Apostle Paul once opened up his human side to us as believers, how he felt harassed and scared at some points in his ministry. Actually, he did that regularly. Today’s reflection dwells on the life and times of Apostle Paul, and reveals those aspects of Paul’s life that prove to us that even the greatest men of God are still men, mortals, humans, and as such are subject to everyday human challenges. But in all of these, God is always at work to fulfill His purposes.
2 Corinthians 7:5 – “When we arrived in Macedonia, there was no rest for us. We faced conflict from every direction, with battles on the outside and fear on the inside.”
NIV interpretation reads “…but we were harassed at every turn – conflicts on the outside, fears within.”
Apostle Paul was one of the most fearless men and Apostles of all times. He was a man of many parts, but fearful was not one of them. He was a Pharisee of pharisees. He was both a Jew and a Roman – Paul, a Jew from Tarsus of Cilicia (which is in modern Turkey). This way, he could change his nationality to attract sympathy and support from either side at will. He was arguably a lawyer and was trained by the greatest lawyer-pharisee of his time, Gamaliel. He was an outspoken, no-nonsense man.
As a young and zealous man, he single-handedly scattered the early Church; he personally supervised the murder of the first Christian martyr – Stephen; he scared and terrorized the church; and when he was not satisfied, he went to the Chief Priest for a written letter authorizing him to put an end to the new and growing group of the individuals who called themselves the Followers of Jesus!!
He left Jerusalem and systematically traced the Believers in all of Asia Minor, and moved Northwesterly towards his home country of Cilicia. But he must first stop at Syria. However, God had other plans. As he approached the capital city of Damascus, he had a dramatic encounter with the Lord. That changed everything
Even after he met the Lord, so many things about him did not change. The only thing that changed was the fact that he channeled his energy to the things of God. He moved the Gospel of Christ from Jerusalem to Antioch where believers were first called Christians due to his one-year long missionary work among the gentiles living in and around Antioch. In fact he did not return to Jerusalem for the first fourteen years of his ministry!! He did his missionary work among the gentiles throughout Asia minor and Middle East.
And one day, the impossible happened. He had a dream!! More like a distress call – in that dream, a man needed his help. Earlier on, he and his companions had plans to preach in some places, but the “Spirit of Jesus” wouldn’t allow them to go to those places, until that night when he had the dream.
Acts 16:9 – “That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!””
God was calling them to Europe!!! For the first time ever! And they went to Macedonia. Ironically, they didn’t meet ‘the man’ in the vision. Instead they met a ‘Woman’ named Lydia, a business mogul, who became the first European convert to Christianity.
Acts 16:14 – “One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying.”
Many amazing thing happened to them in Europe, which included the earthquake in the prison when Paul and Silas were worshiping God in their chains 😉
Yes, Apostle Paul was a man who was not afraid to change the world. We can not describe him as a man who could feel harassed or scared by any standard.
Anyways, several years later he came to the end of his ‘traveling ministry’. He returned to Jerusalem, he was arrested by the Jews and imprisoned, for life maybe, though the Jewish leaders were planning to execute him without fair hearing. But due to his Roman nationality, they were forced to follow the due process, as nobody had the right manhandle a Roman citizen. He was taken to prison and stood trials at different levels, he was imprisoned for two years coupled with at least three failed assassination attempts on his life for the sake of the Gospel!! He later stood trials before Roman governors – Gov. Felix, and later Gov. Festus at the Roman province of Caesarea. At all these points, he preached the Gospel.
And when he was at the Roman Court standing before Gov Festus, he put on his lawyer cap. He knew the law, what his rights were and he fearlessly stood for his rights.
Below are some of the events that transpired in that Caesarean court:
Acts 25:9 – Then Festus, wanting to please the Jews, asked him, “Are you willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there?”
Acts 25:10 – But Paul replied, “No! This is the official Roman court, so I ought to be tried right here. You know very well I am not guilty of harming the Jews.
Acts 25:11 – If I have done something worthy of death, I don’t refuse to die. But if I am innocent, no one has a right to turn me over to these men to kill me. I appeal to Caesar!”
Acts 25:12 – Festus conferred with his advisers and then replied, “Very well! You have appealed to Caesar, and to Caesar you will go!”
Yeah Paul appealed to Caesar, the Roman Emperor himself!! It was his right as a Roman citizen; besides, it was safer for him to go to Rome, even though he was appealing to stand before the tyrannical Emperor Nero himself, but it was more dignifying and perhaps more protective than to return to Jerusalem where he would be mercilessly murdered.
If he had returned to Jerusalem, he would have been killed before he had chance to write all the epistles in the New Testament!!
Soon after that, he stood before a Roman King Agrippa and his sister Bernice in the company of high-ranking military officers and the prominent men of the city. He preached the Gospel so boldly from an intelligent perspective that at a point, the learned fellow, Gov Festus called Paul a crazy, insane man!
Acts 26:24 – “Suddenly, Festus said with a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.””
They were beyond impressed, but they couldn’t release him because he had already appealed to Caesar.
In Acts 27:1, Paul was sent to Italy as a prisoner, albeit a dignified one. It was a long journey, one marred with a storm at sea, 14 days starvation, and shipwreck, and snake bites, and so on. But there were also several miracles that happened along the line. In the midst of it, God appeared and spoke to him: “‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar!” (Acts 27:24).
After more than 3 months, they eventually arrived in Rome. (Acts 28:11).
Acts 28:16 – “When we arrived in Rome, Paul was permitted to have his own private lodging, though he was guarded by a soldier.” (‘We‘ here was referring to Paul, Dr Luke who was also the writer, and their other companions).
There was a mysterious silence in the Bible regarding whether Paul actually stood before Caesar or not. Luke, a seasoned historian chose to skip that information probably because the Holy Spirit restrained the historical account. But there were indications that he did appear before the Emperor Nero. It’s possible that the trial went well in Paul’s favor. But there are some who believed he was sentenced to death. It is obvious that Luke knew how Paul’s case ended, but he just chose to be silent about it.
The book of Acts ended with a two years home arrest for Paul. For those two years he lived in his own rented apartment where he could preach the gospel unhindered.
Acts 28:30,31 – “For the next two years, Paul lived in Rome at his own expense. He welcomed all who visited him, boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. And no one tried to stop him.”
Historians believed that Paul was released afterwards and he continued to preach the Gospel of Jesus! Yes, like a happy-ending story 🙂
So many times, Biblical accounts make us think that Paul the Apostle was invincible, that he could handle anything and he would still come out as a superhuman, unscratched. However, despite his super-human achievements, Paul on many occasions reminded us of the very human life and the normal human emotions he felt at many points of his life. He felt the restlessness, the uncertainties, the harassment, the pressure on every side, the need to fight life battles, the need to work hard to make a living; yes, and of course the several times he was scared. He even had health issues – his chronic eye condition, from which he never recovered. But through it all, he was bold to declare his victory through Jesus.
1 Corinthians 15:57 – “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ”. (NIV)
All scriptures, unless otherwise stated,are from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation