Much has been written about the journeys of Saint Paul. From a historical study of his travels to the Biblical significance of his writings. There of course have been numerous books, commentaries and homilies on his inspirational words both as they relate to us today as well as how they inspire us when the historical information is compared side by side to the Epistles. But in this modern day of missionary work, evangelizing and “getting the Word out”, it seemed a good idea to talk about the unique missionary style of St Paul. But to do that, we must first know the man that was Saul.
The Man Before the Legend
As is well known, Saul was a Hebrew. But not just any Hebrew, but a well educated scholar of the Torah. He knew it backwards and forwards and was even being considered worthy of being a Pharisee. Paul, like the apostles, was Jewish, was of the Chosen people to spread the word of God and carry the traditions passed down by Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and of course, Moses.
Saul was also from Tarsus, a region under Roman rule. Thus he was born a Roman citizen. This may seem like no big deal today, but back then the Roman Empire was feared – far more than the power of the then unknown Christ. So as St Paul roamed the known world, he was often protected from instant death by the mere fact that he was a Roman citizen. Though St Paul was happy to die a martyr for Christ, doing so early on would have robbed the world of St Paul’s 14 epistles.
Equally as important as the first two aspects was the fact that Saul was a zealot. He loved his faith. He knew it fully, and knew it to be right without question. His knowledge and his zealousness for his faith are what drove him to hunt down and kill the new Christians. To him, these followers of Christ were heretics, worthy of death. So it was not that Saul was a murdering monster or a close-minded evil doer, he was merely defending his faith from heresy.
Saul was not a witness to the person of Jesus Christ as was the apostles who all knew Him before his resurrection. To Saul, Jesus Christ was revealed. And in this blinding revelation was Saul enlightened. Jesus Christ did not wipe out everything Saul knew and had studied for years, he merely showed Saul that he was indeed 100% correct in everything he had been taught and believed. Jesus merely expanded Saul’s understanding. In the time Saul was blinded, Jesus walked Saul through every prophecy, every story and every aspect of the Torah (the Old Testament) to show how it pointed to Christ. As Saul recounted every verse, every chapter and every book he saw Christ, Christ, Christ, Christ….everything pointed to the coming of Christ. Thus his blindness was lifted and he knew that everything he had been taught was right and that Jesus Christ was the accumulation of what he learned.
Saul was not converted, he was enlightened. To convert is to force some one to give up everything they know to accept something completely different. This was not the case with Saul. Jesus took all he had ever known and merely expanded Saul’s understanding of that knowledge. There was nothing to convert, merely and enlightenment or expansion of what was already known. And thus Saul, who was now St Paul, was fully zealous for Christ.
St Paul and Jonah
St Paul was so at peace with his understanding, he did not need to force the understanding of Christ on others. Paul knew, like himself, that enlightenment comes from the “light” of Christ, not the force of men. And only Christ knows the heart of men.
Jonah so resisted the Will of God, because Jonah knew that God had already forgiven the Ninevites when he called on Jonah to evangelize to them. Jonah did not think it fair that they had lived a life of such debauchery and sin that they should be forgiven. Conversely, had Jonah decided on his own that the Nineveh people needed to repent their ways he would have met with resistance. Imagine, as a righteous man, he would have packed up his things, walked to Nineveh and stood on a corner (like John the Baptist) and yelled “Repent!” For a while, he would have listeners, even followers, but it would be short-lived and Jonah’s efforts to convert them would have failed. God knew the hearts of Nineveh, that the people were ready for repentance.
We Enlighten not Convert
To try an convert somebody is to put in great effort and be met with equally strong resistance. This was not St Paul’s style at all. Every where St Paul went he found signs of worship, holiness and righteous behavior. He merely expanded their understanding of to whom or to what they were worshipping to. In Athens he found a statue dedicated to the unknown god. Here he merely expanded their understanding so that they may know who the unknown God truly was.
St Paul also practiced what he preached. He led by example. His enlightenment was not merely in his words and writings, but also in his actions. And here is the essence of this article: we are not blessed with an orthodox understanding so that we may prance around with pride claiming we are right and everyone else is wrong. We live the life we have been taught so that when God calls upon us to enlighten some one, it will be by His Will not ours. All too often pride will commandeer our efforts and thus we fall. If in the course of your sharing with someone you come across great resistance, do as St Paul did: smile and say “For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly Not!”(1)
In other words, just because they do not believe it to be true, does not make it not true. The ever-loving existence of Jesus Christ does not exist because we believe it to exist for we did not create Him. We exist today because of His Love. Faith is rooted in this knowledge.
Accept the resistance of the listener, thank them for their time and move on. For in this instance will your confidence in your faith speak even louder than your words. For he who lacks confidence in his faith, seeks the acceptance of others to validate their need to be right.
And All Glory Be To God.