The rock star evangelist strolls to the podium with his million-dollar smile and thousand-dollar suit to assure us that God wants us to be rich like him. He packs huge auditoriums and sells books by the truckload. His private jet awaits to fly him off to his new vacation home. Life is good. He is surely a modern-day Paul…or is he?
He was known as Saul when he is introduced. He is aggressively hostile to the disciples and dedicated to snuffing out this heretical movement. On a journey to do just that, he was flattened by the floor. It was one intense encounter, and this dedicated Pharisee was blinded into submission. He had been selected by God for a special mission. This is the original Paul, and his was hardly a jet-set life.
The long knives came out immediately. Conspiracies to rid the world of this turn-coat traitor were formed wherever he went. He escaped in a basket under the cloak of darkness, suffered stonings, beatings and ship wrecks. His history is filled with drama as he flees from one threat to another until he is finally captured and confined. He was assigned the task of taking the message to the Gentiles, and that infuriated the establishment to the point of bloodshed. He perpetually lived under a cloud of death threats.
Much of his story is unveiled in his journey to Rome. He wanted to visit and had planned to do so (Romans 1:13), but it was hardly expected to be as a prisoner. In His evangelistic career he ran into failures. The Lord both sent him and hindered him. He was commissioned by the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:2), and stopped by that same Spirit (Acts 16:6). His plans flopped in order to get him into God’s will. That is the story of his life. What about ours? Do we see our failures as part of God’s strategy to redirect us?
He was progressing up the Jewish ranks in impressive style when the Lord interrupted with a different assignment that would turn all of his associates against him. From hero to fugitive in one eye-opening episode. He lost his prestige and gained a nation of enemies in that moment. He had been energetic in his persecution of the church, energetically wrong and the Lord turned him into an example (1 Timothy 12-17). God is good, but we must never mistake our notions of Him for what that really means.
Paul was His hand-picked man for a specific mission, and it turned his world upside down. It did not take him into a life of ease but of hardships. He suffered because he was obedient. Fancy accommodations were never his. Chains were. Confinement was. Luxury was not. Yet, he did not waver along his journey. He learned the secret to contentment in every situation (Philippians 4:12). Learning that really is our best life now.