Their Personal Experiences
All acquainted with the writings of John and Paul agree that there are no two pen-men in Scripture more different in style than these two apostles. One write short, pithy statements, the other long and compound sentences. One seldom quotes the OT, (not even once in his epistles) the other quotes extensively, especially in Romans and Hebrews. One keeps his personal experience hidden, the other draws from it practical lessons. One was called at the beginning of the Lord’s earthly ministry, the other after it was done. One saw the Lord in His deepest humiliation in the Garden, the other saw Him in highest glory. One was in closest with Him during His earthly ministry, so that he lay in His bosom, and handled Him,. the other did not know Christ after the flesh, but saw Him in heaven as risen and glorified. One was a Galilean fisherman with little schooling, the other an educated scholar, having been taught at the feet of Gamaliel; one was perceived to be unlearned (Acts 4:13), and to the other it was said, “much learning doth make thee mad” (Acts 26:24). One had possibly two homes, one in Galilee, and another in Jerusalem. The other could say, “we…have no certain dwelling place” (I Cor 4:11). One was an apostle to the Jews, the other the apostle to the Gentiles. One deals with the saints as a family and a flock, the other sees them mainly as the church which is His body. John never uses “church” in the universal, only in the local sense, while Paul gives us most of what we know of the church which is Christ’s body.
However, in spite of these and many more contrasts which are evident in the history of these two servants of God, there is a remarkable similarity between them. Whether we look at their personal experiences, their perception of the Person of Christ, their prophetic outlook, their church principles, or their practical instructions to the saints, we are impressed by the closeness that can be seen to exist between their respective writings. Of this we are sure, neither was influenced by the other, for the only time we are told of them meeting was when Paul went to Jerusalem to settle the problem regarding circumcision (Acts 15 and Gal 2). At the close of that memorable meeting, the two apostles shook hands and parted, possibly never to see each other again until they met in heaven. Although their spheres of service were vastly different, and those to whom they ministered were no less different, yet in essence the truth they taught, and the features they sought to produce in their hearers were strangely identical. In spite of their personality differences and the distinct background of each, yet we will attempt in these papers to show that they were fully agreed regarding the “faith once delivered to the saints.” This goes a long way to prove that sound doctrine is not something vague or indefinite, but a body of truth that remains and “is most surely believed amongst us.”
There was one faithful man whose memory was dear to John. He was the Baptist, for it was through his preaching that he was led to Christ. The memory of that day with the cry, “Behold the Lamb of God,” rang out on the banks of Jordan must have remained with him throughout his lifetime, for it was then that he not only heard of Christ, but was so attracted to Him, that he followed Him to His house for the remainder of that day (John 1:29-39). Likewise there was a faithful witness heard by Paul, and one he could never forget, for the witness of Stephen was likely the first time that the gospel reached his ears, when as a young man his feet were surrounded by the clothes of those who stoned the first martyr. Both John and Paul could individually say, “The man who first impressed me with the truth, lost his life for his faithfulness.” While John was introduced to the Lord as the sacrificial Sin-bearer, and Paul saw Him in glory when His bearing of sin was passed, yet neither lost time in spreading the news to others of what he had found. Of the former it is implied that he found his brother, James, though not as soon as Andrew found Peter (John 1:41), and of the latter it is written, “And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues” (Acts 9:20). Like most new converts, initially, neither of these two men had any idea of the wonderful purpose the Lord had in view in saving him. However, not long after, both were made aware of the work they were called to do, for John was called from his father’s fishing- boat to catch men, and of Paul it was disclosed by the Lord to Ananias that he was to be “a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles” (Acts 9:15).
God always trains His servants for the work He has for them to do. As for John, this was done during the three and one half years he spent with the Lord. These were the days of his apprenticeship, and what he learned during them, fitted him for apostolic office. Likewise, Paul had his period of training, not with the Lord on earth, but with Him in spirit, and this while he was in the remote parts of Arabia. We are told that three years elapsed before he went to visit Peter in Jerusalem. He is emphatic that his reception of the truth was not in a second-hand manner, but it was directly revealed to him by the Lord (Gal 1:17-18).
