Author’s Note: All subsequent Scripture quotations and paraphrases are taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise stated.
Jesus started His ministry between A.D 27-30 and called twelve ordinary men with different backgrounds from fishermen, Publican, thief, and a zealot or revolutionary. All besides Judas Iscariot brought the Gospel to all ends of the earth. One man, Saul of Tarsus, became one of the most important figures of the Apostolic Age. Born around A.D. 5 in the city of Tarsus, which at one time the capital of the province of Cilicia about 10-12 miles from the Mediterranean Sea. Tarsus is now the fourth largest metropolitan area in the country of Turkey.
Not much is mention in the Bible of who Saul is except that he is a Jew, grew up in Tarsus, and studied under Gamaliel (Ac. 22:3). Saul is his Jewish name, but his Roman name Paul is used and is still referred to today, as he claimed Roman citizenship (Acts 16:37-38). As a Roman citizen, it came with many “legal privileges and protections” (Gundry 2012, 346). His Jewish background influenced him as he mastered the history, poetry of the psalms, and literature of the prophets by his thirteenth birthday (Swindoll 2002, 15). He was also influenced by Greek and Latin, as he was able to speak the language fluently as a young boy (15).
Saul, following his father and grandfather, became a Pharisee, (Gundry 2012, 346) and dreamt of becoming a member of the Jewish Supreme Court, known as the Sanhedrin (Swindoll 2002, 16). He approved the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8:1), which triggered something in Saul to start persecuting Christians in Jerusalem (Gundry 2012, 344). He ravaged churches and homes, dragging out every man and woman, and putting them in prison to be executed (Acts 8:3).
One day, Saul receives permission from the high priest in Jerusalem to go to Damascus and bring back any man or woman who proclaimed discipleship of the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 9:1-2). He saw a bright light, fell to the ground blind, and Jesus stating, “why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:3-4). At that time, Saul was struck blind and “converted by the glorious revelation of Christ” (Gromacki 1974, 165). Jesus commissioned Ananias after three days to lay hands on Saul, be filled with the Holy Spirit, and regain his sight for he is “my chosen instrument to carry my name to the Gentiles and everyone in Israel” (Acts 9:15-19). This statement validates Saul’s calling to be the apostle for Christ and to the Gentiles.
After this miraculous healing, he began preaching Jesus is the Christ in the synagogues (Acts 9:20). What Paul was doing did not please the Jews, so they plotted to kill him (Acts 9:23). Saul heard the news and rode off to Arabia (Galatians 1:17) as his life took a shattering change and he needed time to be alone with God (Barclay 2003, 85). After receiving the guidance and strength to fulfill the tasks, Paul started on three missionary journeys proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, wrote letters of encouragement and teachings to all the churches he planted, and developed leadership from hardships along the way.
After three years in Arabia, Paul sets out on three essential missionary trips that started churches and spread Christianity to Gentiles and eventually the world. The first, with Barnabas, in Acts 13:1-14:28, lasted from A.D 47-49. The second started with an argument between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark’s participation on this upcoming trip, so Barnabas took John Mark and sailed to Cyprus (Acts 15:39). Paul chose Silas and departed through Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:40-41). This trip in Acts 16:1-18:22 and lasted from started A.D. 49-52. Paul’s third and final journey in Acts 18:23-21:17 and lasted from A.D. 52-57.
According to German theologian Eckhard Schnabel (2008, 34-37), Paul achieved five missionary goals, “being called to preach the message of Jesus Christ, preach this message to the Gentiles, reach as many people as possible with the Gospel, lead others to believe in one God and Jesus as the Messiah, and establish new churches and communities.” For Paul to achieve these goals, according to Schnabel, he established five specific methods. He knew that venturing into Gentile territory may cost him his life, but a chance Paul and others would take.
The first is “The oral proclamation of the Gospel was a fundamental element of the missionary work of the early church” (34, Taylor 2011). Paul spoke to the Jews in the synagogue at Antioch in the southern part of Galatia on the Sabbath (Acts 13:16-41). The next Sabbath, the Jews rejected his message, so he turned to the Gentiles, and they rejoiced (Acts 13:46-48). In the second journey, Paul, now with Silas, journeyed to the Gentiles in Macedonian after given a vision from God (Acts 16:9-10) and in Areopagus (Acts 17:22-34), which is the prime example of why Paul preached to the Gentiles. Paul again taught into the Jewish synagogues to convince the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah in Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-3), Berea (Acts 17:10-11), Athens (Acts 17:17), Corinth (Acts 18:1-8), and in his last journey, he preached in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-10) to both Jews and Gentiles, in Macedonia and Greece (Acts 20:1-6), and in Jerusalem (Acts 21:17-26) where it ended in his arrest. Communication was one of Paul’s methods to meet his goals of bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to pagan society.
