A pattern

Paul wrote two letters to Timothy, a man he described as “my own son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2). Paul’s relationship with Timothy was like no other and the fact that he wrote two letters that were intended to be personal instruction to him showed that Paul cared a great deal about Timothy’s spiritual well-being. Paul warned Timothy about the trials and tribulations of being in the ministry and gave him the responsibility of following in his footsteps after he was imprisoned in Rome. Paul reminded Timothy that he had formerly been a blasphemer, and a persecutor, but he had obtained mercy from God because he did it in unbelief (1 Timothy 1:13). Then he said in a very straightforward manner, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am the chief” (1 Timothy 1:15).

Paul’s attitude about God’s grace was that he could save anyone, even the worst of sinners that deserved to go to hell. Paul explained to Timothy that he had been saved for the purpose of showing others what God could do. Paul said, “However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life” (1 Timothy 1:16, NKJV). The Greek word translated pattern, hupotuposis (hoop-ot-oop’-o-sis) refers to something that is meant to be copied or imitated (G5296). What Paul was getting at was the idea that God had made him into a cast or die, a mold if you will, that others could be poured into as a means of replicating the results of his ministry. Paul wanted Timothy to understand that his life would have similar characteristics to his own if he continued in the ministry.

Paul concluded his personal exhortation by stating, “Timothy, my son, here is my word to you. Fight well for the Lord! God’s preachers told us you would. Keep a strong hold on your faith in Christ. May your heart always say you are right. Some people have not listened to what their hearts say. They have done what they knew was wrong. Because of this, their faith in Christ was wrecked” (1 Timothy 1:18-19, NLV). Paul’s instruction to “Fight well for the Lord!” was most likely referring to spiritual warfare and was reiterated in 1 Timothy 6:12 where Paul said, “Fight the good fight of faith.” The pattern that Paul was setting forth for Timothy was not only to believe God’s word, but to do what God told him to. Paul wanted Timothy to act in accordance with his calling into the ministry and not be afraid to take risks even if it meant ending up in prison like he had.

Self defense

Paul’s attempt to fit in with the Jews in Jerusalem resulted in him being arrested in the temple where he was trying to fulfill a purification vow. It says in Acts 21:27-28, “And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him, crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place.” The false accusations that were made against Paul were probably meant to deter him from speaking publicly in Jerusalem. Instead, Paul was given the opportunity to defend himself and capitalized on the opportunity to share his testimony in front of a large crowd of people.

Paul began his defense by stating, “I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city of Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous towards God, as ye all are this day” (Acts 22:3). Paul identified himself with the Jews and let them know that he had always been a faithful supporter of the Mosaic Law. He went on to say, “And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women” (Acts 22:4). The way Paul was talking about was Christianity and his mention of his role in persecuting the early church was probably intended to gain the confidence of the Jews who thought he was involved in Jesus’ ministry from the beginning. Paul’s reputation as a persecutor of Christians had most likely been forgotten since he had been involved in preaching the gospel for almost 20 years.

Paul’s detailed account of his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus was the centerpiece of his self-defense. Paul wanted the Jews in Jerusalem to understand that he had been appointed to preach the gospel by Jesus of Nazareth, a man that he had been fervently persecuting up to that point. Paul told them:

“Now it happened, as I journeyed and came near Damascus at about noon, suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ So I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ “And those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid, but they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me. So I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Arise and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all things which are appointed for you to do.’” (Acts 22:6-10, NKJV)

Paul argued that he had been ordained by God to do a specific work and he could not avoid his responsibilities. Paul added that he had even tried to relinquish his commission because of his previous involvement in persecuting Christians (Acts 22:19-20), but the Lord told him, “Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles” (Acts 22:21, NKJV). In spite of his fervent explanation of how he had been involuntary recruited into Jesus’ ministry, Paul’s audience was enraged by his admission that Jesus expected him to preach to the Gentiles and so they condemned him to death (Acts 22:22).

