Paul is one of the greatest missionaries of the early church and he is accredited with writing half of the books of the New Testament. His influence is all over the early church and his story of redemption is so well known it’s still taught in Sunday School to this day. What made him so great though? As he would (and often does) tell us, himself, it’s not him but Jesus Christ within him. Everything he did pointed to the Savior. His example is one we can truly imitate.
The Great Commission
Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.Matthew 28:19 CSB
One of the last known commands Jesus spoke to us was the calling that is placed on every believer: To go into all nations and make them disciples. What does that even mean? Contrary to historical belief, it does not mean go into all nations and conquer them, forcing them to convert to this religion.
Any time God sent His people to live somewhere, He told them to thrive in that land. I think the most well known verse of this is Jeremiah 29:4-7. Within this, He instructs His people to “Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their produce. Find wives for your sons and give your daughters to men in marriage. Multiply there; do not decrease. Pursue the well-being of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on its behalf, for when it thrives, you will thrive.”
While we are not being deported as the Israelites were back then, God still sends us to live in places. Sometimes it’s the city we were born in, other times He completely uproots us. The message, however, is still the same. Wherever we are, we are called to live in that city in a way that leads people to revelation of, and salvation in, Jesus Christ.
That’s exactly what Paul did.
After his conversion, Paul made three missionary journeys spanning from Jerusalem all the way to Macedonia then he made one final trip from Jerusalem to Rome. Though it isn’t considered a missionary journey, Paul still ministered and lived the gospel of Jesus Christ. Within those first missionary journeys, Paul spent a lot of time in synagogues and various homes preaching salvation through Jesus Christ, but that wasn’t all that he did.
“After this, he [Paul] left Athens and went to Corinth, where he found a Jew named Aquila […] and since they were of the same occupation, tentmakers by trade, he stayed with them and worked.Acts 18:1-3 CSB
Paul had a trade outside of preaching the Word of God. In his farewell address to the leaders of Ephesian church, he told them, “You yourselves know that I worked with my own hands to support myself and those who are with me. In every way I’ve shown you that it is necessary to help the weak by laboring like this and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, because He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”(Acts 20:34-35, CSB)
Throughout those missionary journeys, Paul didn’t just sit on his backside preaching at people day after day. He worked. He labored. He had a trade and he worked in that trade, using it as he could to further the Gospel. He worked, he supported himself and those who were with him (who also worked), and then he shared the fruit of his labor with the community around him.
I have no doubt that as he worked, he still spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Perhaps people came to hear him and he spoke without even stepping away from what he was doing. Perhaps his craftsmanship and diligence opened doors of conversation with those he worked for. It wasn’t just his words that he taught people by. His actions also spoke of Jesus and His love for all of mankind.
We are not called to merely speak the Gospel fo Jesus Christ. We are also called to actively care for those who need it. We are called to go into all nations, dwelling in the place we are called to, and by our words and way of life to lead people to Jesus Christ. That means we have to be actively pursuing relationship within the community around us, and not just the community of believers.
The Bible is littered references to the city leaders who would gather together at the gates. They were upstanding men, sometimes women, who settled the matters of the city and the issues that arose between the people dwelling there. Everyone knew who they were. They were honored within the community, exhibiting wisdom and justice.
It is true, such places are not as common, at least not in the place I live. The good news is that we don’t have to gather at the gates to make a difference. We don’t have to hold positions of political office to make a difference. We just have to find where we’re needed.
God’s word is eternal. That means that what He instructed the Israelites about dwelling in the place He deported them to still applies to us. That means that everything He instructed through His disciples about caring for people still applies to us today. We have a duty to the community of believers we are a part of, but we also have a duty to the community of the city in which we live.
You might be wondering what you have to offer the community around you. Trust me, I am right there with you. I am a stay at home mom whose best skill is writing. I honestly don’t see how that would be beneficial to those in need in my community, but you know what? God knows what we’re capable of. He knows what’s on and in our hearts, and He knows all of our talents. He knows where we are needed.
Like everything else, if we ask Him, He will show us. We just have to be willing to do our part. We have to be willing to go where He sends us and to do the things He instructs us to do. Maybe it’s working at a food bank or getting a few angels off of those trees at Christmas. Maybe it’s organizing a blanket drive or school supply drive. Maybe it’s finding someone who is struggling to make ends meet and helping them out a little. I don’t know. But God does.
Like Paul, we need to be active in our community. Laboring honestly and dedicating that labor as for the Lord. (Col. 3:23) Be an example of loving people no matter their affiliation, showing them the grace, mercy, and loving-kindness that Jesus has first shown us. Be more than words.