The second method, “Geographical movement from city to city, from region to region, and from province to province was a principal element of missionary work in the first century” (34, Taylor 2011). There were no airplanes, trains, or automobiles. They relied on ships and on foot to arrive at their destinations. When they had to travel by ship in the Mediterranean Sea, it would only happen during certain times of the year due to bad weather. Vessels built in the first century were not very sturdy, and many shipwrecks occurred. Paul and his travelers did anything they could to get to all villages, cities, and regions to bring the message of Christ.
The third method, “The goal of missionary work is to reach as many people as possible with the Gospel; Paul went to any locale in which people would be willing to listen to the message of Jesus Christ” (34-35, Taylor 2011). Paul knew the best place to start was the Jewish synagogues where they met weekly and many in attendance. The marketplace (agora) is another area that produced many people that he could reach with the Gospel. Paul took advantage of opportunities of going into private homes, established churches, riversides, Roman colonies, such as Philippi, standing at gates of cities, and in the theater proclaiming Christ as Messiah.
The fourth method, “Paul’s goal is to reach people in a given location, matters of ethnic identity, class, culture, or gender did not control his missionary focus” (36, Taylor 2011). Paul knew that Christ died for everyone and commissioned Paul to convey His message no matter their background, race, class, or gender. He converted Lydia from Thyatira (Acts 16:14-15) and the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:25-34). Paul was convinced that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:23-24).
The last method, “As people in ancient times were accustomed to encountering and listening to traveling orators, the expectations and the procedures that are triggered in such encounters have to be considered” (36-37, Taylor 2011). An example of this method is in 1 Thessalonians 2:3-8 that he wrote on the second journey. One a negative end, Paul asserts he and the other missionaries have not spoken to any false prophets to stroke their egos, gathers any monetary advantage, or to gain honor. The positive end of the spectrum is he stresses their sincerity, selfless, and profound devotion towards all believers, which extended beyond their call of duty.
The thirteen letters or epistles that Paul wrote made up nearly one-half of the New Testament. These documents showed his spirit-led teachings, building an active community of believers, and the theology behind the writings for the first readers that bridges into today’s world. Though Paul wrote these letters, he usually employed a scribe or amanuensis to dictate his words (Gundry 2012, 385). These epistles are divided into four sections, early, major, prison, and pastoral.
The early letters, written during the first and second missionary journeys are Galatians and I and II Thessalonians. Galatians, the first letter Paul wrote, is known as the “Magna Carta of Christian Liberty” (Campbell 1985, 587). The Judaizer preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but also added for salvation; one must succumb to the practice of Jewish dietary laws and rituals. Paul makes two arguments in his letter. The autobiographical discussion, Paul states that grace trumps the Judaizing message for salvation (Gundry 2012, 391). The theological debate, God’s grace through Jesus Christ is enough, that no one can keep the Mosaic Law, works will not achieve salvation, only faith in Christ (Gal. 2:16), and one can live by the flesh (Gal. 5:17-18) or by the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23, 394). The last section is a warning about antinomianism, which is carrying a license to sin (395). Paul explains that these practices are incorrect for the body of Christ and must cease and comforts them with corrective actions.
Paul wrote I Thessalonians in response to accusations made by the Judaizers that he was lying, taking advantage of their ignorance, and answering their questions concerning the “Day of the Lord” (I Thess. 5:1-11) or the second coming (Dockery 1998, 594). Paul receives communications from Timothy, his trusted protégé, on his encouraging report but they start lacking in their faith (1 Thess. 3:6-10). In the last section of this letter, Paul reviews the true meaning of salvation, a life pleasing to God, the rapture as we will be reunited or “catching up” with other Christians, and the second coming of Christ (1 Thess. 4:1-5:11).
Paul wrote II Thessalonians roughly two months after the first letter. He picks out these three things that are a mark of a church that is alive, “a faith that is strong, a love which is increasing, and a constancy which endures” (Barclay 2003, 244-245). Paul uses the term “the man of lawlessness” to describe the antichrist (II Thess. 2:3). We are to watch out for this person, not to rely on what he says, to stand firm to our convictions, and not to listen to the false teachers about the “Day of the Lord.” Paul in II Thessalonians 3:17 gave them a sign that they can distinguish between the authenticity of his letters and any forgeries (Gromacki 1974, 287).
