D’oh!

3 12 2011

I was right.  I was wrong about Paul.

Reading a bit more of his story, I see that he has a clear strategy.  He travels around a lot, and in each place he comes to he heads straight for the local synagogue.  (I guess that’s not surprising given that he’s a Jew.)

His strategy is to connect with the local Jewish communities, but to lead them further in their understanding about the God they believe in. He gets a fair hearing to start with, but then things turn nasty.  Some believe his message – that Jesus is the promised Messiah (Acts 17:3) – and others regard this as blasphemy.  Death threats, violent attacks and imprisonment are par for the course, but this doesn’t faze Paul, and doesn’t deflect him from his strategy.

What keeps him going?

I think it goes back to his definitive personal experience of God.  Paul has gone from persecutor to evangelist and in the transition has a clear belief the he is designated as the “apostle to the Gentiles.”  (Acts 9:15) So why does he persist with his strategy of presenting the message to Jews?  It’s a guess, but I think he is passionate about giving them every opportunity, trying to convince them of the truth of Jesus’ claims, pointing them to a new experience of God just like  he has had.

But he won’t push people where they don’t want to go.  When the Jews won’t listen, he turns to the Gentiles. (See for example Acts 13:46)

The Old Testament references and Jewish traditions don’t mean anything to them, so Paul has a different tack.  He starts with something that they can identify with – in Athens, it’s comment on their statues, quotations from their poets, adopting their style of communication – but again he doesn’t leave people where they are.  His strategy is always to encourage life change.

Tom Wright, in his book on Acts, expresses it this way –

“It is not the case that God simply ‘accepts us as we are’.  He invites us as we are; but responding to that invitation always involves the complete transformation which is acted out in repentance, forgiveness, baptism and receiving the spirit.”

Want to check out Paul’s strategy for yourself?  Here are some pointers:

Acts 13 – Paul and Barnabas set off on their first journey and go to the synagogues in Cyprus and Pisidian Antioch.  It’s clear from 14:1 and 17:1-2 that this is their usual practice and they follow it in Iconium and Thessalonica, Berea (17:10), Athens (17:17) and Ephesus (18:19, 19:8). 

When the Jews reject the message, they turn to the Gentiles – 13:46, 14:27, 18:6, 19:9-10.

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