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Editor’s Note: Beloved author Ted Gibbons recently passed away after a battle with cancer. We will continue to share his wonderful insights here periodically.
Paul the Apostle teaches significant lessons about what it means to stand as a witness of God and his truth at “all times and in all things, and in all places” (Mosiah 18:9). Following his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul became a flaming fire, burning with the testimony of the truth as he threw himself into the work of being a witness in the most hostile of environments.
When Paul came back to Jerusalem following his third missionary journey, he caused a dramatic civil disturbance when he was falsely accused of defiling the temple, by entering with men who appeared to be Gentiles (or Greeks; see Acts 21:26-29). People dragged him from the temple with the intent to kill him. Only intervention by Lysius and a band of Roman soldiers saved him.
As Paul was being taken into the Antonia Fortress, he asked the Roman centurion for permission to do what he had covenanted to do: “I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people” (Acts 21:39). He was then permitted to address the hostile crowd who had assembled.
Paul stood on the stairs to the fortress, and without apology or misrepresentation, told people who wanted to kill him about the manner of his conversion. He quoted Ananias, the man who had restored his sight and baptized him:
“The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth.
“For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard” (Acts 22:14-15).
These two sentences are a summary of the rest of Paul’s life: he would know God’s will and see His Son and hear His word, and he would be God’s witness “unto all men.” Ananias followed his prophecy with a question: “Why tarriest thou?” (Acts 22:16). Paul would never tarryagain. He “received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized” (Acts 9:18), and “straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20).
This is the commencement of Paul’s ministry; a ministry motivated by his testimony of Christ and by his determination to be a witness of Him everywhere and all the time.
Paul was a Witness of God All the Time
The Lord warned His disciples that even their longing for personal safety must not cause them to shut their mouths in fear (JST Luke 12:8-10). No such injunction was necessary for Paul. He never avoided the danger that his message stirred up in his enemies, but at least eight times in the book of Acts when Paul was in danger, it was his fellow disciples who attempted to direct him to safety. Paul was not interested in personal safety. The Lord had commanded him: “Speak, and hold not thy peace” (Acts 18:9). And that is what he did for the rest of his life.
Paul did not believe in sabbaticals. He learned what he was expected and able to do, and he got it done. His witness was one of pure commitment. The circumstances in which Paul found himself were never a limiting factor, nor were the dangers. If something needed to be said, Paul never weighed thoughts nor measured words. He delivered his message. When personal conversation was impractical or impossible, Paul wrote letters.
When Paul first stood to testify in a Damascus synagogue, no one knew what he would become. The man sent to heal him and baptize him said, “Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name” (Acts 9:13-14). Saul had been a wolf among the lambs of the flock. He made ‘havock of the church” in Jerusalem, “entering into every house, and haling [compelling] men and women committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3). Paul had terrorized Christian homes and converts, arresting and incarcerating believers. That image that must have haunted and motivated Paul the Apostle through all the years of his discipleship.
And Ananias knew Saul had come to Damascus to make “havock of the church.” He spent his time and best efforts “breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1).
However, the apostle Paul was a “chosen vessel unto [the Lord]” (Acts 9:15) who was known and prepared in advance for a spectacular mission. The Lord knew what Paul was and what he could become. We observe evidence of his devotion and conversion throughout his ministry. He was determined to deliver his witness to everybody, all the time. The following events from the missionary journeys of Paul confirm that he was prepared to stand as a witness of God at all times.
In the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia, after the reading of the law and the prophets, Paul and his companions were invited to speak, and “Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience” (Acts 13:16). One of Paul’s greatest qualities was that he was always ready to “stand up.”
Paul the Apostle and his companions stayed in Iconium for a long time, “speaking boldly in the Lord” (Acts 14:3).
Paul spent time in Athens waiting for Silas and Timothy. But he could not simply wait, because “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). His “daily” trips to the market to teach and his testimonies to the devout show us the true desires of his heart.
At Corinth, “he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks” (Acts 18:4).
