Note: It was recently announced Hugh Jackman will star as the Apostle Paul in an upcoming film produced by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. Before the secular entertainment industry makes an attempt at Paul’s story, let’s explore the truth of possibly the greatest Christian missionary in history.
Of the billions of God’s creatures to have lived, few have stories worth retelling. Even fewer have lived in a manner worthy of emulating. And, barely a handful can claim to have lived in such a way, it can be argued, they directed millions toward an eternity in Christ. The Apostle Paul lived a life which burned so bright his impact on the kingdom of God is at least as strong today as it was when he died nearly 2,000 years ago.
For fear of impeding God’s glory, Paul would be the first to complain about the existence of this article. However, it is God who receives the glory for having called into service such a messenger as Paul.
For some 20 years Paul spread the gospel and planted churches throughout the Roman world. He was a Hebrew by birth, a citizen of Rome, and hailed from a Greek town. Paul sacrificed a promising academic career for a life of serving Christ. He had no real home or family. He was frequently hunted, beaten and exiled (2 Cor 11:24-27). Paul was tender (2 Cor 2:4), loyal (Acts 20:19), bold (Rom 1:16), courageous (Acts 18:9), ethical (Rom 12:17), forgiving (2 Tim 4:16), humble (Acts 20:19), and prayerful (Acts 20:36). Still, Paul was more than that.
Paul’s writings were a result of God-given wisdom (2 Pet 3:15). Paul was a man of weighty intellect who studied under the great Jewish teacher Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). As Saul of Tarsus, Paul was a proud and capable Pharisee. As the Apostle Paul he was modest and full of grace.
Charles Spurgeon proclaimed, “The apostle Paul was a deep thinker, a man of profound insight and subtle mind.” Even Paul had to acknowledge he had been blessed by God with intellectual insight (1 Cor 2:10-13). Paul’s wisdom existed for God’s glory. Few authors or orators can reproduce the academic prowess of the Apostle.
Paul was a Christian missionary, the likes of which has never been duplicated. John Piper said, “The apostle Paul was probably the greatest missionary witness to the victory of God that ever lived. God used him for tremendous breakthroughs for the spread of the gospel.” Paul was focused on a vision of taking the gospel to the nations (1 Tim. 3:16). He was certain the primary purpose of Jesus’ death was to share Abraham’s blessing with the Gentiles (Gal 3:14).
He was an original thinker from whom modern missionaries can learn. Paul influenced people far beyond the local communities he visited. He was a missionary to the Gentile world (Rom 11:13) and he desired to reach non-believers and followers of other faiths. Paul poured God’s grace out on every community he visited, but never took his eye off of the comprehensive impact of God’s message reaching all nations (Rom 16:26).
The intellect God gave Paul as a Pharisee bore great fruit for the kingdom in later years (Phil 3:3-6). Paul wrote almost half the books in the New Testament and was a founding father of Christianity. He wrote his letters in such a style they could be understood by a child, and yet have withstood criticism by generations of scholars. Tim Keller stated, “Paul was the main architect of the greatest movement, the greatest faith, the greatest religion in the history of the world. He was the essential architect of the Christian church, the largest faith on the face of the earth today.”
Jesus appeared to Paul and called him to lay witness to the majesty of God (Acts 9). Paul’s direct and physical encounter with Christ provided him with Apostle status and gave him an insight to the faith few others could boast.
Paul’s life has provided a model for Christian disciples to emulate. His living illustration gave those after him examples of how to be most concerned by those things that burdened Christ. Because of his traveling and persecutions Paul was likely physically limited, yet he continued to live a life focused on Christ’s glory.
The Apostle was an amazing orator and preacher, yet he was not always satisfied with his own efforts and longed to bring God greater glory. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once observed, “The apostle Paul was a great preacher and evangelist, and sometimes he seems to have been disappointed at the meager results of his preaching.”
Paul continued to boast about his weaknesses because he knew God would be more glorified through the Apostles hardships (2 Cor 12:7-10). Paul promised Christ’s disciples we would suffer in our service to the Lord. It should not surprise us when we do.
One of Paul’s greatest examples to Christ’s followers was his love for the churches he served and for the lost. Paul was willing to suffer for those he was called to serve (Rom 9:2). He desired to be an example to believers (1 Thes 1:7) and wanted them to experience joy in their faith (2 Cor 1:24).
As modern-day disciples of Christ we would be hard pressed to find a better mentor than the Apostle Paul. Jesus continues to receive great glory by the life, death and timeless teachings of Paul.