The Missionary Zeal of Paul

Sewell Hall
Atlanta, Georgia

If the time and energy expanded by the apostle Paul in his first century journeys were expended today using modem transportation, the result would be an incredible criss-crossing of the earth's surface. Those journeys were not made "holding meetings" for existing churches; they were made establishing churches.

"From Jerusalem," he writes, "and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, that I might not build upon another man's foundation; but as it is written, 'They who had no news of Him shall see, and they who have not heard shall understand. . . (Rom. 15:19-21).

Surely no one of us would wish to compare zeal with Paul. Hear him again: "Are they servants of Christ? (I speak as if insane) I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure" (2 Cor. 11:23-27).

How can we account for such zeal? We do not have to seek an answer. He himself has provided it for us in 2 Corinthians 4:13. "But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, 'I believed, therefore I spoke,' we also believed, therefore also we speak." In this same chapter we learn some of the things which he believed which drove him to speak so untiringly.

Paul Believed in God

He believed in God as Creator (v. 6). His reference to "God who commanded light to shine out of darkness" implies acceptance of the entire creation account. In addition, he believed that the Creator God has revealed Himself to man. In the previous chapter he spoke of God's revelation to Moses and noted that when Moses beheld God's glory, his face shone uncontrollably. In this chapter, Paul tells of God shining in his heart "to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God." Paul found the radiation from this encounter equally uncontrollable. He wrote in I Corinthians 9:16, "For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel."

Paul Believed in Jesus Christ

He believed in Jesus Christ as the image of God (v. 4). The knowledge of the glory of God which so compelled him to preach was perceived "in the face of Jesus Christ" (v. 6).

Paul believed in Jesus Christ as Lord (v. 5). This obligated him to unconditional obedience to every expression of Christ's will, including His words to Paul on the road to Damascus: "For this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; delivering you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you" (Acts 26:16, 17).

This conviction that Jesus Christ is Lord dominated Paul's preaching. All of us tend to talk most of those things which loom largest in our hearts. In too many of us, Self assumes that magnitude. Even in our preaching we boast of our achievements; we labor to impress our audiences with our knowledge, our fluency or our piety; we drop names and use illustrations designed to impress them with our importance; we seek by our preaching to gain a personal following. With Paul it was different. His faith provided him with a view of the magnificence of Jesus so awesome that it completely eclipsed the proud self-image of which he had boasted as a Pharisee (see Phil. 3:3-15). Consequently, he writes: "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake" (v. 5, ASV).

As our growing faith magnifies the image of Jesus in our hearts, it will in the same proportion diminish our sense of self-importance and our desire to occupy the limelight as we preach. As we come to have the faith of Paul, we will be of Paul's faith, we can say with him, "We are afflicted in willing with Paul to "carry about in the body the dying of every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifest in our persecuted, but not forsaken, struck down, but not body" (v. 10). destroyed" (vv. 8-9).

Paul Believed In the Gospel

Paul believed in the facts of the gospel; he makes reference in this chapter, both to the death and resurrection of Jesus (vv. 10, 14). Furthermore, he believed in the absolute sufficiency of the gospel to accomplish God's purpose among men. Consequently, his full energies were expended in preaching "Christ Jesus as Lord." He denounced all efforts to manipulate men by craftiness or deceitful handling of God's word and disdained cheap appeals to emotion or intellectual pride. He chose, rather, to commend himself to every man's conscience through manifestation of the truth (v. 2).

In Paul's day, as in our own, faith in the power of the gospel was severely tested by the fact that so many seemed completely insensible to its appeal. Paul was unmoved by this fact. He realized that the fault was not in the seed but in the soil. Those who rejected the gospel did so, not because it was defective as a light, but because they had allowed Satan to blind their eyes "that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (v. 4). Such men are perishing (v. 3) and until they open their eyes, they cannot be saved regardless of what schemes men may invent or what skills they may employ.

Such faith in the gospel gives courage despite one's awareness of his own limitations. God intentionally placed this treasure in "earthen vessels that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves" (v. 7).

Such faith also sustains us in preaching the gospel despite discouragements. When our faith grows to the level of Paul's faith, we can say with him, "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken, struck down, but not destroyed" (vv. 8-9).

Paul Believed In the Priority of the Inner Man

The weakening of Paul's body and the afflictions to which it -was subjected were of little concern to him. His inner man was being renewed day by day - that was what counted (v. 16). If this was his concern for himself, is it any wonder that his greatest concern for his fellowmen was for their souls. Men of little faith may be moved to great sacrifices by an awareness of physical suffering in their fellowmen. Atheists may give liberally of energy, talent, and money, even sacrificing their own security to relieve starvation or diseases of the body. But it takes great faith in the existence and immortality of the unseen soul to be willing to make such sacrifices to take the bread of life and the balm of the Great Physician to those who are lost.

Which concerns us most: that a great city is destroyed by an earthquake or that the same city is lost in sin without a single voice to call them to repentance? About which would we be most anxious: about a child lost in the woods without food or about a child growing up in a wicked world without the knowledge of God? For which would we be most willing to see the church borrow money: to support a gospel preacher in some needy field or to repair the air conditioner in our meeting house? These questions provide a logical measure of our faith.

Paul believed In Eternal Rewards

Paul sometime received support as he preached the gospel (Phil. 4:15-17) but Paul did not preach for money (2 Cor. 12:14). Financially, his preaching venture was a disaster. From what must have been a wealthy position of a judge of Israel he descended to the point of having to Idget along with humble means" and even of "suffering need" (Phil. 4:12). Yet, having put his hand to the plow, he never looked back. The rewards he sought were not those that can be seen with the physical eye but those that are perceived by faith. The "eternal weight of glory" of which his faith assured him, made his afflictions seem momentary and light by comparison (vv. 17-18).

It is inconceivable that Paul would ever have "quit preaching" because the brethren were not paying him enough, because the house they provided was not adequate, or because he felt financially insecure as he came closer to the age of retirement. On occasions he made tents so he could preach; never did he "quit preaching" so he could make tents. Had he done so, could he possibly have written as he faced a Roman executioner: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith" (2 Tim. 4:7)?

For too long we have limited our discussion of the "obedience of faith" to the act of baptism. Doubtless, this is the point at which faith saves us from past sins; but a faith that grows and is perfected as it should be will produce in us an evangelistic zeal. When the "same spirit of faith" which was in Paul exists in us, we can say with him: "We also believe, therefore also we speak" (2 Cor. 4:13).

Guardian of Truth XXVII: 17, pp. 533-534
September 1, 1983