Over the past week, I started reading a book titled “Heroes of the Faith” by Gene Fadele. Like the “God’s Generals” series, it gives short biographies (2 pages each) about individuals that have made lasting impact through the history of the Christian Faith, since the early church. I plan to spend a lot of time on this book during the year because there are deep lessons to draw from such biographies, rather than just reading to know.
For today (and next week hopefully), I’ll be sharing some lessons I’ve learnt from Paul the Apostle, a hero and arguably the most influential apostle in the Christian faith. Paul’s story is a fascinating one from which we can draw many lessons, one of which is that although man has a choice and is responsible for his decisions, God still somehow shapes His will through those decisions, and we don’t always have the full details. We would talk about this sometime, but for now, get your pens out and let’s draw some lessons from Paul.
Paul originally named Saul, was born in Tarsus (somewhere in today’s Turkey) at about the same time Jesus was born. He had both Jewish and Roman citizenships (Acts 21:39, Acts 22:23-26), learnt a trade as a tentmaker (Acts 18:2-3), and was trained to be a Pharisee, under a reputable teacher/mentor at the time, Gamaliel (Acts 22:2-3). The Pharisees were the Jewish elite at the time, and Paul being one on them, was devoted to their causes.
When the number of Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem kept growing due to the relentless work of the apostles preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Pharisees felt threatened. Saul took it upon himself to put an end to this spread by persecuting (arresting or killing) the followers of Jesus, and he sure was making an impact (Acts 8)! These followers of Jesus who had been in Jerusalem had to flee for their lives. They spread out to all other areas outside Jerusalem – everywhere (Acts 8:4).
This persecution must have been harsh on the Christians at the time, but God worked through it! Were they not persecuted, the Gospel would not have spread as quickly as it did. So, our first lesson: God worked through the persecution for the spread of the Gospel.
“The persecution was evil, but God birthed His will through it. Because the Christians fled Jerusalem, they could take the Gospel into Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth, hence fulfilling the great commission (Acts 1:8).”
Back to the story of Saul, it so happened that while he was on his way to Damascus (now Syrian capital) to arrest the followers of Jesus there, he met Jesus personally and was converted, having his name changed to Paul (Acts 9). After his conversion, he became extremely zealous for the Gospel, becoming a major instrument through which the Gospel of Jesus Christ would spread to the Gentiles (non-Jews). This was Paul’s ministry and he was fully devoted to it!
At different times, Paul worked as a tentmaker to earn a living and not be a burden to others while engaging in his ministry (Acts 18:2-3, Acts 20:32-34, 1 Cor. 9:12-18, 1 Thess. 2:9). So, we can say tentmaking was his trade, his job.
Like Paul, we all as Christians have a ministry. We are responsible for spreading the Gospel, and we don’t all have to be pastors! Just as the body of Christ is made of various parts that are fitly joined together, we all have our different howbeit indispensable roles to play. Similarly, we also have different jobs to earn a living and support our ministry (1 Thess. 4:11). But people have missed the point in one of two ways.
First, they focus their entire effort on reaching the pinnacle of success in their careers while neglecting the ministry. On the other hand, they make Christianity a means to achieving career success, instead of the opposite. How wrong! Once we come into the body of Christ, the entirety of our being should resonate towards fulfilling God’s agenda – that the Gospel is spread to the ends of the earth, and that people come to the knowledge of the Lord Jesus! Am I saying we should not take our careers seriously? Not at all! Here’s our second lesson: Careers are extremely important, but the ministry is your mandate as a Christian!
“Whatever career you have chosen, you must aim to be the best at it, not just for the sake of it, but to set examples for unbelievers, showing them Jesus Christ in all your actions, and to earn a living so as not to be a burden to anyone while focusing on your ministry!”
There are many other lessons we can draw from the life of Paul the Apostle. Next week, I’ll continue with some more, specifically from one of his most important letters, the letter to the Romans. Feel free to read the book of Romans during the week, it’s fully packed and exciting!
Have a great week ahead! God is on your side!