Paul and His Evangelistic Methods
Krugersdorp, South Africa
Without a doubt, one of the greatest preachers this world has ever known was the Apostle Paul. The book of Acts devotes 16 chapters to his activities. There are at least two reasons why we should concern ourselves with Paul's methods of evangelism: (1) because he was under divine guidance. (2) Because of his success. Chosen by God and separated by the Holy Spirit, the gospel Paul preached was "not after man" but "by revelation of Jesus Christ" (Gal. 1:11, 12). Though we believe Paul often exercised his own judgment, the Holy Spirit constantly overshadowed that judgment. He was forbidden to preach in Asia, and, when his company tried to go into Bithynia, "the Spirit suffered them not" (Acts 16:6, 7). When Paul was to go some place or stay longer where he was, the Lord revealed that to him also (Acts 16:9,10; 18:9-11). As to Paul's success, we are told that churches were established wherever he went. "Many of the Corinthians hearing, believed, and were baptized" (Acts 18:8). In Thessalonica "a great multitude" obeyed the gospel, and, in Berea "many of them believed." What made Paul such an out- standing preacher? Let us notice his temperament.
He was singularly devoted to Christ and the gospel. For him, to live was Christ. In Corinth, he determined to know nothing "save Jesus Christ and him crucified." He said, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I but Christ liveth in me" (Gal. 2:20). Paul preached only the gospel. His trust was in it. To him it was "the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth (Rom. 1:16). Hence, he had no regard for human philosophy as pertains to salvation. His preaching was simple and to the point. His speech "was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (1 Co. 2:4).
Because of Paul's love for Christ he was willing to sacrifice and even under persecution. He told Timothy to "endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ" and "no man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life" (2 Tim. 2:3, 4). Some suppose this to be a prohibition for a preacher doing secular labour, but such work to Paul was only another way of sacrificing for Jesus. He laboured night and day that he might not be chargeable to any (I Thess. 2:9). Paul's journeys were not pleasure excursions. They were grinding ordeals that placed him in continual peril: "in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren" (2 Co. 11:26). Beaten five times by the Jews, then three times with rods, stoned once, shipwrecked three times; he spent a night and a day in the deep. How little details the Bible gives of Paul's sufferings! We know of his stoning at Lystra, the beating at Philippi, and his shipwreck at Melita, but when and how did these other persecutions take place? Oh' Paul, how true were the words of the Lord on that dusty Damascus road, when He said, "I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake" (Acts 9:16).
Paul's boldness is worthy of our emulation. He always spoke plainly to his hearers concerning their needs and their sins. He declared "the whole counsel of God" and "kept back nothing that was profitable" (Acts 20:20, 27). His words to Timothy were "reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Tim. 4:2). Therefore, Paul's preaching was controversial in style. He is reported to have "persuaded," "restrained," and "disputed" among those he sought to win to Christ. Hardly the Dale Carnegie method! And, when certain brethren came down from Judea, teaching "except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved" then Paul would give place to them, no not for an hour (Acts 15: 1; Gal. 2: 5). Even Peter, with all his popularity among the early church, was not to be spared the righteous indignation of Paul. But, when he was to be blamed, Paul "withstood him to the face". Such boldness was not a mere accident in the life of Paul, but rather was sought after and cultivated as he asked his Ephesian brethren to pray for him "that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel" (Eph. 6:19).
Paul was also humble. The Lord requires both boldness and humility of those who would be his servants. Perhaps no two other requirements are more difficult to temper together in a Christian life. Though an apostle of Jesus Christ, he was none-the-less "a bondservant" of God. To the Corinthians, Paul asked "who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed." "So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth" but simply "labourers together with God" (I Co. 3:5-9). Since Paul realized that he was but a servant, he never became puffed up or thought of himself more highly than he ought to think. To Timothy, Paul gave this inspired advice, "and the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves . . ." (2 Tim. 2: 24, 24).
