The Apostle Paul, was a missionary whose testimony thundered across the ancient world, changing people wherever he went. What does his experience teach us about being a great missionary?
Paul was determined to obey the Lord’s instruction, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15), and his experiences during his missionary journeys show us how to do it.
Lesson #1 from the Apostle Paul: Avoid Contention
“And some days after Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us go again and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they do. And Barnabas determined to take with them John, whose surname was Mark. But Paul thought not good to take him with them, who departed from them from Pamphylia, and went not with them to the work. And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other: and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus; And Paul chose Silas, and departed . . .” (Acts 15:36-40).
I know Paul thought he was right. Mark had abandoned them in Perga (see Acts 13:13). We do not know the reason, and in this context it doesn’t really matter. Differences of opinion are acceptable. Contention is not. Paul, in his zeal, seems determined not to keep company with one less zealous than he was. That is all right. But the contention is not. We know where that comes from and how damaging it can be to missionary work.
Lesson #2 from the Apostle Paul: Be Restrained by the Spirit
“Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, After they were come to Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia: but the Spirit suffered them not” (Acts 16:6,7).
The Holy Ghost warned Paul and Silas not to go to Asia or Bithynia. And they did not go. I believe this experience is common among disciples of Christ. The Holy Spirit often whispers no to us as we consider attending a certain movie, or as we watch a particular kind of TV show, or prepare for a questionable business deal: the Spirit says, Don’t go to that movie. You shouldn’t be watching this rubbish. Or, That’s not honest and you know it.
Lessons #3 from the Apostle Paul: Be Constrained by the Spirit
“And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them. Therefore loosing from Troas, we came with a straight course…” (Acts 16:9-11).
There is an important difference between constraint and restraint. In this example the Spirit, by means of a vision, tells Paul where to go and preach. Notice that after seeing the vision, he tried immediately to make the journey. They departed and came to their destination “with a straight course . . .” What a useful lesson! When the Spirit says, “Move,” we ought to move immediately, and in a straight course. Call your friend. Apologize to your mother. Visit your neighbor in the hospital. The following little account is a nice illustration of how this ought to work.
“While sitting in the meeting, listening to the preaching, being much interested in what was being said, the Spirit of the Lord came upon me, and revealed that I was to visit the minister of the Anti?Masonic party, Judge Cushing, and tell him of his foolishness and wickedness in increasing the spirit of division between those who ought to be united as brethren in one common interest. It rained hard at the time, and feeling rather taken up with the preaching, I thought I would delay until the close of the meeting. This mission to me was a very hard task. How was I, a man from the thrashing?floor, to reprove a minister, and, moreover, a judge? But a few minutes had scarcely elapsed, before the Word of the Lord came to me again, with greater power than before, that I was to go at once! I had covenanted with the Lord, and I felt determined to fulfill, if it killed me; so I sprang to my feet, took my hat, and departed from the meeting” (Benjamin Brown Testimonies For The Truth (1853), p.3).
Here is another illustration.
“Amidst the terrible hostilities in Missouri that would put the Prophet in Liberty Jail and see thousands of Latter?day Saints driven from their homes, Sister Drusilla Hendricks and her invalid husband, James, who had been shot by enemies of the Church in the Battle of Crooked River, arrived with their children at a hastily shaped dugout in Quincy, Illinois, to live out the spring of that harrowing year.
“Within two weeks the Hendrickses were on the verge of starvation, having only one spoonful of sugar and a saucerful of cornmeal remaining in their possession. In the great tradition of LDS women, Drusilla made mush out of it for James and the children, thus stretching its contents as far as she could make it go. When that small offering was consumed by her famished family, she washed everything, cleaned their little dugout as thoroughly as she could, and quietly waited to die.
“Not long thereafter the sound of a wagon brought Drusilla to her feet. It was their neighbor Reuben Allred. He said he had a feeling they were out of food, so on his way into town he’d had a sack of grain ground into meal for them.
“Shortly thereafter Alexander Williams arrived with two bushels of meal on his shoulder. He told Drusilla that he’d been extremely busy but the Spirit had whispered to him that Brother Hendricks= family is suffering, so I dropped everything and came [running]‘” (Cited by Jeffrey R.
Holland, “A Handful of Meal and a Little Oil,” Ensign, May 1996, 31).
When the Spirit whispers, we ought to drop everything and start running.
Lesson #4 from the Apostle Paul: Expect Opposition
Paul was troubled in Philippi by a damsel with a prophetic evil spirit who kept crying out that he and Silas “were servants of the most high God” (see Acts 16:17). Paul evidently preferred not to have this kind of testimony borne about him.
“Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her. And he came out the same hour. And when her masters saw that the hope of their gains was gone, they caught Paul and Silas, and drew them into the marketplace unto the rulers, And brought them to the magistrates, saying, These men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city, And teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans. And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them. And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks” (Acts 16:18-24).
We understand the nature of the unseen world well enough to know that when men or women commit to a course of righteousness, and when they insist on declaring their witness and warning to the world, enemies will arise. Reading these verses caused me to think about James and Peter in Acts 12.
Herod turned his unwelcome attention to the church and, having arrested James, killed him with a sword (see Acts 12:1,2). When he saw how this pleased the leaders of the Jews, he had Peter taken also, but deferred his punishment until after Passover. But Peter did not die. And angel rescued him from his chains and sixteen guards and delivered him from prison. Why the difference? Why did James die while Peter was delivered? Who knows what the Lord had in mind, but the experience provides a worthwhile footnote to this lesson. Expect opposition, and don’t expect to be delivered every time. It would be lovely if we could count on perfect protection each time we get tossed into the fiery furnace, but Abinadi and the women and children of Ammonihah teach us that such deliverance is not guaranteed.
