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Paul's life was a guided life, not a driven life. As such, God not only directed where he should go, but also with whom he should go. He was a single man, whose God-given task was absolutely impossible to accomplish alone.
If you take a cursory glance at the New Testament church-planting experience, you can see that Paul shines as the dominant figure. But though Paul played a central role, God involved dozens of other men and women, adding their unique perspectives and abilities to the effort. With each new companion in ministry, Paul's life was being shaped according to God's plan. The many dimensions of companionship seen in the life of Paul are very informative and equally eye-opening to those in ministry today. In fact, his entire life and ministry reveal how God purposed for him to have companions and assistants in ministry. Companionship in ministry is not only descriptive of Paul's life, but prescriptive for every Christian in the kingdom of God.
As the Scriptures reveal the nature and purposes of God, we must not overlook the way God chose for Paul to be converted. As far as God is concerned, His call to salvation is a call to be on a mission with Him. When God "chose us ... before the creation of the world" and "predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ" (Eph. 1:4-5 NIV) we became "God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (2:10 NIV). We can see this documented through the life of Paul.
The apostle Paul had a sordid past. A self-righteous tormentor and persecutor of Christians, he even participated in their imprisonment and martyrdom.
One fateful day, Saul of Tarsus (as he was then known) and his companions, with orders from the high priest in Jerusalem, were on their way to arrest followers of Christ in Damascus. But on the way, Saul was thrown to the ground by a blinding light and a thundering voice out of heaven. It was Christ Himself, intersecting Saul's life, and redirecting his path. Saul of Tarsus would become the apostle Paul, a "chosen vessel" (Acts 9:15) to fulfill Christ's purposes.
As Saul wallowed on the ground, disabled and blinded by the heavenly light, "the Lord said to him, 'Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do'" (v. 6). Sightless, he had to be taken by the hand and led into the city, where he would meet the men who would welcome him into the kingdom of God, and groom him for his destiny.
Paul's conversion established a pattern for his dependency on others that he would follow for the rest of his life. Had Saul of Tarsus not been with companions during his encounter with Christ, he may have been lost forever, wandering blind in the wilderness. But it was God's deliberate intention that he be led by the hand in complete, blind dependence on others.
God made Paul wait three days before being told what to do (Acts 9:9). He had three long, dark days to process what his life had been. Nothing makes one more dependent on others than total blindness. He felt paralyzed. He was in his darkest hour.
This hardened, bigoted, determined enemy of Christ was led helplessly to the home of Judas on the street called Straight in Damascus (v. 11). There he waited for God's servant, Ananias, who would be used by God to open his eyes both physically and spiritually. The very one he had likely come to imprison was now setting him free from blindness. How humiliating ... and illuminating!
Jesus once said that the measure with which we measure will be measured back to us (Luke 6:38). God told Ananias, "I will show [Paul] how much he must suffer for my name" (Acts 9:16 NIV). When we follow Paul's life and ministry, we see that no one else had such a great list of sufferings in the service of Christ. As Paul had been the cause of the suffering of God's people, so now he would participate in the sufferings of the churches. Of all the times when interdependence is required, the times we face suffering are at the top of the list. God was true to the prophecy for His call on Paul's life.
From the beginning of his Christian life, we find Paul immersed in dependence upon other believers in the early Damascus church, and later in Jerusalem and Antioch. The incredible irony should not be missed: Saul went to Damascus to arrest and imprison disciples, yet God forced him to be dependent upon the very ones he had gone to arrest! Ananias, likely a leader among the believers in Damascus, was also going to appreciate more of God's grace and mercy upon a lost soul. True, Paul was going to pay a great price for his crimes, but now it would be as a fellow believer rather than an enemy: the first words out of Ananias's mouth were "Brother Saul" (Acts 9:17). There was so much more that Ananias could have said, probably much more that he wanted to say. But as a true servant, he said simply, "The Lord sent me to return your sight."
