Paul the Preacher

Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake” (2 Cor. 12:10a).

- 2 Corinthians 11:22–12:10

Immediately after his conversion, Paul began to preach Christ and quickly became a strong apologist for the new faith. But after meeting with the apostles, he became a target of the Jews who were enraged by his defection. In the face of their threats, he was sent to Tarsus (Acts 9:30). With that, he disappeared for two chapters of Acts and more than a decade of time, a period he may have spent in Syria and Cilicia (Gal. 1:21– 2:1). Returning after some years, he submitted his doctrine to the scrutiny of the other apostles (Gal. 2:1–2, 7–10). Though Paul himself says he became an apostle as “one born out of due time” (1 Cor. 15:8), the other apostles, including Peter, welcomed him to the work of the apostolate (Gal. 2:9). Thus began Paul’s work of building the church, a work that would encompass at least three missionary journeys, the founding of countless churches, and the writing of 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament. He pursued these ends with the same zeal with which he once tried to destroy the church.

Paul admitted to great shame over his past. He referred to himself as the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15) and said that he was “the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Cor. 15:9). Yet he was able to put his past behind him and look ahead. He said that all the things he once considered to be to his credit he had come to regard as “rubbish” (Phil. 3:8) as compared to having Christ. His efforts were directed at “forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” (Phil. 3:13b).

Perhaps no conversion has carried a greater personal cost. In 2 Corinthians 11:22–29, Paul recounts some of the sufferings he went through because of his work for Christ. He was frequently in pain, often without physical comforts, constantly in danger, and always filled with concerns for the people he pastored. Furthermore, he was afflicted with a mysterious “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7).

Still, at the end of his life, Paul could say to Timothy, “I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7b). Or, as he told King Agrippa, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19). He had done as his Lord commanded him to do when they came face to face on the Damascus road.

Coram Deo

Paul’s life, so extraordinary in so many ways, should define the ordinary life of the Christian in one sense: radical obedience. Jesus calls us to count the cost before enlisting and, having made a decision for Him, never to look back. What part of your life before Christ do you sometimes want to return to? Repent of this “looking back.”

Passages for Further Study

Matt. 8:18–22; 10:38
Luke 14:25–33

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