So what really new can we say about Paul’s third missionary journey?
At some point in your life you probably had to memorize the stops on each of his trips around the Mediterranean. You may have played a board game about the details of those trips to while away the Sabbath hours when you were young.
As an adult, you may have thought of the account of these journeys as a travelogue about one itinerant evangelist who went from conference to conference building up the tithe base, and encouraging the new leaders. Not exactly what you feel called to do. But, we know that there are spiritual lessons for us to learn from everything recorded in God’s Word. These accounts are there for our “training in righteousness,” (2 Tim 3:16, NIV). Until I started thinking about these journeys of Paul’s in a little different way than I was used to, however, I know I missed out on a lot of the “training in righteousness” that was available to me.
Something that spurred me to take a different look at what God had for me in these accounts was when one Sabbath School teacher asked his class this question: “What was in it [these experiences] for Paul?”
Of course, the teacher was met with vacant stares. The “what was in it for . . .” question seems antithetical to the whole purpose of self-sacrifice and abuse that Paul routinely experienced during his travels.
I thought about a passage from Oswald Chambers that I came across recently:
Paul was overwhelmed with the sense of his indebtedness to Jesus Christ, and he spent himself to express it. The great inspiration in Paul’s life was his view of Jesus Christ as his spiritual creditor. Do I feel that sense of indebtedness to Christ in regard to every unsaved soul?1
The answer to Chambers’ question for my own life would most assuredly be “no.” I think that probably I should be able to answer “yes.” But I must be truthful with myself (and you). Maybe Paul did feel that way, but how can I apply that to my life, having never been out murdering people I found out later to have been innocent? I just don’t feel the overwhelming sense of “indebtedness” that Chambers describes. And, I am also wondering if I should feel guilty about that. I know I have always had tendencies toward “older-brotherism.”
But, let me get back to the question of “what was in it for Paul?” Maybe he was working off a debt. Maybe he was being a slave. Maybe he was fulfilling his spiritual honor—all scenarios that Chambers poses. But, I am going to have to go a little different direction to apply the lessons from Paul’s missionary journeys to my own “training in righteousness.”
“Indebted” to Christ is not the way I view my life. I did not ask to be born a sinner. I cannot fully grasp the heaven I have to win, nor the hell I have to shun. What, then, could truly motivate me to be willing to be “broken bread and poured-out wine” for others, as Chambers so often describes the life of the genuine disciple?
For me, it is the law. I fully resonate with the fact that the law of the universe is God’s character. Everything about God is giving, and everything about His creation is explained in the principle of taking from Him to give to others, and thus back to Him. I do not give my life as broken bread and poured-out wine out of indebtedness. I strive for that mode of behavior because I was created as an adored child of God who was born kidnapped by a self-centered liar, and reared in deceitfulness and selfishness. (See bornkidnapped.org.)
I want to let the truth of God’s law, of taking to give, to so un-brainwash me that my natural existence is to go out on missionary journeys to share the good news about the fact that our true Father found us, ransomed us, and is now in the process of un-brainwashing us with the truth so that He can safely take us back home. I don’t feel indebted. I am overwhelmed with love and joy and a sense of true identity and belonging that I want to share. For me, indebtedness smacks of my condition (as that of the kidnapper’s child), and not of my true identity as the Creator’s child. Even though it is possible to be confused by John 8:44 into believing that my true identity is that of deceitfulness and sin, that verse is actually about my kidnapped condition, and not about my true identity as created in the image of God. (See Sons and Daughters of God, 348).
This is how the law motivates me. “All things both in heaven and in earth declare that the great law of life is a law of service. The infinite Father ministers to the life of every living thing. Christ came to the earth ‘as He that serveth’” (Luke 22:27). The angels are “ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation” (Hebrews 1:14). The same law of service is written upon all things in nature. The birds of the air, the beasts of the field, the trees of the forest, the leaves, the grass, and the flowers, the sun in the heavens and the stars of light—all have their ministry. Lake and ocean, river and water spring—each takes to give.
“As each thing in nature ministers thus to the world’s life, it also secures its own. ‘Give, and it shall be given unto you’” (Luke 6:38), is the lesson written no less surely in nature than in the pages of Holy Writ.
As the hillsides and the plains open a channel for the mountain stream to reach the sea, that which they give is repaid a hundredfold. The stream that goes singing on its way leaves behind its gift of beauty and fruitfulness. Through the fields, bare and brown under the summer’s heat, a line of verdure marks the river’s course; every noble tree, every bud, every blossom, a witness to the recompense God’s grace decrees to all who become its channels to the world.2
So what’s was in the missionary journeys for Paul? He was depending completely on the Father, as Jesus had done while He was here, and taking from the Father to give to His other kidnapped, brainwashed children. He was joining God in His character, He was becoming un-brainwashed and transformed back to the image of His Creator.
There is nothing, save the selfish heart of man, that lives unto itself. No bird that cleaves the air, no animal that moves upon the ground, but ministers to some other life. There is no leaf of the forest, or lowly blade of grass, but has its ministry. Every tree and shrub and leaf pours forth that element of life without which neither man nor animal could live; and man and animal, in turn, minister to the life of tree and shrub and leaf. The flowers breathe fragrance and unfold their beauty in blessing to the world. The sun sheds its light to gladden a thousand worlds. The ocean, itself the source of all our springs and fountains, receives the streams from every land, but takes to give. The mists ascending from its bosom fall in showers to water the earth, that it may bring forth and bud.
The angels of glory find their joy in giving,—giving love and tireless watchcare to souls that are fallen and unholy. Heavenly beings woo the hearts of men; they bring to this dark world light from the courts above; by gentle and patient ministry they move upon the human spirit, to bring the lost into a fellowship with Christ which is even closer than they themselves can know.
But turning from all lesser representations, we behold God in Jesus. Looking unto Jesus we see that it is the glory of our God to give. ‘I do nothing of Myself,’ said Christ; ‘the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father.’ ‘I seek not Mine own glory,’ but the glory of Him that sent Me. John 8:28; 6:57; 8:50; 7:18. In these words is set forth the great principle which is the law of life for the universe. All things Christ received from God, but He took to give. So in the heavenly courts, in His ministry for all created beings: through the beloved Son, the Father’s life flows out to all; through the Son it returns, in praise and joyous service, a tide of love, to the great Source of all. And thus through Christ the circuit of beneficence is complete, representing the character of the great Giver, the law of life.3
And, how is my life a missionary journey? How am I on a journey of coming more and more in-step with the principle of the universe, the great law of life? Is there any part of my life that I do not see as taking from the hand of my True Father to give to His other adored, only (because He would have died for only one) children, thus fully representing His character to the universe?
And what about you? Are you living out of your true identity, or limping along trying to find peace, love, and joy in your still-brainwashed condition?
Notes & References:
1 Oswald Chambers, My utmost for His Highest: Selections for the Year (Grand Rapids, MI: Oswald Chambers Publications; Marshall Pickering, 1986).
2 E. G. White, Education (Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1903), 103–104.
3 E. G. White, The Desire of Ages, Vol. 3, (Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1898), 20–21.
Kathy Beagles Coneff is editor of Guide Magazine.
Image credit: Pexels
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