Two weeks ago when we started this series we looked at the journey of Terah, who is the father of Abram (or Abraham). We talked about how Terah got stuck in his journey due to the loss of his son Haran. We talked about how sometimes we get stuck in our journey due to significant loss, struggle or pain. And sometimes to heal we actually have to go through it to get to the other side, much like how Terah actually went to the town of Haran, but instead of moving through it, he settled there.
Last week we had Lindsay share what God has taught her along her journey both before her experiences and also during her experiences the last two summers in Mexico.
This week we are looking at probably one of the main figures within the Bible and within the history of the church. This figure is the Apostle Paul. We are going to look at his journey and see what his experience in his missionary journeys can teach us about living a missional, Kingdom life today in the 21st century.
To start reflecting on the journey of the Apostle Paul I want to share a saying that many of us have probably heard sometime in our life. And at face value it might sound correct, but as I looked at it more deeply, I realized that it actually might not be totally accurate. Have you ever heard the saying, “the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.”? Part of it, I understand that God does in fact provide safety, but that doesn’t mean following Christ is safe. In fact, it is probably the exact opposite. I wonder if instead of saying “the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will” it should read, “the most dangerous place to be is in the center of God’s will.” Author and visionary Erwin McManus says: “The truth of the matter is that the center of God’s will is not a safe place but the most dangerous place in the world! To live outside of God’s will puts us in danger; to live in his will makes us dangerous.” Faith isn’t safe. Fulfilling your destiny isn’t a walk in the park. It will require thousands of deaths – learning to say no, making better choices, putting others’ needs before your own. In The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis, one of the children (Lucy) asked Mr. Beaver if Aslan the Lion is safe. “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” So this statement got me wondering about the journey of the Apostle Paul and what he would think if he heard it. After all his journey was not one of safety but of risk and danger. Let’s look together at how he explains his missionary journey and see what it might say to us today. We’ll be unpacking 2 Corinthians 11:21b-33 together. “Whatever anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the governor under King Aretas had the city of the Damascenes guarded in order to arrest me. But I was lowered in a basket from a window in the wall and slipped through his hands.” So the first thing we need to get straight is who is Paul continually referring to when he says, “they”. To answer that question we need to go back to verse 5 which says, “ I do not think I am in the least inferior to those “super-apostles.” Now anyone who says sarcasm never appears in Scripture never read this verse. This is Paul’s sarcastic way of referring to the false teachers who had infiltrated their way into the Corinthian church and they apparently were “preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached.” These “super apostles” were boasting about their pedigree if you will, their qualifications to be an apostle. So Paul bites and begins to lay out his qualifications as well. He begins to boast. But as so often is the case when it comes to the Kingdom of God, these qualifications, his resume so to speak, what he “boasts” about seems to be upside down. These false teachers had inflated the idea that apostle or minister was a title of exaltation and privilege. In fact they would probably have said being a minister or apostle meant the less you should have to work and the more others should serve you. Paul, in this text, is seeking to dispel that myth and reverses it by saying that ministers/apostles (we are all ministers/apostles) mean the more you work and serve others. In fact the Greek word for minister is diakonos which describes a humble servant, a menial worker. Like Jesus who came to serve and not to be served. Not a superstar, super apostle or a person of privilege. So Paul lays out his resume, his qualifications, his journey if you will, and as I said before, they are upside down Kingdom qualifications. They are qualifications that the super apostles would say that he was crazy. They would find nothing to boast about in hardships. They would probably believe that if they experienced hardships that, “God is not with me.” They could only glory in the image of power and the appearance of success. If they did not have that, they felt that God was against them. They thought this way because their thinking was worldly instead of like Jesus (Philippians 2:5-11) and by definition, Paul. The first thing Paul lays out from his journey is his lineage to the people of God. In verse 22 he says, “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I.” The claim implied here on the part of the false apostles indicate that they were Jews who felt superior to Gentile Christians. Meaning that they were Judaizers, who wish to impose distinctive Jewish practices on Gentile converts. In verses 23-27, Paul lays out, in opposition to the “super apostles” what his missional Kingdom life has meant. To be an apostle meant for him (it doesn’t necessarily mean that for us to be an apostle that we will have to go through the same things and that if we don’t we aren’t living a missional Kingdom life) that he worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, exposed to death, beaten by the Jews, beaten by the Romans, shipwrecked, spent time in the open sea, and in danger from his own countrymen, and in danger in so many other ways. But probably what was more burdensome, more heavy on his heart, wasn’t the physical things he had to go through that I just mentioned, but the burden of anxiety about the spiritual welfare of the churches that he had founded. Christian faith, for Paul and for us, doesn’t take away our burdens (if anyone tells you it does, don’t believe them) it just changes their nature. We see his Pastoral and missionary heart in verses 28-29 when we read, “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?” To put it succinctly, Paul simply lived a hard life as a missionary, traveling and preaching the gospel. His journey wasn’t one of ease, status, position and power. It was one of doing what Jesus said all followers of Jesus should do, Paul truly lived out the words of Luke 9:23, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
What might we learn about our journeys from the journey of Paul? What does his missional “resume” say to each of us living in the 21st century? And how might the missional journey of Paul resonate or spur our community onto a communal missional journey? Those are some of the questions that we are going to unpack together.
1. What are your thoughts, comments, insights, questions, push back, etc.. regarding the Scriptures and the message? 2. What are your thoughts regarding the statement, “The safest place to be is in the center of God’s will”? Do you agree or disagree? Why? When have you experienced this idea of being in the center of God’s will? Has it been in a place of “safety” or in a place of “risk”? 3. Paul had a burden to the churches that he had planted, a call that he lived out. To whom is God placing a burden on your heart for? Or another way to put it, who might you be sent to? 4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what are we going to do about it?