That Maverick Paul
In his unconverted days, rabbi Saul of Tarsus did what any other devout Jew would have done: he promoted and protected the Jewish faith and persecuted the Jesus movement. Sensible Jews all knew that Jesus of Nazareth had been crucified and that the disciples stole the body from the tomb and hid it away. Resurrection? Jesus alive and in heaven? Bah, humbug! Then Saul the conformist saw the living Christ, heard His voice and bowed in submission to him; and the conformist became a maverick (Gal. 1:11-17). He became so dangerous that the Jewish religious leaders occasionally cooperated with the Romans in trying to kill him. When Paul tried to fellowship with the apostles in Jerusalem, they were afraid of him, and Barnabas had to convince them that the man was truly born again and called by God. They soon discovered that Paul was a maverick.
Paul a maverick? The great Saint Paul? Yes. To begin with, he was a Jewish rabbi serving as a missionary to the Gentiles. He had a heart burdened for his own people ( 9:1-3; 10:1), and he took the Gospel to them in the synagogues, but his commission from the Lord was to evangelize the Gentiles. When you read Luke’s account in Acts, you get the impression that Paul was basically in charge of a “parachurch ministry” and served from city to city (or prison to prison) as the Lord directed him. He was sent out and authorized by the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1-3), and he gave reports to them when he came home (Acts 14:26-27), but most of the time he was going from place to place as the Spirit led him. Today, an itinerant missionary like Paul could contact headquarters by e-mail, get counsel and have his plans approved, but not in Paul’s day. He sought God’s will, made his decisions and kept on the move; then he came home and told the church all about it.
Paul’s concern was to please God and not to seek for the praise of people, and that’s one of the marks of a genuine maverick. “If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10). How many people go from conference to conference, hoping to discover new secrets of power and success by imitating others! Paul imitated nobody but Christ. In fact, believers today are still learning from Paul how the job can be done. We’re so familiar with Paul’s letters that we forget how radical they must have sounded when they were read to the early Christian congregations. Even his enemies admitted that his letters were “weighty and forceful” (2 Cor. 10:10), but, like too many believers today, they heard the letters but didn’t obey what they commanded.
When you read the history of the missionary ministry of the church, you soon discover that it was often the mavericks who got the job done. J. Hudson Taylor founded his own mission board in . One day he asked his workers to wear Chinese garb and seek to identify with the people, and for this he was criticized; but the Lord blessed that step of faith tremendously. (Have you read Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret lately?) When Amy Carmichael turned her back on her come in and founded a new ministry in , she was severely criticized; but the ministry was greatly blessed of God. (Have you read any of Amy Carmichael’s books lately?) Like the writer of Hebrews 11, time fails me to list all the mavericks that were called of God, criticized by people and yet accomplished great things by faith. But I can say this: there’s room on the list for one more. Will it be you?
Mavericks have enemies
The first problem we face is that we live in a conformist society that pressures us to do what everybody else does, own what they own and praise what they praise, and this pressure is sometimes “sanctified” and imported into the church. According to 12:1-2, God’s people are supposed to be transformers, not conformers. This means we give ourselves unreservedly to Christ, day by day learn who we are and what we can do, and then follow Him wherever He leads. It means resisting the pressures around us to become like everybody else instead of becoming more like ourselves as we become more like Christ. These pressures can come from well-meaning Christians in the church, as well as from worldly friends in the marketplace or the people we watch on television. It seems much easier to be absorbed into the group and go with the flow that to be ourselves in the Lord, but following the world is very costly. The world system is passing away, but the person who does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:15-17).
“When people are free to do as the please,” writes the longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer, “they usually imitate each other. Originality is deliberate and forced, and partakes of the nature of a protest” (The Passionate State of Mind, p. 33). Centuries ago, John Stuart Mill wrote in his essay On Liberty, “The amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor and moral courage it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of the time.” For “eccentric” substitute “maverick” and you will see that being a maverick demands brains and bravery. If we aren’t growing in grace and knowledge, there’s not much change that the Lord will call us to unusual opportunities and service.
If you find yourself following some “great Christian,” imitating him or her and swallowing thoughtlessly whatever they write or say, then it’s not likely you’re on the path to freshness and fruitfulness. You’re only an imitation, not an original, and God is looking for originals. When we sit in a seminar and automatically absorb the ideas and methods of the speakers, we abdicate our own originality and creativity, and this is tragic. Yes, we should learn all we can, but we must also test what we learn by God’s Word, pray about it, and see how it fits the way the Lord has made us and what He’s called us to do. One size doesn’t fit all because the will of God is original and personal for each of us, and what He plans comes from His heart (Ps. 33:11). “Everybody’s doing it!” (and they probably aren’t) doesn’t mean I have to do it, too. “This way worked for me!” doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work for me.
Once again, a survey of history reveals that many innovators—the mavericks, if you please—were criticized and opposed by the experts and the leaders. Scientists told the Wright brothers they could never fly a heavier-than-air machine and had formulas to prove it, but the Wright brothers proved them wrong. Alexander Hamilton called the U. S. Constitution “a shilly-shally thing of milk and water, which could not last,” and yet the Constitution is still here. In 1899, the Commissioner of Patents, Charles H. Duell, advised President William McKinley to close the patent office “because everything that can be invented has been invented.” What a visionary!
Thomas Edison’s electric light blub was demonstrated at the Paris Exhibition in 1878, and an Oxford University professor said, “When the Paris Exhibition closes, the electric light will close with it and no more will be heard of it.” Alexander Graham Bell’s prospective and influential father-in-law Gardiner Hubbard called the telephone “only a toy,” and President Rutherford B. Hayes said of the telephone, “That’s an amazing invention, but who would ever want to use one of them?” I could go on with more examples, but think I’ve made my point: the maverick’s foes are those of his own household (or church), and it takes vision, faith, courage and commitment to overcome this kind of friendly fire. John Stuart Mill also said that “’the tyranny of the majority’ is now generally included among the evils against which society requires to be on its guard.” If that was true in 19 th century , what must our situation be today!
© 2006 Warren W. Wiersbe
© 1989 by The Good News Broadcasting Association, Inc. All rights reserved.
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).