The Ministry of Paul the Apostle




Alex Tang



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The Ministry of Paul the Apostle

by Dr Alex Tang

“What are the ministry methods of Paul?”


1.                   Paul in Acts 18: 23 - 26:32

1.1               Paul’s Third Missionary Tour, c. AD 53-58

(1)                 Paul visits churches in Galatia and Phrygia (Acts 18:23)

(2)                 Paul goes to Ephesus (Acts 19:1)

(3)                 Paul at Ephesus about three years; writes 1 Corinthians. Craftsmen riot; he leaves for Macedonia (Acts 19:1)

v      The church in Ephesus was so strong that it survived for centuries after the Turkish conquest, and disappeared only with the wholesale exchange of Greeks and Turkish populations, which followed the Graeco-Turkish war of 1923.

v      synagogue for three months; then lecture hall of Tyrannus. Tyrannos mean tyrant or despot. One wonders whether this is a name his parents gave him or his pupils! The text said Paul lectured daily for 2 years, Bezan text added from 11am to 4pm.

v      power encounters; son of Sceva; burning of scrolls.

v      There is no evidence that Paul spoke disparagingly in public about he great goddess, Artemis; in fact the town clerk absolved them from such an offence. Paul was so successful in making converts that many abandoned the worship of Artemis. That naturally caused concern to those whose livelihood depended on her worship, like the guild of silversmiths.

                        Acts 19:23-41

(4)                 In Macedonia Paul writes 2 Corinthians

This was another dark period in Paul’s life. Referring to it in 2 Cor.7:5

5 For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within.  Corinth appeared to be in revolt to him. Galatia was falling away to ‘another gospel’. He had narrowly escaped with his life from an enraged mob in Ephesus. He was also very sick. 2 Cor.1:8,9

8 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.  9 Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.  This crisis left a deep mark on Paul’s spiritual history.

(5)                 Paul goes to Greece, perhaps via Illyricum and Nicopolis, perhaps directly (Acts 20:2)

(6)                 While at Corinth Paul writes Romans.

(7)                 After three months in Greece, Paul sets out for Jerusalem via Macedonia (Acts 20:3)

(8)                 Eutychus restored to life at Troas (Acts 20:6-12)

(9)                 Paul’s farewell at Miletus to the elders of Ephesus (Acts 20:17-38)

(10)             Paul reembarks for Syria (Acts 21:1-2)

(11)             Paul lands at Tyre, stops at Ptolemies and Caesarea, then arrives in Jerusalem (Acts 21:3-17)


1.2          Paul’s Arrest and Hearings at Jerusalem c. AD 58-60

This was the beginning of the five trails, Paul has to endure. First was before a Jewish crowd at the north west corner of the temple area (22:1ff), second before the supreme Jewish Council in Jerusalem (23:1ff), the third and fourth before Felix and Festus in Caesarea (24:1ff; 25:1ff) and the fifth, also in Caesarea before King Herod Aggrippa II (26:1ff).

(1)                 On arrival at Jerusalem Paul sponsors vows of four others (Acts 21:17-26)

(2)                 Stirred by  Asiatic Jews, a mob attacks Paul (Acts 21:27-31)

(3)                 Rescued by soldiers, Paul speaks from the castle stairs (Acts 21:32-22:23)

(4)                 Paul is saved from scourging because of Roman citizenship (Acts 22:24-29)

(5)                 Paul is taken before the council, rescued by the soldiers, and returned to the tower (Acts 22:30-23:10)

(6)                 Paul is sent to Felix at Caesarea for safety (Acts 23:11-35)

Paul was kept in Herod’s praetorium for two years until Felix was replaced by governor by Festus. Then fearing that Festus' inexperience might expose him to his enemies in Jerusalem, he exercised his privilege as a Roman citizen and appealed to have his case transferred to Rome. It was at the eve of his being sent to Rome that Paul had the opportunity of giving an account of his conversion and ministry before Herod Agrippa the younger.

2.                   Paul’s ministry methods

          In little more than 10 years, Paul established the Church in 4 provinces of the Empire, Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia and Asia. Before AD 47 there were no churches in these provinces; in AD 57 Paul could speak as if his work has been done and was planning to go further afield. There is no evidence that Paul planned his missionary journeys in details. But this is not to say Paul did not have a mission and a plan. He did have some plans but was open to  the leading of the Holy Spirit.

2.1               Strategic centres

2.1.1          Both Luke and Paul referred consistently to provinces rather than cities. Thus Paul was forbidden to preach the word in Asia (Acts 16:6), he was called from Troas not to Philippi or to Thessalonica but to Macedonia. In Paul’s view, the unit was the province rather than the city.

