Saturday, January 21, 2006

Paul, the Purpose Driven Apostle

The Purpose Driven Apostle
Dr Alex Tang

Who is Paul, the Purpose Driven Apostle?
Paul was born in Tarsus in southeast Asia Minor. He was born Saul. The exact dates of his birth was uncertain, probably between 6 BC and A.D.10, probably on A.D.5 (based on the terms ‘young man’ Acts 7:58 and ‘old man’ Phm 9. He was born in an observant Jewish family belonging to the tribe of Benjamin (Rom. 11:1; Phil. 3:5); his parents gave him a Jewish name- the name of the most illustrious member of the tribe of Benjamin in the history of Israel, King Saul.

Tarsus is a Roman city with Greek culture. For Paul to become a Roman citizen, his father must have some influence. The Romans do not give away their citizenship easily. How Roman citizenship come into the family, we do not know. One archaeological scholar suggested that a firm of tentmakers could have proved very useful to the Roman army in these parts and received the citizenship for the services rendered.

Tarsus is also a university city surpassing Athens and Alexandria. Is Paul a Jewish Theologian or Greek Philosopher? Paul must have learned to speak and read Greek when he was a child. His Greek was too fluent, too eloquent (though he made occasional grammatical mistakes) to convince that he picked up the language after he became a Christian. This meant that he was exposed to the Greek philosophy and has knowledge of their culture, philosophies and worldview.

Paul is trained to in Greco-Roman rhetoric. To understand Paul, we have to understand rhetoric. The purpose of rhetoric is to persuade. Education in the ancient world was primarily rhetoric- how to recognise the way in which someone is trying to persuade you (i.e. how to listen wisely) and how to form a speech in order to persuade someone else (i.e. how to read and write effectively). We learn early on in our cultures the ploys of the advertising industry, for example, how to read television commercials. Unfortunately, we tend to read Paul as two years old watches a television commercial.

Paul was also educated under Rabban Gamaliel I in Jerusalem. Gamaliel was the first to receive the title Rabban and was regarded as the greatest teacher of the Law. This has no doubt given him an excellent knowledge of the Scripture and of the oral Torah which supplemented, interpreted, and applied the written Torah of the Old Testament. Tradition has it that when he heard about the Christians in Tarsus; he hurried back to Jerusalem. This implied that he has completed his training and was back home in Tarsus. Aside form being a tentmaker, he may be a Rabbi of the local synagogue. Like his father before him (Acts 23:6), Paul was with the Pharisees (Phil.3:5), which he calls “the strictest sect of our religion” (Acts 26:5).

1. Paul has a purpose because he has a passion for God.
a. Paul was brought up in the Jewish Pharisee tradition to love God.
“I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers”Gal.1:14 (NIV)
Being a Pharisee has very bad connotation for us nowadays. That’s because of the frequent criticism of the legalism of the Pharisees. But the Pharisee has a well developed systemic theology of Yahweh. Their action is often in obedience to what has been revealed in the Torah. And this is based on love for God. Sometimes, when we have so much passion for someone, we then to go to extremes. To give your girlfriend a dozen red roses is acceptable but 9,999 as reported in the Star newspaper? Paul’s zealousness comes from a love of God.

b. Paul was very zealous in preserving the purity of his religion.
“Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem.” Acts 9:1-2 (NIV)
The reason why Paul hurried to Jerusalem when he heard about the followers of Jesus or ‘the way’ is that of his zealousness for God. He was in Tarsus. But he rushed back to Jerusalem. Why? Because he considers this ‘sect’ of Jesus followers to be a threat to his belief in God. Paul believed that unless he acts, the claims of Jesus’ followers will be a threat to Judaism. He is very passionate about his God.

Have you seen older brothers or sisters being protective of their younger brothers or sisters? Or of friends or family members being protective of your reputation. I once was speaking to the parents of one of my patients. The child was brought in at about 2 pm. It was 4pm and the fever has not settled. The father was frustrated and was angry that my treatment did not make his child well. Suddenly, to my surprise, the parents of my patient in the next bed rose to my defence. They scolded that father, “What do you expect about 2 hours? Doctor is a good doctor”. I did not expect that.

c. Paul found the fulfilment of his religion in Jesus Christ.
“What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” Phil 3:8-11 (NIV)

Paul was not a convert. He is already a believer of God and the Messiah. Paul’s Damascus experience was a reorientation of his worldview 180 degrees! He found that Jesus is the messiah he has been waiting all his life. Jesus is the fulfilment of his greatest hope. Paul with all his great learning in Greek and Hebrew studies has his spiritual eyes opened when he met the living Christ in his Damascus experience. The God whom he loved has done what he said He will do. He has sent the Messiah, the chosen one. How not to have passion for God?

