway born of love, the believer separates himself from God just as the Apostle Thomas did. Even though Thomas related to Jesus during three years of ministry, perhaps, he did not “draw near to him” in closeness.[11] Acts 1:13, indicates that Thomas was present in the Upper Room. So, he continued with a change of heart and walk in faith. Jesus always keeps the door open through His grace and mercy. Even though I don’t relate to Thomas’ spiritual pathway, I acknowledge my own shortcomings with limited faith.

Closing

Thomas concludes one of the chapters in his book, Sacred Pathways, with a section about being married to God.[12] As a believer, I am married to Christ through covenant with God. Both biblical characters faced their own unique trials, but their success lay in making the marriage work. On a personal level, I want to be the type of partner who loves God unequivocally, persuaded in Him.

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Endnotes

[1] Myers & Briggs Foundation, “The 16 MBTI® Types,” n.p.[cited 6 February 2013]. Online: http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/the-16-mbti-types.asp.

[2] Jan Paron, 2008, “MBTI Leadership Style of Apostle Paul.” Leading Like Jesus (Alsip: All Nations Leadership Institute);

[3]Bruce Malina, New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology. 3rd Ed  (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 29.

[4] Ben Witherington, Paul’s Letter to the Romans: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids: William Eerdmans Publishing, 2004).

[5] Gary Thomas, Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul’s Path to God (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010).

[6] Donald Whitney, Truly Spiritual Disciplines, [Cited 7 February 2013]. Online: http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/truly-spiritual-disciplines/.

[7] Thomas, Sacred Pathways.

[8] Tim Catchim, “MBTI and Apostolic Ministry, Part 2,” n.p.[Cited 7 February 2013]. Online: http://timcatchim.blogspot.com/2011/10/175-mbti-and-apostolic-ministry-part-2.html.

[9] Glenn W. Most, Doubting Thomas (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005), Chapter 1, Section 2, ¶ 1.

[10] Thomas, Spiritual Pathways, Chapter 1, Section 14, ¶ 8.

[11] Thomas, Spiritual Pathways, Chapter 1, Section 5, ¶1.

[12] Thomas, Spiritual Pathways.

References