2.1.2          Paul’s work was confined within the limits of the Roman administration. In preaching in south Galatia, Paul was preaching in the Roman province next to his native province of Cilicia. Between these two cities lay the territory of Lycaonia Antiochi, and across this territory Paul must have passed when he journeyed from Tarsus to Lystra and Iconium. Yet we were never told that he made any attempt to preach in that area.

In areas of Roman administration, Paul knew that he could obtain for himself and his people the security afforded by a strong government. As a Roman citizen, he knew that as a last resort, he could expect and receive protection from his fanatical countrymen. In these Roman provinces, there is religious tolerance, peace and security of travel. In Corinth, Gallio, proconsul of Achaia, was impartial and refuse to hear the case and in Ephesus, the city clerk was reasonable and fair.

The Roman Empire also gave Paul the groundwork for the gospel. The idea of a world-wide empire, the idea of the common citizenship of men of many races in that one empire, the strong authority of one law, the one peace, the breaking down of national exclusiveness, all these things prepared men’s mind to receive Paul’s teaching of the Kingdom of God and of the common citizenship of all Christians in it.

2.1.3          Paul chose provinces so that he can establish centres of Christian life in two or three important places from which knowledge can spread to the surrounding country. Paul did not intend to preach in every place himself.

The centres where Paul established churches were all centres of Greek civilisation. Even in Lystra, half the inscriptions, which have been discovered, are Greek while the other half are Latin. Everywhere Roman government went hand in hand with Greek education.  The education provided Paul with his medium of communication. There is no evidence that Paul translated the Scriptures into the local dialects of Asia Minor. Paul preached in Greek, wrote in Greek and expected his converts to read the Scriptures in Greek. For Paul, one language is as important as one government.

The influence of Greek civilisation was an influence, which tended to the spread of education, and Christianity from the first was a religion of education. The disciples were learners.

The centres that Paul chose were centres of Jewish influence. Under the Roman government, the Jews enjoyed many privileges. Their religion was recognised. They had liberty to administer their own laws. They were not obligated to share in the worship of the Emperor and they were exempt from military service. Thus Paul entered these centres as member of a powerful and highly privileged group. He can enter and preach in any synagogue.

The centres that Paul chose were also centres of the world’s commerce. They were cities that occupied an important place as leaders of the provinces. They were the trendsetters, foremost in any new fashion or policy.


From  Antioch to Corinth to Ephesus to Rome to Spain


2.2               Preaching the Gospel

Of  Paul’s preaching we have three examples in Acts, the sermon at Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:16-41), the speech at Lystra (Acts 14:15-17) and the speech at Athens (Acts 17:22-31). We also have five incidental references to its substance: a description given by the soothsaying girl at Philippi (Acts 16:17), a summary of his teaching in the synagogue at Thessalonica (Acts 17:2,3), a note of the points which struck the Athenians in the Agora as strange (Acts 17:18), an assertion with reference to its tone and character made by the Town Clerk at Ephesus (Acts 19:37) and a reiteration of his last address to the Ephesians elders (Acts 20:21). Besides this, we have an account of his preaching at Corinth given by Paul himself (1 Cor 2:2).

2.2.1          Preaching in the synagogue

There are three parts by dramatic appeals to the attention of his hearers. In the first part, Paul built on the history of the Jewish race and showed that the Gospel is not is not casting away the way of things familiar but that the whole history of Israel is to prepare for the coming of the Messiah.

In the second part, Paul stated the facts of  the coming and rejection of Jesus and his subsequent crucifixion. He then stated that the proof that Jesus is this Messiah is the Resurrection, witnessed by the apostles, foretold by the prophets and the fulfilment of the promise.

In the third part, Paul proclaimed his message of pardon to all whom will receive it and gave solemn warning to those who rejected it.

2.2.2          Preaching to the Gentiles

Paul respected his listeners. He began at where they are. He did not insult their beliefs. He did not do so at Lystra and at Athens. The Town Clerk in Ephesus gave witness that Paul did not blaspheme the goddess of that city.

Basically, what he said was

Ø       There is one living and true God.

Ø       Idolatry is sinful and must be forsaken

Ø       The wrath of God is ready to be revealed against the heathen for their impurity and against the Jews for their rejection of Christ and their opposition to the gospel

Ø       The judgement will come suddenly and unexpectedly

Ø       Jesus the Son of God, died and was raised from the dead, is the Saviour from the wrath of God.

Ø       The Kingdom of Jesus is now set up and all are invited to enter it.

Ø       Those who believed and turn to God are now expecting the coming of the Saviour who will return from heaven to receive them.

Ø       Meanwhile their life must be pure and watchful.

Ø       To that end God has given them His Holy Spirit.