Lesson #5 from the Apostle Paul: When Opposition Comes, Be Patient and Set a Good Example
“And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them” (Acts 16:25).
This is one of my favorite images from the New Testament. Paul and Silas, their bruises throbbing and their wounds bleeding, thrown into prison and placed in stocks, praying and singing praises. Had I suffered as they suffered, I suspect I might have been doing something else besides singing. But these men probably heard the same message the sons of Mosiah heard.
“And the Lord said unto them also: Go forth among . . . thy brethren, and establish my word; yet ye shall be patient in long?suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls” (Alma 17:11).
Paul and Silas became instruments in the Lord=s hands.
“And [the jailor] brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway” (Acts 16:30-33).
Earlier, during his first missionary journey, Paul showed this patience and long-suffering in another place. He was stoned and left for dead in Lystra by a mob incited by bitter Jews from Antioch (see Acts 14:19).
But he was healed by the disciples and rose up and went to Derbe.
“And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:20,21).
Paul met serious opposition, but returned to the places where it happened in order to demonstrate by word and deed (by example) “that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”
Lesson #6 from the Apostle Paul: Search the Scriptures Only
“And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few” (Acts 17:10-12).
I include this because it is the only place I know of in the scriptures where the phrase “search the scriptures daily” is used.
And the result of this searching of the scriptures, in this case in this case to know the truth, was that many believed, both men and women.
Lesson #7 from the Apostle Paul: Always Be Prepared to Tell the Truth about God
Paul was in Athens and his preaching came to the attention of lazy intellectuals who
“took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?” (Acts 17:19).
Paul didn’t need an invitation to preach. He only needed an audience that would hold still long enough. Here was an invitation, and he wouldn’t pass it up. He preached with both power and clarity to these idolaters about the true nature of God
“[He] made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation . . .” (Acts 17:24-26).
The Areopagus at which Paul was speaking was on Mars’ Hill. I have been there and climbed that hill. The location is surrounded by the greatest intellectual and cultural achievements of Paul’s day. Paul was surrounded there by people who imagined themselves to be the most intelligent and well-informed people in the world, and who “spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.” But Paul did not hesitate an instant. His message was that these pseudo-intellectuals lacked knowledge of the most important information in the world.
Lesson #8 from the Apostle Paul: Be Prepared to Tell the Truth about our Relationship with God.
“Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device” (Acts 17:29).
Even though this verse is a part of Paul’s sermon on the nature of God, I have included it separately because it is so important that we share the message of the Fatherhood of God.
I got lost when I was about 6. I was walking home from a friend’s house and it got dark and I got scared and hid in some bushes next to the Wilson School and cried. Finally someone heard me. A man parted the bushes, looked down and me and said, “What’s wrong, son?”
I told him I was lost. “What=s your name?” he asked.
“Are you A.H. Gibbons’ son?” he said.
“Yes sir,” I replied.
“Well, I know your father,” he told me, “and I know where he lives. Come with me and I will show you the way home.” And he did.
There are people all over the world who are hiding and trembling in the bushes because they do not know the way home. Some don’t even know they have a home. We must find them and say to them, “Are you Heavenly Father’s child? I know him and I know where he lives. You come with me and I will show you the way home.”
Lesson #9 from the Apostle Paul: Stand Blameless and with a Clear Conscience
While Paul was in Corinth,
“He reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks. And when Silas and Timotheus were come from Macedonia, Paul was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ. And when they opposed themselves, and blasphemed, he shook [his] raiment, and said unto them, Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean: from henceforth I will go unto the Gentiles” (Acts 18:4-6, emphasis added).
One of the truly remarkable things about Paul was his determination to tell everybody what he knew to be true. He reasoned and persuaded until all hope was gone, shook out his raiment, and went where the fields were greener. We must declare the word Awith all diligence,@ (see Jacob 1:19) and with all our Aheart, might, mind, and strength.@ (see D&C 4:2).
Lesson #10 from the Apostle Paul: Don’t Hold Your Peace
Paul received a revelation in Corinth.
“Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city. And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:9-11).
Most of us have at one time held our peace: we have kept our mouths shut when they should have been open.
But not Paul. And not in Corinth or anywhere else. While he was in Athens he was waiting for Timothy and Silas to meet him, but he could not simply wait.
“Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him” (Acts 17:16,17).
Even on the stairs of the Antonia Fortress where Roman Legionnaires were taking him to save him from a mob determined to kill him, Paul asked permission to speak.
“But Paul said . . . I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people. And when he had given him license, Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with the hand unto the people. And when there was made a great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue . . .” (Acts 21:39,40).
We had rules about not holding our peace when I was a missionary. We always traveled in pairs, and we rode busses almost everywhere. We had a rule, unwritten but universal: we could not sit by our companions on a bus. We were required to sit by someone else and ask for an opportunity to preach. I met wonderful people in that way, and taught many of them about the mission of the Savior.
A Legacy of Christlike Living
One of the great blessings of the scriptures is the clarity with which they instruct in the patterns of true discipleship. Paul and his companions left us a legacy of Christlike living that can strengthen and protect us as we hold aloft the banner of Christ and proclaim him to the world.