Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Through the Eyes of Spurgeon - Official Documentary

Stories of Evangelism in the Early Church | STEPHEN PRESLEY

The early church was an evangelistic church. From the least to the greatest, early Christians were serious about the regular proclamation of the Gospel. In the words of Michael Green, the early church believed that evangelism was “the prerogative and duty of every church member.” [1] This included apostles, nobles, paupers, philosophers, soldiers, business leaders, and even a few fishermen.

At the same time, the nature of evangelism in the early church was both passionate and spontaneous. They did not have the freedom to gather publically in large groups or plan highly involved outreach initiatives. Instead, the work of Gospel proclamation was organically filtered into their everyday lives. The early Christians relied daily on the Spirit and preached the Gospel enthusiastically whenever afforded the opportunity. The evangelistic zeal of the early church is well-documented in the New Testament and other writings of the post-apostolic age. Just like the apostles, many of the early church fathers followed their impassioned call to preach the Gospel.
Below, I offer three very different stories of evangelistic encounters in the early Christian world. I do not wish to suggest that these instances characterize the “right” strategies or methods of evangelism. Instead, these accounts provide a few inspiring snapshots of evangelism in the earliest days of the church that exemplify their consistent witness to the Gospel. In reality, these stories only begin to capture the breadth of all the harrowing efforts in the early church to proclaim the faith in a hostile world.
Our first story, which highlights the early Christian priority for evangelism, comes to us from church father Ignatius of Antioch (c. 110) on his journey from Antioch in Syria to Rome. Ignatius was arrested for his confession of Christ and was being transported to the capitol to be tried and ultimately martyred. During his long journey, Ignatius penned several letters to churches in Rome and Asia Minor to encourage their faith. In the midst of his Epistle to the Ephesians, Ignatius turned to the topic of evangelism. He exhorted the church at Ephesus saying, “Pray continually for the rest of mankind as well, that they may find God, for there is in them hope for repentance. Therefore, allow them to be instructed by you, at least by your deeds.” [2] Ignatius’ words are rich with meaning and informed by a devotion to the proclamation of the Gospel. His burden for those outside the faith is evident in his exhortation to prayer and informs his charge to preach the Gospel in both word and deed.
Ignatius’ words find application in a related example from the life of the church father Polycarp (c. 155). Polycarp, a friend of Ignatius, was also martyred for his faith. In the popular account of his martyrdom, Polycarp’s arrest did not quite happen the way one would expect. When the soldiers arrived at his residence, he welcomed them inside and encouraged them to sit down for a meal. He only requested a few moments to pray while they ate.
Instead of petitioning the Lord quietly in a back room, Polycarp seized the opportunity to share his hope in Christ. He prayed aloud so that all in the house could hear his earnest conversation with God. Here is a brief description of the scene:
When they [the soldiers] consented [to sit for a meal], he [Polycarp] stood and prayed, so full of the grace of God that for two hours he was unable to stop speaking, those who heard him were amazed, and many regretted that they had come after such a godly man. [3]
In his last moments of freedom, Polycarp’s prayers brought his captors to a point of conviction and compassion. They still followed orders and arrested him, though on the way back to Rome, they were so moved that they tried to persuade him to recant his faith in order to spare his life. But their efforts were futile, and eventually Polycarp was tried, convicted and executed for his faith. Thus, in the exhortation of Ignatius and example of Polycarp, we find the early Christian passion for evangelism, even in the most extreme circumstances.
A second story of personal evangelism comes from the life of the early Christian apologist Justin Martyr (c. 155). Justin was a trained philosopher who dabbled in several different Greco-Roman schools of philosophy in his pursuit of truth. He found none of them ultimately satisfying. Dismayed and dejected, Justin went in search of a solitary place by the sea to gather his thoughts.
As Justin made his way down to the seaside, he expected to be alone. He was not a little surprised when he found himself beside an old man who was not shy about engaging him in a personal conversation about the nature of truth and the revelation of God in the Scriptures. Though their discussion was layered with apologetic dialogue, ultimately the old man persuaded Justin to read the Scriptures. When he finally conceded and read the words of the prophets and apostles, he was captured by the Gospel. He recounted the whole experience in his Dialogue with Trypho and described his conversion saying:
… my spirit was immediately set on fire, and affection for the prophets, and for those who are friends of Christ, took hold of me; while pondering on his [the old man’s] words, I discovered that his was the only sure and useful philosophy. [4]
Justin abandoned the pursuit of all other philosophies and devoted himself solely to the teaching of Christ. We are never told the identity of the old man, and perhaps that does not really matter. What is clear is that this was a simple encounter of personal evangelism that transformed the life of one of the greatest early Christian apologists.
Finally, a third story of evangelism in the early church brings us back to Polycarp and his disciple Irenaeus (c. 180). In the waning years of the second century, Irenaeus would become an important defender of the faith against the rising tide of Gnosticism. He served as bishop of a persecuted congregation on the fringes of the Roman Empire in Gaul (modern-day France). Irenaeus, however, was not trained in Gaul or even Italy, but in Smyrna in Asia Minor under the teaching of Polycarp. In one of his letters to a wayward presbyter named Florinus, Irenaeus described his early days in the faith and how he would sit and listen to Polycarp openly engage anyone in the public square with the Gospel. Irenaeus writes:
I can tell also the very place where the blessed Polycarp was accustomed to sit and discourse; and also his entrances, his walks, the complexion of his life and the form of his appearance and his conversations with people.…[5]
Irenaeus paints the picture of Polycarp as one regularly participating in personal conversations about the Gospel. Clearly, Polycarp’s example left an impression upon the young Irenaeus. Years later, while serving the church on the borders of the Roman Empire, he remembers vividly the example of Polycarp’s devotion to sharing his faith.
These stories are only a glimpse of the spontaneous and passionate nature of evangelism in the early church. Each of these examples reveals how Gospel proclamation was organically woven into their daily lives and conversations. Whatever the circumstances, they sought opportunities to engage anyone and everyone with the good news of salvation in Christ. While there are many differences between the ancient world and ours, their enthusiasm for personal evangelism should not be one of them.