He was always ready to preach, sometimes for hours. In Troas, “when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight” (Acts 20:7). And he was not done at midnight. After raising Eutychus from death (he had gone to sleep and fallen from a third-story window), Paul “talked a long while, even till break of day” (Acts 20:11).
At Ephesus, Paul testified “by the space of three years [and] ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” (Acts 20:31).
Even as a prisoner in Jerusalem, Caesarea, and Rome, and on the island of Melita (Malta), Paul shared his witness because he was first a prisoner of his love for and testimony of Christ (see Ephesians 3:1; 4:1). He had no desire to please men, but God (see Galatians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:4).
The example of Paul the Apostle as a witness of God at all times is one of the great lessons of his life
Paul the Apostle was a Witness of God in All Things
The verbs used in the King James Bible to describe Paul’s ministry paint a stirring portrait of Paul.For example, He “witnessed” (Acts 22:15; 23:11; 26:16), “confounded” (Acts 9:22), “disputed” (Acts 9:29; 15:2), “waxed bold” (Acts 13:46), “returned” (Acts 14:21), “sang” (Acts 16:25), “testified” (Acts 18:5), “strengthened” (Acts 18:23), “taught” (Acts 20:20), “declared” (Acts 20:27), “wrote” (2 Corinthians 2:3-4), “withstood” (Galatians 2:11), “imparted” (1 Thessalonians 2:8), and “exhorted and comforted and charged every one. ..as a father doth his children” (1 Thessalonians 2:11)”
Paul the Apostle was a witness in all the practices and doctrines of the Kingdom.
Paul was a witness of God’s goodness to the Gentiles. It was in Antioch in Pisidia, when the Jews were “filled with envy, and spake against those things which were spoken by Paul, contradicting and blaspheming,” that Paul first said, “Lo, we turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:45-46), bringing to pass the fulfilment of Peter’s vision and revelation in Acts 10.
Paul was a witness against the enemies of righteousness. Elymas the sorcerer tried to turn one of Paul’s converts from the faith, and Paul immediately took action: “0 full of all subtlety and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thee, and thou shalt be blind, not seeing the sun for a season. And immediately there fell on him a mist and a darkness; and he went about seeking some to lead him by the hand” (Acts 13:10-11).
Paul was a witness of God’s power: Paul the Apostle caused a great commotion when he healed the cripple in Lystra. Residents were convinced that the “gods [were] come down …in the likeness of men” (see Acts 14:8-15). In Philippi he healed a young lady who enriched her masters with her “prophetic” gifts
Paul’s miraculous ministry continued in Ephesus.
“And God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul: So that from his body were brought unto the sick hand- kerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them” (Acts 19:11-12).
In Troas, as mentioned earlier, Paul restored Eutychus to life (Acts 20:9-12). On the island of Melita when he was bitten by a deadly viper, he showed no ill effects from the poison (see Acts 28:3-6).
Paul was a witness of the need for purity in doctrine and ordinances. When Paul found a group of baptized disciples who knew nothing of the gift of the Holy Ghost, he baptized them again and then laid his hands on them to confer that gift. Even though they were called disciples (see Acts 19:2), Paul knew that their instruction was incomplete. He performed the ordinances again to ensure that they were done correctly and by proper authority.
Paul was a witness of what a great missionary should be. In his letter to the Saints at Thessalonica, he spoke of his boldness (1 Thessalonians 2:2), the trust of God in him (1 Thessalonians 2:4), his determination to say what God wanted him to say (1 Thessalonians 2:4), his refusal to flatter to obtain success or advantage (1 Thessalonians 2:5), and his refusal to seek glory for himself or to be burdensome to his converts (1 Thessalonians 2:6). He spoke of his gentleness (1 Thessalonians 2:7), his labor and travail both night and day so that he could stand blameless before God ( 1 Thessalonians 2:9), his commendable behavior (1 Thessalonians 2:10), and his gratitude to God for the privilege of serving (1 Thessalonians 1:2; 2:13).
