Louisiana televangelist Jesse Duplantis made national news recently by asking his followers to pay for a new $54 million jet he wants to buy. If his followers come through for him, it will be the fourth time they’ve bought him a jet. Duplantis claims that if Jesus was physically alive on the earth today, He’d be flying around in an airplane preaching the gospel rather than riding a donkey. I had to laugh when I saw a video clip of Duplantis and his televangelist buddy, Kenneth Copeland, complaining about having to fly commercial. Copeland said it was like being in a long tube with a bunch of demons. For the record, Copeland owns his own personal jet, too.
Let’s contrast these two men — and their high-flying ministries (pun intended) — with the apostle Paul. In 55 A.D., he wrote the letter we call the book of 1 Corinthians. In that letter, he said, “I am the least of all the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:9, N.K.J.V.). Obviously, that’s quite a statement of humility right there, but, after all, we are talking about the apostles. Even the least of them should rank far above any average Christian, right?
Approximately five to seven years later, sometime in 60-62 A.D., Paul wrote the letter we call the book of Ephesians. In that letter, he calls himself, “the least of all the saints” (Ephesians 3:8, N.K.J.V.). Since the New Testament plainly teaches that every Christian is a saint (Acts 9:13; Romans 8:27; Philippians 1:1, Philemon v.7; etc.), Paul was classifying himself as the least of all Christians. Wow. Things just went to a whole other level in regards to the man’s humility. But, of course, even the least of Christians should rank far above any lost person, right?
A year or two after Paul wrote Ephesians, he wrote the letter we call 1 Timothy. In that letter, he says that Jesus came into the world to save sinners, “of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15, N.K.J.V.). Okay, so who is a sinner? Only every person in the world! So now Paul is telling us that he is the biggest sinner of them all. Such a statement calls for an even louder WOW.
By now you might be thinking that Paul must have been wired with some kind of inborn self-esteem problem. But you’d be wrong. In Acts 22:1-3, Galatians 1:14, and Philippians 3:4-5, he lays out his impressive resume. He was “a Hebrew of the Hebrews.” He advanced in Judaism beyond his contemporaries. He was a Pharisee. He studied under Gamaliel, the most celebrated Jewish rabbi of the day. That resume caused him to assert, ‘If others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more” (Philippians 3:4, N.L.T.).
And it’s not like Paul became a nobody once he converted to Christianity. Remember, this was the guy through whom God worked unusual miracles, so unusual that handkerchiefs and aprons that he used in his work as a tent maker had the power to cure diseases and cast out demons (Acts 19:11-12). This was the guy who raised a young man named Eutychus from the dead (Acts 20:7-12). This was the guy who had personally seen the resurrected, glorified Christ (Acts 9:1-9). This was the guy who wrote half the New Testament. This was the guy who had the backbone to rebuke the great apostle Peter (Galatians 2:11-21). Not one of these things lends itself to humility.
So, what made Paul so humble? What compelled him to call himself “the least of all the apostles,” “the least of all the saints,” and “the chief of sinners”? I think we can name at least three reasons:
#1: He never forgot his shameful past. Before he became a Christian, Paul “made havoc of the church” (Acts 8:3), tried to destroy it (Galatians 1:13), went house to house to drag Christians off to prison (Acts 8:3), went around “breathing threats and murder against the disciples” (Acts 9:1), and persecuted Christians “to the death” (Acts 22:4).
#2: He was afflicted with a thorn in the flesh. In some way in which even he himself didn’t fully understand, Paul was granted a visit to heaven. He records the story in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. In the wake of that incredible experience, a “thorn in the flesh” was given to him to keep him humble lest he be “exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations.” I won’t speculate here what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” might have been, but if you are interested in the subject, please read these two posts:
#3: He walked closely with the Lord. Like the prophet Isaiah before him, Paul learned that the closer you walk with the Lord, the more sinful you see yourself. When Isaiah saw the Lord, sitting on His throne, high and lifted up, with seraph angels singing His praises unceasingly (Isaiah 6:1-3), Isaiah said, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:6, N.K.J.V.). Surely Paul, as closely as he walked with the Lord, understood why Isaiah had said that.
I can only imagine what Paul would say about Jesse Duplantis needing a new jet to fly around the world and preach Jesus. Landing in your own $54 million airplane doesn’t exactly scream, “I’m a humble servant of Jesus Christ,” does it? I know what I would think if I watched such a man fly in to save me. I’d think, “This guy can’t possibly relate to me and my problems because he runs in a different league than I do.” I guess this is why Jesus ministered as He did, never owning a home, never charging anyone for His services, never focusing upon worldly wealth, and never turning down anyone’s invitation to dinner, even when the invitation came from a scandalous man or an enemy. Such humility has always appealed to the masses and always will. For that matter, ministering in humility will still work today if we will try it. And we won’t need new jets to do it.