[1] Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 380.
[2] Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians, 10, in The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, ed and rev Michael W. Holmes (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004)
[3] Martyrdom of Polycarp, 7, in The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, ed and rev Michael W. Holmes (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004)
[4] Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 8.1.
[5] Irenaeus’s “Letter to Florinus” is preserved in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History (Hendrickson: Peabody, MA, 1998), 5.20.

Stephen Presley

Stephen Presley

Associate Professor of Church History and Director of the Center for the Study of Early Christianity at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Dr. Presley serves as Associate Professor of Church History in the School of Theology and Director of the Southwestern Center for the Study of Early Christianity. He is married to Haley and they have four children: Isla, Emma, Luke, and Andrew.
Twitter: @sopresley

Evangelism and the Early Church: Jerry Root

There has been no perfect period in church history. The first-century Church must not be over-idealized. According to theologian Walter Elwell, in the New Testament epistles alone, the Church had to be corrected some 150 times.1 We must always be careful to avoid projections and over-idealizations of any time or place.

Nevertheless, the early Church still has much to say to us today, and it is wise to be attentive to its lessons. There are two mistakes that can be made about traditions of the past: (1) to reject the past altogether as archaic and irrelevant and move on to questions of the present and (2) to be dominated by the past, letting the calcifying conventions of days gone by tyrannize healthy communal development.
G. K. Chesterton says a proper understanding of the past is to make some accommodation so its voice might still be heard. Every time a given age sits at the table to consider an event or challenge, it should always give a seat to the voice of the past. It is, according to Chesterton, democracy extended through time.2
A true grasp of tradition gives a vote to the dead. This way, the wisdom of the past is not neglected and the challenges of the day benefit by such wisdom while also being infused with fresh ideas. Bringing this kind of balance into the discussion, we must consider:
  • Does the early Church contribute anything to today’s Church relative to its mission in the world?
  • What are the ways Christians in the past shared their faith in Christ, and can that positively affect the ways Christians share Christ with others today?
When Jesus gathered his disciples to himself, he used one of two methods.
  1. Contact evangelism. Jesus simply came to some and called them to follow. One example of this is Matthew. There may have been an earlier relationship that existed between Matthew and Jesus, but there is no textual reference to it.
    Therefore, it can be imagined that Jesus simply encountered some people and called them into relationship. Similarly, some people can be led to Christ after an initial contact. It is wise to be sensitive to how the Spirit of God may be moving in any given conversation as he woos others to himself through us.
  2. Relational evangelism (i.e., “webs of relationship”). In John 1, Andrew went and brought his brother, Peter, to Jesus. Likewise, Phillip found his friend, Nathaniel. So too, God may have us share Christ through friendships we already have. We must not neglect the fact that God often reaches out through established relationships in order to make Christ known in the world.
Both contact evangelism and relational evangelism have their risks. In contact evangelism, the difficulty is in trying to find natural segues for the gospel with a person we have only just met. It is also difficult to establish creditability. On the other hand, an old friend or family member who knows our history also knows our shortcomings. This can harm our message. We must confess personal failures and testify to the love and forgiveness of God and its ongoing power to forgive and transform. When this occurs, even our failures can be an asset when sharing Christ.
Learning from the Early Disciples The disciples engaged in both kinds of evangelism. There is much we can learn from those who first took the gospel to others. The Book of Acts certainly makes a case for contact evangelism:
  • Paul talks one-on-one with others in the marketplace.
  • Philip speaks with the Ethiopian eunuch whom he just met on the Gaza road.
  • Cornelius reaches out to Peter so that Peter might share the gospel to the entire web of family relations in Cornelius’ household.
But the Gospels and the Book of Acts speak of other kinds of evangelism as well:
  • Jesus addresses and shares the gospel with large crowds of people.
  • At the Feast of Pentecost, Peter preaches openly about Jesus in the public square.
  • Paul goes to the partially-informed people gathered at the synagogue; that is, he reaches out to those with an affinity for religion but who have not yet encountered a relationship with the living Christ.
  • Paul uses letters to present the gospel to others. (Today’s equivalent of email and social networking provides ample opportunity to do something like this.)
What can we learn from the approaches employed by the early Church to reach others for Christ?
  1. They were men and women whose lives were transformed demonstrably by the love and forgiveness of Christ, and it was out of a full heart they shared the gospel with others. When we neglect to share Jesus with others, we might ask if a fresh rekindling of God’s love needs to be generated so that his grace may again flow freely.
  2. Early Christians, whose love burned hot for Christ, found obedience to the Great Commission. Their great desire was to tell the world about Jesus death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins. They proved themselves faithful to the call of God in their lives.
  3. Whether it was to the one unknown person in a public place, to the gathering of a small group of friends and acquaintances invited to hear about Christ, or to an assembled crowd, early church members made the most of the opportunities before them.
  4. Early Christians appeared to demonstrate great creativity manifest in the ways they continually sought to share the gospel. This should inspire all who read the New Testament to look for fun and creative ways to make Christ known to others.
  5. Early Christians were not willing to let fear keep them from the joy of telling others about Jesus.
While no period in church history has ever had it all together, one thing can be said about the early Church: they were bold about fulfilling their calling to make Christ known to others. In this regard, they have much to tell the Church in every age. The hope for the Church in all times, whatever mistakes may be made in any period of history, is that the Body of Christ not neglect the high call of making Christ known to the world.
1. Comments made to me in conversation in the late 1980s.
2. Chesterton, G. K. 1986. Orthodoxy. The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton. Vol. I. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 251

