I ended my last post by describing a Christian by being completely fearless, continually cheerful, and constantly in trouble.
I can’t think of anything that would describe the Apostle Paul better. He was—by faith, not by nature—completely fearless, continually cheerful, and certainly constantly in trouble. That should be an inherent quality of every Christian life. Christianity is a very dangerous faith. If you don’t think so, you aren’t living it. We are followers of someone who said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace but a sword.” By that seemingly paradoxical means, he plans to heal the warring of earth, to repair the brokenness of mankind, and to join men into one great body, sharing life together.
When Paul came to Ephesus he found the city locked in pagan superstition, the people miserable and depraved, practicing black magic, voodoo, and other occult arts, ridden by fear, by demonism, by darkness, the sordid powers of evil entrenched in a stronghold over the city, holding it in bondage. Paul attacked that stronghold with the most powerful weapons ever known—the weapons of Truth, of Love, of Righteous behavior, and of Faith expressed in prayer. Almost singlehandedly at first, before the little band of Christians gathered around him began to swell and to spread all through the province of Asia, he began to attack this formidable stronghold. And within two years it was demolished.
The result was that they had a big bonfire in Ephesus, where all the people brought their books on black magic and their astrological charts and horoscopes and Ouija boards and burned them in a public square in the center of the city. It looked as if Paul’s work there was over, as if the Marines had landed and the situation were well in hand. So the apostle evidently began to think of moving on:
“Now after all these things had taken place, Paul resolved to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. He said, ‘After I have been there, I must also see Rome.’ So after sending two of his assistants, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, he himself stayed on for a while in the province of Asia” —Acts 19:21-22
There seems to be at least three things that are weighing on Paul’s heart. First there was care for the new Christians who had come to Christ in Macedonia and Greece—in Thessalonica and Beroea and Philippi, in Athens and Corinth. He wanted to impart more Truth to them because he knew, far better than we do, that beginning the Christian life isn’t enough; you must learn how to live it in the power of the Holy Spirit. If you begin the Christian life but don’t learn how to live it, you will still have heaven as your home and God as your Father, and possibly some joy and peace in your heart, but you will be ineffective as a Christian and your life will still reflect bondage to sin and the reign of evil, just as much as it did before you became a Christian. So he needed to teach them the Truth which would set them free and make them vital, growing, attractive Christians.
He also had an intense desire to penetrate to the very center of the Roman Empire and culture with the claims of Christ, to plant the gospel in the fullness of its power in the very capital, in Rome itself. “After I’ve been to Jerusalem,” he said, “I must see Rome.” Dr. G. Campbell Morgan says, “That’s not the ‘must’ of the tourist; that’s the ‘must’ of the missionary.” He wanted to help the Christians who were already there and instruct them. Interestingly, it’s on the very journey that he is just about to start, when he comes to Corinth, he takes the time to write his great epistle to these Roman Christians, in order to help them even though he is hindered from getting there. But he also determines that at last he will come to Rome.
The third thing is the concern and desire in his heart to help the famine-stricken saints of the church at Jerusalem. Already a great famine had descended on the land of Judea. The Christians in Jerusalem were hungry, and Paul wanted to help them. So he sent Timothy and Erastus into Macedonia. Here we aren’t told, but from one of Paul’s letters we learn why: It was to tell the churches there about the need of the Christians in Jerusalem, and to collect an offering for them in advance, so that, when the apostle came, he could send it or take it to Jerusalem himself. You will find this in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:
“With regard to the collection for the saints, please follow the directions that I gave to the churches of Galatia: On the first day of the week, each of you should set aside some income and save it to the extent that God has blessed you, so that a collection will not have to be made when I come. Then, when I arrive, I will send those whom you approve with letters of explanation to carry your gift to Jerusalem. And if it seems advisable that I should go also, they will go with me” —I Corinthians 16:1-4
(I send out messages like this to about 70 people each morning. If you are interested, let me know. However, you can also find these messages at: Thought For The Day)