In the early times of the apostolic testimony, Peter and John were confronted with a cripple who was begging at the Temple gate. Instead of giving him alms, they gave him something better, they healed his complaint. Likewise in the early days of Paul’s mission to the Gentiles, he too had his attention arrested by a man who was cripple from birth, and just as surely as Peter and John had healed the one at Jerusalem, so too did Paul heal the one at Lystra. These demonstrations of divine power let both Jew and Gentile see that the Lord, who had wrought mightily while here on earth, was still doing wonders through His servants.
The Lord faithfully warned the apostles that they would suffer persecution and that they would be as sheep in the midst of wolves. John was one of these sheep, and Saul, who became Paul, was for a time one of these wolves. The thought that the ting-leader of the persecution at Jerusalem, Saul, would ever become one of the persecuted sheep was furthest from the mind of John, but, strange as it was, this is what did take place, and Paul includes himself in the words, “We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter” (Rom 8:36). Part of the persecution which was the lot of the apostles entailed imprisonment. While John is not specifically named as one who suffered this experience, yet he must have been one of the apostles who were arrested and confined at Jerusalem (Acts 5:18). Later, we read of Paul being imprisoned at Philippi. What specially links these two stories together is the fact that on both occasions the prisons were opened miraculously. The angle of the Lord opened the one, to let out the apostles, and the earthquake opened the other at Philippi to let Paul free.
Doubtless John did not travel extensively as did Paul, nevertheless it is interesting to note that both were faced with the danger of drowning. John was in the ship when the cry to the Lord was “Carest Thou not that we perish?” (Mark 4:38), and Paul was on the ship when all hope of being saved had vanished (Acts 27). When the closing years of these two servants of the Lord drew near, they both had trying times. John was banished to the Isle of Patmos, and Paul was imprisoned at Rome. No miracle was performed to alter the portion of either, so both had to endure being cut off to a great extent from the fellowship of the saints. We might wonder that such useful men should be so restricted in their movements, especially at the time when they were most mature in the things of God. However, there was a precious purpose in their isolation, for it was while in Patmos that John wrote the Revelation, and it was while Paul was in prison that he wrote the so called prison epistles wherein he reveals the great mystery of the church.
Another unique experience which links these two men together is that both of them were caught up to heaven. John heard a voice from heaven which said, “Come up hither” (Rev 4:1), and Paul was caught up to the third heaven (2 Cor 12:2-4). The former give us some details of what he saw, but the latter tells us nothing of what he saw, nor was he allowed to reveal what he heard. We know that John was raptured in vision, but most likely his body remained on the island, but Paul was not sure whether he took his body with him, or left it on earth. When the passing flight to glory enjoyed by each of these men was over, then they returned to earth, one to share the tribulations of the saints, the other to endure in addition to this, the thorn in his flesh.
Not only were John and Paul apostles, but they were also writers. John wrote to seven churches the letters in Revelation 2 and 3. Paul also wrote to seven churches and to two of them twice. John wrote to two individuals, but Paul wrote to three. John mentions his joy at hearing of Gaius, and Paul writes to Philemon, “We have great joy and consolation in thy love.” John expects to visit Gaius, and Paul expects to be lodged with Philemon. Both wrote an epistle without any introduction or any mention as to whom it was addressed – 1 John and Hebrews. There are interesting connections between these two writings, but we need not mention them now. At times, John writes to the saints and calls them “my little children”. Likewise Paul reminds his readers that they were his children begotten through the Gospel. From the pen of John we have the great chapter concerning the Good Shepherd and the sheep (John 10), and this figure is used also by Paul (Acts 20:28). John was one of the three apostles who were privileged while on the holy mount to enjoy a foretast of the coming kingdom, and Paul writes of the time when this same kingdom will be delivered up to God (1 Cor 15:24). Both John and Paul could view the kingdom in its heavenly character. John speaks of the raised saints as kings and priests (Rev 5:10) and of those who will live and reign with Christ a thousand years (Rev 20:4), and Paul is assured that he will be preserved unto His heavenly kingdom (2 Tim 4:18).
Toward the end of John’s life he calls himself “The elder” (2 John 1 and 3 John 1) and Paul writing to Phileman refers to himself as “Paul the aged” (v 9), so both felt that they were nearing the close of life. In the latter case, what does surprise us is that there are less than thirty years between the time when he was described as a “young man” (Acts 7:58) and the time when he was writing to Philemon as an “aged” man.
To be continued.