Dr. Jerry Root is associate director of the Institute for Strategic Evangelism at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, USA. He has taught in the evangelism masters program for the past eleven years. Root has invested nineteen years in student ministry, evangelism, and discipleship.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

We must have Compassion as well as Passion.

' Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.” Compassion for those who are lost and in pain is a Christ like emotion and attribute. Jesus had it in abundance for the poor and needy when he was on earth and he still has it for those in the world today. We ourselves were those wretches he had compassion on! But as his servants now, he wants us to have his heart, not only to minister to those people, but also to pray to the Lord of the harvest that more labourers will enter into that work.As our Lord clearly states: 'the harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few.'

TALKING TO: ROGER FORSTER Published on 29th January 2016 ( Jesus Army)

I first heard Roger Forster preach at a meeting around 1976 in Belfast. I have also read many of his excellent books including those on apologetics, faith and prayer.He has a genuine ministry of the Holy Spirit and ministers to both believers and non-believers in humility and love. He was also perhaps the most influential leaders of the House Church Movement in the UK. His sermons are also available on youtube and through his Church Network Ichthus Christian Fellowship. The following article was taken from the Jesus Army website.

Roger Forster, is co-founder and co-leader of the London-based Ichthus Christian Fellowship with his wife, Faith Forster. Approximately 130 other churches and movements in the UK and Europe are linked with Ichthus Christian Fellowship. Roger Forster answered some questions in an interview with Paul Veitch from the Jesus Fellowship.
Roger and Faith Forster
Should Christians be involved in politics?
Of course, there is always the danger that we compromise our standards. Because of this, some Christians dismiss the whole world of politics as something they should not be involved with. Sometimes, though, obeying Jesus’ command to love our neighbour means it is important for us to take a stand with or against the powers that be. We can serve our fellow humans by supporting good governance and backing people in high positions. However, we must guard our hearts – we must trust in God, not man – as the Bible says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God”. (Psalm 20:7) The field of politics is a suitable place for believers to do things and take action – especially in local government – such involvement can open lots of doors. When we do, we can’t get everything we want – but maybe we’ll get half. We can be good neighbours.
At this moment in time, there are more Christians in politics than ever before. Christian nominalism has declined; once everyone was considered a Christian unless they declared otherwise; now we are freer to declare our unique Christian viewpoint and commend the gospel.
In terms of the gospel, what’s changed in the UK since 2000? Do you notice any new trends?
Up until 2000, we organised national marches for Jesus in the UK. Around this time, sadly, our use of the cutting edge of the gospel went downhill. This has often been because of the fear of being politically incorrect and being targeted. Some have thought, “I won’t talk about it – I’ll just do good works”. However, recently, in 2015, there has been a new trend; some are “coming out of the woodwork” and are talking about the gospel again. This change is noticeable in parliament: in the ‘Assisted Dying Bill’ debate Jesus was spoken about openly. That probably wouldn’t have happened ten years ago.
Christians are working together more and are more willing to listen to each other. It’s easier to work together in social action projects as we don’t contradict each other. Some of us have begun to engage together in gospel proclamation.
On a wider, national level, atheists are becoming more militant. Science has shown that the statistical possibility of a world coming into being like ours, with its balance of elements, is infinitesimal. The idea of chance is ridiculous. Design is the only solution. Many non-Christian scientists are taking this stand. The facts have driven them there. Atheists are not winning the argument – Christians are – a lot of people are sick of atheistic arguments too. We lost this battle a hundred years ago but are now winning it back. This makes the atheists more vociferous and shout louder.
What would add strength to the church at this time?
In the UK, the unrighteousness inside and outside the church is absolutely dismaying. We must show the church is serious about holiness and our ecumenical networking is producing Christ-likeness in our converts and believers. I would like to see holiness back on the agenda: godly living, thinking, and feeling. It is heart-rending when the church is as bad as the world. We need a campaign to make holiness popular!
The best thing for turning our country upside-down is having leaders like Evan Roberts who led the Welsh Revival, or possessing the spirit of those who were part of the Azusa Street revival in the United States; we need to learn to pray. These people were flat on their faces, fasting and seeking God and the spiritual atmosphere of the places in which they lived were changed. At the time of the Azusa Street outpouring of the Holy Spirit, people could sense the love of God in the atmosphere one quarter of a mile away. We need that sort of Christianity.
We need the supernatural. Supernatural healings wake people up! We need to see more supernatural deliverance and spiritual warfare - we need to learn to be strong in our fight against the spiritual powers, to use the spiritual weapons God has given us and the name of the Lord; we need to fight back and push these dark forces off. Often our prayer life is very shallow.
Often there is no real pastoral input when people get converted: all that is given is a quick fix and new Christians don’t have their issues, their hurts dealt with. All these things must be sorted if we are to grow into Christlikeness character and it requires a lot of time.
Recently the Evangelical Alliance conducted a survey: the result was that congregations said that most of all they needed pastoring – pastors to love them into health. In the survey, pastors, on the other hand, said that what was most needed was Bible teaching.
Have you got a final word?
Keep going and do not get caught up in easy-going kind of Christianity – that seeks prosperity and wants to please everyone – we’re not here to please everyone but to please God. Go for it and don’t give up.


