The Faithful Witness of the Apostle Paul—Part 1

Paul’s Faithful Ministry

THE achievements of the Apostle Paul during the first twenty-five years of his consecrated life were associated with the evangelistic work of finding a people for God’s name. In his zeal and faithfulness to this cause, an equally important work was being done in his own personal development as a member in the body of Christ.

The search for God’s people has been of primary importance during this Gospel Age. Many have been used in the cooperative effort of its accomplishment and have been considered, according to the Scriptures, “workers together with God.” (I Cor. 3:9) It is a great privilege to have a part in this activity and all who come to a knowledge of God’s plan are invited to participate in it. In the many ways through which the message of truth goes forward, the Heavenly Father has always used his consecrated people as the means of its promulgation.

Each one of God’s people should realize that his sanctification is God’s principal work in his life. As the Apostle Paul expresses it in I Thessalonians 4:3, “This is the will of God concerning you, even your sanctification.” There should, then, be no separation between service for the Lord and our personal development within the body of Christ. Paul himself illustrates this truth. Preaching the glad tidings gave him valuable experiences which helped him to become more Christ like. We see his Christian growth reflected in the letters he wrote to the churches which he helped establish. Many of these were written after he had gone through much suffering for the cause of Christ—all Paul’s experiences were especially directed by the Lord.

As Paul’s work of searching for God’s people drew to a close, the Lord began to prepare Paul for his last witness, one which would be under different circumstances than any he had previously encountered. The events that occurred, and the way in which he responded to them, would ultimately affect his maturation as a Christian and part of the body of Christ.

Paul learned he would soon make his last trip as a witness for the Lord. He said, “After I have been there [meaning Jerusalem], I must also see Rome.” (Acts 19:21) After observing the Memorial of the Lord’s death with the brethren in Philippi, Paul again set sail, this time for Troas, to meet those who would accompany him to Jerusalem. Sopater came with him when he left Berea; Luke joined them when they left Philippi. Timothy and Gaius of Derbe, Aristarchus and Secundus of Thessalonica, and Tychicus and Trophimus of Ephesus and Collosse, had traveled ahead to Troas. Troas had been the port of embarkation for Paul’s voyage to Macedonia some years before.

At this time, Paul, Sopater and Luke stayed seven days with the brethren of Troas. These people of God were undoubtedly converted to Christ through the preaching of Paul, and others, during previous visits. The brethren in that city must have greatly appreciated the opportunity to be with Paul and to learn more about the truth during those seven days. It was difficult for him to leave these dear Christians—he had so much to say to them. He continued speaking to them until midnight, when a young man in the audience had a frightening experience. He was sitting in a window, evidently due to the overcrowded room, and having gone to sleep, he fell out the window, plummeting three stories to the ground! Everyone thought he surely was dead! But Paul, embracing the young man, said he was still alive. The youth was brought back to the meeting room and, amid great rejoicing, their fellowship continued on until daybreak.—Acts 20: 7-12

The next day Paul left for Assos where others of his company were waiting to join him. Although there is no mention that Christians resided in this or other cities along the way, it is possible that there were brethren in each of these places. Paul would have liked to have stopped at Ephesus before leaving the area, but he was pressed for time since he wanted to arrive in Jerusalem before Pentecost. So he sent word to the Ephesian elders to meet him at Miletus.

This meeting is one of the most touching scenes described by Luke. The church at Ephesus had been in existence for about three years. Paul knew they needed assistance which he would probably not be able to provide. His uncomplaining words to them were: “Ye know from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: and how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, I go bound in the Spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: save that the Holy Spirit witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more.”—Acts 20:18-25

These words convey Paul’s earnest concern for the brethren in Ephesus. He knew through the Holy Spirit that his witness in Jerusalem would lead to his arrest, many trials, and finally the end of his earthly life. They would never see his face again. What could he say that would benefit them after he no longer was with them? He knew, perhaps more deeply than any of the other apostles, that when all God’s appointed leaders were dead, the Adversary would create many problems. Ambitious leaders would arise within the church.

Paul’s words in Acts 20:26-31 give excellent advice to forewarn the true church: “Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he bath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.”

Luke’s description of this meeting gives us great insight into the love which the elders of Ephesus had for Paul. After admonishing them, Paul kneeled in prayer with them all. They wept as they embraced and kissed him, sorrowing most of all that they would see him no more. The parting words of Paul must have been very sobering to the elders of Ephesus. The responsibility for this congregation of the Lord’s people would now be theirs. They could not expect a future visit by Paul to resolve any of their problems. The only strength they could derive from Paul would be through his example and his teachings.

Having strengthened the brethren in Macedonia and Achaia, Paul boarded a ship which took him in the direction of Jerusalem. The elders accompanied Paul and his companions to the ship, then returned to Ephesus. Stopping in Coos, Rhodes, and Patara, Paul’s group boarded another vessel bound for Phenicia. Luke’s account mentions that while en route they caught sight of Cyprus—Barnabas’ homeland. Seeing that island undoubtedly awakened many memories in the mind of Paul, stirring up a discussion of the events of the trip Paul and Barnabas had taken through Cyprus. The ministry of Bamabas had come to an end there, when he was stoned by the Jews.

When the ship docked for a seven-day layover at Tyre to unload its freight, Paul and his companions met with the disciples in that city. They begged Paul not to go to Jerusalem because they feared what would happen to him. The church in this city was composed mainly of Jews, many of whom had fled from Judea because of persecution, and they were keenly aware of the hazards in Jerusalem. But Paul knew he had to go. So at the end of the seven days, the entire congregation, including wives and children, went out of the city to bid Paul farewell. They knelt on the shore before the ship, praying and embracing the travelers, and then returned sadly to their homes. How pleased the Heavenly Father must have been to see the loving concern, the tender care, and the deep faith of these brethren! Their progress in developing the fruits of the Spirit must have given him great joy.