Here God taught Paul the true nature of His people. What Paul had learned in school and had seen demonstrated by the religious leaders of his day was not what God intended for His people. Love, compassion, and interdependence would replace hatred, bigotry, and self-reliance in Paul's life, and he would become one of the greatest encouragers to God's people that the world would ever see. The same one who had earlier sat at the feet of the great Gamaliel, a respected Pharisee and celebrated doctor of the Law, would soon be seated with simple fishermen, hearing the wonderful stories of the Christ they had followed as disciples. It was Barnabas, a church leader in Jerusalem, who would genuinely see Paul as a brother, full of potential, while others remained suspicious of him (vv. 26-27). Later, Barnabas, whose name means "son of encouragement," left Jerusalem to search for Paul in Tarsus (Acts 11). When Barnabas found him, he brought Paul to Antioch, where they ministered together for more than a year, strengthening this new international church.
It was this same church in Antioch that would later commission the two as missionaries, laying their hands on them and blessing them as they were sent. Paul and Barnabas took with them the nephew of Barnabas, John Mark, who was destined to play a significant role in Paul's later years. From the beginning of Paul's ministry, God brought other faithful men like Barnabas along with Paul to help sharpen and focus his vision for ministry and his skills in presenting the message.
I believe it is enlightening to us that we have no record of the apostle Paul ever setting out on a missionary journey without a companion at his side. The only time Paul traveled on his own was when he debated with the philosophers in Athens. Only a few in Athens were believers, and there is no evidence that a church was established from this lone mission excursion. Yet even here, Paul instructed his traveling companions, Silas and Timothy, to join him as quickly as possible. It is no wonder that many church-planting strategies today involve sending out teams of people.
PAUL LEARNED EARLY THE IMPORTANCE OF COMPANIONSHIP
Companionship was not only invaluable to individuals, but also to entire churches. Clearly, Paul had individual traveling companions, who served many purposes in his life and upon whom he became very dependent throughout his ministry. But Paul also learned the importance of developing a network of interdependence between himself and the churches to whom he ministered. They would become his "lifeblood" for encouragement and support during both the good times and the times of persecution and suffering. He said in his letter to the Thessalonians, "Brothers, pray for us" (1 Thess. 5:25). This was an invitation to a whole church to join him in his missionary efforts, and in return Paul demonstrates prayer for them: "Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of the calling and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power" (2 Thess. 1:11).
I can't help but think of the great missionary William Carey, who in 1793 said, "I will venture to go down, but remember that you must hold the ropes." Paul said it this way in Ephesians 6:18: "Stay alert and keep praying for God's people" (CEV). It is imperative that churches be companions to those who are sent. The church in Antioch was like the sponsoring church-more than simply sending out Paul and Barnabas, they were involved through giving, praying, and supporting in any way they were able.
The church in Ephesus also felt responsible to support and encourage Paul. The idea of mutual interdependence spread throughout the churches, with Paul as one of the uniting factors. He was instrumental in encouraging the churches in Asia Minor to take on the responsibility of being supporters and encouragers to the church in Jerusalem when it was in need. It was a testimony to their love for Christ that these Gentile churches aided the Jewish church, the original church, in Jerusalem.
Not Just for the Clergy Supporting and encouraging God's servants must not be left to only professional ministers. Parents and families, too, can make mission trips to help missionaries and be involved in their support in hundreds of different ways, from sending money or supplies to spending weeks or months assisting in the work. Taking children with you on missions will change their lives forever! There are ways of partnering with missionaries and ministries that can be a tremendous encouragement to God's people. A single church or a group of churches can undergird ministries with money, resources, supplies, and prayers. Romans 16:16 (NIV) says, "All the churches of Christ send their greetings."
As a married couple, you might choose to come alongside other couples in ministry as companions, mentors, and encouragers, and walk with them as God uses them in His kingdom. At the very least, we all ought to find others to invest our lives in so that together we can make tremendous contributions to God's work.