CHARLES de Foucauld came from a Christian family but became agnostic as a teenager, in his own words, “running wild… I was in the dark. I no longer saw either God or men: There was only me.” He served as an officer in the French Army in North Africa but lost his rank after an affair. He then turned explorer in Morocco, disguising himself as a Jew as Europeans were forbidden in that country.
On his return to France, he found himself longing for adventure of a different kind: “Even though I wasn’t a believer I started going to Church. It was the only place where I felt at ease and I would spend long hours there repeating this strange prayer: ‘My God, if You exist, allow me to know You!’”
At 28, a turning point was reached: he began to believe: “The moment I realized that God existed, I knew I could not do otherwise than to live for Him alone.”
Charles (he called himself ‘Little Brother Charles of Jesus’) lived as a Trappist monk for a while. He spent some time as a hermit in Nazareth within the confines of a Poor Clares community. He was later ordained as a priest and in 1901, left for Algeria. His vision was, “to shout the gospel with his life” and, for those he lived among, to find in him, “a universal brother”.
His house in Béni Abbès in western Algeria was known locally as “the fraternity” and consisted of a room, a chapel and three acres of garden. People constantly came to seek him out: “From 4.30 am to 8.30 pm, I never stop talking and receiving people: slaves, the poor, the sick, soldiers, travellers and the curious.”
Charles longed for others to join him but they never came: “Pray to God so that I may do the work he has given me to do here: that I may establish a little convent of fervent and charitable monks, loving God with all their heart and their neighbour as themselves; a Zaouia (Islamic word for school or monastery) of prayer and hospitality where such piety radiates that the whole country is illumined and warmed by it; a little family imitating so perfectly the virtues of Jesus that all who live in the surrounding area begin to love Jesus!”
Inspired by his vision, Charles wrote down a plan for new religious orders, patterned on the life of Jesus.
In 1904, Charles left Béni Abbès to dwell among the fierce nomadic Saharan Tuareg people; he wanted to live among, “the furthest removed, the most abandoned.” He learned the Tuareg language, compiled a Tuareg dictionary and translated the gospels.
He said:“Above all, always see Jesus in every person, and consequently treat each one not only as an equal and as a brother or sister, but also with great humility, respect and selfless generosity.”
Charles’ premature death (he was murdered in 1916) saw his plans for a community unrealised; in 1914 he had written: “not a single conversion! It takes prayer, work and patience.”
Did Charles die feeling his life’s labours had been in vain? A solitary seed, buried in the ground, unproductive and forgotten? It was not to be. Later, various communities such as the Little Brothers of Jesus and Little Sisters of Jesus were formed as they took hold of and implemented his vision and drew inspiration from his words. His legacy, unrealised in his lifetime, lives on. The solitary seed has multiplied and born abundant fruit.
Here is his ‘Prayer of Abandonment’:
My Father,
I abandon myself to You.
Make of me what You will.
Whatever you make of me,
I thank You.
I am ready for everything,
I accept everything.
Provided that Your will be done in me,
In all Your creatures,
I desire nothing else, Lord.
I put my soul in Your hands,
I give it to You, Lord,
With all the love in my heart,
Because I love You,
And because it is for me a need of love
To give myself,
To put myself in Your hands unreservedly,
With infinite trust
For You are my Father!

Saturday, 26 November 2016

I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some." — 1 Corinthians 9:22 C.H. Spurgeon

Paul's great object was not merely to instruct and to improve, 
but to save. 
Anything short of this would have disappointed him; 
he would have men renewed in heart, forgiven, sanctified, in fact, saved. 
Have our Christian labours been aimed at anything below this great point? 
Then let us amend our ways, for of what avail will it be at the last great day to have taught and moralized men if they appear before God unsaved? 
Blood-red will our clothes be if through life we have sought inferior objects, and forgotten that men needed to be saved.

 Paul knew the ruin of man's natural state, and did not try to educate him, 
but to save him; 
he saw men sinking to hell, and did not talk of refining them, but of saving from the wrath to come. 
To compass their salvation, he gave himself up with untiring zeal to telling abroad the gospel, to warning and beseeching men to be reconciled to God. 
His prayers were importunate and his labours incessant. 

To save souls was his consuming passion, his ambition, his calling. 
He became a servant to all men, 
toiling for his race, 
feeling a woe within him if he preached not the gospel. 

