We’ve all heard that saying: ‘He can talk the talk, but he can’t walk the walk’. Well, the Apostle Paul was one who did both: he ‘walked the talk’.
I have read and re-read accounts of Paul’s exploits and missions accomplished many times and been amazed, but going on a study tour to follow in the footsteps of Paul through Turkey and Greece did a lot to centre my thoughts on this man and his ministry. More than ever before I got to thinking about why it was that Paul was so successful in ministry. Being there also drove home for me the price Paul paid for his obedience to Christ’s call on his life.
I will never forget standing on the wharf at the Port of Neapolis (now called Kavala), watching fishermen mending their nets and thinking of Paul’s arrival in Macedonia to bring the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the West.
Within a matter of hours Paul would make his way over the hill to Philippi, the leading city of the district of Macedonia where, after a clear demonstration of God’s power through Paul’s ministry, he and his travelling companion and fellow campaigner Silas would be severely beaten and thrown into jail (Acts 16:23).
After the pair’s miraculous escape from prison (and the consequent salvation of their jailer and his whole family), Paul, undeterred and full of confidence, made his way to Thessalonica. Once there he headed straight for the synagogue where he again passionately preached, ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ’ (Acts 17:3). The Bible says large numbers of people were ‘persuaded and joined Paul and Silas’ (Acts 17:4). The opposition was vehement, however, and Paul’s followers, under the cover of darkness, sent him off to Berea.
Reaching there, Paul, undaunted as ever, made straight for the local synagogue where he again preached Christ as Saviour and Lord. This time, the response must have been more encouraging for Paul as the Bereans ‘received the message with great eagerness’ (Acts 17:11). But within a few days those in Thessalonica heard about this and sent troublemakers to agitate and stir up the crowds.
As we covered the distances that Paul and his travelling companions Silas, Timothy and other campaigners (or missionaries) travelled, and as we stood in places where he not only preached but where he and his companions were ridiculed, arrested, beaten and jailed, I was in awe of Paul’s leadership and tenacity. In fact, I was surprised at how much this impacted my thinking.
I thought about how many other people in Paul’s day were called and passionate campaigners who then gave up. And I wondered what it was that kept Paul ‘faithfully on the field’.
I’ve also been thinking about Paul’s boldness to call others to journey with him even when he knew there would be such hardship ahead. Because he was Paul’s companion, Silas was also severely beaten and thrown into jail. Innocent people were dragged out of their homes and before the city officials simply because they supported Paul’s ministry.
How inspiring his leadership must have been that those who journeyed with him would stay even though Paul brought turmoil wherever he went!
If anyone had good reason to give up, it was Paul. If I had been one of his colleagues—perhaps a fellow pastor—out of sheer pity, I may have counselled him to just give up!
Hearing news of the many hardships Paul faced: battles with the establishment, hardships and poverty, beatings and imprisonments, riots, sleepless nights and hunger, being regarded as an impostor and a nobody, the dishonouring reports that followed him, his being shipwrecked three times (2 Corinthians 6; 11:24), and the hypocrisy of other leaders around him (Galatians 2:13-14), I could imagine myself sympathising and saying: ‘That is just not fair! The injustice of it all!’
As I walked in Paul’s footsteps, I wondered: if I had faced the opposition and trials that he faced, would I have doubted my own calling?
Amazingly, Paul never looked or even sounded like he was considering giving up. And he never did, eventually going to his death for the sake of the Gospel.
Sure, Paul sometimes retaliated out of sheer frustration— and felt like a fool for doing so (2 Corinthians 11:17,23)—but still he never spoke of or hinted at quitting. Why didn’t you, Paul? How did you hold your ground?
I’ve concluded that what kept Paul focused and faithful, among other things, were:
His Passion and Zeal for God: At first misguided (Paul used to persecute Christians, even to death) and untamed, Paul’s eventual zeal to ‘finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus had given him’ compelled him and shaped his ministry (Acts 20:22-24). I’m not convinced that Paul was a particularly compassionate man, but his passion for God’s purposes was undeniable.
His Calling: Paul could not forget where he had come from—or his calling. The persecutor became the persecuted (see Acts 9:1,16; Galatians 1:11-17; 1 Corinthians 15:8-10). Paul was utterly convinced of his calling. It was so strong and so clear that whatever hardship he faced just made him focus even more on Jesus (Philippians 4:4-7; Hebrews 12:1-4).
His Humility: Paul never forgot that he was the chief of all sinners. His deep gratitude to God for the grace and mercy extended to him was obvious throughout his ministry (1 Timothy 1:15).
His Vision: It wasn’t about Paul or even about his ministry; it was about others and, ultimately, all for his Lord and Master, Jesus. Paul was so aware that Jesus had given up everything for the sake of others (Philippians 2:1-11; 3:12-14).
Following in the footsteps of Paul has given me a far greater appreciation of what it truly meant for Paul to walk the talk—and what it means for me to do the same.
Considering the example of Paul’s life and ministry has encouraged me to stay the course no matter what, and to empathise with and encourage others who may be going through extremely testing times. It has also highlighted for me the huge importance of having faith-filled, Spirit-filled, wise and equally passionate ‘travelling companions’.
By Malcolm Herring (from War Cry, 14 August 2010, p12-13)