Driven, focused people inspire me--
especially when they are courageous,
godly and living out their God-given purpose.
Saul of Tarsus was such a man. Even before he made his well-known journey to Damascus, he was that man. At that time however, he was intent on protecting his beloved Judaism from adulteration by the Nazarenes, those ridiculous, deluded followers of the rabbi from Nazareth (as he thought of believers in Jesus Christ). Whatever Saul did, he was all in.
And think of it--upon arriving in Damascus he is blind for three days, then Saul goes into Arabia for three years, then back to Jerusalem to gather with the other believers. They want nothing to do with him because his reputation precedes him, so Saul returns to his hometown of Tarsus, where he lives for the next 10 years teaching in the synagogues and young churches. His life so transformed by his relationship with Jesus Christ, he is a man on a mission to change his ever-expanding world! Simply, he figures out a way to share the good news of Jesus with everyone he meets! Note: Saul goes nowhere apart from the leading of God--what an awesome statement!
It seems God oft calls the man, lets him go through some rough things, teaches him in unique ways before using him for greater influence. Consider King David. Huh, and in thinking of this, I recall the chilling words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "When Christ calls the man, he bids him come and die."1 Why, this is like Saul, is it not? But, of course.
In obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit,2 the church leaders appointed Saul and Barnabas to take the gospel message out3 on what we call his 'first missionary journey'; no doubt, Jesus' commissioning loomed large before them "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and the outermost parts of the earth.4 Paul was the greatest emissary who ever lived--walking more than 10,000 miles in his lifetime, preaching of the life-changing sacrificial love of Jesus and establishing churches on three different trips over land and sea.
I love being able to read Luke's reporting in the book of Acts of how the Spirit directed his movement from one town to another on his journeys--at one point restraining him from speaking, at another, beckoning him to European soil. It is fascinating. On the island of Cyprus, Saul is first referred to as Paul, the Greek version of his name. You see, being born to Jewish parents, he was given the Hebrew name Saul at eight days of age; however, being a Roman, he was given the Greek name Paul at nine days of age.5
His travels were arduous at best, but Paul remained undaunted, totally committed. Consider with me his brief retelling of what he endured: Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.
Then, besides all this, I have the daily burden of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my feeling that weakness? Who is led astray, and I do not burn with anger?
If I must boast, I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am. God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, who is worthy of eternal praise, knows I am not lying.6
Paul knew who he was and he knew who he had been--a sinner with a heart full of evil. The Law had been powerless to cure him or clear up his guilty past; only One could do that. So when he met Jesus, when he discovered the grace of God, his life was never the same.
It was in his letter to the Christians in Rome, that he explained all that. Interesting thought--if he had gone straight to Rome when he had desired, it is unlikely he would have written the beautiful long letter to them. Hmmm... It is to the incredible letter of Romans we next turn our attention!
Paul - so passionate about Jesus Christ, he was resolute. undaunted. unrelenting.
Sign. me. up. I guess I signed up a long time ago. You just can't get up close and personal with the living Son of God, changed by his love, grace, mercy, forgiveness and wisdom, and then not join him in the great adventure of Christianity!
Would you call Paul a righteous Rebel? I bet he loves this new song:
Motivated by the life of this great man,
1 - The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, martyred for Christ in 1945 Germany
2 - Acts 13.1
3 - Acts 13.2-3
4 - Acts 1.8
5 - Skip Heitzig, Calvary Chapel Albuquerque
6 - 2 Corinthians 11.24-31, NLT