He laid aside his preferences to prevent prejudice;
he submitted his will in things indifferent, and if men would but receive the gospel, 
he raised no questions about forms or ceremonies: the gospel was the one all-important business with him. 
If he might save some he would be content. 
This was the crown for which he strove, the sole and sufficient reward of all his labours and self-denials. 

Dear reader, have you and I lived to win souls at this noble rate? 
Are we possessed with the same all-absorbing desire? 
If not, why not? 
Jesus died for sinners, cannot we live for them? 
Where is our tenderness? 
Where our love to Christ, if we seek not His honour in the salvation of men?
O that the Lord would saturate us through and through with an undying zeal for the souls of men.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Spiritual Warfare and Sin: Don't Suffer Shipwreck by A.W. Tozer

This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck.... —1 Timothy 1:18-19

Yet the ministry is one of the most perilous of professions. The devil hates the Spirit-filled minister with an intensity second only to that which he feels for Christ Himself. The source of this hatred is not difficult to discover. An effective, Christ-like minister is a constant embarrassment to the devil, a threat to his dominion, a rebuttal of his best arguments and a dogged reminder of his coming overthrow. No wonder he hates him.
Satan knows that the downfall of a prophet of God is a strategic victory for him, so he rests not day or night devising hidden snares and deadfalls for the ministry. Perhaps a better figure would be the poison dart that only paralyzes its victim, for I think that Satan has little interest in killing the preacher outright. An ineffective, half-alive minister is a better advertisement for hell than a good man dead. So the preacher's dangers are likely to be spiritual rather than physical, though sometimes the enemy works through bodily weaknesses to get to the preacher's soul. God Tells the Man Who Cares, 90-91.
"Lord, the battle is intense and the enemy is strong. I pray for every one of my fellow-servants this morning, especially those who may be close to succumbing. Give Your great grace and victory today. Amen."

Monday, 24 October 2016

Failure and Success: Co-workers, Not Competitors - A.W. Tozer

And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.—Colossians 1:18

It is too bad that anything so obvious should need to be said at this late date, but from all appearances, we Christians have about forgotten the lesson so carefully taught by Paul: God's servants are not to be competitors, but co-workers....
A local church, as long as it is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, cannot entertain the psychology of competition. When it begins to compete with another church, it is a true church of God no longer; it has voided its character and gone down onto a lower level. The Spirit that indwells it is no longer divine; it is human merely, and its activities are pitched on the plane of the natural....
The Holy Spirit always cooperates with Himself in His members. The Spirit-directed body does not tear itself apart by competition. The ambitions of the various members are submerged in the glory of the Head, and whatever brings honor to the Head meets with the most eager approval of the members.
We should cultivate the idea that we are co-workers rather than competitors. We should ask God to give us the psychology of cooperation. We should learn to think of ourselves as being members in particular of one and the same body, and we should reject with indignation every suggestion of the enemy designed to divide our efforts.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Roger Forster: Friends Forever

I have known of Roger since the late 1970's when he came over from London to preach in a hotel in Belfast. He preached with the power of God and had a great impression upon me as a teenager. He had been for many years an itinerant evangelist but then had started church planting and has continued doing this until the present time. He exudes humility, fun and a Christ likeness so unlike many leaders involved in the charismatic stream of the British Church. He also teaches Church history and apologetics.

Some Character Traits of Paul, the Apostle BY WAYNE JACKSON

The renowned German scholar, Adolf Deissmann, once declared: “There is no single person since Nero’s days who has left such permanent marks on the souls of men as Paul the New Man.” He noted that the grand apostle of Christ, “rising from the mass of the insignificant many” is “still molding the world at the present moment” (1957, viii).

F.F. Bruce stated that he had spent more time studying the works of Paul than any other writer of antiquity. He further commented that Paul’s epistles are more “richly rewarding” than that of any other writer—either ancient or modern (1977, 15). He observed as well that “no single event, apart from the Christ-event itself, has proved so determinant for the course of Christian history as the conversion and commissioning of Paul” (1977, 75).
James Stalker, a close student of Paul, would write that the apostle was “one of the most influential teachers of mankind, multitudes in every century adopting from him their way of conceiving all the greatest objects of human concern” (Hastings 1926, 155).
Even Lyman Abbott, a radically liberal scholar, conceded: “The literary history of the world furnishes no parallel to the influence exerted by the writings of Paul, except such as is afforded by the history of the Bible in which those writings are found” (1898, 1).
In a lovely little volume on church history that I devoured following my own conversion more than half a century ago, Jesse Lyman Hurlbut described Paul as a “tireless traveler,” “indomitable worker,” “church founder” [i.e., many local congregations], and “theologian” (1954, 35). He was all that and more. Aside from Christ himself, no other historical figure has been so benevolently imposing.
In this article I would like to call attention to some character qualities of this Christian gentleman whose historical footprints will never be erased as long as our planet endures. The short list I have chosen to survey is by no means exhaustive—merely illustrative.