Paul and his traveling companions went on to Ptolemais and stayed one day with the brethren there. The next stop was Caesarea where the group stayed with Philip, the evangelist. Some twenty-five years earlier Philip had been selected by the church at Jerusalem to be one of seven deacons. (Acts 6:5) Now he was married and the father of four daughters, all of whom were consecrated to the than and active in his service.

The congregation at Caesarea was large. Although originally composed only of Jews, in 36 A.D. God’s exclusive favor to Israel ended and Cornelius, his family, and other Gentiles were inducted into the family of God. Although Cornelius lived in Caesarea (Acts 10:24), no mention is made of him during this final visit of Paul. Tradition says he had returned to Rome. Philip, however, had selected this city as his home. See Acts 8:39

Paul and his companions stayed in Caesarea for several days. During this time, Agabus, a prophet of the Lord, came from Judea. He took Paul’s girdle and bound his hands and feet. He then said, “Thus saith the Holy Spirit, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.” (Acts 21:11) On prior occasions the Holy Spirit had told Paul in some symbolic manner that bonds and afflictions awaited him in Jerusalem and Rome. On this occasion God used a prophet who delivered a clear message to Paul and the others as to what the future held for him.

The reaction to Agabus’ proclamation was immediate, and highly emotional. The brethren of Caesarea and those traveling with Paul pleaded with him not to go to Jerusalem. They wept because of the difficult trials ahead for Paul. But Paul knew the Lord was arranging a special witness for his name. For the first time those traveling with Paul knew he had to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things. They wept and pleaded with him. But Paul said, “What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? For I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 21:13) When they realized they could not persuade Paul to change his plans, they said, “The will of the Lord be done.”

From Caesarea, some of the brethren accompanied the missionary group to Jerusalem. They arranged for lodging with Mnason, an old Cypriot who may have come to that city with Barnabas shortly after the initial inception of the church on the day of Pentecost. This little band was greeted warmly by the brethren at Jerusalem. When they were settled, Paul went to see James and the other apostles and elders in Jerusalem. He presented his firsthand report of the Lord’s accomplishments in finding his people among the Gentiles through Paul’s and others’ efforts. Although they glorified God when they heard this report, some Christians in Jerusalem had heard rumors about Paul, that he was teaching Jews not to observe the Law. The rumor was, of course, not true, and the matter had to be cleared up.—Acts 21:15-21

Since the time of Pentecost, the church at Jerusalem had grown by several thousand. The great majority were Jews who had been raised to observe the Law and give it great respect. The apostles were concerned that the faith of many of these might be affected if they believed these false rumors about Paul’s view of the Law. So they suggested that Paul demonstrate his regard for the Law of Moses by joining with four brethren who had taken a Nazarite vow and were about to conclude it with a purification rite in the Temple. Paul agreed to do so, and went with them. The ceremony took seven days and was concluded by shaving the head and offering appropriate sacrifices. See Numbers, chapter six.

Near the end of the days of purification, some Jews from Asia came to the Temple to worship. They recognized Paul and incited still other Jews to seize him. They charged that he was preaching against the Law, and had defiled the Temple by bringing Gentiles into it. This charge was based on the fact that earlier Paul had been seen with a Gentile, and their erroneous conclusion that those with him now were Gentiles. The news that Paul had been apprehended spread like wildfire throughout the city. As the mob increased they began to beat him. Except for the intervention of the Roman commander and his soldiers, Paul might have been killed.

When Paul had been put in chains, the commander tried to learn who he was and what he had done. But due to the confusion, he learned nothing. Paul was taken to the castle in the custody of the soldiers, to protect him. “Away with him,” cried the multitude. As Paul was about to be taken into the castle, he spoke to the commander in Greek. He assured him he was not to be confused with a notorious rebel leader, but that he was a law-abiding citizen of Tarsus. He requested and was granted permission to speak to the people.

Paul beckoned to the people as he stood on the castle steps. The mob grew quiet. They became even more attentive as he began to speak to them in Hebrew. He gave them a brief account of his background, emphasizing his zeal for the Law and his persecution of the first Christians. Then he proceeded to give a detailed description of his encounter with the glorified Jesus and how this had completely changed his life. He told how he had gone to Jerusalem, desiring to tell everyone of the great change in his life, but that in vision he was told to leave. In this vision he reasoned with the Lord by saying that the people would listen because they knew he had consented to Stephen’s death and had been actively bringing others into prison. Surely they would want to know what had changed him. But he quoted Jesus as saying, “Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles.”—Acts 22:21

Although the audience had been attentive, at the mention of Gentiles they began a noisy demonstration, clamoring for Paul’s death. Orders were given to bring Paul into the castle. The truth would be brought out through scourging. But before the soldiers could administer the punishment, Paul revealed that he was a Roman citizen. Upon learning this information the commander questioned Paul personally. Telling Paul that he had purchased his Roman citizenship, he asked Paul how he had acquired his? Paul answered, through inheritance from his father. Tradition says his father was awarded Roman citizenship in recognition of special service performed for the Roman government. Because the commander now knew he was dealing with a Roman citizen, he was very fearful. His earlier order to bind Paul was unlawful if he were a Roman.

Paul’s experiences were about to change. Earlier in Philippi he had been bound and released after he told the magistrates of his Roman citizenship. Now he was not released. Yet in spite of his bonds, he accomplished what he had never been able to do when he was free: he had the opportunity of witnessing to thousands of Jews in Jerusalem. Whether any that heard him changed their course of life as Paul had done, we are not told in the Scriptures. However, it is quite possible a few were indeed among the Lord’s people for whom he was searching!

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