Few would deny that the apostle Paul was one of the greatest of the first century Christians described in the Bible. Most of us would also agree that we did not much like the man when we were first introduced to him. He comes on the scene as a persecutor of Christians, even to the point of committing them to death. But, Paul changed. As he approached the end of his journey through life, he was able to say, “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…” (II Tim. 4:7-8). Paul wanted others, in fact all, to follow the path that he had taken. As he addressed King Agrippa, he said, “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). And, to the Corinthians he wrote, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (I Cor. 11:1). Concerning following the apostle Paul, we note several aspects of life and character that play a large part.
Paul was an honest man. He was honest with himself and with God. In defending himself before the chief captain and the council of the Jews he said, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” (Acts 23:1). Paul did that which he thought to be right. Concerning the persecution of the church, he said, “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them” (Acts 26:9-10). He thought he was doing right, but he was honestly mistaken. Even that which is not wrong is sin when it is done thinking that it is wrong. Paul wrote, “And he that doubeth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). But, thinking something is right does not make it right. It takes more than just honesty to follow Paul to heaven. Paul was honestly mistaken and stood in opposition to, and was in fact, a persecutor of Christ (Acts 9:4-5).
The kind of honesty that Paul had will require one to change when they find that they are not in harmony with God’s will. Paul “trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6) and he then did it. He turned from that which was in error and embraced that which was truth (Acts 9:17-18). If we are to follow Paul to heaven, we must of necessity have the same kind of honesty that Paul had. We must diligently obey that which we believe God would have us do, but also immediately depart from such when we find it is not actually what God said. It is incumbent upon us to find out for ourselves what God has actually said. We can’t do that by listening to the preacher, our parents or our friends. We can’t do it by reading the writings of mere men, including articles such as this one. The only source for truth is God’s word (John 17:17) and Peter said that “the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” (I Peter 1:25). In other words, we must do as the noble Bereans and “receive the word with all readiness of mind, and search the scriptures daily whether those things are so” (Acts 17:11). We must then embrace the truth with just as much vigor as we have formerly embraced our erroneous beliefs. The same commitment that Paul had when he was trying to stamp out that which he thought was opposed to God, is the commitment with which Paul served the Lord Jesus Christ once he learned the truth.
Paul was committed to doing what God said do. The financial results of his actions had no bearing at all on Paul. He told the Philippians, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Phil. 4:11) and he told the Corinthians, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for you” (II Cor. 12:15). He understood the teachings of the Lord when He had said, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33). The threat of persecution, even to death, carried no weight with Paul when it came to serving the Lord. Just read the list of trials Paul endured as he enumerated them to the Corinthians (II Cor. 11:24-28). Paul told those brethren gathered at the home of Philip the evangelist when they wept concerning the persecution Paul would face in Jerusalem, “I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13). When Paul stood before the Jews, he preached Christ Jesus. When he stood before the Gentiles he did likewise. And, when he stood before kings, the message was the same.
If we will but follow Paul in the honesty we have in serving God and follow his example of obedience to the words of God in becoming a Christian and continue faithfully committed to the task, we too can have the same home in heaven.
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