The Life of Paul: The Trailblazing Missionary

Man of Vision and Man of Action

The apostle Paul was a missionary trailblazer leaving behind him a string of vibrant new churches.  He marked out for all time, lines and principles of successful missionary work.  By teaching and example, Paul approximated the divine pattern more nearly than any other missionary the world has seen.  In him, Christ possessed an instrument uniquely qualified, finely tuned and passionately devoted to Christ.  Paul opened a world - the world of the Gentiles.  The conversion of the Gentiles on a world scale demanded someone with a broader mind and a larger heart than Peter's.  In Paul, Christ had a big-hearted, uniquely prepared missionary.  But it was only through a gradual process that Paul understood all the implications of his call (Acts 13:46; 18:6,22; 19-21).  As he went forward in obedience, the plan of God for his life gradually began to take shape.  His career was a demonstration of the fact that the blessing of God rests in unusual measure on the frontiers of missionary pioneer work.

Paul's Methods of Missions

The book of Acts was the world's first missionary manual, embodying both the history and the philosophy of missions.  It uncovers principles and indicates methods, and it records most problems encountered on mission fields today.  Covering a period of 33 years the book of Acts is a graphic demonstration of what can be accomplished in the lifetime of a man sold out to Christ.

What a man!  What a missionary!  Paul energetic, contemplative, the epitome of unselfishness, the mighty champion of Christian liberty, the mesmerizing preacher, the lucid teacher, the inspired apostle to the Gentiles, the bond-slave of the Lord Jesus Christ.