Sir William Ramsay was a devout student of Paul. He traced the steps of the noble missionary throughout the ancient Mediterranean world, and today’s New Testament student is indebted to his research in numerous particulars.
In assembling an approximate chronology of the apostle’s labor, Ramsay calculated that Paul was converted around A.D. 34, and likely was executed at Rome about A.D. 67. If this dating is fairly accurate, the apostle’s earthly life and labors spanned some thirty-three years.
In the December 1956 issue of the National Geographic Magazine, there appeared an article, as I recall, under the title, “In the Steps of Paul.” The author or authors, who had done considerable research on Paul’s travels, estimated that his missionary endeavors consumed some twelve thousand miles, some by ship on the mighty Mediterranean Sea, and also across its “arms”—the Aegean and Adriatic Seas. In addition, hundreds of miles were traversed by land. He visited approximately fifty cities in his evangelistic endeavors (McRay 2003, 11).
Yet within the thirteen epistles known to have been written by Paul, and penned over an era of maybe just under twenty years, there is no complaint of fatigue, no whimpering at the hardships, no disappointment expressed of having been “crucified with Christ,” or of wasted years, or lack of family, wealth, or fame—just adulation. There was the simple joy in serving his Lord, and for the blessed hope of life to come. Paul was a “stick-tight” who could not be budged from his resolute course.


The thought of Paul’s patience may not readily enter one’s mind due to his more dominant qualities that easily engage one’s attention. But patience is there—if one looks for it.
When the militant persecutor of Christ was brought to the Lord by means of the gospel (see the accounts of his conversion in Acts 9, 22, and 26), he was informed that he would be an instrument of mercy to “all men,” especially to the Gentiles (9:15; 22:15; 26:17). “Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles par excellence, so much so that the church became predominantly Gentile by the end of the first century” (Ferguson 2005, 37).
The militant apostle was scarcely dry from his immersion when be began his preaching to the Jews of Damascus (Acts 9:20), with no apparent success entered into the record. It was at this point that many believe Paul made his journey into Arabia, which consumed, at the very least, portions of three years (cf. Galatians 1:17). What transpired during those years is passed over in complete silence (no editorial emendation to satisfy our curiosity—an evidence of the credibility of the Galatian epistle). Perhaps this was a time of meditation, preparation, and communication with his Savior—maybe even a course in “Patience 101”!
Later Paul would return to Damascus where persecution by the Jews awaited him, and forced his flight to Jerusalem. Here again the Jews sought to kill him (Acts 9:29). But as he prayed in the temple, the Lord appeared to him and told of the immediate plan to send his apostle “far hence unto the Gentiles” (22:21). Some of the Jerusalem saints escorted Paul to Caesarea and dispatched him to Tarsus of Cilicia (some 225 miles to the northwest), where he would spend almost a decade doing mission work among the folks of his native land (cf. 9:30).
It is not unreasonable to assume that Paul’s earlier training contributed to the amazing patience he exhibited in his letters to fledgling churches, whose problems he attempted to address.
All younger preachers could well benefit from some education in patience.


It is scarcely necessary to argue the case for Paul’s courage, and this quality cannot be passed over in silence.
It is unrealistic to imagine that Paul was never afraid. In Corinth the Lord spoke to his apostle in a night vision, cautioning: “Be not afraid” (Acts 18:9). The force of the Greek expression is: “Stop being afraid.” Courage is not the absence of fear; it is doing what is right even when you are afraid!
On the initial missionary campaign with Barnabas (Acts 13:4ff), these brothers came to the city of Lystra in Asia Minor. There they encountered a man who had been crippled all his life. By God’s power Paul healed the man, and the crowds that witnessed the event were enthralled, attempting even to worship the apostle and his companion. But the brothers restrained them. Mere humans are not proper objects of worship.
Presently, though, a confederation of Jews from Antioch and Iconium arrived and stirred up the fickle multitude. Paul was stoned, dragged outside the city, and left for dead. According to the Jewish Mishnah (Sanhedrin 6:1-4), a stoning victim was substantially stripped of his clothes, thrown from an elevated place twice the height of a human person, positioned with his heart upward, and huge rocks were then dropped (or thrown) upon him until he was dead (Arnold 2002, 276; Boismard 1992, 209). The vicious mob at Lystra “supposed” Paul was dead and obviously left the site. But the apostle “rose up” (a hint, perhaps, of a miraculous recovery). The following day he and Barnabas left the city, proceeding toward Derbe some sixty miles to the southeast.
Apparently they worked in Derbe for some time, for “many disciples” were won for the Lord. Presently, however, they determined they would return to Antioch of Syria, from where they had begun their gospel adventure. They might well have taken a more direct route, thus avoiding the dangerous cities visited earlier. But no, they would revisit the churches previously established—even the deadly Lystra—in order to confirm the disciples and exhort them to continue in the faith (14:22). What courage this required on the part of the battered apostle. Never mind though; the cause of Jesus was paramount.


