Jesus' Two Great Commissions
Part One


Paul: The Master Evangelist

Paul was an exceptional multi-cultural evangelist. To be an effective evangelist within one's own culture is no small achievement. To be an effective evangelist in more than one culture is an incredible achievement. Paul was an able teacher/communicator among Jewish legalists, Jewish traditionalists, diaspora Jews, proselytes, Gentile God-fearers of many backgrounds, and polytheistic pagans from all levels of Roman and Greek society.

An effective evangelist must be a good communicator.  Only with diligent study, a commitment to understanding people, the development of communication skills, and the willingness to become a careful listener can one become an exceptional communicator within his own culture. To become a skilled communicator among those of differing cultural backgrounds requires considerably more. To possess those people's grasp of their "everyday language"; to understand their idioms, traditional viewpoints, and unique values; and to be able to think and reason in terms of their "common sense" is a challenge few "outsiders" master.

Paul was one of those exceptional individuals.

An Unlikely Candidate

Prior to conversion, Paul was a most unlikely candidate to become a powerful multi-cultural evangelist. He was the classic Pharisee--a second generation Pharisee.1  Nor was he a half-hearted or "name only" Pharisee. He revered the strict interpretation and application of the Law.2  He was trained by Gamaliel, the renowned teacher of the Law in Paul's day.3

Paul's blind zeal in his commitment to the strict interpretation and application of the law knew no bounds. To preserve the law, he arrested Christians, both men and women, committing them to prison, and persecuted Christians to the point of death.4 When he found Christians in synagogues, he physically abused them in a determined attempt to force them to blaspheme Jesus.5 The very sight of these people enraged him.6 Later, as a Christian, he acknowledged that in his pre--Christian period of life he was "a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor."7

None of these actions arose from godless motives and attitudes or from his being a calloused, hardened, conscienceless man. They arose from his view of God, his understanding of God's will, and his absolute commitment to God's authority as revealed through Scripture and the law. In all those deeds he was honoring a living, responsive conscience which clung to one priority--honor God by keeping the Law.8

Paul the Pharisee was a consummate legalist. The irrefutable proof that he was righteous before God was a recitation of his strict compliance with the Pharisaic interpretation of the Law: He was circumcised on the eighth day in exact accordance with the law;9 was of pure descent in the nation of Israel, a Benjaminite; and was a Hebrew of Hebrews.10 Being a Hebrew of Hebrews likely indicated that he had been reared to know and keep Palestine's traditions in Judaism and to speak Aramaic, the spoken Jewish language in Palestine. It likely was an affirmation of Jewish orthodoxy which included attending synagogues where Hebrew was read and spoken. Those were unusual credentials for a diaspora Jew from Tarsus, Cilicia!11

The verification of his commitment and sincerity was rooted in this same confidence created by human accomplishments. The fact that he was a Pharisee proved his strict devotion to the law; the proof of his zeal within Judaism was his persecution of the church; the proof of his righteousness was the fact that he was blameless in his strict obedience to the commandments of the law.12

Paul the Christian looked back upon these foundation criteria for the Paul of Judaism's absolute religious confidence and declared them to be the undesirable, inadequate, imperfect righteousness of my own, even that which is of the law.13

Paul, in his conservative, legalistic understanding of God's commandments to Israel, was more radical in his rejection of Christianity than was his renowned teacher, Gamaliel. When the Jerusalem Sanhedrin wished to execute the apostles for preaching the resurrected Jesus, Gamaliel convinced them not to do so. His reasoning was this: If their message is from God, you cannot stop it; if it is of human origin, it will self-destruct.14 Paul, on the other hand, decided that the "wait-and-see" toleration of this deadly "heresy" would create a growing crisis for Judaism. It must be physically destroyed as promptly as possible. Wherever it was found among the Jewish people--within Jerusalem and Palestine or without--it must be destroyed.

The attitude, perspective, and convictions of Paul the Pharisee can justly, accurately be compared to the hell-fire and-brimstone preacher who will not tolerate anyone not in complete agreement with his view and understanding of Scripture in all his personal convictions. Paul the Pharisee felt compelled by his devotion to God to inflict pain, imprisonment, and death upon his own Jewish brethren who dared trust Jesus and His resurrection. He was blind, close-minded, and deaf to any thoughts, views, or understandings which were not in complete agreement with his own. Such attitudes and feelings are never the raw materials for building the evangelist who powerfully communicates Christ.

The Question

How did this intolerant, obstinate, close-minded Pharisee whose blind religious convictions sought the death of fellow Jews become an understanding, tolerant, multi-cultural evangelist? The heart, mind, attitude, and understanding which formed the "how to" of presenting and defending God's teachings stand in total contrast in Paul the Pharisee and Paul the Christian.

Was this a case of a non-religious man becoming religious?  A godless man becoming godly? An uncommitted man becoming committed? A man unlearned in the Scriptures becoming knowledgeable of the Scriptures? An insincere man becoming sincere? Absolutely not! Any characteristic of Paul's religious life, faith, commitment, and zeal as a Christian existed in his religious life, faith, commitment, and zeal in Judaism.