Fools for Christ

Paul’s identification of himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ in his salutation to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:1) was probably meant to clarify his role in preaching the gospel. Paul referred to himself as a masterbuilder (1 Corinthians 3:10), someone in a position of authority who was responsible for the success of a building project. The Greek word Paul used that is translated masterbuilder, architekton (ar-khee-tek’-tone) refers to the architect or designer of a building. Architekton is derived from the Greek words arche (ar-khay’) and tekton (tek’-tone) which together suggest that Paul was referring to himself as the initiator of a building project that would eventually be held accountable for the quality of his design. Paul said that he had “laid the foundation” (1 Corinthians 3:10) upon which others were expected to build. From a building project perspective, that meant that Paul’s work would determine the strength and longevity of the building that was erected.

As an apostle of Christ, Paul claimed to have special abilities that enabled him to do the work that God had given him, but Paul didn’t think of himself as someone special. He said, “For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honorable, but we are despised” (1 Corinthians 4:9-10). The Greek word translated fools is moros. The English word moron comes from the word moros and is used to describe a person with a mental age in adulthood of between 8 and 12 years old. Paul may have been using a play on words to signify the unworthiness he felt to have been chosen as Christ’s representative. The Greek word moros could be a derivative of the word muo which means to shut the mouth (G3466). One way to describe muo would be to say, no comment or I’m not allowed to talk about that. Paul may have felt that he had been entrusted with delivering a message that was so far above his pay grade that he was not even allowed to interpret the content, just repeat word for word what he had been told.

So that there wouldn’t be any misunderstanding about the prestige associated with his position, Paul described to the Corinthians his experience of preaching the gospel. He said, “Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place; and labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day” (1 Corinthians 4:11-13). The harsh picture Paul painted of his life as an apostle, was probably meant to discourage anyone that might be thinking about taking his ministry away from him. It’s likely that as Paul neared the end of his life and his strength began to wane, other leaders in the church were thinking about picking up where he left off when he was gone. Paul may have been concerned about the gap that would need to be filled and intentionally identified Timothy as his successor. He stated, “For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church.

Thessalonica

“Thessalonica was a bustling seaport city at the head of the Thermaic Gulf. It was an important communication and trade center, located at the junction of the great Egnatian Way and the  road leading north to the Danube. Its population numbered about 200,000, making it the largest city in Macedonia” (Thessalonica: The City and the Church, p. 1722). The Apostle Paul was only in Thessalonica briefly and left abruptly after some unbelieving Jews “took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason” (Acts 17:5), the man Paul and his companions were staying with. Paul’s accusers said of his evangelical ministry, “These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; whom Jason received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Cesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus” (Acts 17:6-7).

The primary topic Paul chose for his letters to the Thessalonians was the second coming of Christ, which may have been motivated by the intense persecution they were experiencing. Paul was explaining his abrupt departure and lengthy absence from Thessalonica when he said, “But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored the more abundantly to see your face with great desire. Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us” (Thessalonians 2:17-18). The Greek word he used that is translated hindered, egkopto indicated that Satan had put a roadblock in Paul’s way in order to keep him from returning to Thessalonica. Although Paul didn’t specifically state what the roadblock was, he may have been referring to the nonbelieving Jews that followed him when he left Thessalonica. Because they caused a riot in Berea (Acts 17:13), Paul had to leave immediately. Afterward, he sailed down to Athens, approximately 200 miles away.

As a result of his abrupt departure, Paul may have left the Thessalonians with the impression that he wasn’t concerned about their welfare. In his first letter to them, Paul went to great lengths to assure the Thessalonians that they were constantly on his mind and mentioned in his prayers (1 Thessalonians 1:2, 3:10). Paul described the Thessalonians as his crown of rejoicing (1 Thessalonians 2:19). What he probably meant by that was that the Thessalonians were a great tribute to the power of the Holy Spirit to save even the basest of sinners. The difference between the great multitude of Greeks that believed Paul’s gospel message (Acts 17:4) and the unbelieving Jews that followed him to Berea and caused a riot (Acts 17:13) was that their faith caused the Thessalonians to eagerly await the return of Christ. Paul praised the Thessalonians for their continued faith in spite of persecution (1 Thessalonians 1:6) and singled them out as model believers (1 Thessalonians 1:7). Prior to becoming Christians, the Thessalonians were idol worshippers. Paul used their afflictions as a testimony to the Thessalonians commitment to follow Christ and said of them, “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? For ye are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).

