Have this letter read to all: Part 11

Paul’s letters showcased his passion for reaching out to the lost with the gospel message.

Daniel N. Balge

How can you measure someone’s eagerness to share the gospel? There is no thermometer for that passion. No yardstick exists for that zeal. No scale can put pounds and ounces to that urge to tell the story of God’s grace in Jesus.

REACHING THE JEWS

But you can gauge to some degree the depth of the desire to share the gospel from circumstantial evidence and personal testimony. Consider Paul’s comments in his letters to the churches. In his second letter to the Corinthian Christians (11:23-33) he left a summary of what he had endured to share the gospel, everything from beatings to bandits to false brothers to an escape by basket over the Damascene city wall. Perhaps things he experienced in Macedonia—“conflicts on the outside, fears within” (2 Corinthians 7:5)—made this list. “Fears within” might surprise us, but they were not unique to Macedonia. At Corinth too Paul fought through “weakness and fear and . . . much trembling” to proclaim the good news. Such are the measures of Paul’s passion for others to know Jesus.

And consider one more. It comes as a shock. In his letter to the Romans Paul swears on oath that “I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel” (9:3,4). In other words, if it were possible and if it would mean that his fellow Jews, as a people, would accept Jesus as the Christ, Paul would be willing to be damned for eternity.

This is not some throwaway remark, no mere exaggeration for effect. Paul knew heaven; Jesus had given him a glimpse (2 Corinthians 12:2-4). Paul knew hell; God’s Spirit pushed Paul’s pen to describe hell as being “punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes” (2 Thessalonians 1:9,10). His passion for souls grew from what Jesus meant for his own soul.

REACHING THE GENTILES

Nor was his zeal only for his fellow Jews. In fact, the Lord called him to focus on the Gentiles (Galatians 2:7,8). Writing to the Ephesian Christians, Paul celebrates God’s grace that gave him the privilege. “Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (3:8). His joy in ministry to other cultures explains in part why he was so eager to go to Rome. He felt “obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome” (Romans 1:14,15).

What made Paul so eager? He remembered what he had been before Jesus’ own voice called him to faith and service (Acts 9:3-6). Near the end of his life he rejoiced in what he had become—Christ’s servant—despite what he had been—a blaspheming, persecuting, violent man. His message and his motivation are the same: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15).

So say we with Paul, “Jesus lived and died and rose for all. For me too.” May God’s Spirit make us eager to tell others, “For you too.”

Contributing editor Daniel Balge, professor at Martin Luther College, New Ulm, Minnesota, is a member at St. Paul, New Ulm.

This is the eleventh article in a 12-part series examining how the written word in Paul’s epistles strengthens early and present-day Christians.

 

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Author: Daniel N. Balge
Volume 101, Number 9
Issue: September 2014

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