NEEDY TIMES IN PAUL'S LIFE
Because Paul was new to ministry and unproven among the apostles, he needed someone to corroborate his reports to the churches in Antioch and Jerusalem (Acts 14:27, 15:12). God provided Barnabas, a dignified and commanding prophet and teacher, well-respected among these congregations. Paul had seen God's tremendous work among Gentile believers, but some men from Jerusalem, called Judaizers, were insisting the Gentiles be subject to Jewish law before they could be considered Christians. This went against everything Paul had learned from Christ, who had taught him it was by faith that a person was saved, not by following the law. Again, Barnabas came to Paul's assistance in telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had performed among the Gentile believers.
Paul was imprisoned several times. In Philippi, God provided Silas to accompany him. In Rome, Epaphras and Luke were there. In Caesarea, the local believers visited him. Paul's need was expressed when he wrote to Timothy, "Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas ... has deserted me ... Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry" (2 Tim. 4:9-11 NIV).
The times of imprisonment were no short ventures. He spent more than two years in jail in Caesarea, and more than two years in the Roman prison (Acts 28:30). Companionship would prove to be an essential component to the success or failure of Paul's ministry.
Threats and Constant Danger
The constant threat of the Judaizers was something Paul could not have handled alone. Their never-ending attacks required constant vigilance and caused Paul to be on the move from town to town, ever watchful of those who sought to destroy him.
On at least three occasions there were plots to take Paul's life. Each time, believers foiled the plans, saving Paul's life. One time he was let down from the city wall of Damascus at night (Acts 9:25). Another time he was hurried out of Jerusalem to Caesarea and sent to Tarsus (Acts 9:30). God allowed Paul's nephew to overhear a scheme to kill Paul, which brought enhanced Roman security (Acts 23:16). Without the keen hearing and quick action of Paul's fellow believers, he would not have survived.
The one time when Paul's adversaries stoned him, dragged him out of the city, and left him for dead in Lystra (Acts 14:19), his friends could not stop it. But we have a beautiful picture of their devotion to him. The Scripture says, "But the disciples formed a circle around him, and he got up and went back to town. The next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe" (Acts 14:20 ISV). The disciples gathered around Paul. They formed a circle of prayer and encouragement. Something incredible happened that day, for he was able to travel the road to Derbe in the morning. There were many times when Paul's colleagues, companions, fellow workers, and fellow believers "formed a circle around him," whether it was through prayer, sending money for his needs, opening their homes to him, caring for his wounds, or just by living lives that demonstrated the power of God in them.
Paul's Trusted Messengers
One of Paul's greatest needs was for messengers that he could send to churches to encourage and exhort them. Among others, Paul sent Timothy to Philippi, Corinth, and Thessalonica; Tychicus to Ephesus and Colosse; and Titus to Ephesus, Corinth, and Crete. With such long distances to travel, it was difficult for Paul to have a personal presence in the churches. But his trusted emissaries, ambassadors in the faith, could assist in the preservation and discipling of new converts and in establishing them in their faith.
I did not take advantage of you through any of the men I sent you, did I? I encouraged Titus to visit you, and I sent along with him the brother you know so well. Titus didn't take advantage of you, did he? We conducted ourselves with the same spirit, didn't we? We took the very same steps, didn't we? (2 Cor. 12:17-18 ISV)
That's why I sent Timothy to you. I love him like a son, and he is a faithful servant of the Lord. Timothy will tell you what I do to follow Christ and how it agrees with what I always teach about Christ in every church. (1 Cor. 4:17 CEV)
It is a testimony to the faithful care of Paul that, in the face of tremendous persecution and internal strife, there was very little defection from his churches compared to what we see today.
Besides the need for faithful ministerial companions, Paul also had the basic human need for friendship. God provided friends like Aquila and his wife, Priscilla, as well as traveling companions, such as Silas and Timothy, Barnabas and Titus, and a host of others. His need is expressed in Acts 17:15 (NIV), where he "left ... instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible," and in his letter to Timothy: "Do your best to come to me quickly ... Only Luke is with me ... do your best to get here before winter" (2 Tim. 4:9-11, 21 niv).
Excerpted from Anointed to be God's Servants by HENRY BLACKABY THOMAS BLACKABY Copyright © 2007 by Henry Blackaby and Thomas Blackaby. Excerpted by permission.
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