2. Paul has a purpose because he has a passion to serve God.
a. God has chosen him

‘But the Lord said to Ananias, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.” Acts 9:15 (NIV)

Frederick the Great of Russia was gloomed to be an emperor since he was born. He was taught the right way to act, the right way to talk, the right way to rule and the right way to live. He has a purpose because he knew that he was chosen to be emperor one day. And he has a passion for his country. Therefore he knew that the moment he became king, he will modernised his beloved country, Russia. So he spent his life preparing for the time when he would become emperor so that he can implement what his purpose is. Paul knew that he was special, a chosen one of God. God is the one who chosen him. Imagine the power and reassurance that you have been specially chosen. It becomes a purpose for your life. Nowadays we speak of destiny. People are chosen to fulfil their destiny. Fulfilling their destiny becomes a purpose for their lives.

b. Paul has chosen to serve God, God’s way
“But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles” Gal.1:15,16a (NIV)

Aside from the sense of being chosen by God, I believe that Paul has a purpose in life and that is to serve God. But Paul is unique in the sense that he choose to serve God on God’s term and in God’s way. Paul could have wanted to be a Rabban in a Jewish theological seminary. Or he could be a famous rabbi of a famous synagogue. Paul has this unique gift of doing what Henry Blackaby has been teaching us in his book, Experiencing God: see where God is going and join Him in the project. Paul sees that he is to be the apostle to the Gentiles. So his purpose is to bring the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul’s missionary efforts have some important points which shows that there is a purpose in what he did:
(1)He taught from where the people are. To the Jews, he taught the Jewish way. To the Greeks and other Greek speaking people, he taught as a Greek philosopher.
(2)He chooses areas within Roman territory. Pax Romana is safe, have a nice network of roads and literal in Latin and Greek. He, being a Roman citizen also gives him additional advantages.
(3)He chooses cities that are centres of trade and commerce- Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica.
(4)He chooses his fellow team members from different regions. At one time, Paul’s entourage consists of 9 men: Sopater (Berea, Macedonia), Aristarchus and Secundus (Thessalonica), Luke (Philippi), Gaius (Derbe, Galatia), Timothy (Lystra, Galatia), Tychicus and Trophimus (Ephesus, Asia) and Titus (Achaia).

3. Paul has a purpose because he has a passion to bring people into the kingdom of God.
a. People are lost without God

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Rom.3:23 (NIV)
If there is a great motivation for Paul and for his purpose in life, it’s that people who do not know Jesus Christ and his work of salvation on the cross are doomed. They are going straight to hell. That has been the purpose of the many great missionaries of the past like William Carey and Hudson Taylor. There is only one way to salvation. All other roads lead to damnation. So people must to told. That’s why these missionaries sacrifice so much to bring the message of salvation to the East.

b. People are the glory of God
“For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.”1 Thes. 2:19,20a (NIV)

Paul knows what is valuable and lasting in life. It’s not your money, or your house, your lands or your car. All these things don’t last. It was disappear soon. What last forever are people. That is why Paul said people are his glory and joy. People last forever. Knowing this, it is surprising how much time and effort we invest in things and how little time and effort we spend in building up people. Paul’s purpose is his passion to save the lost. That’s because he knows that people have eternal value. So he spent his time making friends, teaching and mentoring the many people that God brought into his life. Even as a prisoner in his last days in Rome, he managed to convert the household of Caesar.

c. Paul loves the people
“For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you”. 2 Cor.2:4 (NIV)

Here Paul reveals his heart. His purpose to save the people is not only because without God they are lost and that human lives have eternal value. It is also because he loves them. Paul’s purpose driven life has no value if he does not love the people. Without love, his purpose becomes a duty. Paul’s life story does not sound like he is acting out of duty. He was stoned, starved, sick, shipwrecked, given a lashing and travelled long tiring miles. Duty would not have carried him so far. But love would. Paul really loves the people.

My Response
a. Does God have a purpose for your life?
‘The word of the LORD came to me, saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." Jeremiah 1:4-5

b. Do you discern where God is working and so join Him there?
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matt28:18-20 (NIV)

Soli Deo Gloria

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