The major letters addressed two churches that had more issues with idolatry, false teaching, and sexual immorality than any of the churches planted in the three missionary trips. Paul wrote these letters during his third missionary trip. The first letter to the Corinthian church ended up missing and never found, evident in I Corinthians 5:9. In the first six chapters of the canonized I Corinthians, Paul corrects the church due to some quarreling (1 Cor. 1:11) and to bring this community of believers together in unity with regards to outlook and manners. Then he starts addressing questions about marriage and relationships between evenly yoked individuals (1 Cor. 7:1-16), warnings against idolatry (1 Cor 10:6-22), and spiritual gifts and love (agape) God’s way (1 Cor. 12:1-13-13). Finally, in chapter 15, Paul reaffirms and defends Christ’s resurrection.
Paul again addresses primarily the same concerns in II Corinthians as their relationship is now becoming strained (Gundry 2012, 424). Concerned over the last visit, Paul decides not to make another painful visit (II Cor. 2:1-4) as he does not want to cause any more suffering, but for them to rejoice in the message of Christ. Paul uses the metaphor “triumphal procession” as Christ is the victorious general that will enter Rome (428). He appeals to separate themselves from false teachers (II Cor. 6:11-7:16), to be a cheerful giver (II Cor. 9:8), and he justifies his apostleship against the accusations of false apostles (II Cor. 10:1-13:14).
The last troubled church is the letter to the Romans. The purpose for Paul to write this letter is to present a detailed statement of the proclaimed Gospel message and to ease the tensions between Jewish and Gentile Christians (Witmer 1985, 436-437). Paul writes that God’s righteousness is revealed in many ways, such as condemnation (Rom. 1:18-3:20), in justification (3:21-5:21), in sanctification (6:1-8:39), in making sovereign choices, (Rom. 9:1-11:36), and transformed living (12:1-15:13).
The prison letters Paul wrote while in Rome awaiting trial and execution by orders of Nero. These letters are Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon, and Philippians. Philemon is the shortest letter he wrote, but it shows his exceptional leadership in sending back a converted runaway slave, Onesimus, who stole money from Philemon, and mentions to take him back as a brother in Christ and to impute or charge me with the financial debt (Phm. 18).
In Colossians, they were experiencing similar issues as the Galatians in heresy. Theirs was a blend of Jewish legalism, a form of Gnosticism, Greek philosophic speculation, and oriental mysticism (Gundry 2012, 459). Paul showed two purposes in this writing, to warn against the heresy (Col. 2:1-23) and to live a life of holiness (Col. 3:1-4:6). His themes included, “completeness in Christ, Christ is the body of the believer is a mystery, and Christ is the Head of the body is emphasized” (Gromacki 1974, 270).
In Ephesians, there were no conspiracies and heresy; it was a letter “expressing praise for the unity and blessings shared by all believers in Christ” (Gundry 2012, 461). There is a two-part division of this letter, God’s purpose in Christ (Eph. 1:3-3:21), which includes salvation by grace through faith (Eph. 2:1-10) and we are all one in the body of Christ (Eph. 2:11-22). The other part is God’s purpose in the church (Eph. 4:1-6:20), which includes unity (Eph. 4:1-32), walk in love (Eph. 5:1-33), and fighting spiritual warfare (Eph. 6:10-20).
Paul wrote Philippians as a long thank you letter for their love and financial support during his incarceration (Phil. 4:10-20). He also warned them of the deceitful ways of the Judaizers (Phil. 3:1-4:1), and to maintain spiritual unity among the members (4:2-3). Paul rejoices that he is content with the situation before him with the strength of God (Phil 4:10-13). Paul summed up this letter with one word, “Rejoice.”
The pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus show excellent leadership in the mentoring of these two young pastors. The messages of encouragement Paul wrote to continue building the community of the churches Paul placed them in charge of and to strengthen the body of Christ by establishing the criteria for bishops, elders, and deacons (I Tim. 2:1-3:16, Titus. 1:5-9).
Leadership Through Hardships
Paul faced many hardships since his conversion on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-19). As he was writing what is known as his second letter to the church at Corinth, Paul discussed the trials of his hardships;
“Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:23-28).
