Three imprisonments of Paul are recorded in the book of Acts: in chapter 16; in chapters 21 and 22; and in chapter 24. Perhaps he never envisaged in his former life that he would be treated in such a way - all for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of his Lord and Saviour.
He told the Athenians, ‘I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious’ and what he saw became an object lesson for his preaching, 17. 22, 23.
He was able to perceive issues in local church life that needed adjustment and correction and wrote to the assembly concerned accordingly.1Personal relationships did not escape his perception either. He urged two sisters at Philippi to be ‘of the same mind in the Lord’, Phil. 4. 2. How much we can learn from his teaching today!
He told the believers at Philippi that he pressed ‘toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus’, Phil. 3. 14, or ‘I press on towards the goal’ RV. He eyed the goal and never turned back; it was his all-absorbing objective, always moving and abounding in the work of the Lord. He kept the bright reward in view.
He often wrote about the judgement seat of Christ. He does so in his last Epistle, ‘Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing’, 2 Tim. 4. 8. May we too strive for the prize.
He never gave up in his activities for the Lord. He was zealous before his conversion and was zealous in all that he did after his conversion. At Antioch, with Barnabas, he spent ‘a whole year … with the church, and taught much people’, Acts 11. 26. His farewell message at Miletus, to the elders from the assembly at Ephesus, 20. 18-35, is worthy of note in this connection. He was motivated by ‘the care of all the churches’, 2 Cor. 11. 28.
Acts chapter 9 verse 28 is a verse that can easily be missed, ‘And he was with them coming in and going out at Jerusalem’. This was said not long after his conversion. When the believers at Jerusalem met together, Saul met with them. He did not absent himself from those of like mind. He enjoyed their fellowship. May that be seen with us today amongst the gatherings of the Lord’s people. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the writer exhorts us not to forsake ‘the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is’, Heb. 10. 25. This is a necessary call to us in the twenty-first century just as Paul did in the first years of his Christian life!
When Paul and Silas were in prison at Philippi, they ‘sang praises unto God’, Acts 16. 25. Paul points out that ‘we should be to the praise of his glory’, Eph. 1. 12. How wonderful that many of our hymns today exhort us to praise our Saviour. Let us praise Him as we ought. Paul did, even in the most difficult of circumstances.
What a delight for Paul, as he went to the believers at Philippi, to think of the day when he first went there2 and to recall their ‘fellowship in the gospel, from the first day until now’, Phil. 1. 5. It is always good to hear of assemblies being planted today in some parts of the world. For Paul, in the first century, it must have been a great encouragement to know that God was blessing his labours in this way.
In his writings, he often uses the word ‘beseech’.3 His pleadings to believers in those days to walk and talk in a manner which glorified the Lord are immensely challenging to us in our day and generation.
Under the Lord’s guidance and with His help, he ‘trail blazed’ the work of the gospel in the first century. The establishment of the assembly at Philippi is a case in point, Acts chapter 16. We should take time to observe the way in which the gospel spread and find the right pattern and encouragement for our work today.
In his writings, the Apostle Paul records the names of those who assisted him and expresses his appreciation of their help in the many places he had the privilege of visiting. We can recall Barnabas, Silas, John Mark, and others. His use of the personal pronoun ‘my’ in describing them is a lovely touch -‘my’, what I possess. He speaks about ‘my fellow-labourers’, Phil. 4. 1-3, about Epaphroditus, ‘my … fellow soldier’, 2. 25, about Andronicus and Junia, ‘my … fellow-prisoners’, Rom. 16. 7.4 It is good to know that while Paul was ‘a servant of Jesus Christ’, Rom. 1. 1, he was appreciative of the help and support of others. Sadly, he also recalls those who once ran well, ‘Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world’, 2 Tim. 4. 10.
Are we supporting each other in the work of the Lord today, and praying for those who once ran well?
Life was not easy for this servant of the Lord. Some of these perils are summarized in 2 Corinthians chapter 11 verses 23 to 27. What a man! He states in verse 30, that ‘If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities’. He also reveals in the next chapter that he had a ‘thorn in the flesh’ lest he ‘should be exalted above measure’, 12. 7. Still today, many brethren and sisters encounter perils in serving the Lord.
Christ meant everything to him. ‘For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain’, Phil. 1. 21, and, again, that ‘in all things he might have the preeminence’, Col. 1. 18. This was his philosophy in life since his conversion, to manifest the life of his Saviour, to pursue the interests of Christ, and, for him, to ‘die is gain’ -the expectation of being with his Lord and Saviour. This is the language of devotion and the longing for delight.
This was ‘to be with Christ; which is far better’, Phil. 1. 23. In what we believe to be his last written words, as the end of his life drew near and, with it, entering the presence of Christ, he wrote, ‘I am now ready be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand’, 2 Tim. 4. 6. The One who arrested him along the Damascus road would take him to his desired haven where he would see the Lord whom he loved and served. That prospect is sure for every believer.
Graciously, we have in our Bible letters written to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. In these we have opened to us the heart of the apostle and the encouragement given to those to whom he wrote. Today, we too can take encouragement from these writings and the exhortations given; they are still relevant for us today.
Some of his Epistles include revelations concerning aspects of the future which are a joy to read. For example, how often his reference to the Lord’s coming in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 is read to assure us that death is not the end for the believer! All we need to say is, ‘Wherefore comfort one another with these words’, 1 Thess. 4. 18.
The child of God can take the scriptures for guidance and direction in the very principles and practices of assembly life, and for our daily walk as believers. Sadly, there are those who think that some of his teachings were just for the day in which he lived but Paul’s writings are as inspired as ‘other scriptures’, 2 Pet. 3. 16. The Lord has not given us another book; we have the sacred scriptures that are God-breathed, and no new revelation is necessary. So let us heed the word of the Lord, recognizing that ‘Thus saith the Lord’.
In writing to the Corinthians, Paul said, ‘Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ’, 1 Cor. 11. 1. That is, ‘be ye followers of me’, although he did not seek his ‘own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved’, 10. 33. There are so many things we can learn from the example of the apostle in connection with the differing situations that he faced. If we ask, ‘What saith the scripture?’ so often the answer comes through the written ministry of the Apostle Paul.
According to secular history, Paul died (by execution) around AD 66. His final Epistle leaves us in no doubt that he anticipated his ‘departure’ with joy. He informed Timothy that he had ‘fought a good fight … finished [his] course’ and had ‘kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness’, 2 Tim. 4. 7, 8.
Yet, the work of God must continue, and Paul urges us to be ‘steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord’, 1 Cor. 15. 58. Surely, we need men of the calibre of Paul in these closing days of this dispensation.
The revelation given to Ananias is worthy of note, Acts 9. 15, 16. Ananias was not prominent, for little is said about him. However, it is important to notice that he was a ‘certain disciple’ that God was able to use, v.10. The Lord’s summary of Paul’s future was sufficient to motivate Ananias in seeking him out, and calling him ‘brother Saul’, v. 17. What grace was shown here! Only one act is recorded in scripture of this man, but what an act! It illustrates Paul’s words, ‘and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty’, 1 Cor. 1. 27, and ‘The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord and he delighteth in his way’, Ps. 37. 23. We do not know whether Ananias ever heard later in his life how God had used Paul.
‘O use me, Lord, use even me,
Just as Thou wilt, and when, and where,
Until Thy blessed face I see;
Thy rest, Thy joy, Thy glory share’.
[F. R. Havergal]
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