The radical rebuilding of Paul the Christian's heart, motives, attitudes, and understandings is attributable to one central difference between Paul the Pharisee and Paul the Christian. Paul the Pharisee did not know Jesus Christ; Paul the Christian did know Jesus Christ. Knowing and understanding who Jesus was and what God had accomplished in Jesus' death and resurrection inwardly recreated Paul.

There were factors in Paul's background which served Paul the Christian well in his development as the apostle to the Gentiles. He was reared in the Graeco-Roman city of Tarsus which was located on a major trade route between the Middle East and Europe. Tarsus was also a learning center, the home of a significant university. It further enjoyed the good fortune of being a free, self-governing city. The extent of Paul's contact with the intercultural realities of his home town cannot be documented, but it certainly placed him in favorable circumstances conducive to forming insights into other peoples. Paul did not grow up in some secluded Jewish community, but in a cosmopolitan community in which non-Jewish peoples figured prominently.

He was a Roman citizen by birth. That reality provided him with some of the greatest protection and privileges one could have in his world. He also spoke Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Paul was as unique a man to Judaism as he was to Christianity.

Paul's Evangelistic Understandings

First, Paul understood that Jesus Christ belonged to everyone.15 His attitude as an evangelist was, "It is my debt to preach the gospel to all peoples." He accepted the responsibility to preach to the Greek who represented the cultured and refined of his day; to the barbarian who was the ignorant and crude person of his world; to the wise or educated person; and to the slave who lived with limited rights and opportunities under the physical control of another. The gospel belonged to Jewish and non-Jewish persons, to all people of every station and circumstance in life.

Second, Paul understood that God's grace and forgiveness was bestowed without measure upon every believer who was baptized into Christ.16 The greatest of all honors, the highest of all privileges--being sons to God Himself--was freely available to all who were baptized into Christ. Every person who was God's child became God's child in precisely the same manner--he was baptized into Christ. All baptized into Christ were clothed with Christ, and all who were clothed with Christ were God's children.

The Jew had no advantage over the Gentile, nor the free citizen over the slave, nor the man over the woman--regardless of nationality, sex, or social status, the baptized believer was God's child.

Third, Paul declared that at the point of baptism, all baptized persons entered the body of Christ.17 At that moment, in one spirit, they became part of a single spiritual community. The same Spirit made life in that body possible for each of them. Being a part of that spiritual community erased racial, national, and social distinctions. Within that body, such designations as "Jew or Greek, slave or free" became meaningless, insignificant distinctions.

Fourth, Paul declared entrance into Christ would result in a radical change in behavior and "selfhood."18 The Christian deliberately executes all attitudes and behavior patterns which characterized his life in sin. Those godless attitudes and desires which once dominated his mind, heart, and actions must die. Whereas former relationships often were characterized by deceit, now all relationships are honest.

The one who enters Christ literally changes selfs. God is continually shaping the new self into His image as the person grows in his knowledge and understanding of God. This new self made possible by Christ destroys distinctions between people based on nationality, former religion, education, or social status. Nationality is meaningless; Christ means everything. One's national origin, education, and social status are meaningless designations. The only meaningful designation for all who are new selves is being in Christ, and Christ is in all new selves.

Paul illustrates the dramatic transition produced by God's accomplishments in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In Ephesians 2:11-22 he depicts the pre-Christ situation of all Gentiles and the post-Christ situation of all Gentiles.

Before Christ came, all Gentiles were (1) excluded from citizenship in Israel, (2) aliens with no right to the covenants or the promises of the covenants, (3) without hope and without God. The picture is one of people far removed from the presence of God. In this condition, Israel had the definite advantage.

After Christ came, Israel's advantage was erased. Gentiles were as close to access to God as were the Jews. They who used to be far from God had been brought very close. The blood of Jesus made nearness and accessibility to God for Gentiles a reality. Christ, in his death, erased the distinction between Jew and Gentile. In the eyes of God they were now as one people. In Christ's death God removed the barrier and destroyed the hostility. The good news was that peace could exist between God and man--peace for the far away Gentile, and peace for the quite near Jew.

Those Gentiles who accepted Christ's blood and made peace with God were fellow citizens with God's people--no longer foreigners and aliens. They stood together with Jewish Christians on the common foundation of Christ and the apostles in which Jesus Christ is the cornerstone. It was Christ Himself who bonded converted Gentiles and Jews together into a single spiritual building which now served as God's temple on earth.

Paul's Evangelistic Methods

Two passages given by Paul himself give valuable, basic insights into Paul's methods as an evangelist. The first is 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. The context begins in chapter 8 when he addressed knowledgeable Christians who understood that idols were not living deities and that all food was merely food. These Christians should not use that correct understanding to cause less knowledgeable Christians to stumble. A knowledgeable Christian must not eat sacrificial food when less informed Christians would look upon such as an idolatrous act.