Gaining traction

Paul’s ministry began to gain traction after he arrived at Corinth. One of the factors that seemed to fuel the growth of his ministry was Paul’s conviction that he had been specifically called to preach the gospel to the non-Jewish populations around the world. A turning point occurred when Paul let go of his assumed obligation to preach to the Jews that were dispersed throughout the Roman Empire. It says in Acts 18:6, “And when they opposed themselves and blasphemed, he shook his raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles.”

While he was in Corinth, Paul received a prophetic message from Jesus. Luke tells us, “Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: for I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city. And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:9-11). Jesus’ command to not be afraid suggests that Paul was experiencing anxiety because of the antagonism he was getting from the Jews (Acts 17:5, 13). The bravery he demonstrated in continuing to preach the gospel reflected Paul’s belief that Jesus was with him because he was fulfilling the purpose of his ministry, to spread the gospel around the world.

Paul’s extended stay in Corinth probably enabled him to develop closer relationships and deeper feelings for the Corinthians than he did at any of the other churches he established. The two lengthy letters (1 Corinthians & 2 Corinthians) Paul wrote a few years after his first visit to Corinth show that he had a great deal of concern for the Corinthians spiritual well-being. The city of Corinth which was “perched like a one-eyed Titan astride the narrow isthmus connecting the Greek mainland with the Peloponnese, was one of the dominant commercial centers of the Hellenic world as early as the eighth century B.C. No city in Greece was more favorably situated for land and sea trade. With a high, strong citadel at its back, it lay between the Saronic Gulf and the Ionian Sea and ports of Lachaion and Cenchrea” (Corinth in the Time of Paul, p.1641).

The Lord’s selection of Corinth as Paul’s temporary home base was likely due to its ideal location and culture. “It has been estimated that in Paul’s day Corinth had a population of about 250,000 free persons, plus as many as 400,000 slaves. In a number of ways it was the chief city of Greece…it was a crossroads for travelers and traders” (Introduction to The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, p.1640). In many ways, the Corinthians were similar to believers today. “Most of the questions and problems that confronted the church at Corinth are still very much with us — problems like immaturity, instability, divisions, jealousy and envy, lawsuits, marital difficulties, sexual immorality and misuse of spiritual gifts.”

Turning the world upside down

The effect of Paul’s second missionary journey was that an upheaval began to occur that started breaking apart the foundation of the Roman Empire. The Jewish leaders were concerned about Paul’s ministry because it was undermining their authority and the traditions they had established that were meant to keep the Jews dependent on the priests and Levites that controlled their religious system. While Paul was in Thessalonica preaching the gospel, it says in Acts 17:5-7, “the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Cesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.”

The accusation brought against Paul may have been an extreme exaggeration, but there was probably some truth to the statement that he was turning the world upside down. What was going on was very threatening to both the Jewish and Roman leaders because people were realizing they didn’t have to follow the examples they were being given. Paul told people there was another way to live their lives that would result in happiness, joy, and peace. In the background of what was happening was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies that had predicted the fall of the Roman Empire. Daniel’s interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Daniel 2:37-44) outlined God’s plan of salvation and revealed that a series of world kingdoms would be established on Earth and eventually be destroyed when Jesus came and established his eternal kingdom. Referring to the image that Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream, Daniel said, “And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken. And whereas thou sawest iron mixt with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay. And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all the kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (Daniel 2:42-44).

Isaiah also talked about a time when the world would be turned upside down in reference to the judgment for universal sin (Isaiah 24). Many people may have been fearful of Paul’s message because they knew it was a sign that God’s judgment was coming and understood that there would be no way for them to escape eternal punishment for their sins except through belief in Jesus Christ. The bottom line was the Jews didn’t want to repent, they wanted things to continue as they had been for hundreds, even thousands of years. The special treatment they had received from God had caused the majority of the Jews’ hearts to become hardened beyond repair.