Paul's professional appearance

“See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.” Galatians 6:11

Is there any communication tool quite like sarcasm? Oh how some of us love the ironical spirit, and I daresay, have even channeled the singing of its muses. For it is so effective. I suppose it is an example of ad absurdum, in which device the absolute ridiculousness of the opposing view is marched publicly to open shame. Those who decry the practice know that God himself would never partake of such low methods.

In any case, this is the very sense in which I mean to say Paul’s professional appearance. For he had none. There was nothing about Paul’s appearance or manner that said cleric to those around him. When he was arrested in Jerusalem he was mistaken for an Egyptian revolutionary (Acts 21:38). He didn't even look like a Roman citizen, let alone a holy man. He had not, apparently, donned “the uniform.”

I think this lack of professional appearance (for we have made the ministry a matter of professionalism) is also seen in the text before us. Paul, as scholars believe, struggled with poor eyesight. It was perhaps a remnant of his blinding conversion experience. In any case, he did not benefit from the advances of modern optometric science and was left to face the world with a blurred sight which could not have been more perfectly contrasted with the razor spiritual vision he possessed.

Well, as I said, his poor eyesight seems to rear its blurry head in the verse before us. For the large letters of his own hand were not simply a devise to show the Galatians how very serious he was—a role which the letters do seem to play within the text—but their cause seems to be his inability to see small and more professional letters. Whether he hand wrote the entire letter himself or simply penned the farewell section, the fact is that Paul’s penmanship was less than professional. He wrote in the wild though undoubtedly more artful hand style of a graffiti artist.

Now think about this. Here is Paul, penning one of his parts in the greatest Book ever written, the Book of books itself. Do you suppose that ancient or modern scholars would look upon this crusty manuscript with awe and wonder? Would anything about its physical appearance scream “THIS IS FROM GOD”? Certainly nothing about it would even whisper “cleric.” And yet here it is in all its God-breathed exquisiteness.

The lesson for us is simple. Do we have eyes to see God’s real working and power? Or are we enslaved to the earthly categories of the elementary principles of the world, that which we can merely see and hear? Paul condemns these bankrupt categories in this very letter, even as he defies them in his own personal appearance and in the script of his own hand. In the end, I think Paul’s appearance was really just that of a normal person.

Does this mean we should not be excellent in what we do? Certainly not. We are constrained to be so. But excellence is, after all, a relative term. Let us be excellent where it counts, and where there is liberty or even impetus to break the worldly categories of what ministry is “supposed to look like,” then with God’s help we will not yield in submission to them for even a moment.

Let us be real spiritual people who have spiritual sight to see God’s glory where and how it really exists.