Jesus' Two Great Commissions
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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:
7. After reading 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 and 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12, discuss
Paul's evangelistic methods.
b. Understanding two:
c. Understanding three:
d. Understanding four:
Why is the development and use of Paul's evangelistic understandings and methods
such a challenge today?
4Acts 22:4; 26:10.
5Acts 26: 11.
71 Timothy 1:13, NASV.
11F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of The Heart Set Free (William B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids: 1977), pp. 42, 43.
16Galatians 3:26, 27.
171 Corinthians 12:13.
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