Paul suffered into bringing the Gospel to the Jews in places other than Israel and to the Gentiles of Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece, and territories along the Aegean Sea. “Life is ten percent what happens to us and ninety percent how we respond to it” (Swindoll 2002, 150). Paul knew that there is a cost to bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to another world and in discipleship.
There are four negatives in being a leader. First is, “spiritual leaders are not deceptive” (142). No frills, no mysterious spells, and no fireworks, Paul gave it to you straight, no ifs, and, or buts about it. “Neither did he hold out a promise of fraudulent blessings and benefits. No name-it-and-claim-it theology—as if God promises to double your money each time you give to some fund-raising appeal” (142). Paul never deceived anyone when preaching the Gospel of Christ.
Second, “Good leaders are not people pleasers” (142). The worst leader is one that goes out of their way to please everyone. With that attitude, nothing will get accomplished — all they want to be liked by everyone, so there is peace. Paul went out of his way to avoid pleasing everyone, and it got him flogged, stoned, beating, and thrown in jail. As he wrote to the Thessalonians, “but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts” (I Thess. 2:4).
Third, “spiritual leaders are not greedy” (143). Greed brings out the worst in a person. “For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed-God is witness” (I Thess. 2:5). Their desire for power, their agenda, even hidden motives between church members can bring out the greed in anyone. “Greed backfires. When people follow greedy leaders, they get hurt. Ministries suffer. Worst of all, Christ is dishonored.” (144). Greed has no place in our churches, and it demolishes a community that the church serves.
Lastly, “Spiritual leaders are not self-serving” (144). True leaders serve a risen Savior and communities who want to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ” (I Thess. 2:6). “Good leaders are not self-serving. They are passionate about meeting the needs of others” (145). We give glory to God for all accomplishments.
As there are four negatives of leadership, there are four positives. First, “good leaders are sensitive to the needs of others” (145). Paul cared about everyone that he brought the Gospel to and their needs. He showed one of the nine fruits of the spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), gentleness. Paul revealed this attribute to everyone, along with grace.
Second, “good leaders have affection for people” (145). Paul, again to the Thessalonian community, “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also ourselves, because you had become very dear to us” (I Thess. 2:8). Paul cared about everyone he touched with his words and his actions. He never walked on or over anyone. He never “lord it over” them preaching the Gospel. Swindoll suggests two ways to remember affection, “Small yet frequent acts of kindness and stated and written words of appreciation” (145). One small act of kindness could be the deciding factor to make Jesus the Lord of their life.
Third, “good leaders demonstrate authenticity” (146). Paul never faked who is in Christ and as a person. Paul had great affection for that when it was time to serve, he gave his entire life and earned his living so no burden would come upon the community (I Thess. 2:8-9).
Fourth, “good leaders are enthusiastically affirming” (146). When Paul wrote those letters, he always gave them praise for the work they have accomplished, showed them the committed offenses within the church, and attempted to correct those actions. He encouraged them to excel in being the best and faith in Christ will help them achieve success.
In conclusion, the most significant conversion in the Bible was Paul from a Pharisee to the messenger for Christ to the Gentiles. He achieved five missionary goals through his five missionary methods of proclaiming the Gospel, geographical movements, reaching people, excluding race, gender, and culture in bringing the message, and not reacting to false propaganda. His letters to the churches teach us how to be spirit-filled, to build an active community, and his theology behind those letters to bridge the gap between the first readers and readers in today’s world. In leadership, there will be hardships, and in difficulties, we can develop great leaders as Paul became through God’s grace.
As Paul remained focused on the Gospel message, we need to do the same to follow his methods of focusing on the word and not allow others to influence our thinking negatively. We can also testify to what this means to us on a personal basis. To bring this message to a lost community, we need to have a close and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. This needs to reflect on our daily living and our attitudes towards people from all walks of life. Paul is our prime example of how his words and actions indicated how he lived and led others. We should be following his lead and pick up where Paul left off in his methods, preaching style, and leadership qualities.
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Campbell, Donald K. “Galatians.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, edited by J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, Vol. 2, Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.
Dockery, David S. “The Pauline Letters.” In Holman Concise Bible Commentary, edited by David S. Dockery, Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998.
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Swindoll, Charles. 2002. Paul, A Man of Grace and Grit. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
Taylor, Justin. 2011. “Paul’s Missionary Strategies and Methods.” The Gospel Coalition (blog), November 21, 2011. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/pauls-missionary-strategies-and-methods/.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016.