Welcome to our Summer Bible Study on the Apostle Paul! It's Ann here, and I can't wait to dive in to some of his stories, taking a leaf or two out of his book.
Somewhat ironically, only this past Saturday I had a more difficult time as a Christian than I've had in a while. I spent the evening with a crowd of unbelieving friends, and loneliness crept up on me. That night I lay in bed thinking:
"Being a Christian is hard core, and there are spiritually some very hard places."
Well, the Apostle Paul specialized in the 'hard-core' places, and he did it so well for the rest of us. I'm sure when he was in prison for the Gospel it wasn't easy.... But his faith enabled him to write positive letters to the church, showing us how to do this thing well.
In today's post we're just looking at an introduction to Paul; but there's so much to his life that I can't do him justice in 750 words. Instead, then, I'll start with his most honored moment:
Paul was martyred for the Gospel.
“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up 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 those who have loved his appearing.” (2 Tim 4:6-8)
Not long after he wrote the above, he was beheaded in Rome (as best we know). In dying that death, he joined the other apostles, also likely martyred*. Their blood formed a foundation of courage and truth for the church.
How on earth could Paul have been strong enough to walk into this? He knew it was coming, and said 'yes'. Well, Jesus equipped him. Part of this equipping was that Paul knew what was true. Just like we -- the SUM community - learn to do. In Paul's case, he had encountered Jesus and experienced the miraculous repeatedly (in the book of Acts). He'd also put up with so much hassle during his years of ministry that he became the ultimate in resilience:
"Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches." (2 Corinthians 11:24-28)
My friends, I have to say this made me feel a whole lot better about my lonely Saturday night with unbelievers! Emotionally difficult, yes; but Paul went through worse. Therefore, so can I.
We read about Paul's life in the book of Acts; but his character and life also ooze out of his epistles in the New Testament. Fourteen out of the 27 New Testament books were likely written by him and they add brushstrokes of color to the main story in Acts.
Interestingly, Paul was a blend of different cultures. A heftily educated Pharisee, he was also a Roman Citizen, and entrenched in Hellenic/Greek culture. Coming originally from Tarsus in modern-day Turkey, he went all over the place for the Gospel, and his mixed background meant he could speak easily to a range of different audiences, opponents, and friends.
Those influencing skills were needed: His two primary issues were godlessness and doctrinal error. He tackled those two things in truth and love while dealing with tremendous opposition.
So yes, what a man. And can this help us navigate the hardship of a SUM? I believe for sure that we can get strength from his story.
Here's a question for today: What is your environment like? What kinds of people are in your sphere of influence?
Nice chatting! Lynn will be here on Wednesday to continue the study.
* Sean McDowell (2008). The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus.