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Abstract

This article is intended as a short synopsis of the life of Saul of Tarsus, also known as Paul the Apostle in Christian religious history. It is primarily written to fellow Christians as a helpful and friendly encouragement to follow the example of Paul in living the Christian faith.

Paul Power: Methods from 50 AD for 2000 AD

Most people do not embark upon a normal day’s work only to find themselves blasted off their horses and blinded by the very God against whom they rebel. But if such an event did happen to strike them, it might very well have changed their lives as much as it did to the apostle Paul. An ardent persecutor of Christians, Paul experienced the same blast-and-blind scenario as he traveled to his routine occupation. Confronted by the God of the universe in a supernaturally striking display, Paul sprang into action – the man who once killed Christians became one of the most powerful missionaries the world has ever known. Explaining Paul’s success proves difficult without acknowledging the power of God, but Paul did employ methods in his evangelism, missionary journeys, and church-building which can resonate with churches today. Paul’s ministry processes of evangelism, missions, and church-building offer a valuable model to any Christian wishing to carry out God’s work successfully.

The first stage of Paul’s ministry involved evangelism – the sharing of the Gospel. Following Jesus’ most important command in Mark 16:15 to “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel,” Paul appears throughout the Acts record proclaiming Jesus’ death and resurrection to innumerable people. But most crucial – and most often overlooked – is not the number of people Paul evangelizes but rather how he does so. For example, in Acts 17, Paul witnesses to Athenian philosophers at the prestigious Aeropagus. Noticing that the Athenians worship “the unknown God,” Paul leads into his presentation of the Gospel by making the “unknown God” known to them. He even uses quotations from Greek poets to support his illustration of God as our father and we as His children. This presentation differs from Paul’s presentation to the Jews at Berea, where he bases his argument for Jesus’ Messiahship in the Old Testament Scriptures and asks the Jews to search the scriptures to confirm it. Paul understood that how the Gospel is presented is as important as the presentation itself. He employs a method of “building bridges;” he seeks to link himself and his message to his audience as closely as he can to make his message effective. He does not compromise the Gospel, but he makes it relevant and understandable to his recipients. In order to succeed at “building bridges,” Paul had to know to whom he was building the bridge – in essence, he had to know about his audience’s thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes. Paul’s methods of evangelism clearly apply today. Christians, especially in America, are apt to believe that select missionaries have the job to understand other cultures, worldviews, and religions, when in reality every Christian should be able to “build bridges” to others, especially to other world religions. No Christian has any business withdrawing from engagement with those of different worldviews, and no Christian should ever approach other beliefs self-righteously.

Paul’s missionary journeys occupy the second stage of his ministry and provide a model for missions today. In total, Paul made three missionary journeys before his martyrdom in Rome. A pattern emerges from these journeys – each one builds further upon the travels of the last. Paul’s second missionary journey touched upon the places of his first but also took him far into Europe, while his third missionary journey carried him all the way to Rome. On each journey Paul would re-visit several churches he had previously established with the purpose of furthering their spiritual growth. While the journeys occupied much of Paul’s ministry, he always found time to return to his home base of Antioch in Syria. This pattern reminds us of the furlough period used by modern missionaries: after an extended period of service, missionaries use a time of rejuvenation, then embark to accomplish more than they did before. Also important, Paul never makes his journeys alone. While he receives the main focus of the Acts narrative, Paul is supported by a network of assistants, traveling companions, financers, and churches which make his missions possible. Modern missions is even more complex than it was in Paul’s day, employing hundreds of people to every missionary sent. Do we sometimes overlook these people? Have we forgotten to appreciate the small and often unseen people who help to make a missions conference or a church service run smoothly? Paul’s missionary journeys demand an answer to these questions as much as they model the true spirit of Christian missions.

The first and second stages of Paul’s ministry culminate in the third stage – church-building. Throughout his ministry, Paul planted dozens of churches in the Asian, European, and Mediterranean regions. We do not know the names of most of them; the ones whose names we do know have New Testament epistles dedicated to them. These epistles demonstrate the various ways in which Paul oversaw the development of early churches. For example, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians provides encouragement to a church already flourishing. With the Ephesians, Paul needed to focus not on corrections and instruction but on encouraging the church at Ephesus to persevere in its application and understanding of Christianity. The epistles to the Corinthian church are a stark contrast. Before Paul could spur the Corinthians onward, he had to repair their doctrinal base. Thus, 1 and 2 Corinthians lay out a comprehensive correctional framework in which Paul addresses everything from the foundation of Christianity – the resurrection of Jesus Christ – to proper decorum in church services. Paul’s approach varies from church to church and issue to issue, but his goal remains the same – sound, active Christian churches. Paul’s methods of church-building stand as simple but timeless reminders to pastors of Christian churches especially. A correct understanding of doctrine is foundational to a church’s survival; a church leader therefore cannot stress outreach or evangelism or missions without ensuring that a congregation knows the theological basis for such actions. Likewise, the Corinthian letters remind church leaders that certain “gray” or controversial areas will result when applying Christian doctrine to lifestyle in an ever-changing world, and that in such cases sound wisdom and discernment must be used.

Paul’s methods of evangelism, missionary work, and church-building deserve emulation among Christians and in churches today. From Paul’s example of evangelism, individuals and churches alike can glean boldness and engage their culture without running away from it by means of political activism – far too common among American Christians – or separate and “Christianized” outlets of education and career. Missionaries can model their methods and objectives after Paul’s missionary journeys. And pastors of Christian churches can find instruction on how to lead their congregations in Paul’s church-building epistles. In the end, however, Christianity is a unified and comprehensive system, and Paul’s earthly ministry serves all those who believe in Christ. Paul shook the Roman Empire two millennia ago, and Christians can shake the world again today in his footsteps.

Religion Christianity

Works Cited

Harbin, Michael A. The Promise and the Blessing. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005. Print.


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