Paul practiced what he preached. He could say, "be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" (I Co. 11:1). He could say, "those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me do: and the God of peace shall be with you" (Phil. 4:9). Though Paul was not perfect, perfection was his goal. Forgetting things behind and reaching for things before, his motto was "I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 3:14). Nor must we think that controlling his passions was an easy thing with Paul. He said, "I buffet my body and bring it into bondage: lest by any means, after that I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected" (1 Co. 9: 2 7). Paul himself was "an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity" and so his words to Timothy carried all the more weight (I Tim. 4:12).
Such Godly living gave him the utmost confidence regarding his future with the Lord. As it is true that perfect love casts out fear, so Paul had no fears regarding the outcome of his life. "I know whom I have believed" is his confident statement (2 Tim. 1: 12).
Because he had fought the good fight, finished his course, kept the faith, he joyfully said, "henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing" (2 Tim. 4:8).
His Evangelistic Methods
In the first part of this article we have noticed the character of Paul; in this second we wish to call attention to the specific methods the Holy Spirit led him to use.
Paul evangelized the large centers of population. His plan was to go into a city, thoroughly convince and convert his hearers, establish a congregation that had a burning zeal in telling the gospel to others, then leave the rest to God and time. Ephesus is a good example of this method. For three years Paul remained in this place, teaching and preaching daily. The result as reported in Acts 19:10 is "so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks." The city of Thessalonica was a similar radiating center of the gospel. From there the word of the Lord sounded out through Macedonia, Achaia, and "in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad," Paul said (I Thess. 1:8).
When evangelizing a country today, no better method can be employed than evangelizing the large cities first. Let us add this word of caution: success is not assured simply because a city is large. Remember Paul's efforts at Athens.
When he entered a city he sought out the devout persons there. If there was a synagogue, he always made this his first place of resort. Here he found men acquainted with the Holy Scriptures; here he found worshippers of God from among the Gentile nations. On a Sabbath, Paul would unfold the mystery of God unto both, showing and proving from the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ. When the Jews would become filled with envy and speak against the things uttered by Paul, then he and Barnabas would say, "it was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles" (Acts 13:46). Then, either in the home of a faithful disciple, or in a private school, wherever shelter was afforded him, Paul would continue to testify to both Jew and Greek "repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:21). His teaching was done both publicly and in private. In Athens, it may have been in the market or from Areopagus' while in Ephesus, it was "from house to house." Wherever the opportunity presented itself, there Paul taught. And, when there was no opportunity it seems he made one. Whether as a friendless stranger in a pagan city, a prisoner in bonds, or a shipwrecked castaway, this man ceased not to preach and teach both night and day.
Paul established only churches. This fact of apostolic history is so self-evident that it continues to be a source of embarrassment to the advocates of human institutionalism in religion. He established no missions, hospitals, schools, or orphanages. His entire energies were directed to the setting up of Christ's spiritual kingdom on earth. To him, the church was all-sufficient. To be in the church was equivalent to being in Christ, and, to be in Christ was to have access to all spiritual blessings (Eph. 1:3). Christ purchased the church through His blood (Acts 20: 28). Through the church, God's manifold wisdom was made known, and this was according to His eternal purpose in Christ Jesus his Son (Eph. 3:9-11). That the church might be perfectly equipped to do all God wanted it to do, "he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Eph. 4:11, 12). Salvation from sin was found in this spiritual citadel (Col. 1: 13, 14). God was to be glorified in the church and this throughout all ages (Eph. 3:21). Because Paul's eye was single, not allowing his great talents to be diverted to lesser human schemes, because of his unswerving confidence in Christ and his church, his success is laid before us as an everlasting testimony.
Paul ordained elders in every church (Acts 14:23). This explains much concerning his methods and his success. The work of these elders was three-fold: to teach; to oversee; to set an example (I Pet. 5:2; Acts 20:28). As each church was to have its own elders, and as their authority was limited to "the flock of God which is among you," it also followed that each congregation was established by Paul as an independent unit, self ruling, and relying only on the word of God for its spiritual guidance.