This principle of a knowledgeable Christian's acts being regulated by the conscience of a less knowledgeable Christian was no more popular then than now. To prove that he practiced what he taught, in chapter 9 Paul enumerated rights he, as an apostle, forfeited for the sake of others.

In his discussion of forfeiting rights, in 9:19-23 Paul stated the personal responsibility he accepted as an evangelist. He made himself slave to everyone in order that he might win as many people as possible to Christ. Please note he was speaking of being a slave to unconverted sinners--he is not discussing his slavery to Christ or his slavery to the gospel.

How did Paul make himself slave to everyone? He accepted the full responsibility to think like, to understand as, to see from the perspective of the person he taught. In evangelizing, it was 100% Paul's responsibility to understand the person he taught; he did not demand that they first understand him.

He labored under this responsibility when seeking to teach the Jew, the legalist, the lawless, or the weak. He listened, understood, and identified with the person he taught. He could think as the person thought, follow the person's reasoning, grasp the person's arguments, understand the person's values, and see the person's priorities. He could grasp the person's concept of God, moral responsibility, purpose of life, and objectives in living.

Paul could think and reason as did the Jew, the legalist, the lawless, and the weak. Initially, he devoted himself to understanding them. In understanding them, he could reason with and share with them from their concepts and their perspective. Having done that, it was far more likely that they could and would want to seek an understanding of what he had to share about Christ.

That principle governed Paul's approach to all people. He would approach all people by first accepting the responsibility to understand them before he expected them to understand him. It was his total commitment to the gospel and its blessings which moved him to accept this responsibility.

Paul did not go about issuing spiritual ultimatums which declared that people had to understand him. He did not go about lamenting everyone's ignorance and inability to comprehend what he had to say. He learned how to share his message in a way that they could readily grasp it. In the relationship between Paul and his audience, initially it was Paul's responsibility to understand the audience, not the audience's responsibility to understand Paul. This did not mean everyone grasped Paul's teachings or agreed with him. It meant that if they failed to grasp his teachings, Paul the person was not the obstacle.

The second insight is provided in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12. Paul was deeply concerned about the church in Thessalonica because strong, hostile opposition made it necessary for him to leave that new congregation long before he wished.19 He was very uneasy about the impact of his leaving on the congregation, and about how well they would fare spiritually in that hostile climate.

He wanted to be certain that they remembered the circumstances of their conversion. He wanted them to retain a clear memory of their reasons for responding to the gospel, and an equally clear memory of his conduct in those days. He describes his work among them as (1) a gentle mother caring for her children, (2) a sharing of his own life with them, (3) a hardworking man who provided for his own needs so as not to burden them, (4) a person who did what was right and fair--he was righteous and blameless in their relationship, (5) and a father who encouraged, comforted, and urged his own children.

One cannot read this description of Paul's evangelistic work at Thessalonica without being impressed with his love, gentleness, kindness, sensitivity, and concern as he set an example and provided both teaching and leadership.


Paul was a powerful evangelist for four reasons. First, his own conversion and forgiveness proved to him that if God's grace could forgive a sinner like him, God's grace could forgive anyone. Therefore, Paul knew that absolutely no one was too sinful to become a Christian. Second, Paul clearly understood that Christ belongs to everyone--absolutely everyone who lives on this earth. Third, Paul without reservation accepted as his responsibility to first understand, relate to, and be able to hear and understand the people he wished to teach. To Paul, people were not stupid, dumb, ignorant, or foolish--to Paul people were understandable. Fourth, Paul's devotion to Christ and the gospel led him to work with others as a gentle mother, a loving father, a man sensitive to other's needs, and a man who accepted the full responsibility to a daily example in his relationships with others.

The reasons for Paul's success are obvious!


1. What are the basic characteristics of an effective evangelist?

2. Explain why the Paul of Judaism was an unlikely person to become an effective Christian evangelist.

3. Explain what Paul meant when he said of his past life in Judaism that it had been based on the imperfect "righteousness of my own."

4. Explain what caused Paul the intolerant, obstinate, c10seminded Pharisee to become Paul the tolerant, understanding Christian evangelist.

5. What background factors served Paul well as a Christian evangelist?

6. State Paul's four evangelistic understandings. Read the Scriptures which document each understanding.

a. Understanding one:

b. Understanding two:

c. Understanding three:

d. Understanding four:

7. After reading 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 and 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12, discuss Paul's evangelistic methods.


Thought Question

Why is the development and use of Paul's evangelistic understandings and methods such a challenge today?



1Acts 23:6.

2Acts 26:5.

3Acts 22:3.

4Acts 22:4; 26:10.

5Acts 26: 11.


71 Timothy 1:13, NASV.

8Acts 23:1.

9Leviticus 12:2,3.

10Philippians 3:5.

11F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of The Heart Set Free (William B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids: 1977), pp. 42, 43.

12Philippians 3:6.

13Philippians 3:9.

14Acts 5:34-39.

15Romans 1:11-16.

16Galatians 3:26, 27.

171 Corinthians 12:13.

18Colossians 3:5-11.

19Acts 17:5-10.

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