When Saul of Tarsus, who later became known as Paul, saw the resurrected Jesus on the Damascus Road, he converted to Christianity. He made three long missionary journeys throughout the Roman Empire, planting churches, preaching the gospel, and giving strength and encouragement to early Christians. Of the 27 books in the New Testament, Paul is credited as the author of 13 of them. While he was proud of his Jewish heritage, Paul saw that the gospel was for the Gentiles as well. Paul was martyred for his faith in Christ by the Romans, about 64 or 65 A.D. He epitomizes the well-led Christian life; but we see that he did not fall upon it by accident or coincidence. Once this happened, he lived his life to fulfill his purpose…his mission.
Paul realized that he was called to spread the good news of faith & salvation and God’s heart for the world. He did not go haphazardly wandering into cities, through the wilderness and generally looking for just anyone who would listen. He was intentional and determined about where he planned to go. He would first go to the synagogues; which made good sense being that it was generally in the heart of the city.
We know this often spelled trouble for Paul and Barnabas. After an invitation to speak in the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch, they are invited to say more at a second Sabbath meeting. This time, “…almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord.” Awesome! Why? Because Paul, ever-living out his mission, ignited the call to mission in others; as we know, word-of-mouth is sometimes a great way of reaching others when the mission field seems impossible. On the other hand, if they had no interest or refused to hear what he had come to say, he would move on to the Gentiles. He was very clear in his teachings about Jesus’ message without putting his own personal spin on what was true to make it more palatable or to make it easier to convert non-believers.
Paul, as with most of God’s messengers, was met with outright scorn, persecution and unimaginable physical abuse. He and Barnabas were even thrown into prison. While Paul resisted those against him, he also resisted being idolized. He kept everything in perspective. Intentional. It is hard to not feel sympathy for the trials of Paul; however, God used those trials to further validate the cause.
One of Paul’s most famous statements is: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” (Philippians 4:13, NKJV), reminding us that our power to live the Christian life comes from God, not ourselves. Paul also recounted a “thorn in his flesh” that kept him from becoming conceited over the priceless privilege God had entrusted to him. In saying, “For when I am weak, then I am strong,” (2 Corinthians 12:2, NIV), Paul was sharing one of the greatest secrets of staying faithful: absolute dependence on God.
Much of the Protestant Reformation was based on Paul’s teaching that people are saved by grace, not works: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-“ (Ephesians 2:8, NIV) This truth frees us to stop striving to be good enough and to instead rejoice in our salvation, gained by the loving sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
We, too, are called to that brand of Christianity – whether we are new Christians or life-long. We are called to think and plan and then act in ways that serve God.
- What might be different in our lives if we were deliberate about our faith and spreading the Word?
- What conversations might take place if we were unafraid of what persecutions we may face?
- How could you better serve with the gifts and talents give to you by God?
Let’s all allow Paul to be a model to us for what it means to live missionally, attuned to God’s will over our lives!