Paul was a Witness of God in All Places
The accounts of the missionary journeys of Paul the Apostle indicate many of the places where he visited or preached: for example, Antioch in Pisidia, Antioch in Syria, Athens, Berea, Caesarea, Corinth, Damascus, Derbe, Ephesus, Galatia, Iconium, Jerusalem, Lystra, Melita, Miletus, Mysia, Paphos, Philippi, Phrygia, Ptolemais (Acco), Rome, Salamis, Thessalonica, Troas, Trophimus, and Tyre.
However, Luke writes in Acts to show us something more interesting than the cities where Paul preached. We learn that Paul taught in many synagogues (see Acts 13:14; 14:1; 17:1-2, etc.), in “all the coasts of Judea” (Acts 26:20), “by a river side” (Acts 16:13), in a prison (Acts 16:25-32), ++on Mars’ Hill (Acts 17:22), in the market (Acts 17:17), in a certain man’s house (Acts 18:7), over all the country (Acts 18:23), in the school of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9), at a sacrament meeting (Acts 20:7), from house to house (Acts 20:20), on the stairs (Acts 21:40), in the castle (Acts 23:10), in the judgment hall (Acts 23:35), on a ship (Acts 27:21-26), in the quarters of the chief man of Melita (Acts 28:7-8), and in his own house in Rome (Acts 28:30-31).
The Lord commanded His disciples to take the witness to “all the world” (Mark 16:15) and “unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). But in this worldwide ministry, the instruction was to “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). That one-by-one ministry to individuals happens in places smaller than cities and countries
Paul was a Witness of God even unto Death
Luke ends his account of the ministry of Paul with his Roman imprisonment, but non scriptural sources suggest that he died about A.D. 67 or 68 near Rome. Sydney Sperry wrote this:
“At the time of Paul’s first hearing before the Roman court, it is said that Nero was absent in Greece. What the charge against Paul was we do not know, but it was probably one involving sedition. Nor do we know what happened at the second hearing. Apparently Nero had returned, and his displeasure sealed the Apostle’s doom. The Roman Senate had passed an ordinance to the effect that ten days should elapse between the condemnation of a criminal and his execution in order that the Emperor might, IF so disposed, grant him a pardon. It was the custom, especially if a demonstration might take place, to take the criminal outside of the city to be executed. The tradition is that Paul was conducted about two miles from Rome on the Ostian Way, southwest of the city, where he was beheaded by the sword. His Roman citizenship saved him from the suffering sustained by many Christians in being crucified or in being smeared with pitch and set on fire. According to the testimony of St. Jerome, Paul met his death in the fourteenth year of Nero’s reign, that is, sometime between October 13, A.D. 67 and June 9, A.D. 68.” (Sidney B. Sperry, Paul’s Life and Letters [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1955], 303.)
Such information is useful in understanding what happened to Paul and in understanding Paul himself. Long before the sword fell in Italy, Paul knew at least some of what awaited him.
In Miletus, Paul spoke of his future:
“And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me.But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:22-24).
While he was on the way to Jerusalem after his 3rd mission, Agabus prophesied future afflictions for Paul, and disciples besought him to change his plans, Paul responded by saying, ‘What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13).
He was ready indeed! His only desire, even at the end of his life, was to glorify Christ through his witness of the Redeemer’s merits, mercy, and grace. He was willing to let his life and his death be such a witness.
In his final letter to Timothy, Paul wrote what could have been his own epitaph:
“For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6 – 8).
Paul the Apostle’s witness of the mission of Christ and the work of God at all times and in all things and in all places did not end with his death. That witness has echoed down the ages in the pages of the New Testament.
Paul’s testimony before Agrippa while he was a prisoner in Caesarea is an appropriate place to conclude, for it is a stirring reflection of the great longing of Paul’s life: “I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds” (Acts 26:29). This is an appeal that should reach across the years to us. Whether or not we have ever seen the light on the road to Damascus is not the issue; we have all been invited, even commanded, to be witnesses of God, at all times and in all things and in all places, until we also have finished our course.
(This article was adapted from “Paul as a Witness of the Work of God,” by Ted Gibbons, in Go Ye into All the World, pp. 27-40).