Paul's vocabulary never admitted of "missions" or a "missionary headquarters." The church in Jerusalem, the church in Rome, the church in Antioch all practiced the same faith, but there is not one iota of evidence that any of these ever supervised the work of Paul the apostle, or directed the affairs of any congregation he established. Paul knew of no pope, or bishop, or group of bishops that had any voice outside the local congregation.
Paul's method encouraged an indigenous movement. Each church had its own local men as overseers, its own local treasury, and its own local responsibility. Nor was there to be any shirking or transferring of responsibility. Each congregation was a candlestick and sons of God were to "shine as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life . . ." (Phil. 2:15, 16). Even in financial matters, it was never intended that one congregation should sit back and receive at ease while another was over-burdened. Paul himself said, "for I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality" (2 Co. 8:13, 14).
Paul trained evangelists. Grouped about him was a corps of enthusiastic young men, eagerly assisting and learning from the great apostle. When Paul and Barnabas first went to Cyprus, they thought it good to take with them John Mark as their minister, or helper. Then, there were Titus and Timothy, with whom we are best acquainted because of Paul's letters to them contained in our New Testaments. Acts 20:4 mentions seven companions in travel with Paul, whom we are constrained to believe were all helpers and students of the apostle.
It is both interesting, and we believe, profitable to notice Paul's methods of training evangelists. Their training went on wherever they were: watching, listening, learning and application seems to have been the order. At least, no one can deny the practical experience they received. It was not from hearsay that Timothy knew Paul's gospel. His boldness in declaring the whole counsel of God, his steadfastness despite persecution, and his ability in handling church troubles were all impressed on Timothy as an eye-witness. Accompanying Paul on his second journey, he observed the apostle's manner in making disciples at Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea. He also learned first hand the price to be paid, as he witnessed the beating of Paul and Silas at Philippi and the envy and persecution at Thessalonica and Berea. He was with Paul at Corinth and observed the growing pains of the church there. He undoubtedly heard many of the instructions from the apostle's own lips, which were later contained in an epistle to the troubled Corinthian church.
The inspired apostle set the qualifications high for aspiring preachers. He did not believe that just anyone was qualified. In the case of John Mark, who deserted at Perga, Paul would not consent to take with him again he who "went not with them to the work" (Acts l 5:38). It was only in later years that Paul could say to Timothy, "take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry" (2 Tim. 4:11).
In a recent study of 1st and 2nd Timothy, it was noted that seventeen different qualifications are insisted on for the work of an evangelist. One requirement is stated thusly in 2 Tim. 2:2: "and the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." So, Timothy was to carry on this work of training preachers. By choosing men of both faith and ability, the gospel would be perpetuated. So long as such men were to be found and trained, just that long the work of saving souls would go forth. Surely this is still God's way today.
We have but briefly reviewed the evangelistic methods of Paul. We have noted his loyalty to Christ and his word. His spirit of sacrifice and willingness to undergo persecution has moved us. We have been both encouraged by his boldness and impressed by his humility. We have viewed his godly life with a longing, deep and intent. In that he received direct guidance of the Holy Spirit, we have followed with interest, as he has gone into the large centers of the civilized world, proclaiming Christ to both Jew and Greek. There, literally thousands heard his voice and obeyed the gospel. Self-supporting churches, guided by their local elders, sprang everywhere into being. Moreover, we have observed a host of younger men, taking their lead from him, and going throughout the world to proclaim a crucified Saviour.
And, we today, yet study the life of Paul, and consider him the greatest evangelist the Christian world has ever known!
Acknowledgement is made to R. C. Foster for his ideas presented in two sermons entitled "Paul's Missionary Methods," pp. 191-213, "THE EVERLASTING GOSPEL" The Standard Press.
TRUTH MAGAZINE X: 7, pp. 6-9 April 1966