If you ever needed an example of what it looks like to maintain Christian commitment and focus, Paul certainly fits the bill. In the face of adversity, Paul said, “but none of these things move me” (Acts 20:24a). More on that later. For now, think about how often things happen that make you second-guess your commitment. Think about times when you have felt like throwing your hands in the air and saying, “that’s enough, I quit!” Have you been there? Paul certainly had, but he was not willing to surrender to potential discouragements. Past, present, or future, Paul was not moved from his Christian foundation. It will do us good to reflect on what that looked like in Paul’s life.
Paul’s past was not one that he celebrated. Some would consider Paul’s past accomplishments worthy of commendation. On the contrary, Paul saw it as a negative. When his accomplishments in the Jewish religion were weighed in the balance with his becoming a Christian, the former things were as rubbish (Phil. 3:8). His former life involved beliefs and actions for which a person could rightly feel ashamed and unworthy of forgiveness. Paul did many things contrary to the cause of Christ and was responsible for injuring Christians. He consented to the murder of Stephen (Acts 8), He made havoc of the church and made murderous threats against Christians (Acts 9), and he forced Christians to blaspheme the Lord (Acts 26). With that kind of past, how could he even move on as if that did not happen? Paul was determined to allow the grace and mercy of God to address his past. A history riddled with that kind of regrettable behavior is enough to defeat anyone, but Paul was not going to let that move Him away from the forgiveness that Christ offers to all, regardless of their past (Hebrews 8:12 – stop and read it).
Paul’s present was no easy street. After his conversion, his heart was on fire with the force of a rocket blast to preach the Gospel to the lost (2 Cor. 5:14; Rom. 1:16-17). Yet throughout his ministry, he faced adversity and disappointments. In 2 Corinthians 11:23- 28, he recounts imprisonments, beatings, and a variety of other dangers that would have been enough to send most Christians retreating back into the world to avoid the persecution. Paul did not allow viciousness, cowardice, and unfaithfulness on the part of some to weaken his resolve. Paul, much like Joshua, was determined to serve the Lord, regardless of what other’s chose to do (Josh. 24:15). He confronted a fellow apostle who was embracing error (Gal. 2:11). He challenged elders who were apparently on the threshold of unfaithfulness (Acts 20:30). Similar disappointments have been plenty enough to send preachers back into secular work. I am both impressed with and encouraged by Paul because he embraced an attitude of faithful commitment that would not allow him to be moved from his faithfulness, regardless.
Paul’s future looked very grim. In Acts 20, Paul recounts that the Holy Spirit had made it clear in every city that chains awaited Paul in Jerusalem. We know now that Paul was within a few years of the end of his life. As Paul stood before those elders from Ephesus and appealed to them for their faithful commitment to Christ and His church, Paul was peering into his future which was being made clear by divine revelation. I can only imagine the emotion. Did he have intrusive thoughts about the benefits of laying down his cause to preserve his life and ease his hurt? Most of us would have, and many have accepted that alternative. Yet, the power in Paul’s example is that he said, “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy…” What a wonderful personal mission statement. Perhaps, if we would adopt the same motto and learn to say that, we will be more inclined to live it when people disappoint and being a Christian gets difficult.