While many character traits of Paul readily come to the student’s mind, likely humility is not the first of these. But the humble Pauline disposition clearly is there for the perceptive reader.
After Paul and Barnabas had completed their missionary campaign in Asia Minor, they settled for a while in Antioch of Syria. Presently, certain men from Judea arrived. Incredibly, they were teaching a “Judaistic gospel,” namely that unless one submits to the Hebrew rite of circumcision, in addition to the fundamentals of the gospel, he cannot be saved (Acts 15:1).
This doctrine, so adverse to the message that Paul and Barnabas had proclaimed in their previous preaching, required a response. There was much “dissension and questioning” about this issue, and the peace of the church was in jeopardy. A suggestion thus was made that the two missionaries, in the company of several other brothers, should proceed to Jerusalem and inquire there of the “apostles and elders” about this matter (v. 2). Hence the investigative party was dispatched to the holy city.
Now here is a question of interest. Why did not Paul interject himself into the initial discussion by demanding: “Listen, there is no need for a deputized group to consult with Jerusalem. I myself am an apostle of Christ, and not a whit behind any of the others [cf. 2 Corinthians 11:5]. I am perfectly capable, therefore, of settling this issue on my own. Circumcision will not be required!”
But the sensitive apostle knew this was a volatile situation. If the Christians at Antioch felt the need of consulting the broader band of apostolic authority, Paul would not insist on thrusting himself to the forefront. The larger cause of Jesus was more important on this occasion than his own ego. He would humbly recede into the shadows for the moment, that the gospel might not be damaged. This was not the last time that this gracious servant of Christ would yield in a matter of expediency for the sake of his kinsmen in the Lord (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:12).


To suggest that Paul was the epitome of humility is not to affirm that he was a pushover and a compromiser of truth. Far from it!
When Paul, Barnabas, and Titus went to Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1), some misguided members of the congregation there secretly brought in “false brothers.” These propagators of error attempted to bind the law of Moses as an appendix to the gospel. They sought to deprive the Jerusalem Christians of their legitimate “liberty” in Christ and bring them into the bondage of the Mosaic regime. Some clearly wanted to demand that Titus, a Greek, submit to circumcision. But Paul, and those who supported his leadership, would not stand for this defection from the truth. They refused to yield to the heretical clique—even “for a moment” (v. 5, ESV; cf. Danker et al. 2000, 1102).
On another occasion, when Paul was in Antioch (of Syria), Peter arrived on the scene. Having learned of a previous episode in which Peter had yielded to Jewish prejudice and withdrew from Gentile association, refusing to share in common meals with them, Paul chastised the wayward apostle. He wrote: “I resisted him to the face because he stood condemned” (Galatians 2:11). Other Jews, and even Barnabas, had been caught up in this “dissimulation” (v. 13). “Dissimulation” derives from the Greek, hupokrisis—the basis of the English, “hypocrisy” (cf. ESV).
Paul would not have the truth compromised and the cause of Christ endangered by weak church members who gave in to social pressure. This unpleasant situation does have a couple of happy footnotes. Paul will later commend the support of Barnabas (1 Corinthians 9:6), and Peter would write of “our beloved brother Paul” (2 Peter 3:15). No grudges held!


While we admire Paul for his backbone of steel in doctrinal matters, no one should draw the erroneous conclusion that he was stubborn and non-pliable at the expense of honest souls who were struggling to grow in knowledge and practice of the truth.
When coping with a stubborn, anti-Paul faction within the church at Corinth (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:1ff), the apostle was forced to defend himself against malicious charges hurled against him. A portion of that defense is found in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.
For though I was free from all men, I brought myself under bondage to all, that I might gain the more. And to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, not being myself under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, not being without law to God, but under law to Christ, that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might gain the weak: I am become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. And I do all things for the gospel’s sake, that I may be a joint partaker thereof.
A concrete example of this accommodating disposition on the part of the grand apostle is found in Acts 21:17-26. In that context, Paul did not hesitate to “purify” himself in the temple in order to ameliorate the Jerusalem Jews and create a friendlier environment for the spread of the gospel in the holy city. For a more detailed discussion of this incident, and an analysis of some of the alleged problems associated with Paul’s activity, see my discussion elsewhere (Jackson 2005, 270-276).


Paul was not one of the many whose practice is inconsistent with their teaching. He diligently strove to “take thought for things honorable in the sight of all men” (Romans 12:17).
In Rome, during a two-year span of house arrest—awaiting his case to be heard before Caesar—Paul came in contact with a man whose name was Onesimus (the name means “profitable”). Onesimus was a slave who had fled from his master, Philemon, a Christian in the city of Colosse (cf. Colossians 4:9). Onesimus had made his way to the refuge of the crowded imperial city.Apparently the vagabond had wronged his master in some fashion—perhaps taking money from him, or rendering some other form of evil (cf. Philemon 18).
Somehow, likely under the Hand of Providence (v. 15), the servant had come into contact with the noble apostle to the Gentiles, and Paul converted him (v. 10). He thus became a “slave” of Jesus Christ! But that was not to be the end of the matter. While Onesimus had received pardon from the Lord, he still had a moral obligation to his master, Philemon. And Paul was conscientious to see that this responsibility be fulfilled.
Accordingly, the apostle prepared a short letter to Philemon (to be delivered by Onesimus). Paul begged Philemon to forgive this wayward soul who had been so “unprofitable,” but who now has been transformed into a precious, profitable treasure (v. 11). He asks that Onesimus might be received, just as Paul would be, should he make the journey (v. 17). He gently reminded his friend that he was indebted to him as well (v. 19).
Many would complain that Paul should never have sent the fugitive brother back to a life of servitude, but two things must be borne in mind: first, it was the “ethical” thing to do, given the social and legal situation of the day; second, Paul had every confidence that Philemon would receive Onesimus not merely as a servant, but as a brother in Christ (v. 16)—and that would make all the difference in the world!


Finally, there is this character trait that scarcely can be ignored. In his final epistle to Timothy, Paul writes: “At my first defense no one took my part, but all forsook me: may it not be laid to their charge” (4:16). I have discussed this text in my book, Before I Die—Paul’s Letters to Timothy and Titus, and for convenience sake, reproduce that material here.
First, there is the matter of the historical context. What is meant by “my first defense”? The term apologeia clearly seems to refer to a legal proceeding. But what defense? That is by no means a fully settled question. While a few have argued that the phrase alludes to the apostle’s earlier two-year confinement in Rome (Acts 28), most scholars are persuaded that the reference is to a preliminary trial in connection with Paul’s present imprisonment.
In A.D. 64, a week-long fire had engulfed the Imperial city. The emperor Nero was rumored to have set the blaze to cover his own ineptness as an administrator. He maliciously blamed Christians for the catastrophe, and Christianity became an “illicit religion.” Paul’s arrest is believed to have taken place a couple of years following these events. It appears the apostle had been brought to trial initially, but was cleared of a preliminary charge. It is likely, however, that another allegation was pending, and he was waiting for a second trial phase—from which he expected no deliverance. His looming fate seems fairly certain in his mind (2 Timothy 4:6).
Second, it is clear that when this valiant brother was brought before the authorities in the initial segment of his trial procedure, no one—available and in a position to do so—was willing to stand with him. It may be that he had sent forth an appeal to brethren for character witnesses, but, for fear of their lives, many had “turned away” from him (cf. 1:15; 4:16). Where were those of the Roman church who had traveled out so joyously to meet the apostle when he first approached the seven-hill city (Acts 28:13-15)? Had many of these been martyred already? Certainly no assistance could be expected from the “anti-Paul” faction in Rome (cf. Philippians 1:15ff).
Third, the most amazing thing about this circumstance is Paul’s attitude with reference to those who “forsook” him. He wrote: “. . . may it not be laid to their account.” “Account” (logizomai) is a commercial term, used metaphorically; it signifies here “to place on one’s record.” Clearly, he is referring to afinal settlement at the Judgment (cf. 1:16-18). Amidst the mystery of this passage, a few facts seem plain. (a) Paul was not petitioning God to ignore a willful, arrogant disdain of divine law, pursued with no inclination of repentance. (The verb is in the optative mood; it does involve a wish, a request.) Such a view would disregard other passages of emphatic import (Luke 17:3; Acts 8:22; 1 John 5:16). Within this same context the apostle refers to Alexander, of whom he says, “the Lord will render to him according to his works.” [The King James rendition, which makes this a wish, does not have the best textual support.] There was no petition for mercy on behalf of such a one.
On the other hand, it seems that Paul did consider the neglect on the part of some as one of human weakness, rather than overt rebellion. Fear can cause one to panic under extreme conditions, which might not be the case under less stressful circumstances. It does appear that in this situation, the apostle at least sees the possibility that God will extend mercy on account of the human element (see Psalm 103:13-14). Perhaps he might extend grace to those who have not been as valiant as they could have been ideally. This text, therefore, may not only be a commentary upon the forgiving spirit of Paul, it may also underscore the mercy of the One who knows the true character of our hearts (2007, 294-296).


What a spiritually rewarding experience it would be to have a complete “album” of “character snapshots” of Paul, the apostle who has forever left his image upon the world. We can learn much from this remarkable man; may we exert the courage and energy to apply ourselves to his schoolroom of instruction.
  • Abbott, Lyman. 1898. The Life and Letters of Paul the Apostle. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Arnold, Clinton E. 2002. Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
  • Boismard, M.E. 1992. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 6. David N. Freedman, ed. New York, NY: Doubleday.
  • Bruce, F.F. 1977. Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
  • Danker. F.W. et al. 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.
  • Deissmann, Adolf. 1957. Paul: A Study in Social and Religious History. New York: Harper & Bros.
  • Ferguson, Everett. 2005. Church History—From Christ to Pre-Reformation. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
  • Hastings, James, ed. 1926. Dictionary of the Apostolic Church. Vol. 2. Edinburgh, Scotland: T.&T. Clark.
  • Hurlbut, Jesse Lyman. 1954. The Story of the Christian Church. Philadelphia, PA: John C. Winston Co.
  • Jackson, Wayne. 2005. The Acts of the Apostles—From Jerusalem to Rome. Stockton, CA: Christian Courier Publications.
  • Jackson, Wayne. 2007. Before I Die—Paul’s Letters to Timothy and Titus. Stockton, CA: Christian Courier Publications.
  • McRay, John. 2003. Paul—His Life and Teaching. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.
Acts 9; Acts 9:20; Galatians 1:17; Acts 9:29; Acts 18:9; Acts 13:4; Acts 15:1; 1 Corinthians 11:5; 1 Corinthians 9:12; Galatians 2:1; Galatians 2:11; 1 Corinthians 9:6; 2 Peter 3:15; 1 Corinthians 4:1; 1 Corinthians 9:19-23; Acts 21:17-26; Romans 12:17; Colossians 4:9; Philemon 18; Acts 28; 2 Timothy 4:6; Acts 28:13-15; Philippians 1:15; Luke 17:3; Acts 8:22; 1 John 5:16; Psalm 103:13-14
Jackson, Wayne. "Some Character Traits of Paul, the Apostle." Access date: September 28, 2016.