2.3               Body Life- Fellowship of the Church

2.3.1          Those who responded to the gospel invitation were immediately brought into association with other persons of life faith.

According to Paul, the church fills the role of Christ’s body in the world (1 Cor.12:27). Christ was the head (Eph. 1:22; Col. 1:18; 2:19) with the redeemed functioning as members of the body (Rom.12:5; 1 Cor.12:20)

It was like a loving family. God was their Father (Rom.4:11; Gal.3: 26), and as His sons and daughters (2 Cor.6:18; Gal 3:26), they shared equally the inheritance of Christ (Rom.8:17). This love among themselves becomes the seal of their witness to the world.

2.3.2          Look for people with willing hearts and a teachable spirit.

In each place that he visited, Paul goes first to the synagogue to explain to persons of like religious background that Jesus is Christ. (Acts 13:5,14, 42-43; 14:1; 17:1-2, 10,17; 18:4,7,19,26; 19:8;cf 22:19).

At Philippi, where there was no synagogue, he began by a riverside where Jewish worshippers would come to pray (Acts 16:13-14). This is not to imply that Jewish reception is always favourable. Nevertheless there were always some yearning hearts waiting for the hope of Israel, and on hearing the message will recognises Christ as the object of their search.

Only after this natural door were closed that Paul turned to the Gentiles. Even then, it was usually Hellenists who had some prior contact with Jewish Scriptures who were first to believe (Acts 13:46-48)

It is interesting to note that there among the receptive, there are some individuals of unusual influence. There were some exceptional leaders drawn from the ranks.

Whatever the apparent gifts and abilities of people, we must look for those who want to move for Christ. Life is too short to expend excessive time and energy on apathetic people.

2.3.3          Personal relationships    In the church    Travelling together

No less than seven disciples were travelling with Paul on his trip through Macedonia, making it a mobile school (Acts 20:4). Even when Paul was a prisoner in transit to Rome, he was able to have Aristarchus and Luke goes with him (Acts 27:2-8; 28:1, 10-15). When they reached Rome, the brethren from the church came out to meet them and they walked into town together.

At one time, Paul’s entourage consists of 9 men: Sopater (Berea, Macedonia), Aristarchus and Secundus (Thessalonica), Luke (Philippi), Gaius (Derbe, Galatia), Timothy (Lystra, Galatia), Tychicus and Trophimus (Ephesus, Asia) and Titus (Achaia)    Mentoring/ Discipling

Paul was conscious of a priority of spending time with persons training for leadership in the church. For example Paul developed a close relationship with Priscilla and Aquila, with whom he stayed at Corinth (18:2-3). There was a natural common interest as they were both tentmakers. But more so is their heart for God (Rom.16: 3). They learned from Paul. When Paul left for Ephesus, he took them with him. There they did what Paul has done for them. They found a disciple and helped him to know “the way of the Lord more accurately” (Acts 18:19-26). It wasn’t long before Apollos in turn went forth preaching Christ and helping others grow in grace (Acts 18:27-28).

The letters of Paul reflect his personal concern for these growing leaders. Some sixty or more people were mentioned by name in the epistles. They are referred to as friends, partners, fellow workers, team mates, and faithful helpers, those who laboured side by side with him.    Teaching

Paul place a lot of emphasis on teaching. To the elders form Ephesus, he reminded them that he had faithfully taught them “publicly, and from house to house’ everything that was profitable (Acts 20:18,20). Nothing was withheld as he “ceased no to admonish” them “night and day with tears”. (Acts 20:31

2.4               Work of the Holy Spirit

2.4.1          Miracles

Miracles are recorded of Paul in 5 towns in the Four Provinces. In Iconium, we were told that ‘the Lord bare witness unto the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands (Acts 14:3). At Lystra occurred the healing of the cripple (Acts 14:8-10). At Philippi, the expulsion of a spirit of divination (Acts 16:18) and at Ephesus ‘God wrought special miracles by the hand of Paul inasmuch that the sick were carried away from his body handkerchiefs or aprons and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out’ (Acts 19:11,12). At Troas occurred the recovery of Eutychus (Acts 20:9,10)

2.4.2          Discernment and Obedience

The guiding of the apostles at the beginning of the second missionary journey, not south west to Asia, not north to Bithynuria but west to Macedonia. The ‘double guidance of the apostles’ – on one hand prohibition and restraint and on the other permission and constraints.

Livingstone tried to go to China but God sent him to Africa instead. William Carey planned to go to Polynesia in the South Seas but God sent him to India. Judson went to India first but was driven to Burma.

2.4.3          Letting go


3.                   Reflections

The ministry of Paul is a ministry of a man in fire for the Lord, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

                                                                                                                                                   Soli Deo Gloria


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