Thursday, July 03, 2008

This week's Sabbath School lesson: Paul the Missionary

After that, [Jesus] appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me -- I Corinthians 15:6-10, NIV.

No one was better qualified to work with Gentiles.

And no one was worse.

For as this week's lesson points out, Paul was uniquely suited to carry the gospel to the Roman Empire.
  • He was a Roman citizen.
  • He spoke fluent Greek.
  • He'd been trained in both apologetics and Biblical interpretation by one of the finest teachers of his day.
Yet mission service was not a logical step for Paul -- far from it! No, as this week's lesson also points out:
  • Paul opposed Christianity.
  • He persecuted its followers.
  • And even after his conversion, Paul was hated and mistrusted by many in the church.
In short, we can see Paul's career as a straight line -- as one in which everything had always, inexorably pointed him in the direction God wanted him to go.

Or we can see it as a sudden change in direction -- as one in which God wiped clean the slate and gave Paul a fresh, new beginning.

That's because it was both . . . just as it often is with us.

For just like Paul, God leads us places we never thought we'd go.

And just like Paul, they always turn out to be the places we'd been heading all along.


Don said...


Great things happened while Paul worked. However, I'm wondering if it was all the way God would have wanted it to happen. I think about all of God's chosen peoples - Isreal, early church, SDA church - and realize we have all let Him down in ways. His purposes go on, but could have been better.

If that is true, what might Paul have done better? (Not that he could have done better. Just wondering if he would be our model for today or if we need to think different directions.


Pastor Greg said...

If our doctrine of sin means anything, it is that things never quite work out the way God planned . . . and if our doctrine of providence means anything, it is that God works through us to achieve His good and perfect ends. But how you put these two beliefs together is beyond me!

Myself, I've reached an age where I try not to worry about "what might have been," and focus on what needs to be done.

Which bring up your last point, i.e. "Should Paul be our model for today, or should we move in different directions?"

Hmmm . . . certainly the New Testament provides a number of models on how to do missions -- and even Paul himself was not limited to one approach. (Take a look at the Book of Acts, for instance, and compare the different speeches he gave to different audiences.)

I've also found the study of church history to be helpful in this regard -- both in learning what worked, and in discovering why we still do so many things that are no longer effective. (Let me know if you're interested, and I'll send you a reading list.)