  1. As Paul planned his strategy he identified as nearly as possible with the social strata in order to present the gospel with very little resistance (I Cor.9:16-23).  He was willing "to be all things to all men" in order to reach both the underprivileged and the influential.
  2. Paul engaged in consistent and persistent expansion and personal evangelism.  He regarded every home church and its individual members as a sending base, and he expected them to function as such in a comparatively short time.  After he left he praised the Thessalonian church in this regard in his letter to them (I Thess.1:7-8).
  3. As Paul pursued a policy of steady expansion, he did not neglect his ministry of consolidation, leading believers into full maturity, appointing elders, praying with them and for them, then committing them to the Lord (Acts 14:21,23).  He knew how to delegate responsibility to others who would grow and develop as they were entrusted with leadership.
  4. Paul searched out and cultivated the friendship of promising men and women, then set a tremendously high standard for them in saying, "Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ" (I Cor. 11:1).  He set this high standard especially in the area of sacrificial service, a standard no lower then he himself demonstrated.  Paul discipled them to be good soldiers of Jesus Christ:  "Train yourself to be godly" (I Tim.4:7-8), he told Timothy.
  5. Paul preached a complete gospel.  "I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God" (Acts 20:26-27).  He encouraged each church to be not only self-supporting, but also generous in giving to others.  Wherever it was the wisest course, he took no support from the churches, but earned his own living at tent-making.  He had unbounded confidence in the message of the gospel and in its power to transform individuals and communities (Rom.1:15-17).
  6. Paul had the heart of a missionary pioneer.  To him, closed doors were not so much an obstacle as a challenge.  He did not assume that just because a door seemed to be closed he should not attempt to enter it.  Nor did he stand idly by and allow the devil to have an uncontested victory.  Usually Paul was successful in achieving his objective, tht of preaching the gospel in the regions beyond (II Cor.10:15-16).
  7. Paul championed the cause of the Gentiles against the legalists in the Jerusalem council.  This became a huge issue in Paul's missionary life, and for that, all his life was one long martyrdom.  Paul preached the gospel of GRACE, not of law, and this is the most distinctive mark of Paul's doctrine.  If he would have admitted for a moment that his work was to introduce a higher law -- a new system -- he would have made peace with the Judaizers, but the gospel would have perished in his hands.  In his own words he would have fallen away from grace; Christ would have profited him nothing.  That he refused to do, and for that he suffered.
    The first time he went up to Jerusalem the leaders there recognized that Paul's gospel was the authentic gospel and that he had been called to preach it to the Gentiles, unlike their field - the Jews.  There was an amicable demarcation of the two mission-fields.  The question of circumcising Gentile converts did not arise until later, and when it did Paul steadfastly resisted it:  he would not allow the truth of the gospel to be compromised by an infusion of legalism.
    The Jerusalem council (Acts 15) was called to deal with the Gentile problem:  i.e. the large number of Gentiles who had already been admitted to Christian fellowship on what must have seemed to be very easy terms to the strict Jewish church in Jerusalem.  The Jews in general had a very low opinion of Gentile morality, and felt that large numbers of them would compromise the strict ethical standards of the churches.  Peter and Barnabus both went back and forth on this issue:  withdrawing from the table-fellowship with Gentile believers at Antioch.  The Gentiles would naturally conclude that so long as they were uncircumcised they were at best second-class citizen in the church.  They then might decide that (despite what Paul said) their best policy was to go the whole way of the proselyte so they could become first-class citizens.  In this case the truth of the gospel would be hopelessly compromised.
    In Christ, Paul affirmed, there was neither Greek nor Jew (Gal.3:28).  The middle wall of partition between them had been demolished by the work of Christ; Paul would not stand idly by and see it rebuilt, whether as a religious or a social barrier.  To recognize such a barrier, if only in outward behavior, would be to nullify the grace of God.  If God's redeeming grace was to be received by faith, and not by conformity to the law of Moses, then it was available to Jew and Gentile. To make a distinction in practice between Jewish and Gentile believers, as Peter and the others were doing, was in practice to deny the gospel.  Paul called these Judaizers "false brethren" who came "to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage" (Gal.2:4).  When it came to Peter's withdrawal from table-fellowship, Paul rebuked him publicly (Gal.2:11).
    Paul's position on the circumcision question was clear cut because he had thought it through.  The Jerusalem leaders had not, as yet, had any occasion to think it through, so their position was not so clear cut.  As Paul saw the new situation introduced by the coming of Christ, circumcision was no longer of any account:  it made no difference in his relationship to God.
    What Paul did oppose was the idea that, by submitting to circumcision as a religious obligation, a man could acquire merit in God's sight.  Similarly, the observance of certain days or various food restrictions was neither here nor there.  There were features of the old order of the law, which had been superseded by the new order of grace.  If, as those people maintained, "justification was through the law, then Christ died to no purpose" (Gal.2:21).  In fact, if the law was still in force as the way of justification, then the age of the Messiah had not come, and so Jesus could not be the Messiah.  The gospel was the fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham which antedated the law by centuries:  faith in God was counted to him for righteousness, he was the prototype of all who were justified by faith (Gen.15:6).  The law was a parenthetical dispensation to serve a temporary purpose, but now rendered obsolete by the coming of Christ.  To combine faith in Christ with the pursuit of righteousness through keeping the law Paul regarded as an impossible compromise.
  8. Regularly in the Gentile mission-field, it was necessary to deal with some converts from paganism who misinterpreted gospel freedom to mean license to do whatever they chose, to indulge their old sin areas unchecked.  Paul's admonition fro them was, "You were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh" (Gal.5:13).  Some Gentile practices were especially offensive to Jews, that's why table-fellowship was avoided by most Jewish believers.  For example, meat offered to idols.  In the area of sexual promiscuity, the Gentiles would exhibit behavior which was scandalous in Jewish eyes.  After the apostolic degree issued from the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:28) most Gentile Christians were perfectly willing to make those practical concessions for the sake of the Jewish believers.
    What was Paul's stance?  Where the principles of the gospel were not at stake, he was the most conciliatory of men.  but he urged his Gentile Christians to curb their personal freedom in the interest of Christian love, and not to stumble another believer; and he was careful to show them a good example in this regard.
    The dictates of Christian love, on which Paul bases his life, were summed up by him as "the law of Christ", in fulfillment of which he should, among other things "bear one another's burdens" (Gal. 6:2), and "through love serve one another" (Gal. 5:13).  The "law of Christ" is the living out of Lev. 19:18, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Gal. 5:13).
    But when Paul used "law" this way it cannot be understood as a legal rule:  the law of love is incapable of being imposed or enforced by external authority.  Rather, it is the spontaneous principle of thought and action in a life controlled by the Spirit of Christ; it is willingly accepted and practiced.  Paul was persuaded that the freedom of the Spirit was a more powerful incentive to the good life than all the ordinances or decrees in the world.

Christ the End of the Law

It is plain that Paul's understanding of grace meant that "Christ is the end of the law . . . that everyone who has faith may be justified" (Rom.10:4).  When Paul speaks of the "law of the Spirit" or "the law of Christ" he uses "law" in a non-legal sense; this is fulfilled, not by obedience to a code of law, but by the outworking of the inward power of the Spirit.  The indwelling Spirit not only makes effective the saving benefits of Christ's work on the cross, but also transforms and conforms the believer to Jesus Christ.  It is then "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus that liberates us from the law of sin and death . . . in order that the law of God might be fulfilled in us, who walk, not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit" (Rom.8:2,4).  We can then do the "will of God from the heart" (Eph.6:6).  The difference lay in the fact that a new inward power is now imparted.

