We are not to think that Paul was being proud when he said that he was an example to follow. The reality is that each of us is an example: we are either an example to follow or an example to avoid. Every Christian should be an example to follow. They should not allow themselves to become bad examples. While they will never be perfect examples of grace in action, they should be credible examples of what Jesus has done in their lives.
Yet we should note Paul’s attitude towards the false teachers to whom he refers. He opposed them wholeheartedly and consistently, but his opposition was marked by tears. As he thought of them at the moment of writing his words, he was crying. Why was he weeping? One reason could be the havoc that they were causing in the church, bringing great problems and confusion by their wrong teaching. Another reason for his tears was their destiny – destruction. Paul could not think of the fate of his opponents without becoming distressed.
This response by Paul here reminds us of a prominent feature of his character, and that is that he was an emotional man. We are prone to think of Paul as an intellectual giant (and he was so) and as a strong-willed, determined person (and he was). Yet he was not a stoical, clinical person. His heart, his emotions were very strong, a fact that we can deduce from this letter itself by the number of times he refers to joy and rejoicing. And his emotions also showed themselves in another way, in his tears.
We can ask the question, Where did Paul learn to weep? Before his conversion, he was an intellectual man and a resolute man, but I don’t think he showed much compassion to those he was persecuting. Now he was a different man, and the reason for the change in his life was his knowledge of Christ. The thirty years that he spent developing a relationship with Jesus had turned him into a man of sorrows – he had become like his Master who had wept over the perishing city of Jerusalem.
There is a challenge to us here. We have heard of the incident when McCheyne asked Andrew Bonar what text he had preached on the previous Sabbath. On being told it was a text on hell, McCheyne asked him if he had preached it with tears.
William Booth was the founder of the Salvation Army. One day, several of his officers asked him how they could save the lost. Booth wrote a very short reply, ‘Try tears.’
When Monica, the mother of the famous theologian Augustine, went to Ambrose to speak about her son for whom she had prayed with many tears. He replied, ‘The child of many tears can never perish.’ Whether that is the case or not, his words remind us of the efficacy of tears.
And Paul’s words here may give us a clue to the secret of his spiritual success. Spending time with Christ makes a believer like his Master.