As a pastor that “holds the line” when it comes to biblical/historical accuracy, I tend to be critical when it comes to movies that depict Biblical stories and themes. I think it pretty much shows, when producers and directors create a movie for entertainment purposes, over a desire to impact an audience through one’s convictions to faithfully pass on a compelling story. I also have to be fair, recognizing that the director has to use some creative liberties according to his/her mind’s eye to make a story understandable and powerful to a broad audience.
I’m not an established movie critic; I just want the power of the Gospel to be the main force that lead people to consider the greatest (true) story ever told! This is why I was encouraged after watching Paul, Apostle of Christ, which just came out on Redbox. Of course there were extra-biblical, even fictitious stories woven within, but the prevailing message focused on the Gospel: the power of God working through the weakness of men, and their testimony to the resurrection and Lordship of Jesus Christ!
This is a movie and story for our modern times, as Christians in our day are at times doubting the power of the Gospel, and often trusting in immediate life circumstances and external authorities over the Christ we claim to follow! (Yes, I know, it was also made from a more catholic perspective) The faithfulness to the heart of the scriptures, as Paul preached and taught the early churches, is evident in the movie. So let’s consider the heart of the message, through Paul’s words recorded in our scriptures!
He tells a boastful church, trusting in strength, 1 Cor 2:3 “I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling.” 1 Cor 15:43 “it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power”; 2 Cor 11:30 “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”; 2 Cor 12:9 “But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”; 2 Cor 13:4 “For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him to serve you.”
He writes the young church leader Timothy, 2 Tim 2:8 “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.”
Knowing that his end is near, he reminds his young friend what it is all about: 2 Tim 4:6-8 “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day— and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
He tells the Philippians, Phil 1:20-21 “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
If this former persecutor of Christians indeed changed due to his dramatic encounter with the living Jesus, as Luke records for him in Acts 9:4, 22:7, & 26:14, then his willingness to face persecution himself, even imprisonment and death, for the sake of the Gospel, should speak to us of its vital importance for living in this life.
For me, the movie visually verifies that the Gospel is designed to be counter-cultural! In a modern society where words and truth seem to increasingly lose their meaning, there is the increased need to back up our words of truth and encouragement by a life that demonstrates that we are willing to suffer for it! We are to live, suffer, and die in a way that is different from those who do not know Christ. We are to be more Gospel-conscious than personal-safety-conscious. We are to “Love your neighbor AS yourself!” (Lev 19:18, Matt 22:39, Gal 5:14) How counter-cultural is THAT, should we live it out?!
There is something that is powerfully connected between Suffering, and the Gospel. Our willingness to suffer for Christ’s sake puts teeth to our message. It is the counter-cultural essence behind Jesus’ words “Take up your cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34), and the message that Paul proclaimed.
As Al Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as stated, “We are never promised the culture”. But we speak volumes to a society by how we live, and our willingness to put comforts aside on behalf of others and our willingness to sacrifice for their eternal gain.