The will of God had not changed, but whereas formerly it was recorded on tablets of stone, it was now written on human hearts as they allowed the Spirit to do so.  The written law-code was given so that it would be quite clear to man the inability and sinfulness of his heart.  The law declares the will of God without giving the power to do it, instead pronounces the death-sentence on those who break it.  Though the law is "holy and just and good" (Rom.7:12), it might be described as the "law of sin and death" (Rom.8:2) because of its effect on man.  But the Spirit is holy in both respects -- both as being the Spirit of God, and as creating holiness in man.  The purpose of the law, that men should be "holy as God is holy" (Lev.11:44ff) is realized by faith and dependence on the Spirit.  Only in an atmosphere of spiritual dependence can God's will be understood and lived up to.

The Law of Love

The law of the Spirit is the law of love.  It is identical with what Paul else where calls, "the love of Christ" -- "Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal.6:2).  This reinterpretation of the law is explained by Paul when he says (what Jesus said), "The whole law is fulfilled in one word:  'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Gal.5:14), or that "love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom.13:10).

This insistence on the law of love, instead of rules and regulations, was felt by many of Paul's contemporaries to come near to encouraging licentiousness.  And many Christians since his day have shared their fears.  Christian moralists since Paul's day have tended to hold that, in insisting on rules and regulations, they are following the implications of his teachings if not his express judgments.  We should note, however, that Paul conforms no more to the conventions of religious people today then he conformed to the conventions of religious people around A.D. 50.

Paul is the great herald of Christian freedom, insisting that a person "In Christ" should reach Christian maturity and no longer be confined to spiritual infancy under the law.  As Luther put it, "A Christian is most free, subject to none.  A Christian is a most dutiful servant of all, subject to all."  "Subject to none" in respect of his liberty; "subject to all" in respect of his love.  This for Paul is the law of Christ -- the love of Christ.  In this way, God's purpose underlying the law of Moses is vindicated and His will for mankind is accomplished.

January '98--Assignment

  1. It is plain that Paul’s understanding of grace meant that “Christ is the end of the law…that everyone who has faith may be justified” (Rom 10:4).  When he speaks of  the “law of the spirit” or the “law of Christ”  (Rom 8:4, 1Cor 9:21), Paul is referring to a new inward power outworking through the Holy Spirit.
    Exactly how do you expect to live out Titus 2:2, 6-8 (men); or Titus 2:3-5 (women) without becoming legalistic?
    • Men:  How will you “flesh out” the following profile Paul spells out for christian men?
      • “be temperate”—having a proper perspective on life
      • “self-control”—zeros in on fleshly appetites
      • “worthy of respect”—earning respect by lifestyle
      • “sound in faith”—healthy spiritually, not unbelief or doubt
      • “sound in endurance”—persevering in the face of trials
    • Women:  How do you intend to live out the ethical instructions Paul gives to the “younger women”?
      • “to love your husband and children”--self-sacrificing care expressed at home
      • “to be sensible”--sound mind, self-controlled
      • “to be pure”--progressing in sanctification
      • “to be a worker at home”--a respectable  and orderly lifestyle as an aid to our  evangelistic mission
      • “to be kind”--good, being a benefit
      • “to be subject to your husband”--submitting, supporting
  2. In the new book, Ruth, a Portrait, a biography of Ruth Bell Graham (Billy’s wife), her experiences paralleled mine in so many ways.  In raising their 5 children, “she attempted to instill the same values of her missionary parents, and assumed the results would be the same.
    But soon enough she discovered that the differences between the environments were considerable.  In China, much that wasn’t christian was blatantly evil and very unattractive.  In the U.S.  sin wasn’t always recognizable and was often very attractive, even seductive.  Ruth could not completely shield her family from the world and she often felt the bite of frustration.
    Her childhood home in China had been a happy, peaceful one.  Her new home in the U.S. seemed unmanageable and unsettled.  The dangers and hardships common to the mission field served to bring the family closer.  But here in the U.S.  Billy’s prolonged absences threatened to fragment the family—Ruth was often neglected and overlooked.
    Her focus became her desk where she would sit and study and remind herself of her “reference point”, the Bible, which was the foundation she used for childrearing.  Her upbringing had taught her a love for the Scriptures; she studied them for insight, to be corrected, informed and inspired.  And then she applied Biblical principles to her children, both  in discipline and daily living.
    Since you live in the U.S.  with it’s attractive seductive sin patterns, how can you live in such a way that you are not compromised by the KOSMOS, and yet not withdrawn into a Christian “ghetto”?
    How can you transmit a radical faith and a missionary lifestyle to your children?  Be specific about job, finances, recreation and values.