Summary: The development of Paul as a world missionary
Learning to be a Missionary
Acts 17:6 – 18:18
The writer Andy Andrews in his book “The Traveler’s Gifts” sends his readers to seven different historical persons to receive lessons about life that he wants them to learn. You might want to read his book if you are seeking help in living life. We must all be lifetime learners, and there are those periods of time in which we must be intense learners. These may be the times when you first become a parent, you start a new career or you face a major health threat. Learning can be formal, as in a classroom or informal as experience on the job or supervised as in an internship.
We are called to be “learners” of Jesus, even as those He called disciples. We often think of our spiritual heroes as not needing a learning period. I listened recently to Jim Henry, retired pastor of First Baptist Church of Orlando, Florida, and former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, tell of an experience in his first pastorate when a disgruntled member made a motion that he be fired. He spoke of what he learned from that experience.
In my study of the book of Acts, seeking to find Lessons for Growing Christians, I was surprised to find see how Paul must learn to be a missionary on his first journeys... We picture him as the strong missionary leader, moving into the frontiers of pagan lands with the gospel. However, in the first journeys there are snapshots of learning opportunities for Paul. Paul, the Jewish scholar, former Pharisee, preacher, bold leader and Godly warrior, found that all of his training and experience, including his dramatic conversion experience on the Damascus Road, did not adequately prepare him to be our first world missionary. Even his brief time with Barnabas in Caesarea and on the first journey had not prepared him for this next trip.
His first learning experience is found in Acts 17: 6-12, describing his time in Thessalonica. He was greeted with the pronouncement, “Those who have turned the world upside down have come here also.” In his first two to three years as a missionary, he had earned that reputation. At least he was not guilty of blandness, dullness and passitivity. We can often be seen as dull and boring. Many people will not come to our churches saying that the services are boring; the songs are old fashioned and the commercial too long.
Paul tried to speak to two very opposite audiences. In the synagogue he spoke to devout Jews who worshipped the yesterdays of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David. They practiced the same rituals their fathers had, heard the same readings and spoke the same chants. Paul came to tell them that The Messiah they had heard about all of their lives had come. The good news was that Jesus’ death on the cross replaced the regular Temple sacrifices for sin and faith in Him would bring them salvation. He also told of Christ’s resurrection and the present power and presence of God today. Jewish listeners could not understand and embrace such a message to live in the present-tense presence and power of God. He was correctly accused of disturbing them so the religious leaders put him out of the synagogue.
On the streets he met a new kind of audience. They were the working class pagans, always interested in a new god who could bring magic to their lives. When they heard about Paul’s Savior who was crucified on a cross as a common criminal and resurrected, his good news story didn’t fit their expectations. Their rulers turned on Paul as an enemy of Caesar’s peace.
There were a handful of new believers who helped Paul and Silas leave Thessalonica and journey to Beroea. As they walked that night to the next city, Paul may have pondered or discussed with Silas, “Why don’t they understand?” This is the gospel, the good news. Why had his own people treated him so badly and the common man on the street would not honored him by listening?
Change comes hard for a person or a congregation. Habits are firmly entrenched, old patterns are comforting and the practice of religion is only one small but important part of the average person’s everyday life. The new is always hard to understand and easy to dismiss. It took a Damascus Road experience to bomb Paul out of his past life and thoughts. We who lead, teach and proclaim a new life in Christ still encounter huge obstacles. Even miserable people resist change, defeated people avoid being rescued and religious leaders still fear change. Thessalonica, like many of our places, was the community that valued sameness and routine and had a sign warning “Do Not Disturb.” We have all been there/done that.