Aiming,though often failing 'to become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some'. Join with me in these reflections,discussions, videos and even humour about how the Church might become truly authentic in mission:Contextual yet Biblical:Passionate, but also Compassionate:In Word, as well as in Deed.The Spirit of Jesus within is calling each of his followers to reach out and fulfil the Missio Dei in a world of pain and need.
Tuesday, 25 June 2013
Paul the Evangelist : The apostle who being constrained by love became all things to all men that he might win some for Christ.
If Peter saw more people come to faith in Christ (8000 after two sermons) than any other evangelist, Paul had probably the most dynamic and certainly the most far reaching,apart from Christ. He was truly the evangelist to the Gentiles, but not only so. He also preached to the Jews in the Synagogues until he was kicked out. The one time arch-enemy of the Christian Church was to become the fearless apostle.
After his dramatic conversion when he met the risen Christ on the Damascus road, God told Ananias a disciple in the city that Paul was ‘a chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles, and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he will suffer for my name sake’ Acts 9.15.This proved to be true -and suffer Paul did!
Paul was the product of three backgrounds, Jewish, Greek and Roman, which proved to be of great importance in his proclamation of the gospel. He was a Hebrew of Hebrews ( Phil 3.5), not merely a Greek speaking Jew but one who could speak Hebrew as well as being a Pharisee- who were the purest of the pure. He was also brought up in Tarsus and educated in a Greek environment,hence when the situation required it, he could quote Greek poets and philosophers when preaching to win a hearing with the Greeks he was seeking to reach for Christ ( Athens). Paul was also a Roman citizen and was (several times)to use this to his advantage, such as getting a fair trial( though this didn’t always happen).
We also have a unique background, the value of which we should not underestimate( or overestimate) that may provide a key for us to go through doors to reach people that other Christians may not be able to go through ( can you think of any examples?).
Paul’s own conversion also had a great impact upon the rest of his life and ministry. On the Damascus when he was literally confronted by Christ he was told he had been persecuting Christ himself. This was because he had been involved in the deaths and persecution of many Christians including Stephen. What astounds me is that Stephen actually prayed,while he was being stoned, in imitation of Jesus, that God would not hold their sin against them. If this did not shake up Paul at the time,after his conversion when he had time to reflect upon it, it must surely have had an impact on his life and teaching.
To study the lessons that we could learn from Paul with regard to evangelism would take many weeks so I will only look at a few of them very briefly.What for instance made him such a great troubadour of Christ? I believe this was obviously to do with his close relationship with God.In his letters he often writes of this intimacy when he speaks of the believer not only being 'in Christ' but of Christ also being in the believer. In Galations he also made the amazing confession 'I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me'.Paul didn't however make out that he alone could have this close relationship, rather he invited all believers to imitate him as he had imitated Christ (1 Cor. 11:1).
Another important aspect to Paul's life and ministry was that he was empowered by the Holy Spirit and in turn encouraged those who believed to be continuously filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph 5.18).Also Like Christ he knew 'his calling' in life, in his case, as an apostle to the Gentiles, as well as that of a teacher and prophet.If we are lacking in spiritual power we are encouraged in scripture to ask the Father to fill us with the good gift of His Spirit and also ask Him what his will for our life is.
Most people when they think of Paul, rarely think of him as a great lover of humankind. I have heard him being called a misogynist or a dictator or single minded, but never as compassionate or winsome or loving. But those who don’t believe he had compassion like his Master, in my view don’t know him or fully understand him.
Paul the evangelist motivated by love
For instance, who was it that wrote these words? : ‘If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails’.
Paul also stated in Romans 9:’ I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel’. That was love, following the example of Moses and Jesus who were both prepared to give their life for the sake of others. Was he a lover of men? It was the love of Christ that compelled him to serve in his ministry ( 2Cor 5). He knew the judgement would fall on those who were not Christ’s and it was a mixture of the Fear of God, love of God as well as the honour and glory of God that were his primary motivations in evangelism.
It was because of this that he would do anything to make the gospel accessible to those he sought to reach, declaring to the Corinthians: ‘Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews…To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings’.
Though he ‘worked harder than all the other apostles’ he said it was not him but the grace of God within him (1 Cor.15.10). He also recognised his own sinfulness even to declaring that Christ came into the world to save sinners of whom he was the chief.1Tim.1. 15.
Paul the suffering servant
He was also prepared to suffer for Christ, and for the benefit of those he had won for Christ. He writes:’ I am talking like a madman—with far greater labours, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 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. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant? (2.Cor 11)
Paul the caring parent
His called his converts at Corinth ‘my beloved children’(1 Cor.4.14) and of Timothy he wrote : ‘Timothy, who is my beloved and faithful child in the Lord’(1 Cor.4.17).
How did he tend his converts in Thessalonica? He writes:‘But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us’. 1. Thess2 6-8 See the tenderness he speaks of them. Surely this is not the harsh evangelist that people often think of him!
Paul the Spirit filled man
We often think of Paul as a great preacher like Billy Graham or Tony Compolo but he once wrote of his time before the Corinthians when he stated: ‘I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God’. (1Cor 2.3-5)
Paul the man of prayer
Paul was also a great man of prayer. Consider for instance one of his prayers for the Ephesians :’For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God’. Eph.3.14.19
He also spoke of ‘praying without ceasing’, of praying for those in the government in order that the gospel could be preached freely. Paul writes of wrestling against principalities and powers, and of praying in the Spirit as the Spirit would aid him in praying God inspired prayers.
In his letters to the churches he does not often speak of evangelism as such. But he does speak of living a life that is worthy of God much in the same way that Jesus told the disciples to be light and salt in the world.
9 'Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honour one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
13 Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
19 Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. "21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good'.
Look at the first verse ‘Love must be sincere’. Can love be insincere? Not real love: but something that which appears to be love can be, and many people have experienced insincere love. When someone see the genuine article they will be impressed and it could well convict them of their own insincerity and draw them to Christ. Who wouldn’t want to be a Christian if they saw people living a lives like that described above?
Francis Schaeffer described the mark of a Christian was first and foremost a life of love. William Still always taught that primary evangelism was essentially living the ‘Christ like life’ not the show and razzmatazz of a big ‘revival meeting.
How does Paul challenge our own life style as regards evangelism. ‘How deep is our love’? How authentic is our walk with Christ. We are all hypocrites to a degree ,but Christ, who knows well our failings, still calls us to himself to learn from himself. The teacher, mentor and Master, the one who is gentle and lowly of heart promises to give us rest for our souls and his Spirit to help us to live the Christ life.
‘If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails’. Paul