Key Texts: Acts 9:1, Phil. 3:6, I Cor. 15:10, Acts 9:1-22, 26:18, Gal. 2:1-17
Q. “Who is the most famous of Christian Missionaries?”
We set out to discuss today the person who is, arguably, the most famous of all Christian missionaries, Paul, originally known as Saul of Tarsus. Because he wrote so much of the New Testament and because of his many travels, more is known about Paul than any other first-century Christian to be sure. His activities set a powerful example for Christian missions for coming generations.
The story of Saul, later Paul, is quite remarkable for a number of reasons:
- He was born in Tarsus, an important town on a major trade route which put it at a significant cultural cross-road.
- Saul’s parents were Diaspora Jews, meaning they did not live in Jerusalem or its surrounds.
- Saul was well-educated in that he became Pharisee. Some of his study was done in Jerusalem under the famous Rabbi Gamaliel. While we tend to despise the Pharisees, they were admired in their time due to their diligent approach to religion and its practice.
- Paul learned a trade, in his case tent making.
- He rose to some prominence in his religious circles.
We do well to realize that his Pharisaical training proved to be a very good thing for he knew the Scriptures very well, he knew how they were interpreted and understood in their original cultural setting. And his education and cultural understandings enabled him to understand how to lift biblical absolutes out of their Jewish setting thereby enabling the Gospel to go to the Gentiles. This ability was absolutely critical to the development of the early Christian church.
• What parts of the Christian faith do you think are eternal or absolute and what culturally driven? Of what importance is that to missions? How would a person translate the essence of Christianity from one culture to another without compromising its essence?
We should look also at Paul the man. What kind of a person was he? Do we have any clues into his personality or character? Acts 9: 1; Phil. 3:6, 8; I Cor. 15:9, 10; 1 Tim. 1:16; Gal. 1:14; 2 Cor. 11:23-33. What characteristics can be found?
- A man of great passion.
- A man of initiative.
- A man of great perseverance.
- Would you call him humble?
- Fearless? What made him so?
The conversion of Saul to Paul is very well-known. Can you recite the general details, how he had an encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road that brought about a complete turn-around in very short order.
- Do you think sudden and dramatic conversions are good ones?
- Have you ever thought of the possibility of quiet conversions?
- Reflect on Paul’s acceptance into the Christian community.
- What might we learn from Paul’s as the object of mission? Can his experience,which proved to affect a real and permanent conversion, teach us anything about missions and how they should be done?
After some years of study and development, Paul set out on a missional trajectory. In Romans 15:19, he said that “From Jerusalem and round about as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.”
- Notice that, according to the verse above, a crucial and central element of Paul’s mission was to “fully preach the gospel of Christ.” how does one go about making this the center of Christian mission?
- We know from elsewhere in the NT that Paul used a strategy of finding those inclined toward the gospel to whom he preached with the intention of raising up churches. This involved preaching, pastoral care, and also edification or nurturing of the new community. Quite a model for modern missions, no?
- Notice also that Paul was not afraid of reaching across cultural divides. This involved some discomfort for him. It also involved creating some discomfort for those who refused to cross such boundaries. His sharp interchange with Peter would be one such example.
- Paul was uncommonly driven by the gospel and its implications. Why do you think that was so? And can it be seen still today?