by Tom Wacaster
After Saul was converted, he immediately began preaching the gospel to his fellow Jews. From the beginning of his evangelistic endeavors, he was closely associated with the church at Antioch. There must have been a very special place in Paul's heart for these brethren, if for no other reason than the fact that they had a mutual interest in evangelism. That church became his "sponsoring" congregation, and as they say, "the rest is history." Paul would travel on three missionary journeys into Asia minor, Greece, and Macedonia. The souls saved as a result of their joint venture was a manifestation of the power of the gospel, and Paul's boundless energy as an Apostle of Christ. Those three journeys of Paul kept him away from home for years at a time. When opportunity availed itself, Paul would return to Antioch and give reports and encourage the brethren there. But his feet were never very long in any one place, and scarcely would he arrive home in Antioch before he would head off on another journey to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. Paul had a great love for the church, and would often send greetings to those whom he might know at the congregation to which he might be writing a letter. There are some great lessons in a study of Paul and his association with the brethren at Antioch and those various congregations he had established over the years.
First, Paul was always very generous with his approbation for others. Where possible he would speak an encouraging word. His association with Barnabas ("son of exhortation") must have influenced him for the better. Timothy, Titus, the disciples in Rome - all benefited from Paul's kind remarks. God expects us to speak words of kindness to others, to be encouragers, and build one another up in the faith.
Second, Paul was interested in the souls of men. He was willing to "become all things to all men that he might save some." It was his love for the souls of his fellow Jews, as well as his love for the lost Gentile world, that motivated him to make so many sacrifices for the cause of Christ. Someone once asked me, "What is your favorite mission work?" I enjoy going to Russia because I have opportunity to help train preachers and to watch the church in Syktyvkar grow and develop. I enjoy going to India because of the open hearts and the sheer number of souls we can reach in so short a time. I can teach more lost people in two weeks in India than I can in two decades here in America. Hearts are open and receptive; something that seems to be rare in our society. Perhaps Paul was willing to go to the Gentiles for this reason. The Gentiles were far more receptive to the preaching of the Gospel than the Jews; and while Paul never lost his love for his Jewish brethren and desired anxiously that his brethren in the flesh obey the gospel (Rom.10:1-3), he never let an opportunity to teach the Gentiles escape him.
Third, Paul was an opportunist. He knew that doors of opportunity were often open only for a short time. No doubt he followed his own inspired advice to "redeem the time" (Eph. :18-19), and stood ready to take advantage of any opportunity that might come his way. We, too, must redeem the time. We should be alert to opportunities to teach God's word to others.
Fourth, Paul was a great example to others of what is involved in genuine commitment to Christ. He was willing to be "spent out" for the good of the brethren at Corinth. He proclaimed that he had been "crucified with Christ" in his letter to the Galatian churches. He told the Philippians that he was "set for the defense of the Gospel" (Phil. 1:18-19). Paul did not say and then not do! He both preached and practiced the essence of Christian living. He was the epitome of Christian living and servanthood. He could, perhaps more than any other man, encourage others to "follow me as I have followed Christ" (1 Cor 11:1)
Finally, Paul was optimistic. There was never a spirit of pessimism, or a demonstration of negativity on his part. He believed that Philemon would do beyond what Paul desired. He was confident that the Thessalonians would continue to demonstrate their evangelistic zeal throughout Macedonia. His confidence in Timothy and Titus can be seen in the work he gave them to do. Paul could easily have given up in the face of all the trials and tribulations he faced, and he faced more than his fair share. But he never gave up, and we are the better for it. When you are down and out, discouraged and disappointed, and you think you are barely holding on by the skin of your teeth -- remember Paul.
I have no doubt that Paul had close friends in Antioch (Barnabas, to name only one). Being human, he must have felt a tug at his heart when he had to bid farewell to his close friends and allies in that congregation that has often been referred to as the "Jerusalem congregation of the Gentiles." But knowing that he could be instrumental in saving the souls of men by his separation from them, he was anxious to make the journey. Someone once asked me why I wanted to go on so many mission trips. I will assure you, it is not because I love the weather where I go; it is not because living conditions are superior to those at home; it is not because I want a vacation. It is none of these. When I bid a temporary farewell to my "Antioch" brethren, it is because I rejoice in knowing that God can, and will use me to preach the Gospel to a lost and dying world. That is why I go; and that is why we find Paul so often leaving Antioch.